Me in the Media

Airline Fuel Efficiency

Fuel is still one of largest variables in the airline cost base. The fuel bill is usually one of the largest items in the airline budget, if not the largest. Airline fuel efficiency is still an area where many improvements can be made. Practitioners of this art usually target 2-5%. Usually a 1% improvement on the fuel bill can justify the people who work on it. Sometimes, it can be the difference between profit and loss for the airline.

Almost every airline has done its homework to try and manage this cost. You will see many initiatives in those airlines aimed at managing fuel. From removing excess weight on an aircraft, to controlling extra fuel taken at the discretion of the crew. However, with the recent introduction of new technological tools, there has been many things that can and are being done to improve such efforts.

Comparisons

Purdue University published a comparison in 2014 that was very insightful, and showed Ryanair and Southwest had a lead in Airline Fuel Efficiency in short-to-medium haul operations. It is no surprise that they were also profitable.

The introduction of low-cost long haul showed that there is a significant advantage to be had in flying the efficient way. The International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT) showed that some transatlantic flying is being done with around 25% more fuel efficiency. Norwegian and WOW air led the way, more about that below

However, while being better than the competition is always a good thing. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are good. You could be equally bad, for example, just a little less. You could be helped or hindered by factors outside your control. Samoans, for example, are 10-15 kilograms heavier than average Americans, which are 10-15 kilograms heavier than Europeans.

Metrics

When we talk Fuel Efficiency metrics, I always mention the mandatory bottle of water in some restaurants, you know the one. That same bottle is split two-ways or four-ways depending on your dinner party. While the cost of the bottle is the same, the cost per diner varies. Similarly, we use the same with fuel efficiency. Now imagine paying per glass from that same mandatory bottle. This is what we try to do.

We need to look beyond fuel consumption, at fuel consumed per unit of revenue generation. The airline makes money by carrying passengers, baggage, cargo and mail for a fee. It would be pointless to tell you that airline is burning 3 Liters of fuel per passenger. A passenger from London to New York should not weigh equally as passenger flying from Providence, RI, an hour away by air.

Airline Fuel Efficiency Metrics

So we include distance as well and we arrive at fuel per Revenue Passenger Mile (RPM) Revenue Passenger Kilometer (RPK) in the parts of the world that use that unit. An example would be Kg/RTK. Another way to represent it is Gallons per RPM which is popular in the USA. Pax-KM/Liter is also becoming common

Then, think about an aircraft that is carrying 100 passengers but no little luggage. Say, a business destination. Compare that with an airplane carrying 100 passengers in families on a vacation destination, maybe even with some cargo. The second example is definitely heavier and therefore burns more fuel.

A somewhat fair metric to look into is the Fuel burnt per unit weight. Something like Liters/Revenue Ton Kilometer (L/RTK). Ton is the unit of weight that is commonly being used to add up passengers to freight and baggage.

Are Airline Fuel Efficiency metrics improving?

In my old job, I use to tell them that waiting around for the next big thing to save us fuel is not acceptable. Composite materials in airframe and next generation engines are all nice and dandy, but theses apply across the industry and don’t give that competitive edge. It is good for the flying public as it drives prices down, it also is good for the environment.

Airline Fuel Efficiency improved by around double in the past few decades.

It is widely noted that aircraft are getting more efficient all the time. This is mainly driven by new and more efficient aircraft and new technology. In fact, it would be worth noting that efficiency has improved by around 0.5%-2% per year every year since 1960. We now spend half as much fuel carrying the same load for the same distance. This is remarkable for the airline industry as a whole

So just buy newer aircraft?

Well yes, and no. Yes, airlines proved that new aircraft usually have a good return on investment. However, this will explain why Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian -both B787 users- have a 20% difference in efficiency

Transatlantic Fuel Efficiency Ranking published by ICCT. Showing ranking for operation crossing the Atlantic based on carrying passengers a weighted distance and how much fuel that consumes.
Transatlantic Fuel Efficiency Ranking published by ICCT. Showing ranking for operation crossing the Atlantic based on carrying passengers a weighted distance and how much fuel that consumes.

Technically, they use different variants of the same aircraft, so 1-2% is the difference that should be seen. This difference is explained by a number of other issues.

Seats in Airline Fuel Efficiency

The aircraft has a basal fuel efficiency and then burns based on load burns more. You burn more and fly in lower altitudes the more passengers you pack on the aircraft. Lower altitude means more dense air (more resistance) and more fuel burn. That is all correct.

However, that is all minute in comparison to the bigger picture, having more passengers on an airplane is still more efficient. Thus, a higher load Seat Factor (higher percentage of seats occupied) and more densely packed seats creates more efficiency.

The two main drivers of [Airline Fuel Efficiency Difference] were aircraft fuel burn and seating density, which combined explain nearly 75% of the variation in transatlantic fuel efficiency.

Two low-cost carriers—Norwegian, with its very
efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, and WOW air, with its densely-packed Airbus A321-200 aircraft—topped this fuel efficiency ranking.

ICCT in the Transatlantic Fuel Efficiency Ranking 2017
ICCT will tell you that these are the four contributors in fuel efficiency. While they are right these are only the major ones.

The ICCT also did a similar report on transpacific flights and they determined the most important factors. However, experience will tell you that operational procedures can be in the factor of 2-5% of fuel consumption. I have yet to see an Operations Boss or an Airline CEO that can pass on such savings.

Airline Fuel Efficiency vs. Cost Efficiency

Cost Index

One thing most modern aircraft need is a cost index. The Cost Index is a measure of how much fuel the aircraft needs to spend to recover time. Or how fast should the aircraft fly in more simple times.

Think of it this way. What if I slow down the aircraft enough and save a bunch of fuel, wouldn’t that be nice. What if the in that same discussion, we see the people from network planning. The people who want to utilize the aircraft more, and see it get there sooner. It would be hard to convince them of giving you 15 more minutes on the on a long-haul to slowdown the aircraft.

What if, also, in that room, was the maintenance people, who see you effort to reduce fuel consumption as a extra cost to them when they are trying to get more flights out of their components. One component that should last 500 hours, for example, is being changed every 400 flights now instead of 450

There is a way to balance these conflicting interests and it is called the Cost Index. Managed well, you will notice a corporate relief at you efficiency efforts.

Tankering

Tankering is a process by which you take fuel with you on the way going to fly you on the way back. Think of it as filling up in a cheaper gas station or before an expected price change.

Some airlines manage to get preferential prices at their home base because of good procurement. Others manage to get it because of a volume discount (bulk buying). Some Airlines will fly a big jet on a very slim route in order to load it with fuel at cheaper prices and fly it back to base. They can then use that cheaper fuel for another flight.

It is profitable and usually a good idea. However, it will impact your fuel burn on some sectors as tankering causes aircraft to be heavier and thus burn more fuel

A look from the outside

In every Airline Fuel Efficiency consultation I saw, when you ask the attendees 10 questions, you realize that there is a significant part of the saving that is not being realized.

I have a list of twenty to thirty that I use and a sizable questionnaire that I ask to be filled before I get to the consultation, but here is a few as a sample:

-What is your average APU minutes per sector ?
-What is your average taxi time at base for the peak hour ?
-When was the last meeting with your local ATC?
-What is your contingency policy?
-What is your alternate policy?
-How far does you average descent start from base ?
-When was the last cost of time calculated ?

Usually by the time these questions are answered there is a few hundred thousand to a couple-of-million of savings waiting to addressed.

Livery – My favorite

Livery, it’s that scheme of colors that airlines put on airplanes to distinguish themselves. Some are just re-imaginations of national colors or flags. Some are a work of art.

Personally, in a very biased and non-neutral sort of way, I have a real preference for Royal Jordanian‘s livery. It is right there, bold and elegant at the same time. It is easily distinguishable and has no swooshs.

Swoosh is by far the worst thing an Airline can do for its brand. It’s right there with the rest. It’s like calling a burger joint, “Burgers,” sure it will convey they message but it is overstating the obvious.

What’s a swoosh? Think “Nike” but then painted on an airplane. I am not the first to write about this, in fact, I may be ten years too late to this. However, I just want to be clear that I will never post a picture of airplane with a swoosh except in this article to clarify what SHOULDN’T be a livery.

What should be a livery is something that shows a national symbol, a flag, a theme of colors. A cheat line is out of the question, modernity didn’t remove it from the catalogue

Pilot Error is the leading cause in Airline Crashes

This is hardly news, Pilot Error is still up there as the number 1 reasons airplanes crash. Every study that looks into this concludes the same this. 70-85% of airline crashes are attributed to Pilot Error.

In the heyday of aviation, machine fault was usually responsible for crashes. According to Boeing, 80% of crashes were attributable to machine causes in 1903. Technology improved and now only 20% are now attributable to machine error. In my experience, Pilots have a lot more work to do to be safer operators.

According to Boeing, Human Causes are responsible for 80% of Airplane crashes today. Pilot Error is within that category
According to Boeing, Human Causes are responsible for 80% of Airplane crashes today. Pilot Error is within that category

It is safe!

Before I am accused of fear-mongering, let me be clear of what the data says.
In the UK, the death rate per billion (yes, billion) Kilometers flown is around 0.05 deaths. Compare that to the bus (the next safest mode of transport) and you get 0.4. Meaning you are 8 times as likely to die on the bus than on an airplane for a comparable journey.

Planes don’t compete with busses, though. A fair comparison would be with rail. 0.6 is the magic number for rail transport and that is 12 times more likely than airplanes.

In perspective, That means 5 people die every 100 Billion (yes, I know)kilometers flown on an airplane. So safety is not in any immediate risk.

In April IATA released its report for 2019, it is important to understand that numbers of accidents are falling with fatalities falling too. On average, a person would have to travel by air every day for 535 years before experiencing an accident with at least one fatality. If you were involved in an accident in 2019, there was about a 15% chance that you would die.

There were 8 accidents with fatalities in 2019 with 50% of those accidents responsible for 80% of the fatalities.

Also, the accident rate is continuously falling, the number of accidents is staying the same or marginally falling.

According to Airbus, while the average number of fatal accidents is slightly falling, the accident rates are dramatically falling
According to Airbus, while the average number of fatal accidents is slightly falling, the accident rates are dramatically falling

Now, with that clear. First lets talk more about the other humans in the chain.

Human Causes is not always Pilot Error

The easiest example to think of is maintenance error, if something is fixed improperly or replaced incorrectly then it counts as Human Causes. Airplanes are complex machines and as such contain thousands of components and thousands of tasks need to be done to keep them flying. So, something is bound to go wrong, miniscule as the odds are.

The guideline for maintenance staff are extensive and the qualification process very thorough. The people who release the aircraft into service or allow them to depart after a check or a fault are experts in their own right. However, it does happen that with long hours and continuous tasks something slips through the cracks.

Another human cause can be the humans in Air Traffic Control. They are the ones who tell the pilots to go up and down, left and right. They are also often under pressure and stress. Their main job is to make sure the airplanes are not hitting each other. However, if you watch this, you will know that mistakes happen.

Even the airlines themselves can have human causes inflicted upon the flight, whether it is poor oversight, insufficient training or even bad scheduling. This can further complicate the issue

The devil is in the detail

Most of the media reporting on pilot error relates to total accidents or total fatalities. This includes many private pilots with a much shorter experience log and less complex requirements on how to stay current with flying.

73% percent of accidents have errors by Cockpit Crew as a contributing factor. What does that mean? Think of it this way, if an engine blows up at take-off, like it did with Sully, and the pilot mishandles the exercise or does something not exactly by the book, then pilot error gets a mention. No matter how many other factors could have been engaged in the situation. Terrible weather, long working hours, inadequate rest or anything else. Pilot Error will still show as a contributing factor.

I am not absolving pilots of their errors. Pilots are humans, humans make mistakes. Around 50% of Airline accidents that lead to fatalities are cases were the pilot error was the primary cause. Even then, within those 50%, the accident rates vary considerably.

The number changes with relationship to the type of flying. The United states has clear data on part-135 (think charter and smaller operators) versus Part-121 which is regular airlines. “For the 5-year period 2003–07, the crash rate for Part 135 was more than twice the rate for Part 121” says this study. Which means you are twice as likely to have an accident flying on a chartered airplane versus flying on a scheduled airline.

Another factor is the generation of aircraft flown. Newer generation aircraft have an accident rate that is around a third of the previous generation.

According to Airbus, Accident rate in relationship to aircraft generation
According to Airbus, Accident rate in relationship to aircraft generation shows a 9-fold improvement over the past two generations

Importantly, it is worth noting that pilot experience is important in determining accident rates as well

Where are you flying and how experienced are your pilots

Johns Hopkins university studied the issue in 2002 and their findings are not exactly surprising to pilots. Pilots with less than 5,000 hours of total flight time were nearly twice as likely as their more experienced counterparts to be involved in a crash. Many other studies since have agreed with the finding that experience matters.

5,000 hours is an arbitrary line to draw, however, it resonates with a large number of airlines with respect to experience needed to become a Captain. This is usually the bare minimum. Most have more or much more depending on the airline and the rate of growth of the airline and the depletion of pilots on the other side. However, most of the flying public would agree that more experienced pilots in the airlines makes more sense.

The environment the pilot works in, greatly influences the accident rate. It is well established that the airline pilot fly in matters, but also the part of the world that the airline is based in also matters. There are many regions in the world where oversight by the regulator and the general operating atmoshpere help a safe operation.

Other regions, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and the old block of countries that made up the USSR, are continuously facing issues with oversight. I have seen lack of resources to invest in inspections and training for the staff on the government’s side. I have seen airlines push their staff to work more than what is usually acceptable in search of efficiency.

A pilot in Africa is more than 10 times as likely to have an accident as a Pilot in the Middle East and North Africa
A pilot in Africa (AFI) is more than 10 times as likely to have an accident as a Pilot in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Pilot Error as a sum of their threats and errors

Every good airline emphasizes Threat and Error Management (TEM) for their pilots. TEM has shown incredible results in reducing accident rates when applied. It also gave us valuable insight on what are the highest threats.

An IATA study showed that meteorology was a threat factor in around 48% of fatal accidents and 36% of all accidents between 2015-2019. Meaning pilots where caught unaware of the weather they were going to face.

Conclusion

Let’s compare two flights, as per the following table

Pilot APilot B
Operation TypeScheduledChartered
Generation of AircraftFourthThird
ExperienceMore ExperiencedLess Experienced
Geographic LocationMiddle East to EuropeAfrica to Russia
Pilot A is statistically a 100 times less likely to cause an accident than Pilot B

Based on what we learned above. Pilot B is much more likely to cause an accident than pilot A. Even if they are both equally qualified and skilled.

Medicine in the Arab World

AvicennaListening to Arab Autocrats, you will think that medicine is still the domain of the Arabs. We are the sole beneficiaries of Avicenna’s knowledge that we inherited and improved upon. They all boast of the availability Medicine in the Arab World to their loyal subjects.

When I was younger the whole of Jordan was learning to memorize the name of the state of Massachusetts because the King of Jordan was being treated by Mayo Clinic for his late stage cancer. This was in 1998 and 1999. Even in that time, there existed a Medical City called the King Hussein Medical City, but he still travelled for treatment.

In 2010, the world watched as the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia travelled to the US for treatment of a herniated disc. Medicine in the Arab World did not seem to suit him either. He had to find it treatment ten thousand kilometers away.

Earlier this year, the Kuwaiti Emir travelled to the US for treatment. This was after the Bahraini Prime Minister came back from Germany after he spent time there for treatment. A prime minister since 1971, he surely knows the state of Medicine in the Arab World. He also has an award in his name for Bahraini doctors. But he didn’t let them operate on him apparently

Today I learnt that the Palestinian Chief Negotiator – I kid you not, this position still exists – Saeb Erekat has been diagnosed with COVID-19. He has been transferred to Hadassah Hospital which is ran by Israel Medical Services. It is important to note that some members of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, asked for concessions for treating him. Also important is the note that no one has treatment for COVID-19 yet.

Jordanian Elections and why I won’t participate

Here is why I will skip the Jordanian Election 2020

The Palestinian population of Jordan has for the longest while seemed to integrate and assimilate in the Jordanian society. However, a look in the present working of the governmental apparatus shows that there is still a scare. We recently saw more and more ministers from Palestinian background. The Jordanian Elections, its laws and the Parliament it produces are still not representative enough.

Registered refugees of Palestinian origin in Jordan are different to almost any other country in the Middle East. Most of the refugees are in fact Jordanian nationals and Jordanian citizens. The figure varies between 80-95% depending on your definition of refugee.

Most of Palestinian refugees in Jordan have Jordanian nationalities
UNRWA figures on Palestinian Refugees holding Jordanian Nationality

The Jordanian Parliamentary Elections are announced for November 10th. The Jordanian streets are getting filled with propaganda and campaign slogans for the elections. However, nothing much has changed over the past two elections. In fact the electoral law that was passed to arguably encourage parties and political development has failed.

We are yet to see a centrist or left-leaning party gain any sizable gains. Right wing parties are continuously being challenged and harassed. At least according to the literature on the material. Therefore, tribalism and voting on ethnic and other backgrounds is as rampant as it ever was, if not more.

36% of eligible voters in 2016 actually cast their votes if we are to follow the Independent Election Commission figures. However, that is not the main story I want to write about.

Under-representation for some

In Amman and Zarqa, the two cities with the largest population, the voter turnout reached 23.1% and 25.0% respectively. Amman and Zarqa hold more than 50% of the eligible voters, however, they hold only 30% of the seat of parliament. Alone, that doesn’t look so bad.

However, look at this, a Jordanian citizen residing in Tafila, has 4 times more representation in Parliament than a citizen in Amman. Almost the same applies to a Jordanian from Ma’an as compared to Zarqa

Amman residents (Ammanis) and Zarqa residents are under-represented in the elections
Tafila residents has 4 times as much representation than Amman Residents

I am under-represented and disenfranchised in the elections. The political machinery in the regime seems to be glad of the status quo. Therefore, I will continue to not show up on election day in order to keep Amman figures low.

This is a conscious decision on my part. Many of my countrymen have a feeling that their vote matters little especially when the Independent Election Commission head lets us know that 80 members of Parliament in the 2007 elections were “appointed”. Many of those were still members of Parliament until recently, and running for elections in the 2020 elections.

Gerrymandering in Jordanian Elections

Election Gerrymandering is not new in Jordan; the residents of Amman -many of them hailing from ethnic Palestinian origins- have found themselves fighting tribal loyalties in the capital. That’s why the major refugee camps in Amman have been distributed among the five (previously seven) districts

While for example in Balqa’a Governorate, there are around 300,000 eligible voters, the gerrymandered governorate did not see it fit to divide that governorate.

In order to keep the Palestinian population from overwhelming the district that include the Baqa’a refugee Camp. This will happen if, for example, Balqa’a was split into two districts in keeping with the average of around 180 thousand eligible voters per district.

The official count of camp residents is around 100 thousand, however, the surrounding area (not included in the official estimates) could include 150-200 thousand more people of Palestinian origin

Electoral Districts in Jordan, Comparing Irbid to Balqa'a
Balqa has one of the highest eligible voters per district counts in Jordan, many believe it is because of the heavy Palestinian-Jordanian residents in Baqa’a camp and the surrounding area

Irbid, to contrast, has been split into 4 districts and has an around average district size.

Tribal zoning and its effect on Jordanian Elections

Jordan has one of the only Election systems that allows people to actually vote not based on the place were they reside, but where their family names has historically lived.

We have three Bedouin Areas (North, Center and South) and they are overrepresented as well. 2.8 times more represented than Amman and have a voter turnout of more than 72%.

Amman and Zarqa as compared to the Bedouin Areas
Mixed Cities (Amman and Zarqa) as compared to the three Bedouin Areas

Of course voter turnout can be explained by the willingness to be in that area’s lists. Meaning a resident of Amman wanting to vote in the Southern Bedouin Area, will most probably put the effort to transfer his vote. However, if that citizen did not intend to vote he would just stay at the logs of Amman.

However, maintaining the tribal system in 2020, means that the tribal elections that occur still have more influence on the Parliament than the parties and agendas I have seen in Jordan.

Finally

It is important to engage the widest possible percentage of voters in the Jordanian Elections in order to pave the way for agendas and programs to surface, hopefully, parties and progress that is not tied to individuals.

In our individualist society, that is urgently needed. However, until I see an election law that squares me as an equal citizen of this country I will continue to pass on the Jordanian Elections and spend the election day holiday at home.

Peace, out!

Top websites in Jordan

What a shame. I was hoping that internet usage has evolved over the years and I was hoping the top websites in Jordan would include something interesting.

I started editing and creating Wikipedia pages around 2005, hoping to leave the world an easier and simpler place for those wishing to learn about a topic. A Free encyclopedia sounded like an aim

Alex gave us the rating for the top websites in Jordan
Alexa rates websites by popularity

Today, I looked up Alexa’s ranking for the most visited websites in Jordan. Hoping to see what intrigues Jordanians. I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that stackoverflow.com is among the top website in Jordan. Which shows that Jordan is becoming vibrant with software developers.

I was also glad that ArabiaWeather.com was in the top 10. Arabiaweather is a real success story, despite official ridicule by the government, the young company was able to become the only real and reliable weather related service from the private sector in the Middle East. We needed that, we also needed to see in the top websites in Jordan.

Just look at the miserable state of the official portal of the Jordanian Meteorological Department, honest to God, they are using wallpaper images from Windows 95. The footer image background is called Midnight Blue and the mobile version doesn’t work properly.

What is a shame, however, is that a porn website is ranked 13 in Jordan (no hyperlink here). Really! Come on!

The top 20 website are broken as follows:

  • Google.com is #1, Google.jo is #10 and Yahoo is Number #18
  • 13 are local news sites
  • Youtube is #4, Facebook is #11
  • ArabiaWeather is #9
  • Porn site is number #13

The fact that 13 news sites are in the top 20 is a good indication, however, this shows that the field is not settled yet and soon either a major force in news will take over and destroy them or that we will see consolidation.

Number 49 is osskanger.com, which is a virus. That means that a large portion of Jordanian computers are infected with a virus.

Wikipedia is at #21 in Jordan while globally it is #13, this after factoring in the effect of chinese megasites such as Tmall, Baidu, QQ, Sohu, Taobao and 360.cn and JD.com .Take China out of the mixture and we will notice that Wikipedia jumps to #5

Statistics in Jordan

Followers on my twitter account will realize that this is not the first time that I broach this topic. I am by force of nature, a data-scientist. I delve into statistics by forces that are beyond my control.

The answer to many questions we work on, on a daily basis are solved by simple data analysis. So whenever I have an issue in life, I will look into the available data to try and resolve it.

I manage a small unit in my line of work, around 30 people and 4-6 managers depending on the year. I was having a discussion with a colleague that said that my firm has regressed in promoting females to leadership positions recently. He said it is becoming a trend in Jordan. Mere weeks later, my company announced the result of its restructure and 3 out of 5 VP positions are now held by females.

I am comforted by the progressiveness of the statement and I am further glad to note that Jordan insists on quotas (hidden or announced) to maintain the progressive trend towards gender equality. I look to data to consolidate my position and therefore I had to look at the Jordanian Department of Statistics 

I looked up the data of female managers and I was immediately dismayed.

 

 

Male to Female comparison of manager positions in Jordan according to Department of Statistics

It looked like the private sector has removed 750 female managers in a year, out of a total of 1,800. A disaster, surely. What is worse is that International Organisations have removed all female managers while growing male managers by 30%.

If this data is correct, then there is a disaster looming, if the data is wrong, then what is our government using?

To further prove my point, I wanted to look at something else: income erosion. Were Jordanians getting paid less in 2018 than 2017 and if so, by how much

 

Number of Jordanians eranign more than 500 Jordanian Dnars
Number of Jordanians earning more than 500 Jordanian Dinars 2017-2018

It seemed the government and private sector both fired the higher earners. This is ridiculous! Surely, if I looked into the data, I would find the missing link. So I decided to look into the new hires in 2018 for answers

Today I went here and I chose second half of 2018.

Department of statistics in Jordan did not have Job Creation data of second half of 2018 by October 2019
Department of statistics in Jordan did not have Job Creation data of second half of 2018 by October 2019

By now, I don’t think that it comes as a surprise that I got nothing

In addition to the website not being secure! The website had no Job Creation data for the second half of 2018 by October 2019
In addition to the website not being secure! The website had no Job Creation data for the second half of 2018 by October 2019

No wonder the government is unable to take decisions, it doesn’t have the most elementary tools. I have sent an email to the Department of Statistics and I will tag the minister of planning and International Cooperation with this post. However, I know for a fact that this is part of the government failure to track even the most basic elements of data

Peace, Out!

Flight Laundering

Jordan is shaping up to be the flight laundering station between the Gulf capitals and Israel

There was a time when the face that Jordanians overfly Israel and Palestinian territories was a novel concept. Whenever we sat in ICAO meetings in Cairo or some other capital, the word “Israel” spoken made many uncomfortable. The attendance evaded that by saying “Lima Lima Lima Lima.” 

It was not a Peruvian patriotic chant or some sort of debilitating stutter. It was a reference to the Phoentic pronunciation of LLLL. The ICAO code for Tel Aviv FIR, the airspace that Israel manages.

People where uncomfortable acknowledging the world Israel meant something now. I always thought it was a rather “Head-in-the sand” approach to dealing with the problem

Laundering as it where the word Israel or Tel Aviv and cleaning it into the cacophonous  “Lima Lima Lima Lima” always seemed ridiculous to me. 

 

That was something that we got used to, public pressure to conform to the official line of no recognition and no peace was always there. On the other hand, many rumors of normalization went on for years on end.

 

LLLL Airspace
Tel Aviv FIR as part of the EUR region and Paris office

Tel Aviv FIR falls under the Paris office in ICAO, meaning it is considered in EURope. While a stone-throw away (no pun intended) from Europe, Israel is solidly in the Middle East, however, it was never welcomed in the MID region which covers the Middle East. 

 

The move to the Paris office was logical to the Middle East and the Israelis. So much so that a few years later, Israeli airspace is now under a comprehensive agreement with the Euro-control.

 

That was then, this is now. 

 

Cl-604 landing in Marka
The bizjet landed with a squawk code of 0431

On Tuesday the 22nd of October, an airplane landed in Amman’s Marka Airport on 19:09 GMT.

 

Two minutes later the aircraft departed the same airport in the opposite direction and with a different squawk code. The two minute stop could be pushing the edge of what is legal as it doesn’t seem the flight has truly terminated to require a new code. 

 

Preparing for a proper departure in a jet aircraft usually needs no less than 5 minutes at least and usually around 15-20 minutes. Being a night flight necessitates more caution. Someone was in a rush 

 

Departing Cl-604 from Marka
The aircraft departing two minutes later with 0710 squawk

To land on Runway 06 in Marka is not normal and someone was coordinating their operation intently.

 

A squawk is a code that allows Aircraft to talk to secondary radars. The series of codes allocated to each country can usually be a tell-tale of the origin of the aircraft 

 

This makes it seem that the flight originated from Amman. For all intents and purposes, someone put an effort to try to make it look like the aircraft originated from Jordan.

 

The aircraft is US-registered and media reports are actually pointing to Mark Esper’s visit to Saudi and a possible meeting including Israeli officials

tweet from Avi Scharf, an Israeli journalist, actually made this laundering public. The journalist seems to have a tracking passion. Many of his twitter posts point to FlightRadar24 images and some images of what seems to be a flightfeeder

 

A previous tweet by Avi explained that this flight laundering is common place. In the strained public perception of Israel by citizens of gulf countries, it seems to legitimize the flight and make it clean. 

 

Many other media outlets also referenced the same event to point to the possibility of Netanyahu being on the airplane

 

The aircraft also did a small stop on the way back in Marka Airport, again changing the squawk code. This time a more normal turnaround of 20 minutes ensued. 

 

These antics were not envisaged when the air transport system was designed. It does mean that the operators and pilots of such flights are usually put under more pressure and this can lead to undesirable results, if not incidents and accidents.

 

The local regulator in Jordan will find itself helpless. The political pressure to maintain the relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel at the bare minimum will override any bureaucrat desire to apply simple and well-established procedures that guarantee safety. Flight Laundering seems to be the equivalent of money laundering in politics.

 

 Peace, Out!

Visualizing Palestine

Information, imagery and advocacy

I was looking through twitter on my phone I ran into this tweet. I knew this was something big from when I saw it

I have always appreciated the effort that many people spend in trying to advocate a cause. When it is a cause I agree with, I like to put something out there to help. A small donation, are-tweet or maybe just a mention.

Visualizing palestine is a in a class of its own, the effort is huge and the visuals they create are tantamount to art. The message is based on fact, visualized to maximize the impact. The beauty of it is ethereal and the content is always weel-researched.

Have a look at their main project and their 101 subsite. This is not a project per se, it feels more like a movement. The influence of which depends on you and me. Look at their work, share it and let people know about it.

If you like their work and believe in their missions, then become a member. I did. Contribute financially towards sustaining their effort. More importantly. Use the visuals, use the data.

I will try to do that as well.

Authoritarianism in Jordan

I never understood how a unit of the army – for that is what they are – can call a civilian for a “cup of coffee” and a friendly chitchat without due process. There is no writ of habeas corpus nor legal representation. Subpoena rights are out of the question of course, but they still call you and ask you to attend.

I know I live under an authoritarian regime, I never imagined anything different and I never thought that the instruments of authoritarianism will ever surrender their power without a fight. To be clear, the Jordanian regime has made it clear that the fight will always be peaceful and as long as it is principled, it will always be fruitful.

I just never knew how to be sure about how authoritarian the regime was until I saw an episode that John Oliver‘s show did in November 2018

So I wanted to use the 1,2,3 of John Oliver to check if Jordan is an authoritarian Regime

I was called into the intelligence services offices a couple of times, and no, it wasn’t because of my intelligence. I was never insulted, threatened, or even offended or anything of the sort. The experience was always pleasant, in so long that I understood that they can ask and I can answer.

I never understood how a unit of the army – for that is what they are – can call a civilian for a “cup of coffee” and a friendly chitchat without due process. There is no writ of habeas corpus nor legal representation. Subpoena rights are out of the question of course, but they still call you and ask you to attend.

Seeing a Jordanian Brigadier General get 4 – yes, four- cars for the benefit of his family always made me wonder. I am certain that any self-respecting military in the modern world do not extend such privileges to their senior officers, yet it happens.

I knew it was the one of the ways the regime appeases the tribal associations that are being maintained in the military, but I was saddened that this is where my tax Dinars are going. I didn’t think it was undeserved, but rather excessive.

On the same scale I used to walk into police stations and find Lieutenants in charge of the couple of rooms that were the law-enforcement capability in the area. While a precinct in NYPD -for comparison- is usually headed by a Captain, sometimes a Major (Deputy Inspector). The inflation in rank whether in the Army, Gendarmerie or Military has become so obvious in Jordan that it became the butt of some untasteful jokes.

1-Image of strength

While this resource-intensive exercise in imagery and prestige is a must, it hurt to realize that this was mainly done to project the image of strength, capability and military might. Strength is one image favored by authoritarian regimes and usually on parallel with images of their leaders in full military uniform, often leading the march on their enemies.

Being a Field Marshall or a similar high rank was almost a prerequisite for the despots of old time.

The Jordanian regime is not a power usurper as with the cases above, nor is it a failed republic or a dysfunctional democracy. It is however, a constitutional monarchy. The Monarchy part is active, the other parts of the equation, not so much. The image of strength is heavily present in all sorts of media and propaganda, and the one below was copied from our embassy in Washington’s website

Our King is a Field Marshall, however, he is probably the most militarily capable of the Field Marshall’s I mentioned. He runs his military actively, but that is because he was trained for it at the best institutes of the world and he is a formidable military leader

2-Demonizing Enemies

Enemies are another favorite of despots but that is mainly on us, trump understood this back in ’12, watch him use it soon!

That is the easiest way to increase your popularity, no one ever heard of someone asking for a change of course during war. All that people ask for in wars is unity behind our troops and leaders. There is no doubt that Roosevelt would not have served 4 terms were it not for the oratorical space provided by the Second World War.

Think of Churchill losing the election 2 months after VE Day and you will understand two things: 1-The necessity of public support which is why the election was not delayed to a “more appropriate time”. 2- The peaceful handover of power, even -and perhaps especially- for wartime heroes.

Jordan has been notoriously unlucky with its enemies, in 2011, the king called on Assad to step down, later we were at war with extremism in some form or the other for a few years. Finally, it seems the country whose burden of providing refuge, military resistance and political and ideological moderation has been rewarded with the raw end of the deal.

So much so, that the new bogie man is now the “Deal of the century” and its backers who are attempting to move the Palestinian “Final Solution” to the Jordanian boundary.

The three men (Mohammed Bin Salman, Trump, Kushner) pushing the “Deal of the Century” which is rumored to include a city in the south of Jordan and North of Saudi Arabia that will hold those disaffected by the deal that

We are supposed to be afraid of a deal that no one knows about yet. All the government ministers are supposedly refuting that they have seen any scheme of the deal. Yet they are adamant that they are refusing it.

Our foreign minister told me -among others, in public- last week, that he is not aware of the details of the deal. This is therefore the typical definition of fear mongering. Why are we all worried about a deal that we know nothing about.

The issue to me seems to be that Jordanians do not know whether moderation now is the right thing. It has brought us nothing but international scrutiny and national debate on our ability to have our own sovereignty.

We have had more than our share of Enemies and we have demonized them. Whether our stands were inconsistent with each other remains to be seen.

3-Dismantling institutions

I recall vividly that I read about the constitutional crises that faced King Hussein, however, he never assumed that the problem was with his father’s constitution. In fact, while he pushed martial law and emergency decisions, The Constitution remained a bastion of freedom and an exemplary document that other countries envied and sometimes copied from.

However, the recent amendments in the constitution has shown an escalation of the speed in which power and authority is being consolidated in the palace institution and these changes are outside of the old, established and sometimes antiquated institutions of government that preserved some semblance of democracy.

It is interesting to note that all the people I talk to in the higher echelons of politics insist that these changes were not the wishes of the King but the reactionary ventures of those who surround him and who try to protect the regime – of which they are a part- with the only way they know how

Peace, Out!