No Pussyfooting In-Flight!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

OK guys: Get your minds out of the gutter, and rest assured that this piece from the Flemish paper De Morgen is entirely on the up-and-up.

Captain Pussy
Yes, that’s “Captain Pussy” (civilian name: Yvonne Cunha, 28 years old at the time, must be of Portuguese extraction) sitting there in the cockpit of a Boeing 707, in a picture taken forty years ago. Her sitting there is no joke, either: yes, it’s a publicity photo, but not one of some stewardess called forward to look pretty in the cockpit. She was the pilot! Sure, not the only pilot in charge of flying that airplane (for the defunct Trans European Airways – TEA), but definitely the first female commercial pilot in Belgium.

So this piece takes advantage of what is roughly the 40th anniversary of her becoming a pilot to look back on how times have changed. For one thing, the early 1970s were clearly a rather politically incorrect time: TEA had just started operations, and as a publicity stunt they were looking for “a woman and a black” to make into pilots. Still, it was very tough to fight against the prevailing stereotype that placed her to the rear as a stewardess rather than up front flying the plane. For one thing, when she finally became a pilot they had no uniform to issue to her: she had to make her own. And yes, when she finally had gained enough seniority to be in charge of flights, she became known far and wide as “Captain Pussy,” on her way to accumulating more than 25,000 flight-hours.

One thing she never did, though*, was fly as part of an exclusively female set of pilots in the cockpit. “The bosses said there had to always be a male co-pilot or captain present on any flight. With two females the passengers would get too nervous, they thought.” Nowadays – and perhaps you didn’t realize this, just as I did not – all-female crews of pilots are not uncommon at all.

* OK, another thing she may not have ever done – but who knows? – is join the “Mile High Club” – but I thought I asked you gentlemen right at the very start to keep your minds out of the gutter? Anyway, if you want to know about that, you’ll just have to get in touch with her.

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Europe’s Piecemeal Volcano Reaction

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

It’s no surprise that the issue dominating European news over the last week has been the fallout – in the literal sense – of the Icelandic volcano eruption that has paralyzed most of Europe as an air-flight originator and destination. What has been the surprise is the substantial and expensive impact such an unexpected natural phenomenon had on the very fabric of the economy and other aspects of European life.

Naturally, now that previously-shut airports throughout the continent are gradually starting to resume operations, the sentiment of “Never again!” is taking hold as eyes are cast about in the search of people to blame. In such situations, the temptation becomes overwhelming to avoid having to point fingers by simply blaming a machine, in this case the computer simulation that supposedly was the sole basis for shutting down flight operations once the volcano-ash started to spread. Various aircraft that the European airlines sent up to test actual conditions – including one reportedly dispatched by British Airways with CEO Willie Walsh, a trained pilot himself, aboard – encountered no problems or damage, so that has to constitute conclusive evidence that the flight-bans were panicked overreactions. (more…)

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Merge to Survive?

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

One of the latest developments on the European economic front – during what are otherwise these dog days of a European summer, when most everyone is off on vacation – is the recent announcement that British Airways and the Spanish carrier Iberia have begun discussions about an eventual merger. Featured in that FT piece was this quote from BA chief executive Willie Walsh: “The combined balance sheet, anticipated synergies and network fit between the airlines make a merger an attractive proposition, particularly in the current economic environment.” “Synergies”; “network fit”: I guess one doesn’t get to be CEO of a major international airline like BA without being able to tick the necessary B-school jargon boxes, but what is all that really supposed to mean?

That is what Patrick Anspach, writing in the Belgian paper L’Echo, would also like to know (Do the Air-Mergers Make Any Sense?). We can know what Walsh means when he says “in the current economic environment,” at least: that mainly refers to the ever-climbing (until recently) price for jet fuel that is turning profit-making routes into loss-makers for airlines the world over. And a merger does seem to be a popular thing to do these days, as in the US Delta and Northwest as well as Continental and United have taken recent steps towards union or at least greater cooperation.

But does the latter strategy really produce a solution to the former problem? Or, as Anspach puts it, “is it really useful to throw yourself in to the arms of your neighbor when you are in free-fall?” He thinks not; greater size is not the answer to the current ailments seriously afflicting the airlines. Those “synergies”? They don’t add up to much when two airlines merge, other than getting rid of redundancies where the two companies were engaged in doing the same thing. For the already-announced Delta-Northwest merger, for example, that adds up to savings of only $1 billion, when the two airlines’ combined turnover amounts to some $35 billion. Is that enough of a savings to make the move worthwhile, i.e. to ensure that the combined company will have a greater chance of survival in Walsh’s “current economic environment”?

No, according to Anspach the way to endure rather lies in a company remaining flexible enough to adapt and change the way it has to change to succeed under the new conditions. After all, he reminds us, it wasn’t the dinosaurs that survived back in pre-history.

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Fly For Free In Ten Years’ Time

Friday, July 23rd, 2004

Yes, that’s the tastiest point to emerge out of the interview two writers for Germany’s Die Zeit (Marc Brost and Dietmar H. Lamparter) managed to swing by actually travelling all the way to Dublin to catch Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary in his lair. (As you’ll see if you click on the link, it’s more-or-less the headline that they use themselves.) But the article also covers a number of other intriguing current issues of the European budget carriers’ world, and that of European aviation in general, spiced by O’Leary’s combative interactive style. (more…)

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French Persecution Complex?

Thursday, January 29th, 2004

That whole “jokester” issue – dealt with in my previous post, and having to do with a young Frenchman touching off a bomb-on-plane scare at JFK airport – refuses to die down, at least as far as the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro is concerned. You see, that’s not the only instance recently of French citizens tangling with the American authorities. The newspaper even thinks it sees some sort of pattern emerging, as is apparent right away in the title of its latest article, Those Frenchies [that’s the word the title uses] Being Maltreated by the American Authorities. (more…)

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French Airline Jokester Released

Tuesday, January 27th, 2004

American security and air transport personnel these days truly do not joke around. Thank goodness I’m not telling you that out of sad personal experience arising out of my recent travels to and within the United States – recall that I advanced the heretical idea in this space not so long ago of displaying a sassy Dilbert cartoon while going through security checks. No, the above conclusion is instead clear from the recent experience of an unfortunate Frenchman – “a rather flippant French jokester,” some would conclude – named Franck Moulet who seemingly took a schtick about suspicious shenanigans on the American Airlines flight he was on rather too far a couple of weeks ago, and was jailed in New York City and put up on charges for his pains. English-language coverage of the incident (at least what I could find using that old reliable stand-by, Google News) is rather sparse. The French press, in contrast, has proved rather more willing to cover the story, as reporting attests to in Le Monde and in Le Figaro (Franck Moulet Freed in Exchange for Confession), and that last article even features a head-shot of the 27-year-old M. Moulet. Just look deeply into those eyes, I say, and then tell me whether this is some sort of comedian. (more…)

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The Concorde’s Not Dead – It’s Virgin!

Monday, May 5th, 2003

Did you think that the supersonic transport Concorde was going the way of the dodo bird, now that both the airlines that sponsored its development and ran trans-Atlantic Concorde flights for years (Air France and British Airways) have announced that they are retiring the plane? Not so. (more…)

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