Flag Orientation, Missing Kiwis and One Airport's Demise

FLYING BACKWARDS?

The Points Guy ran a post recently on American flags painted supposedly backwards on the sides of airplanes. I had never noticed this before - perhaps because I rarely fly in the States, but sure enough a Google image search of American Airlines clearly points the American flag painted backwards; or is it?

AA Backwards.JPG

The reason, it turns out, is because US regulations require the star field of the flag to be positioned toward the front, thereby giving the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer, or airplane in our instance, moves forward. The article further mentions that other countries observe this rule as well, and sure enough, I looked up Qantas and the Australian flag is "backwards" as seen below. 

Qantas backwards.JPG

Now obviously this wouldn't be a factor on planes carrying the Canadian flag given its symmetry, or flags that are horizontally symmetrical (KLM). But it would matter for planes carrying flags that aren't vertically symmetrical like Mexico's flag carrier, Aeromexico. 

Aeromexico Backwards.JPG

 

MISSING KIWIS

This is not so much about missing Kiwis as it is about their country being left off maps. I came across this courtesy of a hilarious YouTube video featuring comedian Rhys Darby who gets wind of an apparent conspiracy to leave New Zealand off world maps. Rhys then phones up Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, pledging to get to the bottom of it all. As the video progresses we see several theories being put forth - Australia wants New Zealand's tourists, England wants to get rid of their rugby team and the wine industry wants to crush New Zealand's pinot and sav! Or, Rhys admits, it could be because "we're quite a fiddly looking shaped country, a bit like a half-eaten lamb chop. Perhaps people are leaving us off thinking we're a mistake". The camera then pans to Jacinda looking at a map only to discover her country's been left off it. The video ends with a simple message to #GETNZONTHEMAP. 

I think this is a brilliant campaign that uses humour to raise awareness. The tweet asks, Is it on your map?, which works both in the literal sense and also broadly by asking whether New Zealand is on audience's mind as a travel destination. There is now a website where users can submit maps that leave off the country and even a subreddit with 42k subscribers. Great job, New Zealand! I know I'll pay closer attention the next time I look at a world map. 

 

AN AIRPORT'S DEMISE

An article in the New York Times highlighted the demise of Memphis International Airport (MEM). Once a designated hub for Northwest Airlines, Memphis has seen a steep decline in passenger traffic as a result of the merger between Northwest and Delta in 2008 and Delta's consolidation of traffic at its Atlanta (ATL) hub. The impact has been massive; consider that MEM carried only 4.1 million passengers in 2017 compared to 11.2 million in 2007, a decline of almost 63% in a span of 10 years.  

The article highlights a sprawling terminal with three concourses that is now undergoing a $219 million dollar modernization effort on mothballing Concourses A and C and consolidating operations at Concourse B. 

Things aren't all that bad, though. MEM is the world's 2nd busiest airport by cargo weight, second only to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), thanks to FedEx's Super Hub. Still, Memphis offers a lesson on the impact that a hub designation can have for an airport. 

RUNWAY MARKINGS

In the following post, I document my learnings with respect to airport runway markings. I've always found that researching and writing helps reinforces the material and is a better way for me to learn, understand and retain the information. 


I recently completed ICAO's Fundamentals of the Air Transport System online course, a great resource for those interested in aviation. The course, free to access, includes 9 modules on topics from air law and navigation to security, the environment and more. My favourite module (Airports) included some general information on the different visual aids at airports. Wanting to delve deeper into this area of an airport's operation, I decided to further study runway markings and document what I've learnt below. 

ICAO's Annex 14 to the Chicago Convention publishes standards and recommended practices for Aerodromes.. While the standards are minimum requirements, national civil aviation authorities may enforce more stringent requirements. Being Canadian, I have decided to focus on Canadian airports where civil aviation is governed by Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA). A list of civil aviation authorities is provided here

Standards regarding aerodromes in Canada are provided in the 5th edition of Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices which you can download here. I will be using this 308-page document as a reference for most of the information presented here.

The image below was obtained from Google Maps (satellite view is a godsend) with relevant points highlighted. The runway shown is 12/30 at the Edmonton International Airport (YEG), my hometown and an airport I'm partial to. I'll go over the important runway markings starting from the bottom of the picture and moving on up. 

Figure 1 : Runway 12/30 at Edmonton International Airport with Relevant Points Highlighted

Figure 1: Runway 12/30 at Edmonton International Airport with Relevant Points Highlighted

THRESHOLD MARKINGS

The threshold is defined as "the beginning portion of the runway declared usable for landing by the aerodrome operator."  The longitudinal strips are the threshold markings which are separated into symmetrical bars separated by a 3.6m gap centered on the centreline of the runway. Each strip within a group is 30m long, 1.8m wide, spaced 1.8m apart and begins 6m from the edge of the threshold. If these numbers are confusing, our reference document includes a handy diagram shown below. 

Figure 2 : Threshold Markings   Source : Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices, Transport Canada

Figure 2: Threshold Markings

Source: Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices, Transport Canada

I've read elsewhere that the number of strips gives an indication as to the width of the runway, but I couldn't find specific reference to this in Transport Canada's guide, the notable exception being a note on page 85 of the document stating that the markings shown above are for "standard runway widths." My interpretation of this is that runway widths don't have to be standardized. In any case, here is the rule of thumb with regards to the number of strips and runway width:

4 bars - 60 feet (18m)
6 bars - 75 feet (23m)
8 bars - 100 feet (30m)
12 bars - 150 feet (45m)
16 bars - 200 feet (60m)

Google Maps allows you to measure distance, so of course I used it to confirm the above. Sure enough, runway 12/30 at EIA has 16 longitudinal threshold bars for a total width of 200 feet (200.82 ft according to the image below, but that's pretty damn close!). 

Figure 3 : Runway Width Measurement Using Google Maps

Figure 3: Runway Width Measurement Using Google Maps

 

RUNWAY DESIGNATION MARKINGS

These markings are, as the name implies, a way to identify a runway. The two-digit number is "the whole number nearest the one-tenth of the magnetic azimuth (north), when viewed from the direction of final approach." In other words, the 2 digits indicate the direction on a compass and are always between 01 and 36 as the trailing zero is always dropped. For example, 30 on our runway would be 300 degrees on a compass. Another thing to note is that these markings don't have to be exact as they are always rounded to the nearest whole number. For example, 183 degrees would be rounded down to 180 or 18. Similarly, 187 degrees would be rounded up to 190 or 19. 

Side note - I've read that the FAA requires the leading zero to also be dropped which would mean that runway 09 in Canada would simply be runway 9 in the States. Because of course things have to be different in America. 

Going back to our example, my earlier reference to runway 12/30 at EIA should now make sense. Given that you cover 180 degrees when facing the opposite direction, it makes sense that 12 is what's marked on the opposite side of the runway (300 - 180 = 120, dropping the 0 gives us 12. Or, 30 - 18 = 12). 

Because these markings are a visual aid - and a critical one at that - the document has dimensional requirements for the numbers and letters and these can be referenced on page 83, figure 5-3. What letters you might ask? Consider that there are a number of factors that go into deciding where a runway should be placed (prevailing winds, mostly); so, there may be instances where runways are located parallel to each other, especially in larger airports. In these cases, runways are distinguished as follows where L stands for left, C for center and R for right. 

  • for 2 parallel runways: "L" and "R"
  • for 3 parallel runways: "L" "C" "R"
  • for 4 parallel runways: "L" "R" "L" "R"

In the case of 4 parallel runways, one set of adjacent runways is numbered to the nearest one-tenth magnetic azimuth, and the other set of adjacent runways is numbered to the next nearest one-tenth of the magnetic azimuth. For example, when the magnetic azimuth is between 150.0° and 159.99°, the runway designator of the two left runways would be 15L and 15R respectively, and the runway designator of the two right runways would be
16L and 16R respectively. 

Here's an example of parallel runways at Toronto Pearson, YYZ. 

Figure 4 : Two Parallel Runways at Toronto Pearson, YYZ

Figure 4: Two Parallel Runways at Toronto Pearson, YYZ

And here are 4 parallel runways at Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, ATL. 

Figure 5 : Four Parallel Runways at Hartsfield-Jackson, ATL

Figure 5: Four Parallel Runways at Hartsfield-Jackson, ATL

 

CENTRELINE MARKINGS

These are located along the centreline of the runway between the runway designation markings and define the runway's centre. The markings commence 12m beyond the runway designation marking and end 12m from the runway designation marking at the opposite end. The length of each longitudinal stripe is at least 30m and the length of a stripe plus the gap is at least 50m but not more than 75m. The width of the centreline is determined by AGN, Aircraft Group Number, a means of interrelating the numerous technical specifications required for the airport and the aircraft. 

 

TOUCHDOWN ZONE MARKINGS

The touchdown zone (TDZ) is defined as the first 3,000 ft of the runway LDA or the first third of the runway, whichever is less, measured from the threshold in the direction of landing. LDA, landing distance available, is the length of the runway available and suitable for the ground run of an aircraft landing. A great definition of LDA with illustrations is provided here, but it is essentially the amount of distance available on the runway that the aircraft can traverse after touchdown and before coming to a complete stop. 

The markings are 22.5m long and 3.15m wide. The number of marking pairs along with distance of TDZ markings from the threshold is determined by LDA and is given in Table 5.2.10.2 on page 93 of the document. The following figure illustrates these requirements. 

Figure 6 : TDZ and Aiming Point Markings

Figure 6: TDZ and Aiming Point Markings

AIMING POINT MARKINGS

These are 2 conspicuous stripes mean as a visual aiming point for pilots landing an aircraft. The dimensions of the aiming point markings along with distance from threshold and lateral spacing between the inner sides of the markings all depend on LDA and are provided in Table 5.2.9.2 on page 92 and are illustrated in the figure above. 

 

THRESHOLD AND DEMARCATION BARS AND CHEVRON MARKINGS

You might have wondered what the white bar and the yellow arrows in figures 4 & 5 are. The white bar is the threshold bar which is used on a runway when:

a) the beginning of a runway is not square with the runway centreline
b) the runway threshold is not co-located with the extremity of the opposing runway
c) a paved stopway precedes the threshold of a runway, or
d) the threshold markings are located on an intersecting runway (for example in a "T" configuration)

Examples of "a" and "d" are provided in the document, and you can see "c" illustrated in figure 4 above. The stopway mentioned above is the blast pad, an area that is prepared so as to resist erosion arising from jet exhaust or propeller wash and is identified by the chevron markings. 

Demarcation bars are solid yellow bars provided where a paved stopway, blast pad or taxiway precedes the pre-threshold area of a runway. These are all illustrated below. 

Figure 7 : Threshold, Demarcation Bars and Chevron Markings

Figure 7: Threshold, Demarcation Bars and Chevron Markings

I wondered why the difference in the two runways in the above image - why do the markings not go all the way to the threshold bar in the image on the left? I believe it's because the pre-threshold area only goes up to the demarcation bar, the portion beyond which forms part of the TORA or take-off run available. TORA is the length of the take-off run available plus the length of the clearway and the clearway forms a part of the runway (highlighted here by the arrows). 

 

ARROW MARKINGS

Finally we get to arrow markings which are simply provided where a runway threshold is permanently displaced from the runway end. An illustration is provided above in figure 7 and can also be seen below at runway 33L at YYZ. 

Figure 8 : Arrow Markings at Runway 33L - YYZ

Figure 8: Arrow Markings at Runway 33L - YYZ

In closing, I hope this has provided you with a good understanding of and appreciation for the complex and crucial role that runway markings play in ensuring the safety of aircrafts. Obviously there are a lot more visual aids to cover, from lights to taxiway marking, wind socks and more, but those are for another day. 

INNOVATION SERIES WEBINAR #2

Yesterday I attended a webinar courtesy of Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and Phocuswright called the Innovation Series. Currently in its second year, the idea behind the series is "to showcase the business travel industry's most impactful innovators." The series allows 9 innovators, split over 3 webinars, to compete for the title of "Best Innovator in Business Travel" with the top 3 winners invited to the GBTA Convention taking place in San Diego, CA.

I have attended similar sessions where companies pitch their ideas (TechToronto & Keiretsu, for example), but always in person and never with the ability to vote on who deserves to move forward. I felt like a Shark from Shark Tank (without doling out $$ for equity, of course). As the title suggests, this was the 2nd webinar and while I regret missing the 1st, I will definitely be attending the 3rd webinar taking place on June 7 at 2pm EST. It was fascinating to learn about what these companies do and here's a brief highlight along with my thoughts: 

 

Pitch #1 - GAEST.COM

First up was Anders Mogensen, CEO & Co-founder of GAEST.COM (pronounced guest), which describes itself as an online community marketplace to list, discover and book meeting spaces for all professional needs. Interestingly, the word gæst is a nod to the company's Danish roots (gæst means guest in Denmark) and the company has since expanded to Norway, Sweden,UK, Belgium, Australia and Mexico. 

Anders mentioned the need for the service as flexible working is becoming the new norm. Ironically, however, the more time we spend online, the more valuable offline meetings become. Leaders, as a result, are increasingly encouraging more human interaction. This is further bolstered by the fact that 66% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050. Gaest fills this need by pairing up individuals and companies willing to list their office space with those that require a venue for board meetings, workshops or job interviews. Surprisingly, the company has seen venues being used for a variety of other activities from auditions to yoga classes to even private tattoo sessions. 

This is a very neat concept and another example of the increasingly popular sharing economy. We have Uber for drivers willing to provide a ride, Airbnb for homeowners willing to rent out space, even Dozr which links idle construction equipment with contractors. And now we have a way to rent out idle office space for temporary meetings (or other creative uses as the company has found!).  

 

PITCH #2 - GERMFALCON

Next up was Elliot Kreitenberg, President & Co-founder of GermFalcon. The company has an innovative means of sanitizing airline seats through the use of ultraviolet C (UV C) technology. The product is equipped with retractable arms that look like wings (hence the name GermFalcon) that extend out, thereby ensuring full coverage of the seating area. Think of a regular airline service cart and you get the idea. 

The UV C technology behind the product is proven to work and has been used in hospitals. Furthermore, the company claims the technology kills all bacteria & viruses including Ebola, MRSA, the flu etc. As soon as Elliot pitched the idea, I immediately thought of a recent article in Bloomberg about self-cleaning airline seats. Elliot must have read my mind because he mentioned this particular bit of news as well, although he dismissed it as not something that would work.

While the Bloomberg article makes no mention of UV C technology, it does echo some of the same concerns about airlines festering with germs and bacteria. Rockwell Collins Inc., a seat manufacturer, already offers airline seats with an antimicrobial coating, but they're optional and not every airline chooses them. And that, Elliot says, is the challenge - a lack of regulation requiring airlines to adopt a sanitization procedure. 

Elliot mentioned the cost to airlines to be minimal at $0.09 per seat and incremental cost to passengers to be $2.00. I have further questions here on what this cost is based on:

  • Is this cost for a single application a day, or does this include application during each each turnaround? If the former, wouldn't it just be the first passengers of the day that see the maximum benefit?
  • Elliot mentioned the unit does not fly on board the aircraft and is instead stationed at the gate. If that's the case, I wonder how many of these units will airlines require? Beyond the individual unit required at each origin and destination airport, wouldn't larger (and especially hub) airports require multiple units to deal with multiple aircrafts? I imagine scheduling would be a challenge.

Regardless, I think this is a very unique and interesting concept and congratulations to GermFalcon for winning the vote yesterday and advancing to the final round at the GBTA convention. 

 

PITCH #3 - WAYLO

Last up we had Waylo and their Stayscience hotel price prediction engine which was the most intriguing pitch to me. Waylo works by predicting hotel prices in the future with a stunning 95% accuracy. The example provided by Angik Sarkar, CEO & founder, was one where a hotel room quoted at $500 could be booked for, say $400, depending on the platform's predicted future price. Waylo estimates upfront savings of 12% with corporate negotiated accounts expected to save 5%. 

This reminded me of Hopper, an app that predicts flight prices. The difference, and this is what I found most compelling, is that Waylo lets you book its predicted future price today! That is an incredible testament to the confidence the founder has in the app's prediction algorithm.

In the event the price does not fall to the expected minimum (5% of the cases), Waylo absorbs the loss meaning consumers won't be expected to pay the difference. Returning to the example provided, let's say the original $500 price was predicted to drop to $400 but only dropped to $425. This would classify as a failure, but Waylo would absorb the loss of $25. Let's say the price drops below $400 to $375. In this case the additional savings of $25 are split between Waylo and the company depending on the agreed-to contract. 

I have further questions about the company's business model:

  • How do they make money? I believe Angik mentioned it's a percentage of bookings. In that case, is the 12% savings in addition to the commission collected by Waylo? If so, that is staggering.
  • Instead of charging a commission, I wonder why Waylo doesn't instead make money via arbitrage. As an example, let's say the original price is $500 and Waylo quotes $460 - up front savings of 8%. If Waylo's algorithm predicts the price to drop to $440, the company can pocket the $20, or 4%. I realize either way you arrive at the same end result, but wouldn't companies feel better about not being charged a commission? Isn't there a psychological aspect to all this? Regardless, I was very fascinated by what Waylo offers. 

 

These innovation series are a great way to highlight up-and-comers and it's fascinating to learn about the impact they are having in business travel (or travel in general). I especially love that the audience is given a say in which company deserves to move forward. Looking forward to the 3rd webinar!