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The flight of MH370

11 April 2014

As the search is hopefully closing in on the final resting place of flight MH370 which went missing 5 weeks ago this is the latest map of the likely route taken by the flight. There is of course still no explanation of what happened on board the flight.

flydubai makes biggest move during DXB runway closure

11 April 2014

Dubai's two hometown airlines have taken very different approaches to the issues created by the three month runway closures at Dubai's international airport.

Emirates, which depends so heavily on connectivity is reducing flights by about 25% during the closure.

flydubai is maintaining a full flight schedule but is moving many of its flights to the new Al Maktoum International (DWC) at Jebel Ali between 30 April and 21 July 2014:

flydubai will move flights departing to and arriving from: Ahmedabad, Chittagong, Jeddah*, Kiev Zhulyany, Odessa,  Amman*, Colombo, Kabul*, Kuwait*, Riyadh*, Bahrain*,  Dammam*, Kathmandu*, Malé (Maldives), Samara, Beirut, Doha*, Kazan, Mattala, Ufa,  Chisinau, Donetsk, Khartoum*, Muscat* and Yekaterinburg

 *Indicates that flight operations to and from this destination are spilt between Al Maktoum International (DWC) and Terminal 2 at Dubai International (DXB). Passengers should check the flydubai flight schedules carefully when making a booking

If you’ve already booked a flight, you can check your booking confirmation. All flight numbers for flydubai services operating into and out of Al Maktoum International (DWC) will have 4 digits and begin with the number 5 (e.g. FZ 5XXX).

If you arrive at Al Maktoum International (DWC) and need to connect to another flight departing from Dubai International (DXB), you will need to enter the UAE (clearing customs and immigration) and collect your checked baggage. The same applies if you arrive at Dubai International (DXB) and need to connect to another flight departing from Al Maktoum International (DWC). Passengers should check whether you need a visa to enter the UAE and ensure they have sufficient time to travel to the connecting airport.

If you have already booked your flight and find that it has now moved to Al Maktoum too bad; the airline's standard rules for changing or cancelling a booking apply whether a passenger travels into and out of Al Maktoum International (DWC) or Dubai International (DXB).

Over 300 flights per week at Dubai's Al Maktoum airport from May 1

11 April 2014

Meanwhile Dubai Airports is advising that more than 300 flights per week are expected to be relocated to Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC) in Jebel Ali during the 80-day runway refurbishment of Dubai International Airport starting May 1, 2014.

Reality check; this is less than fifty a day; many of them are presumably freighters. It is hardly a clarion call for the new airfield. And a number of airlines are relocating their flights to Sharjah during the runway closure. Sharjah is better established as a full service airfield and is closer to downtown Dubai and many residential areas than is Jebel Ali.

Dubai Airports says DWC will also serve as an alternate airport should any flight be diverted due to bad weather or any other delays at Dubai International (DXB). But it already does so this is hardly news.

So far, 17 airlines including flydubai, have confirmed their intent to temporarily relocate their services to Dubai’s second airport from May 1 to July 29.

On April 30, Dnata will have to move equipment overnight to DWC to ensure they are ready to receive flights that have relocated from Dubai International.

Dubai Airports says that it will also be using the airshow building to process passengers should any flights be diverted. It will allow passengers whose final destination is Dubai to clear immigration while those with connecting flights to be flown or bussed back to Dubai International. It is a sensible contingency plan. Let's hope the airshow buildings can withstand any adverse weather; they failed notoriously during the airshow itself.

To help the smooth connection between the two airports Dubai Airports will introduce a luxury bus service for passengers connecting between the two airports.

If there are any more details about the airlines moving to DWC and transport to downtown and to DXB I will post the information on this site.

Court orders end of Emirates Milan to New York route

11 April 2013

An Italian court has ruled that Emirates cannot operate flights directly between Milan Malpensa airport and New York, upholding a legal challenge brought against the Gulf airline by the Italian carrier association Assaereo.

Assaereo, whose biggest member is domestic flagship airline Alitalia, had complained that Italy's civil aviation authority ENAC had granted Emirates the right to extend flights from Dubai to Malpensa onwards to New York's John F Kennedy airport.

Delta Air Lines has backed the suit.

The airlines have argued that the new service violates international aviation laws. Alitalia, Delta and American are Emirates' main competitors on the lucrative route.

Now to confuse the issue it appears that Abu Dhabi based Etihad is likely to take an up to 40% stake in loss-making Alitalia. Effectively Etihad would take control. There are also rumours  that Etihad would seek to merge Alitalia with its Air Berlin investment.

Now did Etihad support the legal challenge against its Dubai-based neighbour in order to try and keep Alitalia competitive?

The Wall Street Journal reported that: "The airline industry has closely watched the Emirates' flight, launched in October, as a sign of how three fast-growing Persian Gulf-based carriers may pursue expansion beyond their hometown hubs."

According to the court, Assaereo said in a statement on Thursday, the right to use Milan as a stopover cannot be granted to a non-EU operator or a carrier from a country which is neither the port of departure nor destination, which in this case are Italy and the United States.

Emirates, which may appeal the decision, started to fly the Malpensa-New York route in October last year. Emirates can apparently fly the route until current permissions expire. developments.

So even though the traffic rights have already been granted, the Italian authorities are now saying “the route [Milan-New York] is already abundantly served by US and Italian airlines. On the one side is the open skies argument. On the other side there are the protectionists seeking to shore up the local airlines.

It does appear that the Milanese are unhappy with this decision. Writing on Twitter, Roberto Maroni, president of the Lombardy region, says “The decision is amazing and shameful, Rome continues to damage the North."

What the Italians are proposing flies in the face of international aviation law. Fifth-freedom rights where governed by bilateral agreements are enshrined in international aviation law. There are many examples in the EU already of fifth-freedom services by non-EU airlines which have operated for years.

So airline experts are wondering if this ruling is really intended to remove competition from struggling national airline Alitalia to encourage investment by Abu Dhabi’s Etihad.

If Emirates do launch a legal challenge given the pace of the Italian legal system functions it could be some time before the outcome is determined.

Oscar for best amateur dramatics

8 April 2014

This year's oscar for best amateur dramatics may belong to Oscar Pistorius.

He has had a year to prepare for this role in court and his tears and strong emotions must be for the benefit of the public and the judge in his trial for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp.

This appears to be a guy who liked guns; a guy who always had a gun nearby. He had no problem finding his gun. But could not find his girlfriend.

He is of course the only person alive who knows what really happened that night. Was there a fight. Was he in a rage. Did Steenkamp hide from him.

The suggestion that there were intruders is his defense. Yet the house is in a secure estate. How often do heavily-armed men with ladders climb up and open your bathroom window in a secure estate?

Pistorius says that he was screaming & shouting even before shooting, yet Steenkamp, who was in the bathroom, did not respond? The idea that Steenkamp did not utter a sound throughout Pistorius' gun rampage is hard to believe.

The whole thing sounds very rehearsed to me. Yet there are still big holes in the story. I believe his remorse is genuine. Arguing premeditation is hard. Heat of the moment; a crime of passion. A lost life. But the defense strategy is clear; consistent story; emotional break downs. And later a cross-examination that will be crippled by his sobbing.

All creating reasonable doubt. No one wins in this sorry story, except maybe the lawyers. It does expose the rampant gun culture that exists in South Africa and maybe the high profile case will lead to stronger legislation and control.

Oscar Pistorius: the key questions he must answer from the witness box

More on Pistorius and guns on SkyNews

Margaret Thatcher began Britain's obsession with property. It's time to end it.

6 April 2014 The Observer (Worth showing in full and well worth a read - this is a very real problem - not just in the UK)

In 1975, in her first speech as leader to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared her belief in a "property-owning democracy". She didn't invent the phrase – the 1920s Tory MP Noel Skelton should take the credit for that, and the American liberal philosopher John Rawls picked it up before she did – but it became the most distinctive of all her many distinctive ideas, the one that most succinctly describes the Britain she wanted to create.

Through thrift and hard work, went the theory, ordinary families should be able to buy their own homes. It would give them security, dignity and freedom and liberate them from the nannying of local council landlords. It would make them better citizens, with their own stake in the economic wellbeing of the country, they would have an incentive to contribute to national prosperity. It exemplified her belief that capitalism was good not only for the rich, but for people on modest incomes. As the then environment secretary, Michael Heseltine, put it later: "Home ownership stimulates the attitudes of independence and self-reliance that are the bedrock of a free society."

So Thatcher allowed council tenants to buy their own homes at reduced prices, and since the right to buy was introduced, about 1.5m have been bought. She presided over an economy in which house buying became a national obsession and home ownership went up from 9.7m to 12.8m. Fundamental to her idea was that government, which had built between a third and a half of all homes for the previous three decades, should step back. Councils could no longer build council housing. The market would provide. Houses would be built by housebuilders, to use the standard term for the companies that buy land, win planning permission and then (sometimes) put homes on it.

Thatcher's idea is now at a point of crisis. Housebuilders are not building enough houses, and the proportion of people owning their own homes has been falling since 2007. People have long ago found that it does not always make you free to be shackled to a mortgage, still less if you cannot cross the increasingly high threshold into ownership. In London and the south-east, businesses lament the effects on them of expensive housing caused by the lack of mobility of potential workers.

Debt and speculation have been encouraged more than thrift and people who only wanted a home were forced to be gamblers in a turbulent market. The property-owning democracy is not turning out to be democratic, excluding as it does the large minority who don't own homes. In a sick practical joke, people have been encouraged to take on long-term mortgages at the same time that secure lifetime employment, which might pay for them, is disappearing. As for public spirit, with rising house prices goes rising nimbyism, as owners seek to protect their investment from all possible threats, above all the threat of more homes being built nearby that other people might live in.

Over three decades, a culture has been created in which the price of homes colours almost every aspect of life. It affects people's decisions about whether and when to live together, stay together and have children. An economy has been created in which inflation, otherwise frowned upon, is desirable in house prices, even essential. Property values are used as the principal tool of urban regeneration and, when those values fail to materialise, so does the regeneration. The infamous bedroom tax regards a few square metres of spare space as such a great asset that it must be wrenched from the grasp of the undeserving poor. "Values", indeed, is a telling word – we use it more to describe property than anything to do with ethical or social ideals.

It is amazing, beyond satire, that the two biggest stories in housing are on the one hand the bedroom tax and on the other the streets and squares of empty houses in Belgravia and Kensington, bought as investments by owners who rarely visit. At the same time that, when it comes to poor people, vacant rooms are deemed an offence to be expunged, they grow unchecked in the most desirable parts of London.

At almost every level, the market isn't working, from ex-industrial towns in northern England, where the values are too low to justify repairs to existing houses, to the under-supply and high prices in London, where an average home now costs £458,000, or 13 times the median full-time income. Hidden favelas are growing up in suburbs such as Newham and Southall, with unauthorised developments in back gardens and flats occupied at many times the levels for which they were designed.
Newham, London: favela-style housing is on the increase in suburbs such as Newham and Southall, with severe overcrowding and unauthorised developments in back gardens and yards. Photograph: Newham Council/Archant
A system has been created with a few winners, for sure, but not the people excluded from the market, nor those barely able to pay for their homes, some of whom will drown when interest rates start going up. Even those who bought early enough to have a profit on their home find it to be largely nominal, impossible to realise without removing themselves or their children from the all-important property ladder.

Not even housebuilders are entirely happy, although recent government policies such as Help to Buy and the encouragement of easy credit have helped their share prices rise. They grumble that planning restrictions and regulations make their work unreasonably difficult and that the margins in their business are low. "It is a fantastically hard business," says one of those involved, because of its booms and busts. The most obvious winners were people such as Judith and Fergus Wilson, the Kent-based buy-to-let magnates said to be worth £180m. But here too there are losers – the people who got their fingers burned when this particular market crashed.

As Danny Dorling, in his recent book All That is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster has pointed out, the home is now seen as a commodity, as a unit of investment to be traded up or down. Attachment to a place, or the interconnectedness of units to make a community, is given little value. The pursuit of ideals, the idea of social or architectural betterment in the provision of housing, has all but disappeared.

Early in the last century, when Arts and Crafts architecture was flourishing and the first garden cities were being planned, the German architect Hermann Muthesius published The English House, which was based on the premise that this country was particularly good at domestic architecture and that countries such as Germany should look and learn. It is unlikely anyone would want to do this now, as new British homes have, as well as the highest prices, the meanest dimensions to be found anywhere in Europe. What we have instead are a series of distinctive if largely inadvertent types, created by a warped market, which might be summarised thus:

Rural eyesore

An attempt to squeeze housing units into places where people want to live (the countryside in southern England), but the people there already don't want any more. Compromise ensues, in which new houses take on a huddled, crowded air and are given a traditional style to mitigate their intrusion. Making a new place with positive and exceptional qualities is out of the question, as all the developers' creative energies have gone into wrestling with the planning system to get their permission.

Investment silo

In London and some other big cities, dense apartment blocks are built with the primary purpose of creating vehicles for investment. Sometimes they are towers. In the previous decade, these developments were primarily aimed at British-based buy-to-let investors; currently the main target are overseas buyers. These projects typically have just enough decking, white paint and glass balustrades to allow good-looking young couples to be photographed inside them holding glasses of white wine, such that the adjectival nouns "luxury lifestyle" can be attached. They also have enough odd angles, or multicoloured cladding, to claim the adjective "iconic".

Affordable silo

Similar to an investment silo, to the extent that housing associations are now the main providers of affordable housing, and are also pressured to behave more and more like property developers. Their products therefore look increasingly like those of developers, although with some reductions in the luxury lifestyle and "iconic" elements. On the other hand, they tend to be built with better standards of space, as housing associations have to follow stricter rules than private developers.

Student silo

Exploiting loopholes in the planning and regulatory systems, which make fewer demands on student housing than other types, property companies have in recent years rushed into this market. Among the attractions of students to developers is that they can be put into even smaller spaces than anyone else. The typology is similar to other types of silo, but with still less in the luxury lifestyle department.

Northern disaster zone

Parts of Liverpool and Gateshead have been demolished by the government, the old streets replaced with smaller numbers of new homes. The result? The uprooting of people who wanted to stay put and zones of demolished and empty buildings. Photograph: Nigel R. Barklie/REX
Parts of Liverpool or Gateshead, for example: places afflicted by the last government's Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder project, where about £2bn of public money was spent buying up streets in areas of low value, demolishing them, and replacing them with smaller numbers of new homes. The theory was that, under the laws of supply and demand, reduced supply would raise values. The reality was the breaking up of communities, the uprooting of people who wanted to stay put and devastated zones of demolished and empty buildings.

Overcrowded London

Flats and backyards adapted to house as many people as possible.

Empty Belgravia

Extraordinarily expensive houses owned by people with properties in several other countries, such that they are usually unoccupied. Often also iceberg houses, with multifloor basements expensively created underneath, to create further quantities of void.

Nonexistent new town

Successive governments are lured to the attractive idea of the new town, as it enables large numbers of homes to be built while annoying fewer residents than if they have been spread over a wider area. It appeals to politicians' love of a visible gesture. The same governments then fail to provide the infrastructure and planning to make these towns happen. The last administration promised both a new city in the Thames Gateway, to the east of London, and a series of "ecotowns". Very little of either appeared.

It is not in fact so difficult to create good modern housing. There are well-known examples in continental Europe, often cited in discussions of the subject, such as Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, Vauban in Freiburg, and Borneo Sporenburg in Amsterdam. Peter Hall, the planning expert whose recent book, Good Cities, Better Lives, explores the best European examples, says that there is an "extraordinary similarity" between these schemes: they have good public transport, from which all homes are within easy walking distance, and "a good disposition of semi-public spaces", such as playgrounds and shared gardens.
St Andrews in East London: housebuilder Barratt, not always a byword for design quality, is responsible for this project with its emphasis on robust detailing, balconies and shared space.
Nor is Britain incapable of decent developments. Barratt, a housebuilder not always associated with design quality, has built the St Andrews and Barrier Park projects in east London, albeit only after prodding from the London Development Agency, the public body that sold it the land. Richard Lavington, one of the architects of these developments, says that the aims were "to put a balcony on every unit, and to create a positive interface between private and public", by which he means placing family homes close to shared open spaces and streets in such a way that they might readily use them. He also sought "clear, robust detailing" that would be "straightforward to build".

Again, this is not complicated stuff and the developments live up to these claims. Cognoscenti of new housing will also know of fine, small-scale projects by the developers Crispin Kelly of Baylight and Roger Zogolovitch of Solidspace. Kelly says: "Big windows and high ceilings are a start, and lack of fussiness – having the confidence to do things simply." Inside, he likes bonus spaces – on a stair landing for example – where a child might do homework, and outside something as basic as a bench that encourages neighbours to meet. Like Kelly, Zogolovitch likes undesignated spots "where you might set up a cello or an easel or write a novel". He uses design to make small spaces feel larger and give them personality.
Kevin McCloud at The Triangle housing project in Swindon. Photograph: Professional Images
In Swindon there is The Triangle, created with the help of Kevin McCloud's company Hab, which also stresses the importance of shared space and simple design. And, when you ask for examples of good new housing, you keep being referred back to Cambridge. Here is Accordia, which won the Stirling prize in 2008, and the university-backed £1bn plan to create 3,000 homes, half of them for key workers, on 150 hectares in the north-west of the city. Also in Cambridge are developments such as the "Scandinavian-style" Seven Acres, by the multinational construction company Skanska, which again is based on the virtues of simplicity and shared space.

But these bright spots are too rare and require favourable conditions, such as having a TV personality or an ancient university to back them. They tend to be in places such as London or Cambridge, where prices rise faster than elsewhere. This helps to pay for more quality, but by definition makes it harder to achieve.

The housing crisis is one of both quantity and quality. Some 250,000 new homes a year are said to be needed, but after 2008 the number fell below 100,000, mostly built by private housebuilders but also by housing associations. In the postwar peak in the late 60s, more than 400,000 were created a year, many of them by the councils later banned from building by Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile, the private sector built at a reasonably steady rate from the late 1950s on, between 150,000 and 250,000 a year. Until the 2008 crash, that is, when output plummeted to a level not seen for half a century.

Blame for this lack of supply is usually placed on the planning system. There is nowhere in southern England for new housing to go or, rather, nowhere where voters and therefore politicians want it to go. Suggestions of building anything on the green belt bring accusations of desecration of a national treasure and similarly with rural locations further from big cities. The theory that brownfields, that is ex-industrial sites, could answer all housing need has proved challenging in practice. Such sites are not always where people want to live.

Suggestions for fixing the problem include, as always, the new town or, as George Osborne likes to call it, the "garden city". He used the term when repackaging existing proposals for Ebbsfleet in Kent, and presenting them as his invention, but his duplicity should not obscure the possibility that it might be a good idea. Peter Hall passionately believes that the principal hope for housing is building new towns and town-size extensions to existing cities. The new towns created in the 1960s, of which Milton Keynes is the biggest and best known, may have become the butt of patronising jokes, but, says Hall, "were really rather successful". They did their job of relieving pressure and "all the evidence shows that people like living there".

Another idea is to fit more homes into London, which is several times less densely populated than, for example, Paris. Another is to encourage people to build their own houses, which currently accounts for a minute proportion of the total. Another, popular with the current government, is the "neighbourhood plan". Here, local communities (usually rural) put together their own proposals for development so that some of the proceeds go to shared benefits and growth is no longer an aggressive intervention by outsiders. It might also help if we moved away from the preoccupation of home ownership with the help of decent properties for private rent. Michael Heseltine once said that "there is in this country a deeply ingrained desire for home ownership", but in 1900 90% of homes, at almost every level of price, were rented.

All these suggestions have merit and the answer is almost certainly to embrace all of them and more. We have to go from our current culture, where new housing is treated as pollution, and something to be squeezed through the planning system with the greatest difficulty, to one where it is seen as a positive asset. There is a vicious circle – new development is poor because it takes so much effort to overcome objections and people object to it because it is poor.

But none of these ideas will happen without the thing the coalition has been least willing to employ, which is active and forward-looking public intervention. It is hard to build a new town, or a well considered rural expansion, without things such as compulsorily buying land, paying professionals to plan it or providing transport. As Dickon Robinson, formerly of housing association the Peabody Trust puts it: "The market has failed. It's time to put some controversial ideas out there."

The compulsory purchase by government from private landowners sounds communist, but it was used (for example) in the "renewal" of northern cities. It is just that politicians are more reluctant to wield it in Kent than in Gateshead. If we are sceptical about the power of planners to achieve their objectives, we only need to look at the Netherlands. There, they had a similar scale of housing shortage, in proportion to the country's size, to the one that has been diagnosed in Britain for the past 15 years. Unlike Britain, they fixed it, by building nearly half a million new homes.

Planning apart, there is a deep flaw with the idea that the market alone will meet all the country's housing needs. The problem is not only to do with the numbers supplied, but with how much each home costs and housebuilders cannot be expected to lead a process that results in the value of their product going down. They would rather sit on their land until such time as its price goes up, which means that some other agency has to do what they won't, which means, in effect, that the government has to intervene more actively in promoting building – by acquiring land, producing considered plans for its development, and then promoting such development.

Given that in much of Britain the price of homes is high, a slow deflation might be desirable; the ideal could be that prices stay the same, so that they gently fall in real terms. But the coalition's big idea is the opposite. With Help to Buy, changing pension rules and other measures, they have stimulated demand without a corresponding increase in supply, such that prices go up further. As the Financial Times has said, this is economically illiterate. It would be a useful first step to reverse these policies.

We are now at a moment similar to the 1970s, when ideas about housing that had lasted a generation stopped working. Then it was the legacy of Clement Attlee's postwar government, which believed in massive state provision of housing, but which ended up restricting freedoms and too often creating homes people didn't like. Thatcher's policies were a necessary corrective, and had real benefits, but now they too are failing. It is time for something new.

It's not easy to champion planning, as it tends to summon images of faceless bureaucrats and grandiose visions gone wrong. But, as Hermann Muthesius recognised in the early 1900s, and as Peter Hall argues about 1960s new towns, it is not un-British to plan and design new communities well. The national dependency on high house prices has, in its effects, become an economic, social and cultural disaster. Active intervention is needed. As someone once said, there is no alternative.

The endless legal coup

5 April 2014

One way or another the courts will remove Yingluck Shinawatra as Thai PM. The question is when?

There courts are hedging their bets with a number of legal challenges.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is charging Yingluck with dereliction of duty related to alleged corruption in her government’s rice-pledging scheme, and is also bringing charges against against 308 lawmakers for their role in proposed constitutional amendments. That is ongoing.

But bizarrely it is a case involving a sole civil servant that may bring the government down.

The Supreme Administrative Court last week ruled that the removal of Thawil Pliensri as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011 was unlawful. Mr Thawil was shifted from the position under the orders of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thawil Pliensri was reinstated by the Supreme Administrative Court a couple of weeks ago. The court has “affirmed its authority to consider the Thawil case that was submitted by a group of senators led by Paiboon Nititawan.” This unelected senator is a regular petitioner to the Constitutional Court and a member of the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra group of appointed senators with royalist and military ties.

The Bangkok Post states that Paiboon’s petition claims “the transfer was not in the public’s best interests, but is an attempt to find a position for ex-national police chief Wichean Potephosree so the government could appoint its own man to the police chief’s job.”

The Supreme Administrative Court argued that the prime minister’s signing of the transfer was unlawful and ordered Mr Thawil reinstated.

Mr Thawil lodged his initial complaint with the Central Administrative Court in April 2012, accusing Ms Yingluck of unfair treatment after he was transferred from the NSC on Sept 30, 2011.

On May 31 last year, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of Mr Thawil, revoking the prime ministerial order and ordering Mr Thawil’s reinstatement. Appealing against that decision, Ms Yingluck claimed that as head of the government she had the authority to transfer officials to ensure the national administration was in line with the government’s policy manifesto; not an unreasonable position.

However, the court ruled yesterday that while the prime minister could exercise her judgement in transferring personnel, there must be plausible reasons to justify her decisions. Transfers should be free from bias or political preferences, the court said.

Thawil’s repeated appearances on the rally stages of the anti-government protests in the past five months suggest someone who is never intending to work with or for the Yingluck government.

The court alleges that Prime Minister Yingluck has allegedly violated the second paragraph of Section 266, since her decision to remove Thawil was politically motivated, since the reshuffle ultimately landed Priewphan Damapong as National Police Chief, who is a brother of Thaksin’s ex-wife and Yingluck’s former sister-in-law Potjaman Na Pombejra.

Cameron and the Muslim Brothers

4 April 2014 - The Financial Times (Subscription only)

Since the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001, Britain, like other western governments, has from time to time banned Islamist movements that incite violence or sponsor terrorism. The announcement by David Cameron that his government is conducting an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood is highly unusual – and has raised suspicions over the prime minister’s motives.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is the most important pan-Islamic political organisation in the world. It has millions of followers in the Middle East and beyond. In the past three years, of course, its branch in Egypt has occupied centre stage. After the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Brotherhood enjoyed a brief stint in power marked by chaos and incompetence. In 2012 the military overthrew the government and the movement is now being hounded. Last week an Egyptian court sentenced 529 of its members to death.

Given the widespread disquiet in the west at those sentences, Mr Cameron’s announcement of an investigation into the Brotherhood looks somewhat ill-timed. It also has triggered unease in Whitehall. The prime minister’s office said Sir John Jenkins, the British ambassador to Riyadh, will head the inquiry into the “group’s philosophy and values and alleged connections with extremism and violence”. Yet Foreign Office officials have expressed concern privately that this cuts against its efforts to engage with the organisation inside and outside Britain.

There are good reasons why the UK security services might want to take a hard look at the Brotherhood. The more the movement is crushed in Egypt, the more likely its members may lash out violently inside that country and beyond. With political Islam again under pressure in the Middle East, the UK must beware of allowing London to become a haven for radical Islamists as it did in the 1990s.

Yet the very public announcement of this inquiry – and in particular the fact that the ambassador to Riyadh is in charge – is bound to fuel suspicions that the UK is acting under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For the rulers in Riyadh, the Brotherhood represents their most potent rival for influence across the region. Diplomatic and commercial relations between Saudi Arabia and the UK have been strained by Britain’s failure to act in Syria and by its engagement with Iran. This inquiry therefore smacks of gesture politics.

The problem is that it also carries risks. Several peaceful community organisations in the UK are sympathetic to the Brotherhood and have been for decades. The announcement that the government is conducting an investigation may gratuitously alienate those groups.

Western powers should also beware of threatening to crack down on what is an amorphous and generally peaceable movement. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have outlawed the Brotherhood. If the west follows, this will fuel the argument of jihadists that the only way to forge an Islamic state is by the bullet not the ballot box.

Above all, the UK must avoid giving the impression that it will pander to the Saudis for commercial reasons. In 2006 Tony Blair’s government created controversy by calling off a Serious Fraud Office investigation into allegations that BAE, Britain’s biggest arms company, had paid massive bribes to Saudi princes to win lucrative contracts. Such moves are diplomatically demeaning.

The announcement on the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore misjudged. If there are individuals on its fringes who pose a security threat to the UK, they should be prosecuted or proscribed under existing terror laws. Mr Cameron needs to set limits to how far he will travel in pursuit of British commercial interests.

Busiest international airport is also among the least glamorous

3 April 2014

The Guardian today proposes "Move over Heathrow. Now Dubai International is the world's No 1 airport"

With its boulevards of plastic palm trees, gleaming silver interior and "Zen Garden" complete with lush ferns and refreshing mist machine, Dubai International is a world away from the much-maligned Heathrow airport.

However, it is not just on pomp and glamour that Britain's flagship transport hub is being outdone. Figures for the first two months of 2014 show that Dubai has overtaken Heathrow as the airport with the largest number of international passengers in the world. It dealt with almost 2 million more in the period, and with a growth rate of 13.5%, it is likely to continue to outpace Heathrow, which remains Europe's busiest airport.

But while UK politicians will be dismayed at Heathrow's fading significance it would be nigh-on impossible for Heathrow to keep up with the aggressive expansion of the Arab state. Dubai International plans to increase its passenger numbers from 60 to 90 million over the next four years, constructing an additional terminal space and concourse twice the size of Heathrow's terminal five. Bearing in mind that Dubai's palatial terminal 3, exclusively for the state's own Emirates airline, is already the largest around – at 1,713,000 square metres, it has the second largest floor area of any building on the planet – Heathrow does start to feel a little, well, regional.

"Dubai really is in a sweet spot as far as global travel goes," says Jim Krane, Gulf specialist at Rice University's Baker Institute and author of Dubai: The story of the world's fastest city. "While Heathrow is a break between North America and Europe, Dubai sits in between the far bigger population centres of Asia; anyone flying West from Asia will fly over the Persian gulf. It has set itself up as a venus fly trap for international travel."

But even Krane admits the speed of growth is impressive. "In the 80s, when Heathrow was already booming, the airport was just a couple of metal sheds with some guys hand-stamping tickets," he says. "Dubai couldn't actually get enough flights to come to it, which is why they ended up founding their own airline. It really is a fairytale for them that they've now overtaken Heathrow."

Expect to hear much more about the pleasures of a stopover there. Such as the opportunity to blow £160 on a raffle ticket for their rolling million-dollar draw, or £6,500 on a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc at terminal 3's fine wine store Le Clos. And nothing really says "you're in Dubai" quite like a shop selling gold bullion in the duty free.



Oh, he's right about the glamour - nothing beats the legions of men wrapped in their blankets and sleeping on the floor at all hours, the cloying choking stink around the busy smoking rooms, queuing behind someone buying a kilo of nuts in three different currencies at 2am or the fight for overhead locker space because nobody else on the flight paid attention to the luggage restrictions.

There's nothing glamorous in arriving on an Emirates flight, being parked next to the airport boundary fence and spending almost 30 minutes on a freezing air conditioned bus before arriving at the terminal. Then walking through the terminal, down escalators and travelling underground on travelators, up escalators and into the arrivals hall, another thirty minutes, to wait in the passport control queue for possibly another 30 minutes, before walking into baggage reclaim. This is Dubai. Doesn't come close to Singapore for traveller friendly, calm, organised and clean efficiency. The same goes for the two Cities.

Dubai airport is the most depressing place on Earth. A temple to rabid consumerism.





Falling out with Thailand

2 April 2014

My first ever visit to Thailand was in 1984 in a previous life; long before this blog had ever seen the light of day.

In was twelve years before I was back there with Reuters salvaging a messy acquisition which got even messier when the financial crisis hit Asia in mid 1997. By that time I was a fairly regular visitor; but an expense account visitor; staying in very nice hotels.

Then in late 2002 I moved to Bangkok for work; though initially most of the work was over in Vancouver. I stayed in a serviced apartment a short walk from my office. The frustrations were less with my lifestyle than with the frustrations of work and trying to deliver a project that promised so much.

Tai and I now visit regularly to see her family or for short vacations.

I don't think I was ever in love with Thailand; but I enjoyed the sense of being somewhere different; the smells, colours, noises, music, people. I enjoyed exploring the country though you quickly realise just how dependent Thailand is on its capital, Bangkok. Thailand's second city, Chiang Mai, is by comparison a small, sleepy country town.

The problem is that in 20 years Thailand really has not progressed. In many ways it has regressed.

Education is still inept; lagging far behind most of Asia and still focussed on traditional Thai beliefs, old world curricula and supporting a class based structure rather than a meritocracy.

Domestic infrastructure investment is woeful outside of Bangkok. Bangkok has its metro and skytrain; they were adequate when opened but are already woefully short of capacity. The new airport opened. But it was too small on day one and the old Don Muang airport had to be re-opened for passenger traffic. The rail network is a national embarrassment. The city bus networks run on antiquated buses. The long distance coach network fraught with the dangers of poor roads and worse drivers.

Politics; anyone who reads this web site will know that the country has regressed not progressed. The privileged want to hold onto power. More or less by any means. And the privileged include people across all colours of the political spectrum.

But forget the politics - it is the little things that make Thailand so depressing. Most of these are not new problems. It is just that there has not been any improvement in decades.

Roads are almost too dangerous to cross; anyone walking on a pedestrian crossing is a target.

Sidewalks that are impassable due to the market stalls, food stalls and worst of all evening/late night bars that occupy them.

Overcrowded public transport.

Metered taxis that have no interest in using the meter.

Silly taxes on wine. But not a problem if you drink Thai whisky.

Taxi touts as soon as you emerge from immigration at BKK airport. 

The road death toll every Songkran.

The "if you dont like it leave" argument. No; we would like to help you make it better. Don't accept mediocrity.

Thai newspapers that self censor to avoid any discussion of the issues that really matter.

Double - pricing. Farangs pay more - even if you have come half way around the world to see us.

Dogma. If you are not with us you are against us. There is no debate. Actually that sums up the country rather well. There is simply no educated, rationale debate about the future of the country and how to get there for the benefit of all.

Contradictions. A self - sufficiency economy or rampant consumerism and greed.

Corruption at every level. Policemen with their hands out. Politicians with their hands out.

Service charges for no service.

Huge rats. And many of them. And cockroaches. Can be hard to spot after dark. Not good when you tread on one.

And too many parts of Bangkok, away from the main tourist drags, that appear to be crumbling. Again. No investment.

Uncontrolled development. Ruining once attractive towns like Hua Hin.

The world's biggest and ugliest advertising hoardings.

And that is just my short list. It is such a shame.

Emirates contact center network

1 April 2014

There was an interesting announcement from Emirates today about the opening of a new contact center for teh airline - and it is in Hungary - Budapest to be precise.

This is the airline's second European customer contact centre in Budapest and will create 300 jobs in the Hungarian capital.

Emirates stated that it had searched extensively across Europe to find the right location for this facility; noting that "the support from the Hungarian Investment and Trade Agency has been incredibly valuable."

Now anyone who has been to Budapest will know that language skills are not abundant and Budapest is not the first city that comes to mind when planning a new customer support location. It is, however, likely that the airline received significant support from the local authorities.

The center is probably also better located to provide languages support to the growing number of Eastern European nations that are now part of the EK network; though many would argue that you could easily do that from the UK now.

The facility will manage reservation services as well as multi-lingual support for the frequent flyer program, Emirates Skywards handling calls calls and emails in nine languages.

Emirates also confirmed that it has six established support centers in Dubai, Manchester, Mumbai, New York, Melbourne and Guangzhou. They currently support over 35,000 calls and emails per day.

Treat MH370 tragedy rationally

31 March 2014 By Mei Xinyu (China Daily) (Note this is a change of tone from China which had previously supported/encouraged protests at the Malaysian Embassy).

Trying to force someone to do what something they are unwilling to do usually tends to make things more difficult, a more feasible way is to use official channels and promise not to disclose such information to the public and third parties, so as to have access to more sensitive information.

We should know that the government will do its best to safeguard the rights and interests of Chinese citizens and there is no reason to doubt that the government is not taking pains to deal with the crisis.

Public opinion should not blame the Malaysian authorities for deliberately covering up information in the absence of hard evidence. Whether by official channels or follow-up civil litigation, we still need to speak with evidence and act according to the law, rather than through "making a noise" or indulging in aggressive or irrational behavior.

China is a great power and our government attaches great importance to the incident. After flight MH370 went missing, the Chinese government not only carried out intense diplomacy, it also deployed the largest rescue team in its history of maritime search and rescue operations, including coast guard vessel 3411, South China Sea Rescue 101 and 115, the amphibious landing ship Jinggangshan, the guided missile frigate Mianyang, the guided missile destroyer Haikou, the amphibious landing ship Kunlunshan, the warship Qiandaohu, the guided missile destroyer Changchun, the guided missile frigate Changzhou and integrated supply ship Chaohu. They carry several helicopters, about 1,000 marines, and dozens of professional divers and medical teams. In addition, China has also redeployed about 20 satellites to hunt for the wreckage, which is unprecedented. Even though there are such and such doubts, since the country has mobilized so much manpower and resources, why cannot we be patient and just wait until they find the wreckage and get the evidence.

We should acknowledge that in the face of the tragedy of flight MH370, Malaysia did not pass the buck, and the whole of Malaysian society showed their deep sorrow and shame. Malaysian citizens, media and scholars all openly criticized the authorities for their misconduct in handling the case. Their public opinion did not claim that the incident was masterminded by an individual that does not represent Malaysia and its people and they did not retort to outside criticism and pressure. Chinese people should refrain from inciting criticism and instigating boycotts against Malaysia so as to avoid hurting the majority of people in Malaysia.

All Chinese people sympathize with the relatives of the passengers on board MH370 and share their sufferings. But we should also remember that a time of adversity is no excuse for trampling on social norms.

We can understand and tolerate those victim families' emotional catharsis as long as their behavior doesn't violate social norms.

We hope that those whose voices are being heard can carry forward rationality, self-discipline and law-abiding consciousness, rather than fermenting irrational, individualistic activities that trample on laws and ethics. The basic line is not violating laws and ethics as the way to safeguard rights; this is a basic manner and behavioral standard of human society, and to abide by it does not require high academic qualifications or high level of knowledge.

China is a highly civilized country and the Chinese government is fully capable of maintaining order and making objective and rational decisions. The rest of society should likewise take a rational attitude.

The author is a researcher at the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institute of the Ministry of Commerce.

Malaysia can take lessons from MH370 but not all the blame

31 March 2014 The Financial Times

“We would not have done anything differently,” declared Malaysia’s defence and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, when asked about his country’s handling of missing flight MH370.

In the three and a bit weeks since the Malaysian Airlines aircraft mysteriously disappeared on a routine flight to Beijing, critics have feasted on missteps and muddle as Malaysia has struggled to get to grips with what has become the biggest riddle in commercial aviation history.

On Monday, a multinational search in the ocean off Western Australia for the Boeing 777 – with 239 on board – continued, after multiple sightings by satellite and the naked eye of hundreds of pieces of debris. Still, nothing.

Malaysia, not used to being in the glare of global attention, has faced some tough questions. Why did the country’s air force not scramble jets the moment it was clear from radar that an unidentified aircraft was recrossing Peninsular Malaysia in the opposite direction to MH370’s scheduled route?

Why was a week apparently wasted searching in the South China Sea, when it later emerged that investigators had data showing the aircraft was likely somewhere off the Strait of Malacca?

Even after the investigation had settled into a routine of daily news conferences, Malaysia’s messaging was fumbling. The first few featured officials who had probably never faced journalists before, and military brass who bristled in sometimes inadequate English at what was being asked.

Mr Hishammuddin’s claim that the country would not have done anything differently rings hollow when there have been identifiable errors of judgment.

But the analysis should not stop there. Malaysia was, and remains, faced with an aviation disaster that is unprecedented on almost every level. The last commercial aircraft disappearance – that of an Air France flight off Brazil – turned up as debris fairly quickly; relatives were able to begin mourning, even if it took a further two years to locate the aircraft’s black box.

The airliner was filled with mostly French passengers, and the responsibility for the search lay cleanly with France. This case has involved a Malaysian aircraft carrying mostly Chinese citizens, in a complex effort that at one point involved 26 countries searching an area covering 2.3m nautical miles of ocean and land.

Few countries could have handled that flawlessly, not least China, one of Malaysia’s biggest critics. Its state apparatus has excelled in recent years in mismanaging a succession of big crises, starting with the attempted cover-up over contaminated milk in 2008 to a high-speed rail crash that killed 40 people.

And as one Malaysian cabinet minister said last week: “I would not rate too highly the handling of the US government of Katrina,” a reference to former US president George W Bush’s ineffective response to the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Mr Hishammuddin, a UK-trained lawyer, has been polished and assured. He likely understands the imperative of treating China with care; Malaysia’s population of almost 30m is about the same as that of the Chinese city-province of Chongqing. China is Malaysia’s biggest trading partner.

The lessons from MH370 go far beyond Malaysia. The airline industry will probably need to speed up the deployment of the latest satellite navigation systems to improve air traffic management. “People are beginning to file away some questions that this episode raises,” says Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines.

Yet Malaysia cannot escape the need to learn its own lessons. Its opaque political system – dominated since independence 50 years ago by a single party – is not instinctively self-critical.

Already there are worrying signs of foot-dragging over a proper commission of inquiry into the handling of MH370. With US president Barack Obama set to visit Malaysia later this month – the first by a sitting US president since Lyndon Johnson in 1966 – Kuala Lumpur now has a chance to show it can behave differently.

Schedule for Dubai

30 March 2014

Sat Apr 19 (20 ovs)
14:30 local | 10:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Royal Challengers Bangalore v Mumbai Indians
Sat Apr 19 (20 ovs)
18:30 local | 14:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Kolkata Knight Riders v Delhi Daredevils
Wed Apr 23 (20 ovs)
18:30 local | 14:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Rajasthan Royals v Chennai Super Kings
Fri Apr 25 (20 ovs)
14:30 local | 10:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Sunrisers Hyderabad v Delhi Daredevils
Fri Apr 25 (20 ovs)
18:30 local | 14:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Chennai Super Kings v Mumbai Indians
Mon Apr 28 (20 ovs)
18:30 local | 14:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Royal Challengers Bangalore v Kings XI Punjab
Wed Apr 30 (20 ovs)
18:30 local | 14:30 GMT
Indian Premier League
Mumbai Indians v Sunrisers Hyderabad