Wednesday, November 30, 2011

London International Airport Arrivals Reported Smooth Despite 'Public Sector' Protests in UK

A heads-up on travel to or through Britain:

So far today, international arrivals at London-area airports are said to be running smoothly despite the biggest public sector strike in 30 years in the UK.

Most schools are closed, and some public transportation and emergency services are being disrupted in London. But, at least as of early afternoon, international air travel was not being severely affected. About two-thirds of the workforce of the customs and immigration agency were on the job, according to Agence France Presse.

The Times of London reports on its blog at about 1.30 pm London time today, "A magician employed by Gatwick airport to entertain passengers delayed by today’s strike reports sadly that the airport is flowing so smoothly he has struggled to create any interest in his tricks.

"'I’d like a crowd. I thrive on the applause, so trying to find an audience today has been more difficult than I thought it would be. People are getting their bags and moving straight on,' says Danny Hall, 28, from Mile End, East London."

That could change for the worse, though, so anyone traveling to or through the UK needs to check airline information carefully.

Here's a link to the live coverage by the Independent newspaper.

Here's the current bulletin on the Heathrow Airport site:

"UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff are undertaking industrial action today until midnight tonight. We have been working with UKBA and airlines to minimize disruption. However, arriving passengers required to pass through border agency checks may experience some delays at immigration and should therefore follow UKBA advice:

--Have travel documents/passports available and removed from wallets
--Use automatic e-passport gates (where available) if you have a biometric passport
--Ensure landing cards are fully completed and ready
--Stay in family groups.

All other passengers are advised to continue to check the status of your flight with your airline. We’re doing all we can to support affected passengers at the airport."

Here's a link to a Q&A on the border agency requirements for arrivals.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American Airlines Announcement on Its New CEO: Why We All Laugh at Airline Management

I mean really, how stupid does American Airlines management, including its PR department, think we all are?

Here's the disingenuous announcement today by American of the fact that its CEO, Gerard Arpey, has, uh, "decided to retire" and has left the building, and is being replaced. Do note that the announcement refers to American's filing for bankruptcy protection this morning as "this process." Only in the final paragraph of this ridiculous paean to Arpey does the company announcement make note of the inconvenient fact that, oh yeah, uh, we just filed for bankruptcy.

By the way, Arpey and Horton hauled down a combined $9 million in compensation from AMR, the AA parent company, last year.

Italic emphases are mine:

FORT WORTH, Texas, Nov. 29 -- The board of directors of AMR Corporation (NYSE: AMR) (the "Company"), the parent of American Airlines, Inc. ("American"), has named Thomas W. Horton chairman and chief executive officer of the Company, succeeding Gerard Arpey, who yesterday informed the board of his decision to retire. Horton will also succeed Arpey as chairman and chief executive officer of American. Horton will continue to serve as President of AMR and American.

"Today, we entered a new phase in the evolution of this great company with a talented and experienced new leader, Tom Horton, succeeding Gerard Arpey, who skillfully led our company through some of its most challenging times," said Armando M. Codina, lead independent director of AMR.

"With more than 22 years at American, Tom is ideally suited to guide the company through this next important period. Tom's experience in a different company and industry gives him a unique blend of experience and objectivity that will serve the company well as we work through this process to achieve a competitive cost structure. The board has great confidence that, together, Tom and the industry's best workforce and management team will reaffirm American's position of pride and leadership among global airlines.

"For 30 years Gerard Arpey has given his all to this company, especially during the last decade," Codina continued. "Gerard is a person of exceptional integrity, intelligence and commitment, and he helped our company to achieve amazing things against sometimes staggering odds. Although we had asked that he continue to lead American, we understand and respect his decision to retire and entrust the company he loves to a new leader for a new time. This board will always be grateful for Gerard's unwavering commitment to what is best for the company."

"It is a privilege and an honor to lead this company and I intend to do everything in my power to help restore its position of leadership in the global airline industry," said Horton.

"This is a difficult business in the best of times, and I cannot think of anyone I would rather have worked with or had as a friend for over two decades than Gerard Arpey. He is not only a great business leader; he is also a man of honor. With characteristic selflessness, he decided it was time for a new leader to take the company forward and I am grateful for his – and our board's – confidence. I know we can all count on Gerard's friendship and encouragement as we work to reaffirm American's place among the world's premier airlines."

"The process launched today will no doubt require far-ranging and sometimes difficult change, but it represents an opportunity to rebuild American in a way that assures its ability to compete in a changed world," Arpey said.

"I appreciate the board's confidence in me, but I also believe that executing on this plan requires a new leader for a new time. That is why I informed the board of my decision to retire and, with my enthusiastic support, the board decided to appoint Tom as CEO. It has been an honor to serve this company alongside the men and women of American Airlines who have met challenge after challenge with perseverance, skill, determination, and grace. I know they will continue to do so."

AMR, American and AMR Eagle Holding Corporation ("American Eagle"), announced earlier today that in order to achieve a cost and debt structure that is industry competitive and thereby assure long-term viability and ability to continue delivering a world-class travel experience for customers, the Company and certain of its U.S.-based subsidiaries (including American and American Eagle), filed voluntary petitions for Chapter 11 reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. ..."


Monday, November 28, 2011

Visiting New York for the Holidays? See 'Follies,' Skip 'War Horse'

If you're a real fan of the Broadway musical theater visiting New York over the Christmas holidays, I have three words for you:

Go see "Follies."

And maybe a fourth word: Soon.

Soon because, alas, the current revival, a big and gorgeous production at the Marriott Marquis theater on Broadway, is languishing, and my guess is that it's in danger of closing fairly soon. According to the weekly box office tabulations in Variety, "Follies" is selling only about 60 percent of the seats at the Marquis, a theater with a capacity of about 1,600. That includes the cut-rate seats that are sold each day at the discount TKTS center. (Meaning you can score a cheap ticket, by the way).

[Update, Dec. 2--Attendance down to around 53 percent, Follies has posted its closing notice: January 22].

"Follies" is Stephen Sondheim's rousing and heart-breaking tribute to the great arc of the Broadway musical from the days of the Merry Widow through the Ziegfeld Follies and onward into the great span of classical musical comedy of the 50s and 60s. It's also a sad evocation of ennui and loss.

As such, it's problematic from a marketing standpoint, because enjoying a "Follies" in 2011, even one as splendid as this one, probably requires at least a modicum of appreciation for the history and the repertoire of the great Broadway musical. it also requires an appreciation of Sondheim's unique musicality.

Not an easy sell in these days of "Jersey Boys" and "The Book of Mormon."

I never saw the original "Follies," which opened in 1971 and ran for a modest 522 performances. But I'll bet this revival at least stands up to the original, and in some ways surpasses it.

An obvious problem with the show is that Sondheim, even at his most melodic, is something of an acquired taste. While the show has one smashing song after another, none of those songs are what you might call Broadway standards, like the songs of Rogers and Hammerstein, for example.

When my wife and I took our seats at the Marquis, we marveled at how the theater was dressed, with faux dusty, ragged curtains and peeling, broken ornamental work, to resemble the setting of the show itself -- a theater that once was the scene of the glory days of a Ziegfeld Follies-type extravaganza. The show's conceit is that the grand old theater is scheduled for demolition the next day, and the Flo Ziegfeld-like impresario has assembled the former Follies stars and some showgirls, and the stage-door Johnnies whom they unhappily married, to a party on stage to commemorate the last night of the theater. Meanwhile, other showgirls -- ghosts -- drift ethereally through the scenes like Ziegfeld girls lost in time.

I knew the revival had problems the night my wife and I attended about a month ago, when I saw that about a fifth of the house even then was empty. A middle-aged couple took their seats behind us and began muttering over their playbills.

"I never heard of any of these songs," the man said.

"They were written by the same man who wrote 'Phantom of the Opera,' the lady said authoritatively.

I'm glad Sondheim didn't hear that one.

"Follies" has grand songs. It's also the only musical I can think of that fronts a show-stopper as soon as the curtain rises, "Beautiful Girls." One after the other, Sondheim pounds away with great musical numbers, each judiciously positioned to evoke a mood or an era: "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs," and "Ah Paris" and "Broadway Baby" and "In Buddy's Eyes" and the spectacularly witty "I'm Still Here" -- and that's before the intermission. After intermission comes another spectacularly witty number, "Could I Leave You?" as well as the beautiful divertissment-like "Follies" numbers that take up most of the second act with spectacular Broadway staging and dancing.

Some quibbles: The star, Bernadette Peters, sings and dances with verve. But sadly, she simply no longer has the pipes to do justice to Sondheim's difficult, desperate and haunting ballad, "Losing My Mind." On the other hand, Peters has the true Broadway moxie to take that last sad note, an E-flat, up an octave from where it's usually sung, and hold it, unwaveringly, for two long bars -- as if to say, "Oh yeah? Well how about this?"

Elaine Paige, as Carlotta, got a tremendous ovation for her "I'm Still Here," but I thought she failed to enunciate clearly enough to really sell those hilarious Sondheim lyrics, like these:

"I've been through Reno
I've been through Beverly Hills
And I'm here
Reefers and vino
Rest cures, religion, and pills
And I'm here
Been called a pinko commie tool
Got through it stinko by my pool
I should have gone to an acting school
That seems clear
Still someone said, "She's sincere."
So I'm here."

And incidentally, in "Could I Leave You?" who else but Sondheim would rhyme "spinet" with "Wait a goddamn minute?"

Brilliant as it is, "Follies" has always been a tough sell, partly because the two main male characters are unlikable -- but that's kind of the the point. They're supposed to be jerks. The show is about loss and despair and longing and resignation, and when the curtain comes down, the theater itself feels as doomed as the show says it is.

After the ovations at the Marquis, we saw that Mr. and Mrs. Phantom had vacated their seats behind us some time earlier. As we left the theater, which is housed within the huge Times Square Marriott Marquis hotel, we passed by a long line of business travelers who were queued to register for some dreadful corporate conference whose placards said things like "Administrative Outcomes and How to Prioritize, Room 634." This was at 11 in the evening, too.

I went out into the lights of Times Square whistling not some great tune from "Follies" but rather, thanks to the wretched assembly of corporate drudges we'd just passed through, the dirge-like "Sure-Flo" song that Catherine O'Hara performs at the end of Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind" -- when she's at the end of her road, at her husband's catheter booth, at that sad trade show for medical device salesmen.


We saw another show during our trip to New York, "War Horse," which has received terrific reviews.

Not from me it hasn't.

I ignore most film and theater critics. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes not. One thing I have learned, though, is when you see a play that is as invincibly and unalterably bad as "War Horse" is, you know that any critic who has praised it is a fatuous twit who can't be trusted to report on the weather, let alone the theater. I won't name names here.

"War Horse" is, essentially, a big puppet show. That is, the main character, a horse named Joey, is rendered -- quite skillfully -- as a large mechanical puppet whose movements are controlled on stage by three puppeteers. There are a few other horses in the show, similarly activated. The puppets do in fact move like real horses, and my wife and I are horse people who know how a horse moves.

The story, such as it is, revolves around a boy in some dreadful English village, just before the start of World War I, who lovingly trains Joey the horse, but then loses Joey when the English Army, looking like a community-theater troupe specializing in Monty Python military sketches, marches into town looking for horses for the cavalry, to go defeat the Huns.

Joey is enlisted. Torn from Joey, the desperate lad, naturally, joins the Army and troops over to the Great War in search of his beloved lost steed.

The Germans, this being 1914, go to war not with horses, but with great iron tanks. The noble cavalry horse as an instrument of war has consequently seen his day. If there is one great moment in "War Horse," it's the scene where the mighty but war-battered stallion Joey rears up in a spectacular, heart-stopping levade against the monstrous cold steel of a German tank that rises to meet the horse. Joey dies in the horrible roar of beast meeting bellowing iron.

At least Joey died, and the show ended this way, when I first saw "War Horse" a few years ago at its initial run in London. But in New York, unaccountably, Joey lives and returns to the now bucolic English village, which is supposed to be somewhere in Somerset, for a happy ending that clearly confused at least the children in the audience, if not the adults who had brought them.

I had prevailed on my wife to see "War Horse" in New York because I had been so impressed with the puppetry skills that animated the puppet-horses on stage in the London version. But alas, the puppetry is not enough. I had forgotten how basically silly the play itself is.

Nor is the theater in New York a good setting. The Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, where War Horse is still selling out nightly, is actually a terrible theater. Its acoustics stink, even after an expensive acoustical remodeling some years ago. The Vivian Beaumont lobby is depressing, in that it resembles a tired old suburban cineplex, except that in the tired old suburban cineplex, unlike the Beaumont, they still shampoo the carpets.

Puppetry aside, the play is limp, lachrymose, lacking in any sign of vitality except as shown by ticket sales. Boy loves horse, horse goes to war and dies. Except in the New York version, I mean.

The boy, Billy, seems to be a kind but illiterate simpleton, a state of being that might have allowed for some dramatic creativity, were it not for the fact that the author, Nick Stafford, adapting a book by Michael Morpurgo, does not seem to realize that the lad is a halfwit.

The lad's mother is similarly witless and at least as annoying. The father, a loud drunk who sells the boy's horse to the Army, seems to have no dramatic purpose other than to affect the move of the unfortunate Joey from the English countryside to the war-torn Continent.

There also is a mechanical goose-puppet that flaps around the village, nipping at various people, delighting the more easily distracted in the audience.

And there's a small group of singers and string-pluckers who turn up at times to provide lilting musical commentary on the proceedings, like a troupe of confused Irish step-dancers who got off at the wrong train station and stayed around to have a few drinks while making remarks about the locals.

For some reason, everybody in the village talks like they're in Ireland, and I guess the pastoral portion of the play that is set in England could have been just as easily have been set in Ireland, were it not for the somewhat ambiguous position the Irish took at the time, 1914, on how energetically they might choose to side with the Brits against the Huns.

By the way, "War Horse" has been lavishly praised by theater critics (yeah, that one again) and it won the Tony Award this year for best play. It's also being made into a movie by Spielberg.

Remember, also, that Pearl S. Buck once won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Anyway, as I said, Broadway theater is well and truly dead, despite the bounty of the box office. Or because of it.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Air Transport Association Changing Its Name to Something That Sounds More Like a Lobby

It appears that somebody at the good old Air Transport Association thinks this is a better name, though to me it now sounds a lot more (not less) like a lobby, which in fact it is:

"Airlines For America" ... with a slogan "We Connect the World."

"It is supposed to be a secret," says my correspondent, "but they have registered the domain and trademarks. (Source and search...Thought you'd be amused..."

Domain ID:D163241229-LROR
Created On:06-Sep-2011 15:06:33 UTC
Last Updated On:06-Nov-2011 03:50:54 UTC
Expiration Date:06-Sep-2013 15:06:33 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Network Solutions LLC (R63-LROR)
Registrant ID:19958772-NSIV
Registrant Name:Air Transport Association of America, Inc
Registrant Organization:Air Transport Association of America, Inc

Goods and Services IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: Books, manuals, pamphlets and brochures pertaining to commercial air transportation
IC 035. US 100 101 102. G & S: Advertising, marketing and promotion services; Arranging and conducting of fairs and exhibitions for business and advertising purposes; Arranging and conducting trade show exhibitions in the field of commercial air transportation and transportation of passengers and cargo; Air transport consultancy services, namely, advising members of the commercial air transportation industry; Business marketing services; Business networking; Conducting trade shows in the field of commercial air transportation and transportation of passengers and cargo; General business networking referral services, namely, promoting the goods and services of others by passing business leads and referrals among group members; Lobbying services, namely, promoting the interests of airlines and the airline industry; Marketing, advertising and promoting the goods and services of others in the field of air travel, namely, providing information via mail and electronic mail; Organizing exhibitions for commercial or advertising purposes; Organizing exhibitions for buyers and sellers in the commercial air transportation industry; Planning and conducting of trade fairs, exhibitions and presentations for economic or advertising purposes; Promoting and conducting trade shows in the field of commercial air transportation industry
IC 039. US 100 105. G & S: Providing information to the public in the field of commercial air transportation and transportation of passengers and cargo
IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Educational services, namely, providing training and education, namely, classes, seminars, workshops and conferences in the fields of commercial air transportation; electronic publishing services, namely, publication of text and graphic works of others online and in digital formats in the fields of the commercial air transportation industry; providing on-line non-downloadable publications, namely, periodicals, books, trade journals, manuals and brochures featuring articles and information related to the commercial air transportation industry; providing facilities for educational meetings and organizing and conducting educational conferences for members of the commercial air transportation industry; providing a website on a global computer network featuring information about the commercial air transportation industry
IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Trade association services provided to members of the commercial air transportation industry, namely, promoting the interests of the commercial air transportation industry."


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sunday in the Park With U.C. Campus Cops

Oh, and as you'll see with this link, someone has created a brilliant new meme showing Hitler in a clip from movie, with new subtitles ranting and raving that this pepper-spray cop became a meme in just a few days, while he, Hitler, only manages to get the occasional History Channel documentary these days.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Shark Fin Soup? Not At the Peninsula Anymore

[Photo: Shark fins, a very nasty business]

Responding admirably to the controversy over the decimation of global shark populations, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, the parent company of the Peninsula Hotels, Repulse Bay Complex and Peak Complex, says it will stop serving shark fin at all its group operations, effective January 1.

In doing so, the company is making a cultural adjustment amid worldwide environmental revulsion about so called shark-finning fishing, which involves hacking off the fins of sharks and simply discarding the rest of the fish.

Here's a Web site that exposes the ugly business of shark-finning. Its slogan: "Keep sharks in the ocean and out of the soup."

Here's another one.

After a shark's fin is hacked off, the shark is usually still alive when it is tossed back into the sea. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.

The Peninsula company says it will honor banquet bookings involving shark fin soup made before November 21 but taking place after next January 1.

Shark-fin soup is one of those supposed delicacies favored in China and elsewhere in Asia for ceremonial dining occasions, such as weddings. It's expensive, but increasingly in demand as more Chinese become affluent.

Clement K.M. Kwok, ceo of the company, said: "By removing shark fin from our menus, we hope that our decision can contribute to preserving the marine ecosystem for the world’s future generations. As Asia’s oldest hotel company, we also hope that our
decision will inspire other hospitality companies to do the same and that our industry will play a role in helping to preserve the bio-diversity of our oceans.”


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brazil Reverses Itself, Finds Me Guilty of Causing 'Dishonor' to the Nation and Demands a 'Retraction.' ... My Reply: Retract This!

[UPDATE, Dec. 20 -- Since posting this over a month ago, I decided, for the edification of my readers, to approve for this one post many of the more vile comments that routinely arrive from my fans in Brazil, who just love to accuse me of being a murderer, etc., and seem to be blissfully self-unaware. On the other hand, some of the comments come from sensible Brazilians. I post some of the vile comments (see comments link at end) so that sensible people here can see what I mean about trying to be rational in Brazil ...]

In what is clearly a brazen challenge to American law that protects U.S. citizens from foreign defamation judgments in foreign verdicts that are a clear affront to the First Amendment and U.S. free speech protections, a Brazilian court today found me guilty in a defamation case brought by a Brazilian woman I had never heard of, nor written a single word about.

Today's court decision overturned an earlier one that had dismissed the case against me, saying the plaintiff had no ground to sue because I had never written or said a single word about her. Two of the three-judge panel decided against me. The third judge said he's still studying the papers, and will make his decision known by Dec. 1, but even if he sided with me that would still make the verdict stand at 2-1.

The lawsuit makes preposterous allegations, including an astonishing one that actually suggests that I was on board the Legacy business jet, which collided at 37,000 feet over the Amazon with a Brazilian airliner, as a participant in a nebulous plot to claim the Amazon rain forest for unspecified imperial interests.

In the collision, on Sept. 29, 2006, 154 people on the Brazilian 737 died in a horrifying plunge to the jungle, while seven men on the business jet that collided with it, including me, survived after a harrowing 25-minute flight in a severely damaged airplane that, at the last minute before crashing itself into the jungle, managed an emergency landing at a jungle airstrip.

The other allegations in the suit are also outright fabrications, cooked up in an attempt to cover up official malfeasance in crash aftermath, to discredit me for accurate reporting and commentary on the disgraceful official Brazilian handling of the accident, and to inhibit me from doing further reporting and commentary in the United States.

As I reported here soon after the crash, the Brazilian authorities -- cheered on by a xenophobic media that was aflame with anti-Americanism -- had rushed recklessly to criminalize the accident and scapegoat the American pilots, long before the facts were known.

Severe problems in the military-run Brazilian air traffic control system, widely known before the crash, were covered over by authorities. However, an investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded that, as I also had been reporting, systemic and operational faults by Brazilian air traffic control were likely the primary cause of the disaster. (The N.T.S.B. was involved in the investigation in Brazil because one of the planes, the Boeing 737, was American-made. The Legacy was made by the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.)

The lawsuit -- which accuses me of causing "dishonor" to the entire nation of Brazil -- was based on the remarkable legal assertion that the plaintiff, as a Brazilian citizen, suffered an insult to her honor because of my reporting -- even though she was never mentioned in any way. Among the odd things that I am falsely accused of writing -- as an insult to the honor of all Brazilians, according to the suit -- is that "Brazil is most idiot of idiots."

That and other fabricated comments attributed to me in the suit were mostly culled, in fact, from comments appended to, or linked from, various Web sites in Brazilian media in which anonymous Brazilians ranted about me and even, in some cases, about Brazilian authorities for the disgraceful way they handled the aftermath of the crash. Ultimately such online mayhem melds into a rat's-nest of bewildering hyperlinks, with lots of side trips down links that can lead to Crazy Lane.

But even if I forgotten basic grammatical elements of my native tongue and had written that Brazil is "most idiot of idiots," that would not be remotely actionable in any country with any respect for free speech -- and certainly not under U.S. law.

The lawsuit is now probably Exhibit A in the free-speech issue presented by attempts by people in foreign countries, or their governments, to punish free speech in the United States that someone in a foreign country objects to.

If any foreign citizen, or government, can reach into the United States to criminalize free speech here that anyone in a foreign country might find objectionable, that is a grave affront to the U.S. First Amendment.

Incidentally, as I complete my book on this awful situation, I was thinking just yesterday: You know, never once in 2006, during the time we seven badly shaken and traumatized survivors were in custody with the military in the Amazon and then at a police headquarters in the days after the crash, while we mourned the deaths of those 154 people, while we remained in custody, incommunicado, for days -- never once did anyone there express the slightest concern about us.

Anyway, here's a news report on the court action in Brazil today that finds me guilty and seeks to impose both civil and criminal penalties against me. The court also demands that I "retract" statements that, uh, I demonstrably never made.

I am very sad to say that this sorry piece of "journalism" appears today in Jornal do Brasil, a major Brazilian newspaper that once bravely distinguished itself by standing up to the ruthless military dictatorship that oppressed that country from 1964 to 1985, while much of the rest of the media was on its knees to serve the generals. Today, alas, it just prints stories that insult free speech, without bothering with the basic facts. Sic transit gloria mundi.

(Translation thanks to Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo:)

"Courts order American journalist on Legacy to retract
Joyce Carvalho

The American journalist Joe Sharkey, who was the Legacy that collided with a Gol Boeing on September 29, 2006 - an accident that resulted in the deaths of the 154 occupants of the airliner - was sentenced to recant publicly about the offensive articles he wrote on his blog. In addition, he must pay $ 50,000 in compensation to the wife of a victim.

The case was tried on Thursday afternoon in the 9th Civil Chamber of the Court of Parana. Although the Judge José Aniceto Augusto Gomes asked for time to examine the case, there were two votes in favor of condemnation, the opinion author and appellate judge Sérgio Luiz Patitucci and appellate judge Rosana Girardi Fachin.

"Although the trial was suspended, we have the majority of the votes. Now we can only know if it was unanimous or by majority," said lawyer Dante D'Aquino, who represents Rosane Gutjahr, who lost her husband in the accident and filed the lawsuit after Sharkey's criticism on matters relating to the case. According to Rosane [My note: For some reason, the Brazilian news media are in the quaint habit of referring to women by their first names in subsequent references], the journalist offended Brazilians and wrote untrue material in The New York Times. [My note: No one has ever shown that anything I wrote in the Times, or afterward on my blog, was inaccurate. In fact, I was consistently right, from day one, about how the investigation was being botched, and air safety in Brazil was being ill-served]

The decision by the 9th Civil Chamber of the Court reversed the decision of the trial court which did not recognize the legitimacy of Rosane's request for the action of public apology and damages. From the beginning, Joe Sharkey offered no defense. At the trial today, he did not attend or send any representative.

"He was properly cited, is aware of the action and there are documents that prove this. He chose not to attend," said D'Aquino, who also represents the Association of Relatives and Friends of Victims of Flight 1907, of which Rosane is a director.

The journalist may appeal the Supreme Court (STF) within 15 days after publication of the decision of the Parana Tribunal of Justice. There are questions about the sentence because Sharkey lives in the United States. D'Aquino said that the means of execution of the sentence is by means of letters rogatory, used in bilateral agreements. In this case, the U.S. judiciary would be triggered and informed about the reversal of the sentence. Thereafter, the penalty would have to be fulfilled in that country.

"We can not say categorically that he will comply," said the lawyer. In addition to this condemnation, Sharkey was held criminally liable for offenses against the Federal Police, the federal government and the Justice Department.

Rosane celebrated the result on Thursday and said the $ 50,000 of compensation will be donated to the Association of Friends of the Hospital de Clinicas. The association works closely with the Hospital de Clinicas, linked to the Federal University of Parana. "I don't say it was a victory. My husband is dead and not coming back.

But it is a positive point in all this. The same goes for the condemnation of the Legacy pilots in the criminal area. It is an ending. The only thing that remains, and that can not be sold, is the honor, dignity, "she affirmed after the session at the Tribunal of Justice. She took the opportunity to call on the Foreign Ministry to make the sentence to be enforced effectively, interceding with the United States.

The crash

Gol Flight 1907, which was en route Manaus-Rio de Janeiro, with a stop in Brasilia, crashed in northern Mato Grosso, on September 29, 2006, killing all 148 passengers and six crew members. The accident occurred after a collision with a Legacy executive jet manufactured by Embraer, which landed safely at an airbase in southern Pará

The pilots of the Legacy, Americans Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, are accused of not having turned on Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) equipment responsible for contact between the aircraft and the transmission towers. The indictment by the Federal Prosecutors' Office, presented in May 2007, reports that the aircraft's transponder Gol remained on throughout the flight, but the Legacy's, from a certain point, was off. The transponder is a device that interacts with the secondary air control radars and other transponders, providing information about the position and movement of aircraft.

The sequence of errors that caused the accident also went through a miscommunication between controllers and pilots of the Brazilian jet, which, not understanding the instructions, had put the aircraft at the same altitude as the flight Gol, 37,000 feet. [My note: That's not true. It is not in the slightest dispute, even by the Brazilians, that the American pilots were instructed several times by air traffic control to maintain the altitude of 37,000 feet]. In May 2007, pilots and four flight controllers were accused by federal prosecutors for the crime of attack on the security of the national air transportation. The Americans were acquitted of negligence in December 2008, but in 2010 the court overturned the acquittal and ordered the resumption of the trial.

In May 2011, they were sentenced by Justice of Mato Grosso to four years and four months in a halfway house for exposing to danger an aircraft, their own or another's, the act having resulted in death. The penalty, however, was converted to community service and prohibition from practicing their profession and would be enforced in the United States, where the pilots reside.

In 2008, flight controllers Leandro José Santos de Barros and Felipe Santos dos Reis were summarily acquitted of all charges by the Federal Court. Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos was also acquitted of the crime in May 2011. In the same decision, the court of Mato Grosso Lucivando Tiburcio de Alencar sentenced to community service for an attack on air transport safety.

In Military Justice, the military prosecution to determine the responsibility of five controllers who worked on the day of the accident - the four indicted by the MPF and João Batista da Silva - was begun in June 2008. In October 2010, four were acquitted - only Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos was convicted of manslaughter, but received the right to appeal in liberty. He appealed to the Superior Military Court (STM) and awaits trial."


By the way, some of the less hysterical of my Brazilian antagonists keep demanding that I answer this: What do I suppose would happen if Brazilian pilots in a Brazilian plane collided with an American plane in U.S. skies?

I'm frankly baffled by their implication that American aviation authorities would have behaved like the Brazilian authorities did, rushing to criminalize the case and automatically blame the foreigners, and that the American media would wallow in a hyper atmosphere of anti-Brazilianism and defensive xenophobia.

Listen, it just wouldn't happen. Nor, I might add, is American airspace considered to be dangerous. Air traffic controllers in the U.S. are highly trained, and held to close supervision. No one in the U.S. would blame the victims who lived.

Nor would the American media pile slander and libel on a foreign reporter, a survivor of a horrible crash, who wrote honestly but critically about official inattention to any obvious problems in air-traffic safety, and any cover-up by the authorities. Instead, the American media would be doing its job, evaluating and reporting the facts, without fear or favor.

Nor, of course, would an American court ever take the preposterous position that a foreign writer is to be held to account legally for saying that America is "banana," which is one of the other fabricated charges against me vis a vis Brazil.

Banana. No "S," no article "a."

Also, I am falsely accused of having written that Brazil is a "land of tupiniquins and of bananas" (Until I looked it up, I didn't have any idea what a "tupiniquin" is. It evidently is a slang word for Brazilians, in the way the word "Yanks" is slang for Americans. At any rate, I never said it.)

Also, there is a fabricated charge that I wrote that "Brazil is a country of carnival, football, thieves and prostitutes." Never said anything remotely like that either -- but if I had, it would have been in a better English sentence than that clunker.

In the report today in Brazil's Globo, a leading newspaper, Dante D'Aquino, the lawyer for the victims' families' association in which the plaintiff is a leader, blithely repeated those ugly falsehoods. "We had not recovered the bodies of people and he (Sharkey) was saying that Brazil has only hick, that Brazil is the most idiotic of idiots, who here has only samba, carnival and prostitutes," he told Globo -- which simply took him at face value, even though it's well known that I never said anything remotely like that.


Meanwhile, while this case creates another smokescreen of anti-Americanism, international aviation experts say that not nearly enough has been done in Brazil to address the manifest problems with aviation safety and the horrible misery and sorrow that this malfeasance has visited upon the families of the 154 people killed in the Amazon crash, and the 199 killed just seven months later in the next Brazilian airline crash, in Sao Paulo.

Just this week, for example, the Brazilian Air Force, which is still in charge of all air traffic control in the country, reported that airplane crashes in Brazil this year are running at a record level. According to a report on Monday in Agencia Brasil (and thanks as usual to Richard Pedicini for the translation), "the period January 1 to October 31 accounted for 128 plane crashes, 17 more than in all months of last year, and 14 more than occurred in 2009 when the country registered a record of accidents."

These statistics about the record number of crashes come from the Center for Investigation and Prevention of Aeronautical Accidents (Cenipa), an arm of the Air Force. Of this year's airplane crashes so far, 106 were civilian aircraft and 22 were helicopter accidents. Of the accidents, 25 had fatalities. Thirty aircraft were destroyed.


As I said, my motivation from day one has been to underscore the serious issues of aviation safety in Brazil, and the culture of blame, recrimination and defensive butt-covering that prevents substantive remedial action.

Some of the angry Brazilian media continue to demand to know why I don't comment anymore to them.

Uh, Brazil media, here's a news flash for you. It's because I do not trust you, and with demonstrably good reason. Again and again since 2006, via a vis the Brazilian media, I have learned the hard way that they don't give me the courtesy of accurately and honestly reporting a comment, without twisting my words to make sure that the villain's comments comport with that nasty little fictional narrative they've been so invested in for over five years.

Just watch how the words in this particular blog post today get twisted beyond any sense of what they are meant to say.

You want a comment, Brazilian media? O.K., here it is: The charges are total fabrications, and you all have known that for years while you repeated many untruths and even fabricated some new ones -- with malice and reckless disregard for the truth, even after you have been put on notice to desist.

In my country, with the best free-speech protections in the world, that is a precise definition of libel.

For additional elaboration, please see all of the above.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cheers to Vivian Deuschl, a Class Act Leaving Ritz-Carlton

I waited for a while to offer this little tribute to Vivian Deuschl, the longtime vice president for public relations at Ritz-Carlton who was eased out of that job earlier this month in a realignment by her bosses at Marriott International, the company that owns the Ritz-Carlton brand.

I waited till Vivian had actually left the building with whatever arrangements she was making to soften the landing.

Because I have always had the good fortune to work for major news organizations, I've met and had professional dealings over many years with all of the top PR people in the industry, and Vivian was one of the very best.

Vivian knew a good story when she saw one. She understood how serious reporters work.

You never got a song and dance when you went to Vivian with a question or seeking access. Some PR people get you access to middle-management. Assuming she trusted you, Vivian would deliver the boss to you -- and then get out of the way unless you needed something more.

She never ducked a tough question, and always represented Ritz-Carlton with skill and savvy and unflagging energy. A five-star hotel brand is many things besides fancy rooms and lavish service. It's also people with savoir faire, with intelligence and experience and class.

Vivian Deuschl had all that, especially class. Make that has class, because she's starting a new career as a consultant. Travel reporters all over America, and in fact around the world, respected her. I always took her calls, which is saying something, because as a rule I encourage PR people to e-mail me, not to call. When Vivian called, you knew she had something to say that would be worth listening to.

I wish her great fortune in her new ventures, and I wish the great Ritz-Carlton company good luck in managing without her firm guidance -- and her contacts.

Here's the citation for Vivian that was made last year by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, which honored her for PR excellence:

"As corporate vice president of public relations for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC., Vivian A. Deuschl manages worldwide public relations efforts for the renowned luxury brand. She joined Ritz-Carlton in 1987 and rose up the ranks to become corporate director of public relations in 1991, representing the company to global media as official corporate spokesperson.

Deuschl has an extensive background in the travel and tourism sector, holding positions as public relations director for the American Society of Travel Agents, special assistant to the under secretary of commerce for travel and tourism, and communications manager for the Washington, D.C., Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Previous honors include Forbes Magazine’s “25 Most Influential Women in Travel” award in 2008, three-time recipient of Travel Agent Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Travel Award,” and two-time winner of The President’s Plate, SATW’s highest award for a PR professional. A former journalist, Deuschl served two terms as chairman of the Associates Council for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). A former member of the Communications Committee for USTA, Deuschl currently serves as a member of the U.S. Travel Association’s communications committee. In 2001, Deuschl served as chair of the media relations task force formed in the wake of 9/11. ..."

I look forward to learning what she will do next. And yes, Vivian, call anytime. You have the number.


Brazil Media Publishing New Lies

Long after every sensible person in Brazil has come to realize that the defamation lawsuit filed against me there is an astonishing collection of outright lies and transparent inventions, elements of the Brazilian media are still flogging the dishonesty.

Brazilian media are famously xenophobic, perhaps as a legacy of all of those years they spent on their knees as faithful servants of the thuggish military dictatorship that oppressed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Old habits die hard.

Three years ago, a Brazilian plaintiff whom I had never heard of filed a defamation lawsuit against me that every American lawyer who has seen it shakes his or her head over. That's not only because of its obvious fabrications, but also because it makes the amazingly brazen legal claim that a person writing in the United States is somehow accountable legally for accurate reporting or comments that someone in a foreign country finds objectionable.

Last year, the so-called Speech Act became a federal law, specifically addressing the increasing instances where foreign defamation judgments (in some cases called "libel tourism") are obtained against American writers, bloggers, medical researchers and a wide range of social-network users for perceived offenses to foreign sensibilities from speech that is published in the United States.

The Speech Act law forbids any U.S. court from enforcing judgment from a foreign libel or defamation suit in which the judgment is an insult to the U.S. First Amendment and free-speech protections in the United States.

Among the remarkable passages in the lawsuit against me is one that cites a "rumor" that I was on board the ill-fated flight over the Amazon on September 29, 2006, with the intent to "show that the aerial space [over the Amazon] is a no-man's land" and that I consequently "asked the pilots to turn off the equipment that would enable their detection."

In other words, as part of some unspecified imperialist plot to lay claim to the vast Amazon, the assertion is floated that I caused the American pilots of the business jet that collided with a Brazilian Boeing 737 airliner at 37,000 feet to turn off the avionics equipment in order to hide the plane's location -- thus being responsible for the horrible accident that killed 154 people when the 737 crashed into the jungle.

The suit also makes obviously incorrect charges that, in my utterly accurate reporting of the aftermath of the disaster, of the Brazilian-media-led anti-American hysteria, and of the actual causes of the crash, I called the nation of Brazil "most idiot of idiots." This, incidentally, was cited in the complaint as proof of defamation of each and every one of the 190 million Brazilian citizens.

I was discussing all of this yesterday with a class of bright-eyed journalism students, all of whom had read the lawsuit in astonishment.

The kids asked, how could anyone buy this obvious fabricating? You'd have to ask the lawyers working for the plaintiffs, I replied.

My overriding intent, from day one, has been to argue that Brazil's mishandling of this horrible disaster was a case study for aviation safety, a tenet of which is that you do not rush to criminalize an aviation accident before the facts are in. The atmosphere of anti-Americanism was intense after the Amazon crash (I was one of seven survivors).

The crash was followed by a massive job action by Brazil's military-employed air traffic controllers, making the point that they would not accept any blame for the crash -- even though air traffic control errors were obvious from day one. That job action caused chaos in Brazil's commercial aviation system for months. Then, seven months later, another horrific airline crash occurred in Sao Paulo, killing 199.

Alas, aviation safety somehow got lost in all the fury.

Anyway, the lawsuit against was eventually dismissed a year or so ago, but my tenacious antagonists in Brazil are working to have it reinstated, along with an additional criminal charge added on for good measure. The crime, it seems, is dishonoring the country of Brazil by accurate reporting.

Remember, none of the alleged insults in the lawsuit are true. And even if they were true, even if I did in fact trample on my native tongue and write that Brazil was "most idiot of all idiots," that would not even remotely constitute libel or defamation under U.S. law (or under the laws of most countries that profess free speech).

Most importantly, the issue here is: can a foreign government, or a foreign citizen, enforce against an American citizen a foreign judgment claiming injury, because of something, written in the United States, that would never be actionable under American law?

More to the point, if you were to say on a blog in the U.S. that Osama bin Laden was a dirty rat who deserved to die, can someone in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia claim that they're offended, and that you should be legally accountable?

Less harshly, if I were to make on this blog the demonstrably true statement that the term "full English breakfast" on a menu at any hotel in England is a cause for high anxiety in any foreign visitor with a palette that's more sophisticated than an average dachshund's, can some lady in Somerset expect to successfully sue me for defamation in an English court, and obtain judgment against me enforceable in the U.S., because I have insulted a tradition of Old Blighty?

Obviously, if this were the case, the result is that free speech protections in America would be finished. That's because literally everything you publish in the United States appears in some form on the Internet, which is of course accessible globally. Hell, some poor blogger in Toledo wouldn't even be able to review a road-show revival of "The Sound of Music" for fear that a choir of Swiss yodelers might take offense at a perceived cultural slight.

Anyway, my antagonists in Brazil are now seeking to reinstate the dismissed and thoroughly discredited lawsuit. No serious journalist would ever consider touching this story with anything but scorn, but that didn't stop the Brazilian media empire Imprensa from wading right in today -- while inventing even newer fabrications.

With emphasis and notes by me, here's the Imprensa story -- which, I might remind the "journalists" of Imprensa constitutes additional evidence of a campaign of libel and defamation of me. Don't say you were not warned. (Translation thanks to Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo):

U.S. journalist on the Gol accident will be judged in Curitiba (PR)
Newsroom Portal IMPRENSA | 11/16/2011 11:47

American journalist Joe Sharkey, present in the collision involving the Legacy jet and the Gol plane in which 154 people died in 2006, will be judged on Thursday (17), in the 9th Civil Chamber of the Court of Justice in Curitiba.

Sharkey answers a civil suit brought by Rosane Gutjahr, who lost her husband in the accident, because of texts and articles published on his blog, deemed offensive and disrespectful to the people and institutions in Brazil. [The lawsuit also cites my reporting in the New York Times, but subsequent coverage has usually left the Times out of it.]

After the tragedy, Sharkey wrote that Brazilian journalists were "bobos" [My note: That's a new one, still another word, like "tupinikim," that is not even in my vocabulary, still another fabrication] and that Brazil was blamed for the collision of the aircraft. [As I said, the U.S. National transportation Safety Board found that operational and systemic faults of Brazilian air traffic control were the probable main cause of the accident].

"It's absurd for him to try to blame Brazilian authorities and media for errors that U.S. pilots committed and that led to the deaths of 154 people, including my husband. Family members expect the judge to condemn him for all the lies wrote," said the widow. [This would be the main plaintiff, one Roseane Gutjhar, a person I had never heard of, and certainly never said or wrote a word about.] ...

"Brazil is an unstable place where the authorities struggle to escape the blame," said the journalist. He allowed on his page commentaries against the Brazilians in the accident case [this seemingly casual assertion means refers to the typical rat's nest of Web sites, links and comments from who-knows-whom appended to various media links, ad infinitum] and wrote articles for The New York Times, considered untrue. [No one has ever shown that anything I reported was inaccurate.]

He has been convicted in previous (criminal) cases by the authorities [utterly untrue, another fabrication], but according to the lawyer for the Association of Relatives and Friends of Victims of Flight 1907, Dante D'Aquino, the culprit presented no defense. [On legal advice, I did not go to Brazil to defend myself against this patently spurious lawsuit]

About the Brazilian courts, the journalist posted ironic comments questioning their "degree of accuracy and honesty." [Untrue, a total fabrication]

The National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) expressed support for the lawsuit against Sharkey. [True: The main Brazilian journalists association has, astonishingly, come out in support of this travesty. Which tells you all you need to know about the state of journalism in Brazil].

My antagonists in Brazil always claim that I, along with the American pilots who were subsequently convicted in absentia, was disrespectful and callous toward those who died in this terrifying crash. Another lie. I have always expressed the deepest sorrow and sympathy, starting on the morning when I got out of Brazil in October 2006, and was greeted on arrival at Kennedy airport by a hostile Brazilian television crew. That was the start of my realization that xenophobia and reflexive anti-Americanism are the easy answers for those who don't have the courage to ask the tough questions.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

X-ray Airport Body-Scanners Banned in Europe

Those "backscatter" model whole-body imagers used at airport checkpoints have been banned at airports in Europe by the European Union. Here's a report in ProPublica.

However, airports in Europe will be allowed to use the other type of body-imager, the so-called millimeter wave machine that accomplishes the same purpose, but by using radio waves rather than radiation-emitting X-rays.

In the U.S., the TSA has been using a combination of backscatters and millimeter wave machines, roughly an equal number each of the approximately 500 machines currently in use at 78 airports.

Serious concerns have been identified, most recently by this piece in ProPublica, about the safety of the backscatter machines, which are made by a company called Rapiscan. One of the leading proponents of those machines was Michael Chertoff. When he was Secretary of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, Chertoff was a cheerleader for the use of the machines. Later, as a Washington lobbyist, Chertoff's firm did consulting work for Rapiscan.

The millimeter-wave machines are made by company called L-3 Communications.

As I reported here a few days ago, it looks like the TSA is quietly making a shift toward the millimeter-wave machines as it purchases new body-imagers as part of the plan to eventually have the machines replacing magnetometers at all of the 2,000 airport checkpoints. In September, for example, the TSA awarded L-3 a $44.8 million contract for 300 additional millimeter wave machines. Rapiscan, the X-ray machine producer and Chertoff client, hasn't announced any new contracts from the TSA.

Over a year ago, by the way, the TSA invented a new name for these machines, which see through clothing and produce an image of any foreign object on the human body. It originally had referred to them as "whole-body imagers," but as the criticism mounted about the privacy threats of the machines, as opposed to just the health threats from radiation from the backscatter models, the TSA began calling the whole-body imagers "advanced imaging technology" machines. AIT, for short.

You know, so you don't think "body."


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Oh, Another 'No S*** Sherlock?' Air-Travel List

Never understood why anyone who knows anything about the realities of travel pays attention to these "lists" that keep getting pumped out by travel publications. You know, the lists that portentously inform you of what you already know from common experience.

Like this bit of investigative-reporting genius currently being flogged by Travel and Leisure.

Didja know, gasp, that according to standard Transportation Department data that is widely available and updated every three months ,the airports with the highest rate of flight delays are those that are 1. have the most airplanes taking off and landing and/or 2. Are in places in the country where bad weather is common? (Vegas is on the "worst" list because so much of its increasingly limited flight schedule is to and from the places with bad weather).

(As Yogi Berra said, "That place is so crowded nobody goes there anymore." And by the way, Yogi confirmed personally to me some years ago that he did say that, backed up by his wife, though Carmen Berra said he actually said "popular," not crowded. Here's a link to that exchange with me.)

Anyway, back to the point, the implication of the flight-delay article in Travel and Leisure is that somehow you have a choice in which airport you can fly through, ha ha.

Also, didja know that flight delays are down impressively in general in recent years, and that Kennedy, in general, has done a pretty good job of addressing what would seem to be an unaddressable problem? No? Maybe that's because so much of the travel media is disinclined to go the trouble of actually reporting news.


Monday, November 07, 2011

Lags in Bags? Airlines Bag-Check Revenue Fell in 2nd Quarter

Domestic airlines collected $886.7 million in revenue for checking bags in the second quarter of this year, down from $891.8 million in the same quarter of 2010, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data released today.

The slight drop-off probably can be accounted for by the overall shrinking of air travel, with most airlines having reduced flights in a strategic consolidation of efforts to fly the most profitable markets and eliminate the marginally profitable, or money-losing, ones. Another reason, I suspect, is that airlines are looking to proprietary credit-card revenues more than ever -- and free checked bags is one of the perks offered by most of those cards.

The BTS, an agency of the Transportation Department, has abandoned efforts it made in previous years to try to account for airline ancillary-fee revenue in general. Basically, the BTS now focuses on bag fees and on revenue generated by penalty charges for changing reservations.

Airlines raised $612.3 million in reservations-change fees in the second quarter of 2011, up from $593.6 million in the same quarter last year, the BTS said.

Incidentally, in the second quarter of 2008, just as airlines were beginning to charge widely for checked bags, second-quarter revenue for bag-check fees was a mere $178.2 million.


Saturday, November 05, 2011

Did U.S. 'Gloss Over' Serious Radiation Concerns About TSA 'Backscatter' Whole-Body-Imaging Machines?

The government "glossed over" concerns about the dangers of radiation levels presented by so-called backscatter whole-body imaging machines now in use at airports throughout the United States, according to this report in ProPublica.

The article doesn't break all that much new ground, because much of the information about backscatters and radiation concerns, as well as the political connections associated with contracts awarded for machines, has been available for years -- including from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (here's the EPIC Web site on the subject) and from criticism by Ralph Nader and others of the potential radiation dangers posed by these devices.

Still, it does gather known information in a useful context, easier for the mainstream media to digest, while adding new insight. ProPublica will also present the material in a television documentary later this month.

Incidentally, the ProPublica article might have noted, but does not, that the most recent order of whole-body-imaging machines by the TSA indicates a possible shift away from radiation-emitting backscatters and more toward the second type of the machine, one that uses millimeter-wave radio-frequency technology that does not present radiation issues.

Of the roughly 500 machines now in use in about 78 airports, about half are the backscatter radiation machines made by a company called Rapiscan, and the other half are millimeter-wave machines made by a company called L-3 Communications.

But L-3 announced last month that it has a new contract, worth $44.8 million, to sell 300 of its ProVision millimeter-wave machines to the TSA to install at checkpoints. L-3 said the TSA also took an option on 200 more of its machines.

The TSA plans to have whole-body imaging machines of both types installed at nearly all of the 2,000 individual security lanes at all 450 commercial airports by the end of 2014. Over two years ago, I was the first to report that the agency planned to replace the familiar metal detectors with the whole-body-imaging machines (which have been criticized as "strip-search machines") entirely.

The ProPublica article provides excellent context on the issue of backscatters and radiation, and the politics of awarding the contracts for the machines. It adds depth to known facts about the role of Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security chief during the Bush administration, in cheerleading efforts to get backscatter machines installed as major components of airport security. While in office, Chertoff was an outspoken advocate of the machines, and when he left office his consulting firm, the Chertoff Group, did work for Rapiscan.

The ProPublica article says that backscatters received less regulatory oversight than X-ray technology typically does because they are not medical devices. It adds:

"The TSA asserts there is no need to take additional precautions for sensitive populations, even pregnant women, following the guidance of the congressionally chartered National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements.

"But other authorities have come to the opposite conclusion. A report by France’s radiation safety agency specifically warned against screening pregnant women with the X-ray devices. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration’s medical institute has advised pregnant pilots and flight attendants that the machine, coupled with their time in the air, could put them over their occupational limit for radiation exposure and that they might want to adjust their work schedules accordingly.

"No similar warning has been issued for pregnant frequent fliers."

The ProPublica article came up in a Senate hearing on aviation security this week, during questioning of John Pistole, the TSA administrator. Pistole replied that the TSA will conduct a new and independent study on the safety of X-ray backscatters.


Friday, November 04, 2011

United/Continental Chooses Panasonic Ku-Band Satellite System for In-Flight Wi-Fi

United/Continental gave more momentum to the satellite end of the burgeoning in-flight Wi-Fi industry by announcing today that it chose Panasonic Avionics to provide in-flight connectivity on more than 300 United and Continental mainline aircraft beginning in mid-2012.

"Panasonic’s Ku-band satellite technology offers faster speed than air-to-ground technology (ATG) and will provide connectivity on flights worldwide. The system will also enable wireless streaming of video content," the airline said.

That statement underscores a situation that I have been writing about for a while. Which is: 1. It's becoming clear that a big chunk of the in-flight Wi-Fi market will be driven by passengers' use of their own personal Wi-Fi enabled devices, rather than just seat-back screens installed by airlines. And 2, perhaps more importantly, satellite Wi-Fi technology provides more bandwidth, increasingly necessary because of the phenomenal proliferation of bandwidth-gobbling personal devices like smartphones and, especially, iPads and other tablets -- which are basically driven by video streaming.

"Our customers tell us they value Wi-Fi," Jim Compton, United’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, says in a press release. “As a global carrier, we selected satellite-based Ku-band technology to enable customers to stay connected on long-haul overseas flights, something no other U.S.-based international carrier currently offers.”

Panasonic is thus a growing presence in the in-flight Wi-Fi market, long dominated by Aircell, which has its land-antenna-based air-to-ground system installed in more than 1,100 aircraft on more than a half-dozen domestic airlines.

The leader so far in the satellite segment of the in-flight market is Row 44, which is installing its high-bandwidth systems in Southwest Airlines' fleet of about 550 Boeing 737s. Southwest is about to introduce a proprietary portal on that system which will provide a wide range of live TV, on-demand movies, games and other services, including the ability to make online retail purchases and book restaurants and get entertainment and sports tickets, as well as book hotels and other travel services.

(Southwest told me that it hasn't yet decided what, if anything, to do about in-flight service on AirTran, which it bought last year and whose fleet -- a mixture of 717s and 737s - is equipped with the Aircell system.)

Meanwhile, United/Continental said it expects to install the Panasonic system on Airbus 319 and 320 and Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft. The airline says it expects the entire mainline fleet will have Wi-Fi by 2015. Continental Airlines previously announced plans to install satellite-based Wi-Fi on more than 200 DIRECTV®-equipped aircraft beginning in 2012.