Thursday 5 October 2017

Future of short distance passenger flight is the drone

The world need a buss-sized drone that can replace short flights, specially for transport across water. A passenger drone travelling around 200 km/hr could easily outcompete commercial airlines where flight time for a jet is 1 hour or less due to a drone could take off and land from small spaces near a parking lot with more convenient locations than an airport.

I see a drone with:
- About 4 electrically driven propeller pods each side of a bus shaped body.
- 2 petrol engines to create the power, with separate fuel tanks for security.
- Batteries to boost power at takeoff and enough capacity to land safely if engines cut out.
- Each side would have separate controls for 2+2 pods, so if 1 set cut out the drone could still land safely.
- If landing on water the whole unit would be kept floating by airbags.
- Completely automated flight but a single attendant for safety and to control that eveybody has a ticket and handle unruliness.
- Remotely but cable connected pre-programmed flight destination to avoid possible hijackings.
- Flight controlled by gps, safety by radar and lidar.
- Laser based ground scan to find safe emergency landing spots.
- Around 50 passengers per drone for versatility and about 5-7 tons payload.
- Price for each unit would need to be in the Euro 500k to 1 million bracket to be competitive.

Public interest and safety would be satisfied by the buss-drones beeing owned by regulated entities, and production and maintenance could be strictly controlled. A separate commercial drone-buss flying zone could be regulated for around 500-1000 meters above ground level.

A nicer interior "private jet" version of the drone could be developed to replace helicopters and increase the market. Commuter routes into traffic congested city-centers is another market.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Internal training can lead to degregation and failure

If you source systems from outside sources but for cost-saving reasons purely rely on internal knowledge hand-over to get joiners up to speed, it may lead to degregation of the process.
Take a rapidly expanding company but strictly cost controlled like Ryanair. Many of their core systems are sourced from 3'rd parties but maintained in-house. However what worked yesterday and today might not be as effective tomorrow. Most companies throw more manpower at a problem. This is specially the case if non-technology people are set to solve system problems. And the users of the system may know no better because this is the way they do the process and that is the way their predecessors did it.
However the developers of the system might have come up with new solutions and ad-ons because other companies using the system also have experienced similar problems. And since these other companies have invested in from-the-source training, the resulting near contact have led them to ask if the processes can be automated better. These improvements cannot be picked up through internal training unless all system documentation are made easily and publicly available and somebody sees an interest in, and reward for, being up to date on all new developments. And many system developers keep new stufff close to their chest, as a competitive advantage.
Problem is many companies only reward new processes that leads to direct monetary rewards. Not for keeping going old-reliables that have always worked but are core to the successfull operation of the business.

Costs and risks are not clearly defined at the start of a crisis

Sometimes a purely bottom line focused company ends up coming to conclusions that make it spend more than if it took a more overall view. When Ryanair discovered it had scheduled more flights than it could man, it decided to cancel a number of them instead of the alternatives like;  temporarily wet-leasing (hiring with crew) aircraft from a different airline. And there was plenty of them around, proved by that the CAA could only a week later hire in a fleet of them to ferry home stranded customers after the Monarch collapse.
From a purely financial decision that might have been the correct thing to do if you where a company operating strictly by the book. However Ryanair are not exactly inundated with friends. Even their customers use them because they are the cheapest, completetly according to the Ryanair strategy, but still do not hold back in regular criticism on social media. And their enemies have been waiting for the right time to pounce. When that is the case you don't serve them up an opportunity on a silver platter.

Little could be done with the initial cancellations if it was a sudden realisation of lack of crew, or parts of management had already made the anouncement without mulling it over for a day or two. But there was just 2100 of them. The company had plenty of time to consider what to do with the rest of the season.
First they could have taken away the flights that had no seats sold on them. And according to their own statement and a simple calculation since 400 000 seats was sold on 18 000 flights, this could have meant at least halving the number to about 9000. 
Then consider political implications and UK pm May's dependence on Northern Irish support to stay in government and Scottish transport links to keep the country together. Political pressure is always more difficult to diffuse than bargain hunters that forget their principals when the next seat sale comes along.  
Then consider different financial scenarios where the best is that we get away with cancelling and everybody want refunds. A middle where a percentage is happy to take the buss and a voucher for goodwill. And the worst is we have to stick strictly to the letter/intention of the law and reaccommodate all 400 000 on competitors flights at grossly inflated prices plus sustenance and accomodation. And the likelihood of each one.
Is cancelling all still the best option, leasing in planes and crews to do all the flights, or a combination of the two.  What about when the risk associated with lack of goodwill, investors confidence, internal rumblings and future costs when new rules must be adhered to where before they could be diffused.