‘Is This the Right Aircraft to….?’

Boarding

Boarding

I have recently started work at a certain airport in southern England. It’s an eye opener as the characters of staff and passengers you have working or passing through.

Everyday is a fashion show with the clothes worn by passengers as they traipse down the gates for their flights to somewhere exotic or home, or business. Whatever it may be. Hen and stag do’s are the wackiest although there are a couple of lone travellers who would not look out of pace on a stag or hen do with what has been seen

I digress from what I was going to write about.

It seems to me, dress code apart, passengers its seems, lose their confidence and brains when they enter an airport.

As soon as they enter the terminal building, they are like jelly, putty or miserable and it has been known aggressive. My piece here will deal with a jelly like brain and lack of confidence. It is not intended in any way to be a piss taker, but some stories I will recite are very funny – ridiculous in fact but true. I hope this makes people think and ensure they arrive on time at their gate

A certain low-cost airline as do others at the airport in question, operate a WIWO policy – Walk in – Walk Out of the aircraft. The aim is to speed the disembarking and boarding of an aircraft when required – returning from a flight and going out on one namely!

When the passengers check in and make their way to the boarding gate, this is where the big problems show. Each flight has a limited time for passengers to board before actual push back of the aircraft. It is around 20 minutes before aircraft is pushed back that the gate closes, not allowing more passengers to board. With this passengers have an attitude.

GatesOh I have paid for my ticket so they won’t unload me!!’ – Oh really! Why should the airline hold up the hundred plus passengers who are already on board and who made it on time? Just because you have not bothered to make the gate on time or spent too long in Duty Free or even the bar! What a selfish attitude. Priorities go out the window for many passengers. Duty Free or my flight? Oh what a quandary!!

With the WIWO loading, there is cut off between front and back loading passengers. Generally it is around rows/seats 1-14 at the front and 15 onwards are to the rear. This of course can include going out side where the front loading passengers generally going through an enclosed jetty. Understandable reticence if the weather is not conducive for the passengers to not ‘own up’ to being in the rear half of the aircraft.

There is however an issue with basic numeracy, even A level maths students are prone to not knowing what numbers are after 15!! So when they are told – ‘Seats 15 and above at the back’, one is asked ‘does that include 22?’ etc? Errr yes, of course it does!!!

If it is outside, other questions come to the fore. The favourite seems to be ‘Which set of steps are for…Alicante?’ When viewing the aircraft from outside, there are 2 sets of steps on a remote stand but with a jetty stand there is one – at the back. The Jetty has steps coming from it so people seem to get confused. However the steps and jetty are attached to the same aircraft depending on the stands themselves. The aircraft is not like a train and so will not separate in half. The back will go to the same place as the front and at the same time.

Another question is, ‘Is this the plane to…Bodrum?’ A worthy question, but when you consider what the passenger has been through, Check-in, security, boarding gate, one would as with the previous issue think they should by now know they have come to the correct gate and aircraft. Admittedly a small number slip through.

The particular airline in question operates a policy of one piece of hand luggage per passenger, unless you have paid extra for  speedy boarding. This allows another piece of hand luggage and priority boarding, as long as you turn up early enough at the gate. The one piece of hand luggage is one bag (small wheelie or rucksack etc). Handbags etc are classed as another piece. Your boarding pass (certainly if printed out from the website) does state this but again passengers fail to read it. They are then shocked when asked to combine the hand luggage into one.

If the bags cannot be combined, they are put in the aircraft hold at a cost to the passenger. Ignorance is not an excuse. However, depending on the aircraft used, there is a limit on overhead locker space. This is worked out using the ICAO bag dimensions. Not all bags will match exactly so its on average. It would take too long to measure every bag on every flight. So on average an Airbus A319 allows 55 bags before more are sent to the hold. In an Airbus A320 its 65 before hold bags are taken. This is free to passengers. There is no charge.

Another thing passengers forget to consider is if they require assistance. This is invariably a wheelchair. They tend to forget this on their flight to airport. Wen you meet the aircraft, and the door opens, the cabin manager tells you where they have arrived from, how many passengers and ‘specials’ on board. There is a delay as those who have booked special assistance are off loaded. This can include a high loader that rises up to the opposite door. Especially if the passengers particular trouble walking and would not be able to walk up the jetty or down the stairs. Those who haven’t booked will tend to have to wait longer as the assistance is generally elsewhere as no one knew about the particular passenger in question.Some people seem to think they should be given priority even if no one is aware of them. This request can be sent on down the line from the outbound flight ops.

Have a good flight next time you go flying with an airline. Be on time to the gate and read the luggage requirements to minimise the delay of your flight. Book special assistance if required.

History on Screen – is it always correct?

I am not talking about dedicated documentaries. I know many people have a tendency to fall asleep at such programmes. I am referring to TV and programs and Films shown at the cinema. The latter is more shocking. Why I say that will become clear.

This particular blog has come about (the 1st in a long time from me), because of a program I saw last night on British TV. Its  a popular detective mystery series called Midsumer Murders. Set in and around a fictional village/ town of Midsumer which is somewhere in the English countryside.

The population of the surrounding areas are being bumped off regularly and the local detective and his sidekicks have their work cut out – for 2 hours every week to discover how and why these people are being murdered.

Last night’s was of interest to me for one thing – flying. A flying club was at the centre of the evil shenanigans. The episode was called the Flying Club. A flying instructor and organiser of the airfield’s airshow was murdered when he went to check an aircraft out on the dark airfield (he was working laet). He saw a light shining from the cab of a Cessna 150/152. This is a 2 seat light training aircraft, popular with flying clubs. On investigating he was bashed on the head with a wrench. The assailant took off and dropped the victim out the passenger door into a lake from about 400ft!

Nothing much wrong there. The problem comes later when there is a Spitfire flying at the display. It is the famous Mark IX Spitfire MH434.The actor portraying the commentator said it was a Mark II. There is a difference.

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From these photos the main difference are the Cannons, protruding on the MkIX (right hand picture), non existent on the MkII. The MkIX was also faster and had a more powerful engine This may seem a petty statement but when a number of people learn their history from TV and Film, it would pay the program and film makers to get their facts correct.

People also get ideas on how to do things!

Last night in Midsumer Murders, it showed a man:

  1. Pre-filght checking an aircraft in a hangar, – Not to be encouraged (besides the better light outside enables you to see better)
  2. Giving a cursory look under the wing – NO- check properly for damage and water content in the fuel
  3. Starting up the engine in a confined space next to other aircraft and containers.! No way – not under any circumstances

Programs like this generally have a more restricted budget then big blockbuster films. Hence my comment earlier – take time to obtain correct fact when making films. The one film with a huge historic error that comes to mind is U571. A film about how the US Navy found the German Enigma machine which then led to a drop in attacks on shipping convoys and ultimately a reduction in the length of time the war could have progressed for.

It was of course the British Royal Navy who found the Enigma machine. HMS Bulldog boarded U-110 in may 1941 and recovered code books etc aswell.  There was a note to say the Americans were not the first but this was in the small print with the credits! Who actually reads them at a cinema?

Hollywood is notorious for re-writing history. It distorts it too, just to make it more entertaining! The fact they may insult and or disrespect those who took part in the actual event being portrayed seems not to matter. But with those who go and watch, they may know nothing different. America, as a whole is not known for having worldly-wise citizens, the image is somewhat of naivety to the world and events that have happened or happen. It doesn’t help when America is seen to some as the only country that matters in the world.

Not getting the facts correct in films and programs that are produced does not with help this image. The same unfortunately can be said over here. Some people here in the UK are just as ignorant. A recent survey said that youngsters – (14-25yrs) thought Churchill was the dog from the insurance advert and not the greatest Briton who lived – Sir Winston Churchill, wartime (World war II) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. They had not heard of him. Mostly because they are not taught history as they should be or are not encouraged to learn it. No one corrects them when they are wrong.

I saw a program (I hesitate to say a reality program) where someone (aged about 30-35) didn’t realise the First World War was started by Germany and who it was involved. They only just grasped the reason for the outbreak of the Second World War.

Americans and British youngsters would be able to tell you the ins and out and gossip around popstars and celebrities, but ask which historical figure did what and what happened when, they would be less able and forthcoming if at all bothered! Mainly because the media cuts costs and corners with the important facts.

A travesty with society and as history is known to repeat itself a frightening prospect. So lets be prepared by knowing our history and ensuring others know their’s!

 

Aero Expo 2013

 

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I just got back from Berlin with my Rugby Club on Sunday. Tuesday morning, before crack of sparrows, while still dark I drove to a colleague’s house ready for a drive back to Germany. The colleague whose house was the meeting point was not to come on this trip. New born baby was the reason. So 2 other colleague’s (and the wife of one of them) were to be my other travel companions.

We (the company I work for – http://www.rocketroute.com) were going to the largest General Aviation exhibition in Europe, situated in southern Germany – Aero Expo at Friedrichshafen. On the picturesque banks of Lake Constance (which the Germans can’t understand why we call it that, they call it Bodensee).

We had hired a van with seating and room for our exhibition stand and had about 12 hours of driving ahead. The Volkswagen transporter was the result. Comfortable seats and enough room for our luggage aswell. We were going to be away until the following Saturday but not actually home till Sunday. Down to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel for a coffee and on to the train for the 30 minutes to Calais. Only 2 of the four were insured to drive so that was good. I could sleep (or at least try to sleep) on our way down.

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After regular stops for snacks and baguette and coffee we made it through the spectacular countryside in France and Germany to Friedrichshafen. This town is also known as the home to the Zeppelin Airships and are working on the next generation of them in their vast hangar on the side of the airfield. The lake is spectacular and looks across to Switzerland and the Alps.

We had arrived about 4pm (1600) and set about setting up our stand. There to meet us was a lady the guys had met at last year’s event who was keen to assist this year. Thank you Susanne – your assistance was invaluable. We were on a corner plot in a hall so protected from any wind and rain. Having finished setting up, we retired (via shops to buy extras for the stand (adapters for our computers and sweets for children and customers)) to our hotel for dinner and to recover from the journey.

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We were also expecting a program developer from Ukraine to join us so we were waiting to hear from him and see when he would arrive in town. He duly told us he had arrived so Uwe drove off to pick up Alex (who we had not met before – only on Skype).

We were up early on Wednesday – we had to be at the exhibition by 8am to finish off last-minute bits and pieces. It was an initiation for me as to how busy such a place could be. I was hoping as with through most of the week to get to see more of the exhibition. This was not to be. There was support to do although our colleagues back home were doing that. We spent the time demonstrating the system to potential customers and discussing problems with existing users. We were the busiest stand in our hall, and I think also very busy compared to other halls. We had to take lunch on the hoof, if we were lucky enough to get away even for that.

In the evening 2 people (Kurt and Uwe)when off for a business meeting, will the remainder (Susi, Alex and myself) went off for a meal on the banks of the Bodensee. Susi was able to advise some of the menu despite it being in English. Very enjoyable. We then went to a cocktail bar and had  a cocktail.

Thursday was the same as yesterday – busy. We had got in a form of rhythm for working with our visitors. The sweets and Yellow tabards went down a storm yesterday so we had to try to ration the tabards at least. Our promotional offers were going down a storm. We still had 2 days left.

In the evening there was an award ceremony, to be held in the grounds of the Zeppelin factory. It was run by the German aviation Fliger magazine. RocketRoute were nominated for the 3rd year in a row. Unfortunately we didn’t win anything but had a great evening. Free drink and a fabulous buffet. There was a magician who was very funny and clever. After the awards he walked around the tables and did impromptu tricks.

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The award of best contribution to aviation was made to Sigi Angerer of Red Bull. Such a great contribution to aviation all round. Back at the hotel Kurt and I got chatting to other exhibitors – for a night-cap. We saw other exhibitors in the morning and that was it. So it was good to meet and chat to them in a relaxed atmosphere.

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Friday – about the same amount of people as Thursday. Popular comments and amazing number of people signing up too. A successful time in all. Another busy day and a relaxing time back at the hotel. Meal and drinks in their restaurant.

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What I saw were amzing mix of aircraft types and models. There was a Diamond DA52-VII – twin piston engined 7 seater. Lovely aircraft. There was also teh ubiquitous Cessna Grand Caravan, Piper Malibu Meridien, PC12, Eclipse 550, Cirrus SR22 and the old venerable An2 on on outside staic display. There were obviously more but thee are teh ones I saw at close hand. There was also Cessna answers to teh Cirrus – the Corvalis TTX, In striking colours it does over 200kts. There weas also a Gyro copter. which alas did not fly when I was free. The otehr item misssing was teh Next gereantion Zepplin airship.

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 Saturday. Possibly the busiest day due to added members of the public. Our stand had an inflatable Rocket beside it and so many people made comments. One or two thought it was a bouncy castle. Thankfully it held up well. I did manage to sneak of and take some photos of some aircraft on show but not as many as I had hoped.

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 Towards the end of Saturday we packed up our stand and said our goodbyes. Alex was to stay another night and go home on Sunday. Susi, whose parents had turned up Friday stayed over to then take Susi back on Sunday towards their home near Dresden – 8hrs away or so. Kurt, myself, Uwe and his wife Renata, drove out-of-town towards home and decided to stay overnight at a hotel, 2hrs later to break up the journey after a long tiring day.

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We stayed at a hotel on the German France border. The rooms seemed like a suite in a hospital! The breakfast was mush the same as our hotel for the exhibition but it set us up well for the drive home. We got back to the UK by 6pm and then an 1hour later were picking up our cars from where we left them.

A very good experience and an enjoyable one too. Next stop for RocketRoute – EBACE – Geneva. For me, another exhibition somewhere in Europe or maybe further afield with this growing company.

 

Links:

http://www.aero-expo.com

http://www.rocketroute.com

 

Berlin or Bust!!

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The penultimate weekend in April saw a small rugby club from south-west London venture to the German Capital for a game of ruby. A game not many know about in European’s strongest economy. We helped that reputation a little bit more with what and how a rugby team can!

We all met on Friday 19th at Heathrow at Terminal 1 at 7am. Most came by shared taxi looking suitably dressed (well disguising the bleary eyes) with the club tie duly worn showing footballers how a tie should be worn. This included those who started off drinking at this ungodly hour! Passport sorted and security c;eared, it was through to airside for Duty Free and a good breakfast. Our flight was boarding after 30 minutes delay on it arrival from its previous departure point.

The Lufthansa A321, full, departed for the 1hr 20min flight to Berlin Tegel. The International Airport for the German capital after the closure of historic Templehoff (more on this airport later), and the continuing developments issues surrounding Schoenefeld Airport. On board we had a packed lunch! Well a bag containing either a ham or cheese sandwich, and apple, a sweet (mint)and a chocolate). The drinks came just afterwards – coffee, tea, fizzy and or alcohol.

We landed, picked up our bags, went for a drink in the Red Baron bar, complete with a model of a Fokker Triplane (DR1). It was then off to get a bus to start our journey to our hotel. The ticket on the bus was valid on most transport systems ( a bit like the travelcard in London). We then needed to get off the ‘bendy’ bus and on a train. Our station appeared and off we traipsed to our Hotel – one of the Generator line.

It looked like an Office building. The interior on the ground floor was metal walled with a scheme made to look like a generator/engine room . The rooms we had were a matter of 4 or 3 to a room (generally 2 singles and a bunk bed), with en suite shower and toilet. The view outside were of concrete buildings and a Velodrome and Swimming pools, partly submerged and covered by a park with walkways/cycleways. Having sorted out who was sharing a room with whom and dropping our bags off, we when on a tour of Berlin for some lunch and of course drink!

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So it was onto a tram this time to Alexndraplatz and a restaurant or beer haus. A table had been reserved by our fabulously organised tour manager. The drink (or large tankards, full of beer) flowed and the choice of meal was a mixed platter, consisting of various meat and a few vegetables. Fabulous. After this is was off again to see more of Berlin. Not much was found, more through going to the wrong areas, we should have just stayed where we were. There was even bungy jumping of a tall office block, no one in the club volunteered.

We then decided to go and see more of the city – Berlin wall remains, Checkpoint Charlie , walked past a Trabant museum and then the Brandenburg Gate. We even ventured into the Ardlon Hotel for cocktails. It was the plushest in Berlin. A great experience.

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We ended up not far from the hotel, having come back on another train! Public transport was very good but it did get a little tiring. The venue that became a favourite over the weekend was a kebab shop that had a bar at the back of the shop. Very hospitable if a weird mix of shop and bar.

We were getting more information as to where the rugby match tomorrow (Saturday) was to be played. We were to play the first full Gay Rugby team. They called themselves the Berlin Bruisers. Our very original opponents had called off at the last-minute. Now the only problem was where to play. It was a case : we have a pitch, no we don’t , we have a pitch, no we don’t! Oh well – lets see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday – up for breakfast at around 8am (some got down later due to drinking to the small hours). The weather was good, dry, blue sky, if only a little chilly! So where will  be playing (well, not me – I retired due to shoulder operation I had to have). 3 Taxis had been booked to take us to meet our opposition. We met them at a sports club where there were changing rooms. They were a mix of American, Canadian, German, British and Irish men.  We crossed the road and into a public park. And what a public park – the grounds of historic Templehhof import!

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The famous curved terminal building and apron was evident as were the taxiways. The runways were away for our impromptu pitch (a football pitch with goal posts either end, used for conversions).There were the remains of an aircraft used by the old airport fire service. There were also the remains of what looked like an assault course, rifle range and deathslide.  There was even a crazy golf curse utilising parts of aircraft and other bits found around the airport. There were still signs the Americans had a military presence – US Army Aviation on hangar doors and Softball pitches.

The team we were playing and some of the match was being recorded for a documentary so we could be famous at last!!! After the match, we returned to the sports club for after game drinks and games. In the bar there was a picture of Templehoff taken for the other side to what we saw, and during what looked like an airshow in 1989.

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The opponents were great fun, nothing but the genial hosts and entered in the spirit of the games (unlike our recent tours around Britain). The games were – Spoons (utensil type), Sumo (a club favourite) and the name escapes me but involves going round a broom stick having downed a pint of beer ad running back from where you started. Speaking from experience on other tours – not that straightforward. We made our excuses and headed back to get changed for a night on the town, what was left of it anyway.We won the game which made things better.

Some started off in a hotel round the corner from our’s and headed up to the cocktail bar, before heading out for a meal. This was an Italian restaurant just round the corner from our hotel and not far from the kebab shop bar.

Sunday, arrived and so did the bleary eyed revellers. It was also the day to check out of the hotel and we had a few hours to kill before we headed off to the airport for the return home.

The time was taken up with a river cruise, booked again by our irreplaceable tour manager Dev. The Spree river cruise was interesting. The bridges, the architecture along the banks, from before, during and after reunification. We even ventured down a canal and had to keep a low profile due top the low bridges down here. Lunch was served on board and some got decent service other had to ait till near the end of the cruise. It was good though. Then when berthed, off the boat (with our luggage) and off to a bar for the initiation of the tour virgins. 2 were non playing, the other 2 were not so fortunate!

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Taxis were ordered and duly arrived to take us off to the airport. On arrival, we queued for check in, visited the Red Baron bar again before going through security. The german reputation for efficiency fell flat here. Through a single door, passengers for 4 flights were expected to pass security and customs. One lot of security even asked us for our nationality and noted it on a sheet of paper. Surely this could be obtained from the check in desk! It was only our Lufthansa flight that was being asked! It was a slow process and we did not get through security until 1810 which was our expected departure time.

Once in our seats, the captain apologised for the delay and also mentioned incorrect information about the flight being due to depart another hour later due to some mix up with UTC (GMT) time and local time difference. This at an international airport!

I later find out the Berlin mayor was responsible for opening Tegel and closing Templehof, having tried to get  Schoenefeld up and running. Millions were spent, but no improvement on the facilities in Tegel was obvious. The Mayor of Berlin which is a City state comes from East Berlin therefore is still running his office in the socialist manner and is making Berlin bankrupt. Being the largest part of berlin, the East is still likely to vote for him or a fellow East Berliner in the near future. Such a shame. Not a got reputation on German efficiency.

All in all an dintersting trip to a European Capital. Next year – who knows where!

Defence! What Defence?

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Not being prone to airing my political views in text I thought I could hold back no longer. These views are entirely mine and are as I see it.

Defence of a country is and should be about pride and priority. Stand up for the interest of that country and its citizens.

However one country seems to like the idea of helping out abroad and letting its own citizens suffer and it also assists with immigrants who have contributed nothing to the economy yet they can claim benefits from those who do. Those who do contribute or have done so and deserve assistance are being forgotten or receiving less than the immigrants. What a kick in the teeth. Charity begins at home and not overseas. Get your own house in order before helping others.

Anyone guess which country I am talking about? Of course my own – the United Kingdom! It pains me to write this about my beloved country but those in power seem to not have this care nor do they want it! As long as our image abroad is good, as a country that likes helping out anyone who needs it and in some case those who don’t then they we will be fine! The British people will understand!  ‘Come on over Britain is open and will even pay you for being here!’  How wrong can they be? If roles were reversed, then those countries receiving our financial contributions would not even think about helping us.  I am sure, if the roles were reversed and the boot was on the other foot, then we would receive nowhere near what we give out seemingly for free, gratis and for nothing if anything at all. Where does the money go – to a private bank account of a governments official – or more than one?

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Typhoon fighter

So what has this got to do with Defence? Well the Syrian crisis is possibly a prime example. We are cutting back on defence spending, have made ‘overseas aid ‘ payments untouchable (except to be increased) and yet we are giving equipment and possibly some military aid to the Syrian rebels. Have we got anything military to give be it personnel or equipment? Not much as we had as it has all been binned including soldiers, sailors and airmen. We do not know where the next likely threat will occur and will not be that capable to defend our country and interests wherever this may be required due to the cost cutting eager government we have at present.

We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, have a possible situation over the Falkland Island again, have offered assistance to Syrian rebels and are helping the French in West Africa. We are stretched to almost beyond breaking point! The powers that be seemingly overrule the people who know about military capability. How stupid is that. It will be like a pilot being told how to fly a plane by a 5-year-old and doing as they say!

Oh of course I forgot, we have the Territorial Army and the reserve forces for the other services. They have a fairly limited capability that is slowly improving. Slowly improving due to cutbacks with the regulars. Unlike after the war and at least up to the 60s, now employers are not obliged to let anyone off to go to serve with the reserves, unless there is an official call up. After the war it was law to allow training of the reserves in addition to their holiday entitlement. I worked for a company who had MOD contracts yet basically put two fingers up to the armed services. A comparison if anyone would like it – a woman on maternity leave has over 6 months off work. That is her decision to have a baby – no gun held to her head saying she must. Yet a person (man or woman) is going to have at least a 2 week extra added to their annual leave. Anyone says it isn’t fair on those who don’t sign up – they have a choice just like those who decide to go and have babies. Like a woman on maternity leave  you get paid. TA pay you even for your parade nights and attending weekends.  Employers used to have to pay you for your training days with the reserves. The company I worked for with the contracts gave an extra weeks leave as a goodwill gesture.

The Strategic Defence review (other versions do exist) is a big kick in the teeth for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country free and with few terrorist attacks. The Government think they know best. The present incumbents are not alone, they have just made things worse and people have short memories so only really know whats going on in the present. Labour did not do so much cutting back but they by no means increased the capability in either personnel or materials and supplies.

There are requests that go through the house to be debated, however obviously defence is such a case that discussing it cannot possibly happen. Why not? They are playing with our lives, indirectly and are gambling with our future safety by making brash decisions without true thought or discussion.

A case in point and in recent history is Libya. The Gaddafi regime was opposed and was ultimately overturned with help from international pressure and forces. Yes we were there! However just before it broke out a monumentally stupid decision was made. Scrap the revolutionary Harrier jet and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal? Why – money-saving was the all too ready answer.

The Harrier was withdrawn from military use in mid 2010, and the Ark Royal almost 6 months later. The Harrier had earned it stripes and reputation in the Falklands War of 1982. It could take off from smaller scaled carriers instead of using the bulky catapult system used by other navies – US, France etc. Ark Royal had been built with a ski jump at the end to enable the Harrier to be airborne quickly. The ski jump (as with the catapult) are British inventions. The ski jump came into its own, like the Harrier during the Falklands War. It proved just the thing for quick deployment and take off.  Now only HMS Illustrious remains but is expected to decommissioned in 2014! We now have about as many ships as Belgium if not less, but we have more interests around the world to look after.

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HMS Illustrious

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Sea Harrier

Without the Harrier or a decent Carrier what and how could Britain assist with the Libyan rebels? Of course the expensive option. RAF Typhoon jets to be flown from East Anglia and base themselves in Italy and Sicily. They could then attack Libya with relative ease. Having the Ark Royal and Harrier working in unison would have been so much more efficient. Just off the coast, exactly where they were wanted with no great distance to cover and no air to air refuelling. Not saying don’t use the Typhoon but it could have been used in conjunction if really required.

A combat helicopter platform (HMS Ocean) was used to carry the fantastic, deadly and ugly Apache attack helicopter. The British government were determined not to put any personnel ashore. Some saving grace I suppose.

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Apache Longbow attack helicopter

Personally I am scared of what the future brings with regards to terrorism and attacks on my homeland and the liberties taken by other countries at our apparent forgiving, gentle nature. I am scared of not having anything to defend ourselves with. OK there is the collaboration with France and of course who could forget our ‘Special’ relationship with the US. We have mutual respect for each other’s armed services. There is also talk of a combined European Defence Force. Possibly the most ridiculous suggestion made at a very uncertain time.

With regards to the European scheme, nearly all concerned have had  conflicts with each other in the past and in some cases it doesn’t take much to get arguments started due to animosity between the countries. How can we expect a military organisation based on these countries be expected to work? NATO is not the same thing. Different countries are involved. It’s like the USA – the state system works due to length of time they have been together. They have known and been in some form of organised union for hundreds of years. Europe, especially the UK (as it is where I am from) have been independent for 2000 years give or take a few, with no formal set up so we have our own character. Anything combined with Europe, except holidays and trade would be tantamount to disaster if not a form of mass civil war. Why should we all be the same, we are not the same. No point in asking us to change for the benefit of Europe

On paper all looks fine and makes sense, but we can’t agree on everyday items as a group of countries (tax, weights and measures, finance, international matters in general and other subjects such as Human Rights). How can we be expected to think of getting closer under a flag or cap badge of European Defence? Some countries are almost mainly pacifist or have not much of a structure or experience.

I am not a war monger or want to be one, but I will do what I have to defend mycountry and fellow countryman aswell as our interests abroad, hoping we have something left to fight for and the equipment to fight with along with personnel to fight alongside.

Decisions behind doors on such subjects and how they were concluded is an area where I can see the point of secrecy but when it comes back to cutbacks and ‘money saving’ where money is going abroad like water over a waterfall, then I take the exception.

Just before I wrote this I heard that a battalion were going to lose their tanks vehicles and will revert to an Infantry unit! If that wasn’t enough there have been press reports that one of the best fighting units in the World, the Parachute Regiment are to lose the majority of their parachutes. This will be like drinking tea without the tea leaves! The parachute is what gave their name and led them to many victories in the Second World War and since. They were integral (along with their maritime counterparts, the other world-renowned elite force – the Royal Marines) to the victory in the Falklands.

The world had looked up to Britain for her pride, her people, her attitude of fairness. Most of all they have admired and in some cases imitated (imitation the highest form of flattery) her armed forces and even for training assistance and equipment. Oman being a prime example. Our military bands are world famous and nothing sums up British pride and act as the best ambassador’s possible like the famous Red Arrows, the RAF aerobatics team. There was a scare when they seemed under threat by being disbanded as this government is on a cost cutting spree at home yet a spending spree abroad, even if it ends up with nothing to show for it. Crikey I dread to think of the scale of the backlash for that. I like to think the Government had a moment (rare as it is – in fact, very much in danger) of sense and rescinded the idea.

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The Red Arrows

They are now saying the humongous overseas aid budget can be used for military spending when required. A back-handed compliment, a u-turn in disguise or a way to pacify people? Whichever way, it stinks of charity and classes the military as members of the Third World. This who the Overseas’ aid budget is supposed to be helping! This country also treats the gallant men and women as 3rd class citizens when they leave the armed services or return injured from conflicts. This is an absolute insult and a very bad image to give potential new recruits as to what they can look forward to. If you were a terrorist and or killed and/or raped people over here yet you are illegal, be prepared to have a house and benefits showered upon you. Even the awful human rights are the friend of a terrorist or other criminals. Yet a soldier mutilated by war, or suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is expected to live on what they have and even lose benefits as some clerical assistant and not a medical person has a final say on the claim form.

In some respect as the Government has been shamed into seemingly doing more because if successful charities such as Help for Heroes. The real heroes are those risking their lives defending us against terrorism. Not your overpaid ignorant MP who knows nothing about the military he/she is in charge of and thinks they are making it better. How wrong can you be!

The way things are going the formation of the armed services will be this:

Royal Navy – Sailing club

Army – Paintball club

Royal Air Force – Flying Club

What a sorrowful state of affairs things have become

New Zealand 2011

I have more interests then aviation. I am also a keen supporter of Ruby Football. I find it more enjoyable than Football itself. So when my rugby club thought about doing a once in a lifetime trip to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand – I jumped at the chance.

OK so a year later than when this should have appeared! The England win over New Zealand at the weekend made me think about my trip just over a year ago down under to the Antipodes for that festival of rugby – the World Cup.

This was not with any flying by me or with me on the flight deck  but of course there was a lot of flying involved: Heathrow – Hong Kong / Hong Kong – Sydney / Sydney – Auckland / Auckland – Los Angeles / Los Angeles – Heathrow. So it was literally a round the world trip!

The rugby club I have been a member of for over 15 years – Racal Decca RFC, has a superb tour manager/organiser. Working in the hospitality business helps!! He organised for  club members to go to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Eight of us (Dev, Mick, Cookie, Tony, Anthony, Harry, Simon 1 (myself), Simon 2) took up the offer and coughed up the money to experience this possibly once in a lifetime trip to a festival of a game we all love to either play or watch (some have done both but the latter has been forced on us). An old member (Mike) of the club had emigrated to New Zealand a few years previously and so it was going to be an ideal opportunity to meet up over a few beers.

Tuesday 11th October:

Seven of us met in an Aussie themed bar in Wimbledon whilst we waited for our taxis to take us to Heathrow Terminal 5. The Eighth member (Tony) was already on a tour of South East Asia and would meet us in Auckland. The ninth member (Mike) would meet us there too having driven up from his home near Wellington, as we had arranged to hire 2 motor-homes for the duration of the stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud, it would help with the logistics to pick them up.

Terminal 5 is the terminal infamous for its baggage mis-handling on its opening a few years back. Thankfully we had no such problems. It went swimmingly. It is an impressive place and straight forward to get through to your aircraft.

The 7 of us Boarded our British Airways flight BA25 and took off  at near 7 pm and landed in the heat of the jewel in the South China Sea just gone lunchtime the next day.

Wednesday 12th October

It had been 16 years since I was last in Hong Kong, it was warmer too as it was March and I was visiting my sister who lived there and I saw the Hong Kong 7s. I was there for 3 weeks. This time would be only 1 night. The weather was mixed but mainly rain and cloud. It had changed (as expected). The new airport (Chep Lak Kok) was on the island of Lantau and further away from Hong Kong and Kowloon than Kai Tak was. No more amazing approaches over the skyscrapers and CheckerBoard Mountain.

Our hotel was the Novotel, Nathan Road in Kowlooon. It was going to be luxury compared to what lay ahead in New Zealand! We had a walk around the area, to soak up teh atmosphere (and the rain). We returned back to the hotel to change for the evening. We wandered over to a bar on the harbour front. A row of bars frequented by expats from around the world lines the street facing the harbour and looking out towards Hong Kong Island. Quite a view.

later that evening Dev had booked a restaurant in  Tsim Sha Tsui. Quite plush! It was busy too. A chef even gave a demonstration of making noodles. Fantastic. Afterwards went into a hotel for a relaxing aperitif before retiring to our hotel for our one and only night in Hong Kong.

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Thursday 13th October

Another overcast day and our last in Hong Kong. We had a decision to make – Victoria Peak or Sky 100. The latter is a new skyscraper open to the public to view Hong Kong and the surroundings from the 100 floor.  We opted for the skyscraper. At least we would be undercover from the rain. It actually wasn’t raining, just very cloudy. The cloud did clear. From the Sky 100, a tremendous view was possible, including what Kai Tak looks like now – a very sad sight to a once great but notorious airport.

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We then caught the famous Star Ferry across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. We had limited time as our flight was in the afternoon. As we crossed the harbour a Chinese Junk sailed across in front of us. The Iconic Chinese cargo vessel is actually quite rare so it made an interesting sight sailing with full sail.

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After walking around the streets of Hong Kong Island, we then caught a taxi back to the Hotel to grab our bags and catch the bus to the airport. A long 40 minutes drive over new bridge and road system.

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After check in at the new modern airport terminal we awaited for the departure of our (well 5 of us) flight at 2055 (2 others left earlier due to availability of tickets). We left on Qantas at 20:55 to land at Sydney the next day for a 4 hour lay over.

Friday 14th October

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We arrived at 0855 and hung around and had a bite to eat and ventured into Duty Free. No time to see the sights of this famous city. Except from a distance from the terminal. The guys who had caught an earlier flight had landed in Melbourne and we were going to meet up again in Auckland. We departed Sydney on Qantas and arrived 5 hours later in Auckland. Now the fun was really beginning. Tony and Mike had picked up the motor-homes and made sure that they would not be locked away in the company compound as we landed after its closure.

Going through customs, the officers were joking with us about why are we here? – England are not!! The atmosphere was great with loads of banter being thrown around. We hadn’t seen Mike for over 3 years so it was good to see him on our exit of the baggage and customs hall. Tony was his usual effervescent self. I went off with Tony and Mike to pick up the motor-homes (Mike was in his own car) and bring them back to the airport.

We were altogether by now and so loaded up and headed off to our campsite – home base for the next few days. Orewa Beach, north of Auckland and as the name suggested – on the beach! The motorhomes were something different but ideal fr the upcoming stay in New Zealand – ‘Land of the Long White Cloud.’

I had bought a pair of walkie talkies over from the UK. They turned out to be ideal for talking between the motorhomes in our mini convoy instead of using expensive mobile phone calls.

The evening was spent exploring Orewa town and sampling the local hospitality. Travelling can be so tiring!

Saturday 15th October

Up for Breakfast outside our mobile homes and an early morning sunshine. We could have gone for a dip but decided against it.The camp site was I believe listed as one favoured for travelling supporters. There were French, Welsh and even New Zealand supporters staying here. The banter and atmosphere was great between all and sundry.

Today was the first day for us to see some rugby – The first Semi Final – Wales v France. It meant getting into Auckland early to soak up the atmosphere and get some lunch. The organisers had laid on free bus services. There was a free bus from our campsite to Auckland and free trips back via Albany.

When we got to Auckland we could either catch a train to Eden Park or go on the Fans Trail – a pedestrian route along pavements and through parks passing various entertainments – rugby related, juggling etc. There were of course the usual pubs and bars and it would have been rude not to try them!

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The first game was France V Wales.

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Sunday 16th October

Day of the 2nd Semi Final – but as with yesterday it was not until 9pm! So a day to get to look around the local area.

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In Auckland later that day ready for New Zealand v Australia

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The transport arrangements to the grounds, even from our campsite was fantastic. Free bus from our campsite to Auckland and free train to Eden Park, if you had game tickets. There was even a Fan Trail – a 5 mile walk with street entertainers and bars along the way. We did this once then opted for the train after that. The return an equally well organised. Bus to a stop at Albany from the stadium and then a connecting bus to the town of our campsite Orewa Beach.

Monday 17th October

A fairly relaxing day although it meant driving for a few hours to the famous Sulphur City of Rotorua. After breakfast we bumped into some friends from teh UK, who also had played for the rugby club but had booked independently, their trip to New Zealand. DSC_0265

We then set off to Rotorua. Walkie-Talkies at the ready and vans fuelled up. Mike, the expat came with us in his car and left for his home near Wellington, as we pulled into the camp site that had been booked. On the way down , the lead van decided to undress itself from the rear. This is where the walkie-talkies came in handy as we in the second vehicle passed on the news. The fault was remedied by means of Duct Tape, that stayed on the van through our time in New Zealand  When stopped to make the repair there was an Emu (Australian native bird) in a field taking it all in.DSC_0266

I have a friend in Rotorua so when we parked up at the campsite I rang them and they kindly acted as taxi to a local pub – The Pig and Whistle . This was the old Police Station.

Tuesday 18th October

What to do today? There are loads of activities to do and see around Rotorua but we were only going to be there less than a day we had to decide on something. Therefore the famous Thermal Park –

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The Thermal Park is a living Maori village. It has shops, a church (and cemetery) and allotments for growing of vegetables. Fascinating if a little smelly due to the sulphur.

We then went to Hell’s Gate. A thermal pool one could bathe in to get a taste of the good the sulphur filled water spring water does to your body.

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We were now getting on and we had to move onto Taupo, location of the largest freshwater lake in the southern Hemisphere and like most New Zealand has an active volcano beneath it.

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Wednesday 18th October

A couple of mad thrill seekers from our group decided to do a typical New Zealand activity of Bungy Jumping!

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We then left the town of Taupo to drive to the Coromandel Peninsula and Hot Water Beach. On the way we stopped at a Hydro Electricity plant for the daily release of the water that makes its way down through the valley in a quite impressive cascade.

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There was a scenic trip to our next camps ite at Hot Water  Beach. Mountainous with windy roads that just seemed to climb for eternity.

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Thursday 19th October

Today was our trip to Hot Water Beach via the Coromandel Peninsula. It was here we had a lunch break and stretched our legs. Hot Water Beach is a stretch of sand covering a vein of volcanically heated water. You dig (you can hire spades) less than 6 inches and you have a bath that is warm,in paces boiling, yet the Pacific Ocean is yards away and is cold in comparison. We ventured to the beach by means of another beach as the vein of water is most accessible at low tide.

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Friday 21st October

Back to Orewa Beach, ready for the Bronze Final Australia v Wales

The weather had decided to be more settled over these last few days and this added to the beauty of some of what New Zealand had to offer.

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The match today was earlier then the last 2 matches so we had a little time to sightsee. We made the most of where we were while we waited for the time to catch the bus to Auckland. WE had become ‘regulars’ at a bar that had music and so had a good time when we ventured into it. Being English (with a few additional home country allegiances) we sparked a bit of humour due to England being knocked out before we got to New Zealand, but it was all in great jest.

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This was a great match and the last one we would see.

Saturday 22nd October

We had a free day now and decided to visit Auckland and see what it had to offer. The Sky Tower, The Lord Nelson pub and many more attractions.

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In the evening, one of the guys had a friend who lived in a suburb of Auckland and had arranged for us to have a meal in South African run restaurant. It was a great meal, lovely food and great company. A good day was had by all.

Sunday 23rd October

Cup Final day – New Zealand v France. No tickets but we had decided to watch it in a pub in Auckland to soak up some of the atmosphere. In teh meantime we had a day free to relax, unwind as only 2 days before were due to fly off to the USA.  Some of us took a walk along to the local Life Saving club where the bar was open and as it was a miserable day weather wise we had a relaxing drink to while away a couple of hours.

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After the final we decided to call in at our local bar before retiring to bed! Most in a reflective mood due to the impending flight away from New Zealand and the nearing of the end to a fantastic trip.

Monday 24th October

Another free day, but we had packing to do at the end of it. We decided to head up the coast for something to do We headed for Mangawhai Heads. DSC_0734  DSC_0742 

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We stopped off for lunch in a local bar on the banks of an estuary. Then returned to the campsite to start the unenviable task of packing up and getting the vans ready for return to the hire company. There of course was a final trip to the local bar to drown our sorrows.

Tuesday 24th October

Off on the next trip of our round the world trip. We had to be at Auckland Airport by at least 1200 and the included returning the camper vans to the hire company. We were due off at 1430 tp Los Angeles. Flying Qantas. At Auckland Airport is Jean Batten’s Percival Mew Gull. The record breaking plane she used to fly UK-New Zealand.

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Some of the LAX (Los Angeles) airport officials are a bunch of jobsworths. They wanted written confirmation of when we were leaving (having only just landed). They marched one of our group the end of the Terminal for ‘interrogation’. Welcome to the US where we treat you with respect and courtesy. These guys obviously missed that lesson on their training course.

Tuesday 25th October (2nd time)

Due to crossing the International Date Line, we had 2 Tuesdays. We landed early morning in Los Angeles and took a taxi to our hotel in Santa Monica. We would be here for 2 days.  As we were so early, we looked for somewhere to have breakfast and found a restaurant that seemed to be catering for better dressed people then us, but they served us all the same. Very well too.  It was quite an overcast day too.

After a rest from the flight we ventured around Santa Monica and in the evening headed for Hooters! Santa Monica is famous for Venice Beach and settings of many TV shows. They had just completed filming one whilst we were walking but alas no ‘extras’ were required. The other more famous aspect to Santa Monica is the end of the historic Route 66.

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We had returned to our hotel but were informed of a night club below a museum, just across the street. So we traipsed over and experienced an underground club with bar. It was a fun evening, especially being the foreigners in town. We then ventured back to the room (more an apartment) that was part of our hotel but where 3 of our group were staying. We had invited back a couple of girls and their friends and had an impromptu party. Careful not to wake those sleeping but I think we failed on that score!

Wednesday 26th October

A day for seeing more of Santa Monica and Hollywood. Nursing hangover and lack of sleep.  A scenic bus tour around the area. We actually started off at a shopping centre whilst waiting for the next tour bus.

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Nothing much in the shopping centre so on the bus – open-topped, a great view of the surrounding hills and city scape. Into Beverly Hills and we were dropped off near the City hall (setting for Beverly Hills Cop) and walked along the pavements (sidewalks) down Rodeo Drive and found a restaurant for lunch in a parallel street.

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We then entered the Wilshire Hotel,Beverly Hills. Not quite the regular dress code that the hotel would serve – t-shirts shorts and flip-flops but we were served a decent liquor cocktail. The name of which escapes me. There was a young lady in the hotel, looking for a wedding location. She got chatting to us and then said she was off to the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. She left and after our drink, we went on a walk about, something the Americans cannot always fathom.

We walked up a road and there was the Four Seasons Hotel. bearing in mind there was 8 of us, the valets thought we were paparazzi. There were statues of various figures on the forecourt , the most famous being of Marilyn Monroe. The girl we had met in the Wilshire, drove out, saw us waved, stopped said hello again and couldn’t believe we walked from the Wilshire to the Four Seasons. The Valets came running over and asked who she was – we had no idea. They thought as we were speaking to her, she was famous.

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We carried on to the next bus journey – this time deeper into the more famous sites around LA and Hollywood.

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We were too late to get to see the famous sign but had a good time on the Walk of Fame and The Chinese Theatre.

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We had a table booked at a restaurant near our hotel. It was had an interesting interior. The food was good.

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Thursday 27th October

Well our last day of our epic trip. My sister’s birthday was at the end of the month so I had found a card to send her from Santa Monica. Luckily not far from the coffee shop that shared the forecourt to our hotel was a sho selling handmade cards. Halloween is very big in the US, and my sister lived in Transylvania County – on the east coast of the states. How appropriate!! I found a last remain Halloween referenced card for her and off it went

Our flight was not untill 1555 so we had to be at the airport but at least 1230. What an interesting place LAX airport is. Quite soul less really. No atmosphere. For such and advanced country there were aspects to be considered. toilets upstairs – how would disabled people get there.

We left and BA took us to Heathrow.

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Friday 28th October

Arrived at Heathrow around 1000. Tired and sad but god to be home. Taxis caught and back to where we picked them up. Some went for a midday drink, others carried on t their respective homes.

Reflecting on such a trip and so glad we did it. Something not to be forgotten.

Conclusion:

Qantas – a better service than British Airways. Far more friendly staff too. There is an arrogance about the BA attitude, that has nearly always been there but compared to Qantas it was (to me anyway) more obvious.

  Ok ready for the next adventure – who knows where that will be to or indeed what it will be.

More pictures of this trip

http://www.flickr.com/photos/shax658/sets/72157632599496935/

http://www.aopa.org/members/files/pilot/

http://www.aopa.org/members/files/pilot/2012/september/turbine_north-atlantic.html#