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Thoughts about Emirates = from PPRUNE (April 2015)

21 April 2015

Part 1

Bottom line - it is really comforting to work for a company that has profit as it's primary objective. This is not to say that political interference, racial representation objectives, incompetent management and petty preferences are not part of the company's identity. Just that if a company wants to make a profit then the rest by default have a lower and sometimes almost non-existant part to play.

Emirates is a great company to work for if you are young (starting out in your flying career), single or married with no kids. Anything else and you are setting yourself up for heartache.

Cost. It is really expensive to live in Dubai with a family. For instance, In 7 years our monthly grocery budget has climbed from AED2500/month to AED6500/month. This over a period in which our salaries have climbed in low single digit percentages per year or not at all in some years. Over the same period, the Education Support Allowance(ESU) has been essentially stagnant, while the schools have hiked their prices from 5 to 15% every year. You will contribute substantially to your kids education every year. It is only going to get worse. Since Dubai has won the EXPO 2020, everything from property prices to parking fees is going up. As it is, there is no tax but you pay for everything. When you pay a parking fine you also get to pay a "Knowledge Fee" and a "Facilitation Fee" for the privilege of settling your fine (Those terms are paraphrased but the item on the fine invoice amounts to those things). These "taxes" are going up and when you query it, the person behind the counter grins and says "EXPO 2020!". Do not come here with debts back home and then try to live on a co-pilot's salary. This is really NB! I don't know how to emphasise this enough. Oh and forget about Profit Share ever being a part of this company's remuneration process again.

Education. To start with, getting more expensive as stated. Additionally, you have to book a place for your kid as soon as they are born (which booking you pay for). In fact you pay every time you just put your kids name on a waiting list, which is not refunded. The British System has kids starting school at about 3, legally required from FS1 (about 5). But if you do not let them start at 3, the schools will tell you that there is no guarantee that their place will be available when they get to 5. The catch is that Emirates only pays the ESU from FS1. So you will pay from AED 20K to 40K per year per kid until they are 5. From then on you will top up the shortfall which can be substantial especially if you have your kids in a GEMS school (for profit, look it up on the web). The non-profit schools are better, but not much and there are essentially only 3 good schools; JESS, DESC and DC (again, look them up). You are virtually guaranteed that there will not be place in these 3 as people are flooding into DXB again. GEMS is not bad but the owner only wants money and they have some very questionable ethical and educational principles. For the most part people are happy though. Wellington is probably the most subscribed. Most important here - school is one of the 3 most important aspects of family life in DXB. And you are GOING to battle with it, especially from the point of view of housing.

Housing. Not enough and not always in a good place. The 2nd is luck of the draw and not fair to complain about. But, it does play a big part in which school you would like your kids to go to and since schools are a big problem, the house location becomes a big issue. The biggest issue is that there is not enough and EK always has a battle to mollify new joiners on housing. This is the 2nd important aspect of family life in Dubai and it is not easily rationalised. If you are lucky, you will be located in a large development not unlike the gated communities in the rest of the world. They give your family a community and lots of support, more so if you are located with the rest of the chaps you join with. You could be spread over the whole city though as complexes are not always ready at the time you may join and then temp accom or vacated units or any variation in between comes into the picture. And EK will NOT let you change and does NOT let you participate in the process. There are exceptions as always, but you will fight for years to create an opportunity for an exception.

Medical. Not as good as it was and getting worse. Substantial waiting to get family to EK Clinic, somewhat alleviated by family being allowed to go direct to 3rd party service providers without reference. But the company spends a lot on medical and all they are doing to fix that problem is cutting back on benefits, not the reason why people are getting sick. Most pilots supplement with a form of top-up insurance. There are stories (most unsubstantiated) about EK cutting off support after (6 months - number varies) for critical illness (Cancer), but they are difficult to verify. Most important, the company has grown but the pool of doctors and dentists and support staff has shrunk. Medical is problematic.

Promotion. This is the 3rd important aspect of life in DXB. Once you have a command, life becomes affordable in DXB - sort of. The problem is that this is so unpredictable. There is an average time, something like 4.5 years at the moment. But you should expect closer to 8-10 years from now on. In broad terms, since the average age is so low, the pilot pool needs to double before you get your command (no retirements). At the moment there are 3600. That means you will get your command when there are 7200 pilots in EK. In practice, because of growth, attrition and some retirements you can subtract about 20% off that number and you will get your command when there are 5800 to 6000 pilots. That is still a growth of up to 3500 required. Thats a minimum of 5 years at 700 per year which has never happened. Then you have economic slowdowns, A380 wings that are cracked and need to be replaced, runway closures for 3 months, new aircraft only replacing retired aircraft and you have issues from short to long duration which mean that that 5 years will only increase. One of the biggest at the moment is that new joiners on the old A330/340 fleet will have to wait for the fleet to die (no earlier than 2017) before accumulating the required EK time (not EK type) for command on an appropriate fleet. If you are lucky you will go direct to the 380 or 777 but at the moment they are taking new joiners in on the 330/340 fleet.

There are many other issues which will become too demoralising to elaborate on. Emiritization (government wide program to put Emiratis into every post and position in the country - a big one at the moment and EK is a major part of this program). Class of citizenship (you are a second class citizen and if something goes wrong with your career you are out of the country - NB for your family because if you loose your job at home your family carries on as normal but not here!). Flying Roster, (there are quoted numbers of pilots off on long term sick leave that defy belief so I won't quote them - but they [management] do not know, nor do they want to know, what the EK type of flying does to you). Driving on DXB roads (in some ways better than SA since there is no aggression but the style is scary - take the Mumbai style [since they are the majority population here] which is fine if you're in Mumbai where the speed never goes above 30kph, relocate to a place with 7 lane highways and speeds from 180 in the far left to 20 in the far right and figure it out for yourself). Family in DXB for prolonged periods as your family does not escape like you do (the sand gets a bit much eventually and I wont even touch on the temperature although since you live in aircon all summer that does not affect as much but that in itself is a problem if you like the Chevrolet life in SA). Leave (which for some has always worked perfectly and others has never worked and the company often uses leave to manage costs). Career advancement (only works as long as it works for the company - when they don't need you, you are out of the post. Only ever budget on your basic salary!

As always, the positives will be shorter since there are many and you will want to rationalise on these points anyway so I wont embellish too much.

Company finances. Good to work for a stable, growing company with lots of money. Stated above.
New aircraft and even newer ones coming for the next 10 years or more. B777X and lots more 380's (and possibly/probably the A350). We all want to fly the biggest and newest.
Opportunities for the kids at school. My kids have gone to many places in the world on school trips(subject/jollies/community outreach/DukeofEd award etc), sports tours, music training and tours and will do lots more. Most of these would not have been part of life or even possible at home.
Recreation. DXB is a hub and air travel is easy. Lots of interesting places are close and staff travel is fine with a bit of effort. Nothing will ever be as good as SAA travel perks but in the world picture SAA is abnormal. Recreation in DXB is also great from boating (some crazy types do it year-round), to diving, to hiking, to Kite surfing and even dune-bashing in your 4x4 (one only buys 4x4's here!).
Safety. We still get a kick from going off anywhere and leaving the house open as the kids are coming home from school later. Or going out at night and leaving the kids at home alone in an unlocked house. Also love seeing a bank worker put money in the ATM at a mall and there is only 1 bored guard not even watching and his only weapon is his cell phone on which he is in any case far too busy texting home to Sri Lanka to care about what is happening around him. Or being on a flight and the wife is fetching the kids at the beach on the other side of the city at midnight on her own and when she gets stuck as she doesn't understand the 4x4 process, lot's of people of all races actually come to help and not hinder. Or leaving your camera somewhere and days later you remember where you left it and come back and it is waiting for you where it has been handed in after being found.
Seniority list. Even with Emeritization, the only people to loose their posts are the managers and the seniority list is inviolate. It does not mean as much as at SAA since your command depends on your fleet not your number (Boeing was at 3 years and Airbus 5) due to cost, but no one is going to jump past you.
Destinations. If you still want to see the world, EK does fly everywhere. Some are shaky like Kabul, but others are wonderful like LA & San Francisco. And if you do not like long distance then bid for the short range stuff and the rest of the pilot pool will worship you while you get what you want (the rider is that the 330/340 fleet only does India and Africa at the moment!! EK5xx/6xx/7xx/8xx/9xx series flight numbers).
Friendliness. EVERYONE in this city is friendly and helpful, possibly some in the gruff New York way, but everyone will try to help and the worst ones are the expats. (come to think of it, the worst drivers are the expat soccer moms in an over powered 4x4!)

Part 2

The reason why I thought that part 2 is necessary is that I don't know when last I drove to work or flew with someone who was positive. I don't think I'm a negative person but right now things are negative. Someone I chatted to recently described the corporate environment as toxic. Most of us think that is a pretty good word to sum the situation up with.

With no particular structure or plan, here are some thoughts.

Since I wrote part 1, the company has grown by 100 pilots. There are now just over 3700 pilots. Do we have problems with recruitment or retention?

Malcolm Gladwell writes about a "Principle of Legitimacy", look it up. But essentially rules, policies and management style must include 3 aspects for a healthy "corporate" environment. 1 must be fair, 2 must be predictable and 3 the underlings must feel that they have a voice. Since I have brought this up, you are guessing that this must be contentious, right. Well I don't think any of them exist in Emirates. The most frustrating part is that management do not have the maturity to treat the culprits and not the group for transgressions. The standard refrain is that there are too many issues and too many people to handle the individuals. Well then how do the American carriers with 3 or more times the people do it? And in some cases like SouthWest become one of the top companies to work for? The bottom line is that each time some clot does something silly here, we all get punished. And it is getting stressful as you can achieve almost nothing to manage your life since all the little things that existed to create predictability like access to information (eg early roster information) are being taken away. And as they say, the 2 things that contribute most to stress are lack of predictability and lack of control. Rosters are full, we are flying hard. Options to contribute to our roster build are now virtually non-existent. We get them at the last possible minute despite the fact that they are completed within days of bidding closing. We are told they need the flexibility but my roster never changes and there are 5 times the amount of cabin crew and they get theirs a week before us? So to sum up this rant - Stressful (no predictability, no control) and Toxic (no voice, no logic, no fair).

Everything we hear about medical is anecdotal but Smoke and Fire must apply here. Not enough doctors, unreasonably large numbers of pilots on long term sick leave (reasons unknown), cabin crew not allowed to be sick without clinic visit (infer a hours long wait due to lack of personnel here!), career progression halted due to sickness ( the excuse is, if you were sick then you have not had the continuity of service to be ready for command). Actually I want to give this one attention. If continuity of experience was important, then no 380 or 777 FO would get their command until they are too old to fly since they can go weeks without a landing/take-off and a high percentage of their hours are in the bunk. The 330 FO's are really getting experience with a 90 hour roster and no layovers and no heavy crews. But then experience is not actually what this is about, is it? Back to Medical; the world does not have enough knowledge about Fatigue let alone the impact of an EK type roster on health. Lip service is paid to things like flight time limitations. When it suits the company, minimum rest of 12 hours can be programmed but if you try to swap into minimum rest then it is not acceptable - i.e. There is no policy or knowledge, just management idiosyncrasies. And the benefit for EK is that we all go away to die. Any health issues that could be attributed to rosters, abnormally high radiation levels due to EK type flying etc, all get handled out of environment in which EK is responsible. There is no community responsibility, there is no long term liability, there is no come-back. And that means there is no need to give it attention.

When I was hired, Emirates did not say "come and fly for us, we will fly you to the max, there will be no time for life while flying, but then we will give you a week/month/whatever off. Then come back and fly hard again" or any variation on that theme in which you know that they give you nothing but money and hard flying and then life continues when you are between flying. Emirates said "bring your wife along for selection, let us show you what a wonderful life you will have with Emirates. Let us show you what Dubai has to offer" in other words Emirates offered me a life. Now the way our flying is working there is no time for life. And when you say you are tired, you are told that you need to rest between flights, that is what a rest day is for. But wait, did you not invite my family to come with me? Do you know that a family needs attention?

Possibly the last 6 to 8 months is going to change, there have been a lot of aircraft arriving and not enough pilots. But I don't think so, I think the style has become entrenched. One of the worst to come is the new roster system we are all waiting for with fear and stress. The present one does not work because of all the conditions and restrictions placed on it. One of our managers for instance does not believe that pilots should be allowed to have multiple days off in a row. So that is a restriction placed on the bidding system. The rumour is that the new system will have just as many restrictions and also only allow 3 days off. Because office workers only get 2 days off don't they? Well sure; but do they fly from Harare, signing on at about 3 in the afternoon, fly to Lusaka and then Dubai and land at 5 in the morning - on a 2-man crew? And then if the company deems it necessary within 12 hours you go off on a night flight to India over the same hours. If that office worker can do that and safely land the aircraft and then run a life with only 2 days off in 7 then that office worker is my hero. No, we were offered a life and right now we do not have one!

Ok that's enough for now. If you want to come to Emirates, look at it all and know what you are coming to.

 

Worth adding a few extra notes:

take 10 days leave to find that in the remainder of the month you are working 75 hours. Your "vacation" month is often the most exhausting month of the year.

there was the cabin crew members who delivered a baby in flight, and ISO getting a thank you letter, were reported for opening the EMK without the Captians permission. The culture of fear has permeated so far into the culture of EK, I don't think there is any turning back now.

I like the flying! I have fun on virtually every flight and we have a tremendously diverse operation which is challenging and inspires thought and effort on most occasions. Virtually to a man, everyone I have flown with is worth flying with and that means a lot to me. And this is odd since we are not a homogenous bunch from the same training and same cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Possibly because of where we are and the mindset with which we got here, we all put in more effort in the cockpit?

The frown and sideways look bit. Many aspects of Ops and Training are very good. For instance, for every story about how a pilot on operations was badly treated by Ops, there will be another in which the situation was well handled, possibly more. I also enjoy training events, no one is there to take you out and again virtually to a man the trainers enjoy what they do and try to help. To a great extent though we have to admit that we can apply the American parable about the farmer and the travellers here (on both sides) - hopefully you can figure this out for yourself!

You have to consider your options and what's available. For me, family safety is my main issue considering where I come from. This environment ticks all the boxes on that score and more than that, due to the positives I mentioned in part 1, whenever we even test the concept of leaving my son tells me we can go on our own. I can't make a call on the other gulf carriers but I do know that I would not go near one of them normally, but even there it depends on your circumstances. If you want to be a part of a big operation which is the next best thing to a stable, legacy carrier, then Emirates is probably one of the few options out there.

Ultimately it is sad that the rat poison syndrome exists. The problems I mentioned above really are almost all-consuming. One does need to know about them, consider them and define a relative importance. Whether you are in, or thinking of getting in. Even though I am fundamentally a positive person, at present I struggle to shrug off these issues just because there is so little I can do about them. And worse, we all know that with little or no cost, most of the issues can be sorted out if there was just a will to do so. I don't think there is a will to do it though and that is where it all falls apart.
 

 

What's Wrong with Thailand's New Constitution

21 April 2015 Bloomberg View

The draft constitution presented in Thailand last week grants "everything that every citizen ever felt the need to fight for," according to the junta-appointed committee that wrote it. By diminishing the role of those same citizens in government, however, it’s far more likely to prolong the country's political stalemate.

Changes introduced in the new constitution are supposed to protect Thailand from the kind of graft and populist excess blamed on its recent elected leadership. Critics accuse former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of presiding over a corrupt administration after his election in 2001, saying he used handouts to his base in the poor but populous north and northeast to maintain his hold on power. (Thaksin, who was convicted of corruption by a military-appointed court after his ouster in 2006, has protested his innocence.) Since he fled into exile, Thailand has been paralyzed by a series of coups, short-lived governments (including one led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck), and street clashes between Thaksin supporters and resentful urban and middle-class Thais.

To break this deadlock, the new constitution would weaken the clout of elected politicians. A proportional voting system would encourage smaller parties and coalition governments in the lower house of parliament, while the upper house would be filled with a mix of candidates nominated by committee or selected by professional groups, including one dominated by former military figures. Under certain circumstances, the prime minister could be appointed from outside parliament. Watchdog agencies perceived to be tied to the establishment would get new powers. Thus, unelected elites could mind the store, rather than ordinary voters -- thought to be too susceptible to populist blandishments.

Such a system would hark back to Thailand's failed past. Earlier constitutions also featured an appointed prime minister and senate, along with a weak lower house. But the old system produced 25 coalition governments from 1979 until Thaksin's election in 2001. And because many ordinary Thais, voting that year under a liberalized constitution, saw their circumstances improve under Thaksin, even the poor have grown used to the idea that their votes matter. They can hardly be expected to again trust their fates to a clique of "wise men" in Bangkok.

Nor is there any reason to believe that constitutional tweaks can eliminate the main vices attributed to Thaksinite administrations. The junta has amply demonstrated that unelected governments can resort to populist measures as easily as any other, having disbursed billions in subsidies to mollify rice farmers loyal to the previous government. Weak coalition governments would face even more pressure to buy support.

Rampant corruption, meanwhile, did not begin with Thaksin's arrival and won't end with his family’s exit from the political scene. Cutting back on graft requires greater transparency, as well as watchdogs that are truly independent. There’s little evidence the new constitution will promote either.

Worse, returning power to the hands of a murky elite will only undercut the government’s legitimacy and the confidence of long-term investors. The economy has both immediate problems (household debt above 85 percent of gross domestic product, flatlining exports) and structural challenges (it needs to move beyond the low-end manufacturing that has powered its economy since the 1980s). This will take more than increased spending on infrastructure, as the junta has pledged. It calls for retraining workers and overhauling the education system. Above all, investors need to see a stable system of governance with clear checks and balances, and participation from parties across the spectrum. Otherwise there’s little guarantee that the next political crisis won't derail reform.

The solution isn’t to disempower politicians, as if they were some malign species. Only voters can give government legitimacy. And the only true, sustainable check on any future Thai government is the threat of being voted out of power. The way for opposition parties to defeat Thaksin’s popular electoral machine is to do the hard work of developing a national agenda and appeal. Any constitution that tries to get around basic democracy will only ensure that another one needs to be written in a few years.

Coming soon to Emirates

10 April 2015

A private cabin in its A380s and new B777s. “We’re not following any other airline, we had this plan a long time ago,” said Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, divisional senior vice president Commercial Operations Centre for Emirates, in reference to Etihad who introduced a similar First Class concept on board its A380s. “It will be unique, it will be commercially driven, and will have everything that is expected. We are in the final stages of introducing it, and you will see it in the future.”

615 seat two class A380s - with 557 economy seats and just 58 in business. The new two class A380 debuts to Copenhagen later this year.

Interesting to note in Al Mualla's interview that the message has changed a bit on subsidies - it used to be argued that Emirates was given US$10 million of start up capital and nothing more but the tune has suddenly changed with Al Mualla noting that "It is always the same thing, that we’re subsidised. We’ve not been subsidised. It’s only the first year that we’ve been subsidised for the start-up [$10m] and then for one-time [an infrastructure investment of $88 million for two Boeing 727 aircraft and a training building] and from then we’ve been paying back a dividend. We’ve been successful,” says Al Mualla.

He did not mention support of fuel-hedging losses!

It is also Emirates 30th anniversary this year - it will be interesting to see how, if at all, this is acknowledged.

Pilot Workload at Emirates Under Question

Airline’s policies pose a further challenge to the carrier

9 April 2015 Wall Street Journal - Rory Jones

Emirates Airline faces questions from regulators and staff over whether it overworks pilots, adding to challenges for the carrier that include criticism of its expansion abroad and discontent among cabin-crew staff.

According to current and former pilots, Emirates, the world’s largest airline by international traffic, underreports time on duty to the aviation regulator in the United Arab Emirates, meaning pilots at times exceed daily-duty limits that exist to protect their health and the safety of flights.

Ismail Al Balooshi, director of aviation safety affairs at the General Civil Aviation Authority, the U.A.E.’s airline regulator, said in an interview he would now investigate allegations that state-owned Emirates isn't fully reporting pilot duty hours. He added, though, the airline is monitored closely and there have been no significant complaints about safety, including via an anonymous system for reporting such issues.

Concern over pilot health has elevated in the wake of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525. The plane’s co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had a history of depression and appears to have deliberately crashed the jet into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 others onboard. There is no indication work stress contributed to Mr. Lubitz’s actions.

Emirates said in a statement responding to the allegations it never compromises on safety and fully complies with its regulator’s mandates. The state-owned carrier, which wouldn’t make executives available for this article, also said it had a “proactive” fatigue-management procedure.

Emirates acknowledged discontent among its more than 3,700 pilots, though it called those speaking out an unhappy “vocal minority.” It urged them to engage with management, adding it had set up an open forum for pilots to provide input.

Pilots and airlines in Europe and the U.S. often spar over duty hours as airline managements seek greater flexibility in scheduling cockpit crew.

At Emirates, mandatory preflight briefings occur before the airline reports the pilot as officially on-duty, according to current and former pilots who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. That policy can sometimes lead to duty times being exceeded on daily return flights to destinations in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Europe, allowing Emirates to operate those flights without extra staff, these pilots said.

Pilots also say Emirates routinely requires them to work into a period known as “discretion,” a procedure that exceeds normal work hours. Regulators allow such leeway in unforeseen circumstances such as delays and only if the pilot deems duty time extension safe.

Emirates said discretion is a tool available for use on the day of operations if the captain “assesses that it is safe to do so and provided it is in accordance with state-approved regulations.”

Mr. Al Balooshi said reporting requirements for duty time should be “black and white” and begin when a pilot is expected to report for work and finish when his or her last flight taxies into the gate. Emirates said it abides by state-approved flight-time limitations.

Emirates is deemed one of the safest carriers in the world, with a seven-star rating by Airlineratings.com, a website that tracks and rates safety. It has achieved that strong track record amid rapid growth. The airline has increased the annual number of passengers it carries fourfold over the past decade, to 44.5 million last year.

The pilot discord comes as Emirates already is battling criticism on multiple fronts. U.S. and European rivals accuse the Persian Gulf carrier of relying on market-distorting state subsidies to fuel its growth, a charge Emirates denies.

At home, cabin-crew employees have voiced concerns over work conditions, prompting the airline to hold a series of meetings with staff. It also suspended a review process for cabin-crew staff that drew particular ire.

For years, U.S. and European pilots flocked to Dubai to seek cockpit jobs at rapidly expanding Emirates as other airlines restructured and retrenched. Emirates offers generous expatriate packages that include accommodation, education and medical benefits. It flies some of the most modern jets, including Boeing 777s and Airbus A380 superjumbos that are coveted assignments.

But some pilots now are returning home to the U.S. and Europe as they view overall benefits have diminished, while workload and their cost of living have increased, according to pilots and recruitment firms. Emirates said it was seeking to recruit around 500 pilots in the current financial year and that it saw “little change” in turnover rates.

Emirates said its pilot pay is “among the highest and most competitive in the industry.” Over the past seven years, salaries increased every year except in 2009, when Dubai was hit hard during the global financial crisis, the carrier said. Accommodation allowances have risen even when housing costs in Dubai have fallen, it said.

A dozen current and former Emirates pilots and U.A.E. aviation officials, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said pilots are flying more hours than before and are subjected to onerous procedures to report sickness or fatigue, discouraging them from doing so. Safety regulators rely heavily on pilot self-reporting of medical conditions that might not be detected by annual medical screenings.

Adel Al Redha, chief operations officer at Emirates, who oversees pilots and other staff, said in an email the airline was setting up an internal portal for any operations personnel to air grievances with management. Given the “expansion of the airline and the growth of employees,” Mr. Al Redha said in the email dated April 2, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, “it is vital we maintain close communication links.”

New (old) caddy for Thongchai Jaidee

5 April 2015

Thongchai Jaidee and caddie Clifford Picking have parted ways after a highly successful spell, his handlers said yesterday. The 45-year-old Thai and the English caddie started their partnership just two weeks before Thongchai won the 2012 Wales Open, his fifth European Tour win and first on European soil.

Picking also carried Thongchai's bag when he won his sixth European Tour title at the Nordea Masters in Sweden last June.

"They have decided to part company on mutual consent," one of Thongchai's handlers from IMG said. During their partnership, Thongchai shot to a career best 33rd in the world ranking last year.

Sadly this just sounds like spin. Thongchai's handlers found Cliff a couple of years ago when they realised that Thongcha really needed a caddy who new his way around teh European Tour and the different courses. That they won two tournaments in the toughest conditions was a testament to the success of that partnership.

I like Cliff; sensible down-to-earth guy. But Thailand is also a long way from Cliff's UK home and the travel must have taken its toll.

Their last tournament was the WGC-Cadillac Championship where Thongchai finished 69th in the 73-player field.

Thongchai, currently 43rd in the world, has reunited with his friend Phosom Meephosom who worked with him early in his career.

The three-time Asian Tour No.1 is now in his final preparation for his fourth appearance next week's Masters.

He qualified for Augusta thanks to his top-50 place in the world ranking at the end of last year. In his three attempts at the year's first major, the Lop Buri native made the cut only once when he finished tied for 37th last year.

Thunderbirds are Go - again

5 April 2015

Thunderbirds aired in the UK between 1964 and 1966 and repeated in 1992 and 2002. There were 32 episodes over two series, broadcast in 66 countries.

The show sparked a merchandising frenzy, with more than 3,000 Thunderbirds products sold, so much so that December 1966 was labelled Thunderbirds Christmas.

And now it is back - as a CGI remake of the adventures of the Tracy family whose mission is to save the world through their secret organisation International Rescue.

The original was fun; we were convinced that a 2ft-model of Thunderbird 2 was in fact 90-metres long; that small fires were towering infernos; and that modest ripples were crashing waves. Camera tricks, incredibly fine modeling, and real world physics ensured that – quite often – these effects were incredibly convincing.

Thunderbirds are Go is different from the original, it has to be.No chain-smoking and hard drinking puppets.

The reviews of the new show are very mixed; critics seem to approve that the show true to the spirit of the original.

Which sort of misses the point; the show is aimed at 6 to 11 year old children; not to 50 something children.

Sadly the five boys all look a bit One Direction.

The Dubai money-making machine

From oil sales and Salik, to traffic fines and the Dubai Mall: The incredible facts and figures behind Dubai’s multibillion-dirham economy.

By Peter Iantorno for EdgarOnline

5th Apri 2015

At the start of 2015, the government of Dubai unveiled a public expenditure plan that will see the emirate spend a jaw-dropping AED 41 billion – the biggest public budget since before the global financial crisis.

At a time when oil prices are tumbling around the world and policymakers across the GCC are being forced to reconsider their financial forecasts, Dubai is able to splash out on an ambitious budget that will create an estimated 2,530 jobs and operate with a predicted surplus of AED 3.6 billion.

How is this possible, we hear you ask? Let us introduce you to Dubai: the money-making machine.

The first point to note about the 2015 budget is that oil accounts for only 4 per cent of it. Reflecting the global downturn in oil prices, the government has decreased its dependence on oil from 9 per cent last year, leaving the unpredictable oil market with comparatively little importance in the grand scheme of things.

The slack left by the reduction in oil revenue is more than picked up by a massive increase in charges for government services, which are set to account for 74 per cent of the total budget – a giant leap of 22 per cent from last year’s plan.

Also important is the big increase in tax revenue – thankfully not on us residents, but in the form of customs and excise charges and the corporation tax imposed on foreign banks, which will increase by 12 per cent this year, comprising 21 per cent of the total budget.

With more than 2.35 million permanent residents in Dubai and some 1,413,150 vehicles registered in the emirate (according to Roads and Transport Authority figures, as of December 2014), traffic congestion is an issue that has dogged the city for a long time, as the number of cars increases by at least 100,000 every year.

While heavy traffic might make it difficult for us to get to work in a morning, one thing it does mean is money in the bank for the Dubai government. Why? Well, aside from vehicle insurance and registration fees for every single car, there’s also the small matter of Salik: toll gates that earn millions every day.

The are six Salik toll gates in Dubai (Garhoud, Al Maktoum Bridge, Safa, Barsha, Airport Tunnel and Mamzar), which cost AED 4 each time a driver goes through them. There used to be a maximum daily charge of AED 24 per day, but this was removed in 2013, leaving drivers who pass through multiple gates in the same day liable to pay unlimited fees.

Let’s say that half of all the registered vehicles in Dubai pass through one Salik gate per day (an extremely modest estimate). The total amounts to AED 2,826,300. Even using our pigeon maths skills, it’s safe to say there’s a lot of money coming in every day from Salik alone.

And for those who don’t play by the rules, the windfall is even greater. According to statistics revealed by Dubai’s Traffic Police earlier this month, a single Emirati driver has so far amassed an incredible AED 280,000 in fines from a total of 477 traffic offences. And he’s just the start, as the three worst violators have committed a whopping 1,022 offences between them, clocking up massive fines.

Although there are no official statistics, the fines must run into to the tens of millions, and, of course, none of these reckless drivers have been banned, so the stream of fine money keeps on rolling in.

While Salik and traffic fines are massive earners, the real big bucks – and massive figures – come from the jewell in Dubai’s crown: The Dubai Mall. Last year an astounding 80 million visitors (almost 220,000 per day) visited the mall, making it the world’s most popular tourist destination by far.

Making up around 5 per cent of the emirate’s GDP, the world’s biggest mall dwarfed other tourist attractions around the globe, with New York’s Times Square picking up less than half the amount of visitors (39.2 million) during the same period.

And there’s no sign of let up, as The Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue is set to undergo a massive expansion, with another 1 million square feet, including a further 150 high-end brands set to be added to the salubrious area.

With the Dubai economy now going from strength to strength after recovering from a massive setback in 2008, it seems that not even the tumbling oil prices have the power to slow it down.

Will you just open the Door

4 April 2015

A Dutch pilot wrote an article for a flight magazine voicing fears about returning to a locked cockpit door weeks before a Germanwings flight crashed into the French Alps.

Jan Cocheret, a Boeing 777 pilot for the Emirates airline, expressed concerns about leaving a flight deck to go to the toilet and returning to find his co-pilot had locked him out in a piece for the Dutch flying magazine Piloot en Vliegtuig (Pilot and Plane).

The article is here.

The article was published two months before the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz apparently locked his captain out of the Airbus A320’s cockpit when he went to the toilet and descended the plane, killing all 150 passengers and crew on board.

In his piece, ‘Will you just open the door’, Mr Cocheret warned the security measures introduced after the 9/11 terror attack to prevent hijackers taking control of a plane could also be used against the aircraft’s captain, The Telegraph reports.

The Daily Telegraph article is here.

He discussed the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and one theory that one pilot took over when the other left the cockpit.

He wrote: “I seriously sometimes wonder who’s sitting next to me in the cockpit. How can I be sure that I can trust him? Perhaps something terrible has just happened in his life and he’s unable to overcome it.

“There indeed does exist a way to get back into the cockpit, but if the person inside disables this option (the security code to get in), one could do nothing but sit with the passengers and wait and see what happens.”

Mr Cocheret referenced his piece after the crash, writing on his Facebook page: “Unfortunately, this terrible scenario has become reality.”

He said he chose to publish the article in a specialist magazine because he was concerned it was a “sensitive” subject that he did not consider suitable for the general public’s consumption.

German prosecutors said Lubitz, 27, was treated for suicidal tendencies several years before obtaining his pilot’s licence. He also provided his flight training school with medical documents demonstrating he had suffered a “severe depressive episode” before resuming his training in 2009.

Germanwings said Lubitz had a valid medical certificate at the time of the crash. Investigators searching Lubitz’s home found torn-up medical notes showing he should have been on sick-leave on the day of the air disaster. Germanwings confirmed it had not received the sick notes.

Etihad regional gets investment approval

3 April 2015

The Etihad Airways 33% stake in regional air carrier Darwin Airline has received approval from the swiss regulator after a sixteen month review.

In anticipation of the deal, in which Etihad bought a 33.3% share in Darwin Airline in November 2013, Darwin rebranded itself Etihad Regional.

However, clearance from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation was needed because under European Union law, which also applies to Switzerland in this case, European airlines must be controlled by European companies. To get around those limitations, Etihad had been buying up stakes in local carriers such as Air Berlin, Alitalia and Darwin.

Under the decision reached on Thursday, Darwin has also been permitted to carry out flights in Europe on behalf of Alitalia and Air Berlin, creating a business model where it is less dependent on Etihad than originally proposed. Yet Etihad basically controls the purse strings of each of these carriers.

“This partnership will provide us the financial stability for the long-term growth of our company, dispelling any market uncertainty,” Darwin Chief Executive Maurizio Merlo said in a statement.

Darwin Airline, which is based in Lugano, canton Ticino, was founded in 2003. It was renamed Etihad Regional after the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways bought up a third of its shares. Etihad also owns 30% of Air Berlin and runs cooperative flights with Air Serbia and Aer Lingus.

James Hogan, president and CEO of Etihad, said the investment was in line with the growing trend of consolidation in the airline industry, to ensure the continuation of viable, reliable and stable air services, and to maximize flight connectivity.

Hogan expressed disappointment that some opportunities for both carriers had been diminished or lost because of the length of the regulatory review process.

“Because of the time taken to approve this partnership, and intense competition during this period, Etihad Regional has been forced to reduce or withdraw services on a number of routes, which were launched on the expectation that they would be supported by traffic flowing between the Etihad Airways global network and the Etihad Regional network in Europe,” Hogan said.

In October of last year, Swiss International Air Lines invested CHF5 billion into expanding its routes to compete with airlines such as Etihad, which it saw as infringing on its home turf.

Etihad Regional axed its Lugano-Zurich, Zurich-Linz, Geneva-Toulouse and Geneva-Nice routes from the start of February. There will also be redundancies as a result of Darwin’s restructuring.

Easyjet also has a substantial operation based in Geneva.

VAT in the UAE is probably inevitable

2 April 2015

A value-added tax (VAT) is being proposed across the Gulf states at between 3 percent and 5 percent.

A date of implementation and the rate have not been finalised.

The framework is due to be submitted at a meeting of the GCC Ministers of Finance and Economy in May.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council member states have been mulling the introduction of VAT since 2007 to broaden their revenue base, with negotiations happening jointly to avoid any one nation losing out in competition with others in the region.

The recent sharp reduction in oil prices is thought to have lent a further push to introduce the levy, given that most Gulf states are expected to record budget deficits in the coming fiscal year and are reluctant to pare back spending on infrastructure and social spending aimed at developing their economies and improving the lives of citizens.

While the tax would ensure a reliable inflow of government revenues its impact could be damaging.

Dubai businessman Mishal Kanoo and deputy chairman of Kanoo Group, argues that there are already “a hell of a lot of indirect taxes” and a VAT was unnecessary and would hurt the wrong people.

“The ones that would be hurt by taxes would be what you consider middle class, but the super-rich, a person worth a few billion… how is that going to hurt them?” Kanoo told Arabian Business.

He also does not advocate the introduction of an income-scaled tax system.

The trouble with VAT is that it will hit the majority expat population hardest - which is a problem in a country where you can never get the benefits of citizenship or status. You are here only until you are no longer required and then you head home.

But it is inevitable! If they are sensible there will be a raft of exemptions from VAT based around basic foodstuffs, education, welfare services etc.

Martial Law Plus

2 April 2015

English translation by iLaw of the new order replacing martial law in Thailand. As you can see it is effectively martial law in all but name.

With a hat-tip to AFP's Jerome Taylor @jerometaylor on twitter.

STARTS:

Order Number 3/2558 (3/2015) of the Head of the NCPO on Maintaining Public Order and National Security.

As the lifting of martial law throughout the Kingdom has now been adopted, it is appropriate to install measures to deal with actions intended to undermine or destroy peace and national security, violate notifications or orders of the NCPO, or to commit offenses under the laws on firearms, ammunition, explosives, fireworks and artificial weapons which threaten the peace and security of the nation.

Therefore, the head of the NCPO sees it as necessary to prevent and suppress such actions swiftly and effectively so as not to affect law-abiding citizens and the well-being of the general public.

By virtue of Section 44 of the Interim Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand of 2014, the Head of the NCPO with the approval of the NCPO hereby issues the following order:

Article 1. This order shall come into force from the date of its publication in the Government Gazette.

Article 2. A "Peace Keeping Officer" refers to a military officer with the rank of Lieutenant, or Midshipman or Pilot Officer or above, appointed by the Head of the NCPO to act in accordance with this order.
An "Assistant Peace Keeping Officer" refers to a military officer of lower rank than a Lieutenant, or Midshipman or Pilot Officer appointed by the Head of the NCPO to act according to this order.

Article 3. Peacekeeping Officers shall act swiftly to prevent and suppress acts which constitute the following offences:
(1) offenses against the King, the Queen, the Heir Apparent and the Regent under Sections 107 to 112 of the Penal Code.
(2) offenses against the security of the state under Sections 113 to 118 of the Penal Code.
(3) offenses under the laws on firearms, ammunition, explosives, fireworks and artificial weapons, only in respect of firearms, ammunition and explosives used in warfare.
(4) violations of announcements or orders of the NCPO or of the Head of the NCPO.

Article 4. In acting according to Article 3, Peacekeeping Officers have the following powers:
(1) To order any person to report to peacekeeping authorities, or to come to give a deposition, or hand over any document or evidence relating to the commission of an offense under Article 3.
(2) To arrest any person discovered committing an offense under Article 3, and to hand over that person to an investigating officer for further proceedings.
(3) To assist or support investigating officers in their duties or take part directly in investigations of offences under Article 3, in which case Peacekeeping Officers shall be deemed to be investigating officers as defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
(4) To enter any residence or any place to carry out searches of the premises, including searches of persons or of vehicles, when there is sufficient reason to suspect that a person who has commited an offence under Article 3 is hiding on the premises, or has kept property or evidence relating to such an offence on the premises, and where a delay while applying for the issuance of a search warrant might risk the abscondance of the suspect or the removal or destruction of said property or evidence.
(5) To seize or freeze any assets discovered under (4).
(6) To carry out any other act as assigned by the National Council for Peace and Order.

Article 5. In circumstances where it is necessary to swiftly remedy a situation which threatens national security or public order, or to prevent the situation from getting worse, Peacekeeping Officers are empowered to issue orders prohibiting the propagation of any item of news or the sale or distribution of any book or publication or material likely to cause public alarm or which contains false information likely to cause public misunderstanding to the detriment of national security or public order.
When issuing such orders, Peacekeeping Officers may attach conditions or time frames for compliance to their orders.
In order to accomplish results in accordance with the first paragraph, the Chief of the NCPO may set conditions or guidelines regarding the issuance of such orders.

Article 6. For the purposes stipulated in Article 3, when there is some evidence to suspect that an individual may have committed an offense under Article 3, Peacekeeping Officers have the authority to summon that individual to report to them for questioning or to give a deposition, and while the questioning is uncompleted the individual may be detained for not more than seven days. However, detention must be carried out on premises other than police stations, detention facilities, or prisons, and the detainee is not to be treated as an accused person.
When there are sufficient grounds to bring charges against such an individual, either Peacekeeping Officers in their capacity as administrative officials or police officers are to proceed according to the law.

Article 7. Assistant Peacekeeping Officers are to perform duties as ordered or assigned to them by Peacekeeping Officers.

Article 8. In carrying out their duties under this order, Peacekeeping Officers and Assistant Peacekeeping Officers are to be considered as authorised officers under the Penal Code, and as administrative officers or police officers under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Article 9. Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with orders issued by a Peacekeeping Officer or Assistant Peacekeeping Officer under Article 4 (1) or Article 5 or Article 6 shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht, or both.

Article 10. Any person who resists or obstructs a Peacekeeping Officer or an Assistant Peacekeeping Officer in the performance of his duties under this order shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht, or both.

Article 11. In the case of an individual detained under Article 6, paragraph one for offenses under Article 3 (4), Peacekeeping Officers may allow the release of that individual, with or without conditions.
Conditions for release under the first paragraph may be for the purpose of securing compliance with Section 39 (2) to (5) of the Criminal Code, for prohibiting the individual concerned from leaving the Kingdom except with the permission of the Head of the NCPO or an authorized representative, or for prohibiting the individual from carrying out financial transactions.
Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with conditions of release shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht, or both.

Article 12. Political gatherings of five or more persons shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both, unless permission has been granted by the Head of the NCPO. or an authorized representative.
Anyone who commits an offence under paragraph one who voluntarily agrees to receive corrective training from Peacekeeping Officers for a period not exceeding seven days may be released with or without the conditions stipulated in Article 11 paragraph 2 at the discretion of Peacekeeping Officers. The case will then be considered closed according to Section 37 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as amended by the Criminal Code Amendment Act (No. 16), 1986.
Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with conditions of release shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both.

Article 13. Actions under this order are not subject to the laws on administrative procedures and the Law on the Establishment of the Administrative Court and the Administrative Procedures Code.

Article 14. Peacekeeping Officers and Assistant Peacekeeping Officers who act in good faith in accordance with this order, without bias or undue severity shall be protected according to Article 17 of the Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations 2005, without prejudice to the rights of individuals to claim compensation from the government in accordance with the laws governing liability of officers.

Issued on April 1 of the year 2558 (2015).
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order.

Say hello to the AIIB

31 March 2015

The new Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has already become something of a test of diplomatic clout between China and the United States. The development bank is seen as a challenger to existing institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank.

Unable to increase its voice in the current institutions—China commands just 6.47% of the vote in the Asian Development Bank, 5.17% in the World Bank, and 3.81% in the International Monetary Fund—China is now building its own alternative. The bank is intended to make up for the gap in funding the region needs—about $800 billion a year in infrastructure investment, according to the Asian Development Bank. It is expected to launch later this year.

So far over 40 countries have joined AIIB. The deadline for a founding member expired yesterday. The United States and only one of its main allies, Japan, remain absent from that list. The US and other critics question whether the Beijing-led institution will uphold international standards of transparency, debt sustainability, and environmental and social protections, or just turn into an arm of Chinese foreign policy. Last week, Japan’s finance minister said, “Unless [China] clarifies these matters, which are not clear at all, Japan remains cautious.”

But as more countries join the bank, the more likely AIIB will have to follow international standards, observers have noted, and the less likely China will be able to use a multilateral institution to wield influence in the region.

Even Taiwan has sought to join the proposed development bank despite historical animosity and a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the island and China.

In a statement released late on Monday, Taiwan presidential office spokesman Charles Chen said joining the AIIB will help Taiwan in its efforts at regional economic integration and raise the possibility of joining other multinational bodies.

It was not immediately known whether Beijing would accept Taiwan’s application to join the AIIB.

The bank is seen as a significant setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and balance China’s growing financial clout and assertiveness. Which presumably was the intention!

Many of Washington’s allies, including Australia, South Korea, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, have announced they would join the bank.

Operation Decisive Storm and the Expanding Counter-Revolution

31 March 2015 Middle East Research and Information Project - by John M. Willis

I found this to be a really useful explanation of the GCC bombing of targets in Yemen. It is a battle against political and social change; with deep financing and international acquiescence. For the people of Yemen it must be devestating.

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On the night of March 25 one hundred Saudi warplanes bombed strategic targets inside Yemen under the control of the Houthi rebels. A number of countries—the other Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) members minus Oman, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Pakistan—joined the effort either directly or in support capacities. Although the Houthis have been in control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the central government since September 2014, it was the flight of president ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to Aden and the subsequent Houthi attack on the southern city that constituted the breaking point for Saudi Arabia and the GCC. Thus began what Riyadh has dubbed Operation Decisive Storm (‘Asifat al-Hazm), a military assault that has already caused considerable destruction in Sanaa and elsewhere, and incurred dozens of casualties both military and civilian.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubair described the air campaign as defending the legitimate Yemeni government led by Hadi, who replaced president ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih as part of GCC-brokered political arrangement in 2011. Hadi’s government, Jubair contended, “has agreed to a process that is supported by the international community, that is enshrined in several United Nations Security Council resolutions that calls for all Yemeni parties to take a certain path that would lead them from where they were to a new state with a new constitution and elections and checks and balances and so forth.” He referred to the Houthis as “spoilers” of this process, who refused to “become legitimate players in Yemeni politics,” and who will not be allowed to take over the country. Jubair’s remarks on the legitimacy of the government were remarkable for several reasons, not least of which was the absence of any mention of the Yemeni people.

The Houthis’ refusal to negotiate a political settlement in Riyadh has indeed disrupted the kingdom’s attempt to revive the original and problematic GCC initiative and National Dialogue Conference that was to resolve Yemen’s deep political divisions. As Stacey Philbrick Yadav and Sheila Carapico have argued, “given the GCC monarchies’ interest in stability in the most restive quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, the agreement contained a number of provisions to undermine populist demands for a democratic transition.” It is no wonder then that the Houthis saw little possibility of addressing their concerns in a Saudi-sponsored conference that seemed to have as its goal the restoration of the political status quo.

Yet Operation Decisive Storm is not merely about Yemen’s internal politics. It is emblematic of a broader political transformation—one that has both historical parallels and is strikingly new. For many, the assault raises the specter of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, executed by a coalition of Sunni states and Iran’s Shi‘i proxies. Indeed, the forces aligned against the Houthis are Sunni-majority countries. As many analysts have noted, however, sectarianism obfuscates the political context of the Yemeni crisis rather than clarifying it. For those with longer historical memories, this military campaign suggests a previous proxy war between Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia, when both countries intervened in the Yemeni civil war (1962-1967) to support the Yemeni republicans, on the one hand, and the Yemeni monarchy, on the other. In that conflict, the Saudis backed the deposed Zaydi imam while Egyptian troops fought on the side of the “free officers.” Although the republican officers prevailed, Egypt suffered a kind of defeat, and Saudi Arabia ultimately extended its hegemony over what was then North Yemen.

A closer historical analogy might be the Iranian, Jordanian and British intervention in Oman against the rebellion of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) in the 1960s and 1970s. In that case an alliance of conservative monarchies joined forces to support the Omani sultanate against popular forces that had threatened to spread into the greater Persian Gulf. While the Houthis in no way resemble the leftist PFLO in ideology or revolutionary practice, the forces gathered against them have a great deal in common. Namely, they are all part of a counter-revolutionary front that has expanded beyond the GCC to include other authoritarian regimes. While not all these countries share the Saudi and GCC paranoia regarding Iran, they do, to varying degrees, fear the spread of ISIS or popular democratic forces. To these regimes, the Houthis represent one of many forces that threaten to undermine the regional order.

The coalition also shares a reliance on Saudi and GCC political and economic support. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have supported the regime of ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi politically and financially since he formalized power in 2014. Collectively, they provided Egypt with an estimated $23 billion in grants, loans, petroleum products and investment in 2014 and a pledge for $12 billion more in 2015. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, met with King Salman in October 2014 as part of a general rapprochement between the two countries that led to an unspecified aid package from Saudi Arabia. Both Jordan and Morocco were briefly in discussions to enter the GCC as a part a post-Arab uprising defense strategy intended to ensure dynastic stability in the face of increasing domestic opposition. Although they were ultimately not invited to join, the two monarchies still enjoy the financial support of GCC countries and share a similar commitment to combating the influence of ISIS.

The role of Pakistan is slightly more complex. Beyond the long history of military ties between the two countries, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif owes his political life to Saudi intervention. The kingdom gave him a comfortable exile in 2000 and again in 2007 (including financing his establishment of a steel mill in Jidda). Since Sharif’s election in 2013, the Saudis have continued their support, most recently in April 2014 with an injection of $1.5 billion in loans into the Pakistani economy to shore up its foreign reserves. In return, the Pakistani military has actively supported the Gulf monarchies: The recruitment of Pakistani mercenaries for Bahrain’s security forces during the height of opposition demonstrations in 2011 was organized by private security firms with close ties to the Pakistani military.

Despite Saudi or even US assertions to the contrary, Operation Decisive Storm has nothing to do with supporting the legitimacy of a political process in Yemen. Its goal is instead to maintain the continuity of authoritarian governance in the region by actively repressing the forces that threaten to undo the status quo. That this coalition has indiscriminately lumped together ISIS, Iran and the popular democratic movements of the Arab uprisings of 2011 should indicate both its broader strategic goals and, equally, the dangers to positive political and social change it represents.

Germanwings crash accident investigation

31 March 2015 Flight Global

Airline pilot organisations have expressed their shock at the Germanwings Airbus A320 crash on 24 March – but also their distress that international standards for investigation and the release of information are not being followed.

The European Cockpit Association (ECA) says it accepts that the information released suggests the co-pilot probably acted deliberately to destroy the aircraft, but maintains that the failure to respect agreed accident investigation protocols is damaging the process of investigation itself and endangering aviation safety.

In France, a judicial prosecutor always works in parallel with air accident investigators to assess evidence at a crash site. The expert accident investigator – in this case the French BEA – is the junior partner in the early stages of the task, and must await the judiciary’s assessment and securing of the evidence. Lacking aviation expertise, the prosecutor’s sole task is to determine who is to blame and whether criminal prosecution is appropriate, while the BEA’s sole task is to determine the cause of the crash so as to prevent a recurrence.

However, this mixing of roles is contrary to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s standards and recommended practices for accident investigation set down in Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention.

In the Germanwings case, as soon as the A320’s cockpit voice recorder had been found and successfully downloaded, the prosecutor announced to the world’s media – on camera, and in the presence of the BEA team – that the co-pilot appeared to have deliberately flown the aircraft into the ground. In effect prosecutor was saying that he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution against the aircraft’s co-pilot.

But following the prosecutor's announcement, the ECA had this to say two days after the accident: “European pilots are deeply disturbed by the latest turn in the investigation of the tragic Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crash. The reports of investigators and French prosecutors that this could be a result of a deliberate attempt to destroy the aircraft are shocking and our thoughts are with the victims and their relatives.”

The Association then voiced its concerns about the investigative process: “We stress the need for unbiased, independent investigation into the factors leading to this accident. The leaking of the CVR data is a serious breach of fundamental and globally-accepted international accident investigation rules… Given the level of pressure this leak has undoubtedly created, the investigation team faces a serious distraction. The required lead of safety investigators appears to have been displaced by prosecutorial considerations. This is highly prejudicial, and an impediment to making aviation safer with lessons from the tragedy.”

If the BEA alone had been left to release the information, it would have provided established facts only – and not made any conclusions public at this early stage, however obvious they might appear to be.

The A320 took off from Barcelona, Spain on 24 March at 10:00 local time for flight 4U9525 to Düsseldorf, Germany, carrying 144 passengers and six crew. At about the time the aircraft reached its 38,000ft cruise level the captain left the flight deck, and very soon after that the aircraft began a continuous but controlled descent to impact. On his return to the flight deck the captain was unable to regain access to the cockpit.

Marseille air traffic control called the Germanwings flight several times, but the co-pilot did not reply to any of the calls. The chief investigator says the co-pilot manually initiated an autopilot-controlled descent, and his breathing could be heard throughout. The rate of descent – about 4,000ft/min – would not be unusual for an expedited descent on a normal flight.

The ECA states: “We understand that many facts point to one particular theory for the cause of this event. Yet, many questions still remain unanswered at this stage. A key priority for accident investigators – and prosecutors – must be to gather and analyse thoroughly all data, including the technical information about the flight.”

An example of the ECA’s concerns would be fact of the co-pilot’s breathing. While the prosecutor implied that the breathing indicated the co-pilot was alive during the descent, pilots have commented that some form of incapacitation cannot be ruled out on that information alone.

As a result of the official prosecutorial assumption of the co-pilot’s deliberate destructive action, the ECA argues that the understandable worldwide media reaction has placed pressure on the BEA – and this has the potential to influence the investigation.

Thoughts: Like it or not French law applies and the prosecutor did his job. What happened became quickly clear. Why it happened is still unknown. But even in deciding what happened the prosecutor ended a great deal of speculation and t doing so provided some reassurance to passengers that this was not a fault with the Airbus airliner.

UAE carriers tighten cockpit security after Germanwings crash

31 March 2015 The Gulf News

Airlines in the UAE have joined a global move to ramp up security on commercial flights and tighten cockpit policies after a Germanwings plane was deliberately crashed into the French Alps.

An Etihad Airways spokesperson said that they have reviewed their operating procedures and will now ensure that two crew members will be present at the cockpit on all its planes at all times.

Prosecutors in France believe that the co-pilot of Germanwings, Andreas Lubitz, had locked himself alone in the flight deck when the captain went for a short break and caused the plane to crash into the mountain in southern France.

“We have reviewed our operating procedures and will continue to do so in the light of the disturbing and tragic news from France,” an Etihad spokesperson said in a statement sent to Gulf News.

“With immediate effect, Etihad Airways will ensure there are always two crew members in the flight deck at all times on all flights. Safety is and always will be Etihad Airways’ number one priority.”

The Germanwings tragedy that killed all 150 passengers on board had raised questions about cockpit security. Audio recordings retrieved from the ill-fated plane suggest that one of the pilots went outside the flight deck moments before the crash and had trouble getting back in.

Several other airlines later announced they are ensuring that two pilots man the cockpit at all times. Emirates Airlines has also joined the move, saying they have just implemented a new operating policy “where there would always be two crew members in the cockpit.”

“This is effective immediately. We are in the process of communicating this new policy to our flight and cabin crew teams.”

See my comments below; this may appease the media and nervous flyers but it is pretty useless.

Two people in the cockpit solves little

29 March 2015

Calling for a two-person requirement in the cockpit is certainly not the answer to the GermanWings tragedy. At best it is the reaction of governing bodies and airlines who want to appear to be "doing something" and to appease the media.

A longer term response will need to address mental health issues in an industry in which such issues are stigmatised.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, since September 11, 2001, only two incidents of commercial flight suicide have been recorded. Considering that more than 2.5 billion people flew between 2010 and 2014, that is a lottery-winning low chance of encountering a similar tragedy.

The ability for a mentally ill person to destroy themselves and a multitude of innocent people is not reserved for the cockpit or indeed for an airliner. I do not hear the same demand for two drivers on every bus.

The new rules require cabin crew to "guard" the one pilot while the other goes to the bathroom or just for a stretch of his or her legs for a few minutes.

But there are no new rules for controlled rest. What happens 00000when one pilot checks out for up to 40min (officially) replete with eye shades, ear plugs and blanket. The other pilot is left to operate as a single crew and to do whatever he likes. One swing with a crash axe (there is one in the cockpit) while he sleeps and...well it does not bear thinking about and I am sure it will never happen. But it is why the new rules are pointless.

The avenues for dealing with mental health issues such as major depressive disorder are limited. Airlines are addressing fatigue but mental health still carries unjustified outcome anxiety. A pilot raising his or her hand about mental health may mistakenly fear they will never be allowed to fly again. The ability to fly is a livelihood; failing a medical is essentially becoming unemployable.

There needs to be a way for pilots to take time out when they need to recover from stress, trauma, exhaustion, health concerns so that they may recover and fly again. We need to remove the fear of acknowledging the issues that can be faced by anyone in any profession.

It is certain that we will all encounter mental health issues in our lives, if not directly then through someone close to us. It's about time to confront and manage mental health in the aviation industry.

Fatique issues and stress over working conditions all contribute to health concerns - this Guardian article is thoughtful although the issue that it raise extend beyond the LCCs and are very relevant to the ME airlines with long flying hours and extensive night flying: Alps tragedy exposes relentless pressures faced by commercial pilots