John Croft

Avionics: Beaming Bits & Bytes 

FAA and several contractors in March will begin testing a prototype communications scheme that theoretically could save millions of dollars per year for airlines and possibly give them some extra revenue to boot. The concept, called Aerosat Airborne Internet, calls for using the thousands of en route aircraft in the skies at any moment to create a communications "mesh" that proponents say could increase bandwidth dramatically and reduce the cost of existing communications pipes.

Real-Time Runways

FAA may be closer to weeding out a thorny safety issue persistent enough to have made the National Transportation Safety Board's "Most Wanted" list for 15 straight years: Coming up with a real-time cue to warn pilots of an impending on-airport collision.

IFE: Home Theatre in the Skies 

Consumer electronics advances and airline expansion, particularly overseas, have rekindled an inflight entertainment industry that faded considerably following 9/11.

Registered Traveler Redux

A hare has joined the tortoise in the race to bring so-called trusted traveler programs to US airports. At Orlando International, a private company called Verified Identity Pass Inc. is taking a lead role in a program that promises a speedier trip through airport security in return for an $80 fee. Industry observers say the entrance of businesses into a realm where the government has held the reins is sure to speed up the eventual rollout of an interoperable program nationwide, though concerns about privacy and profit- making could pose hurdles.

Taking the Oops Out of Vehicle Ops

In education circles, it is understood that an intense experience teaches more than a boring one. John E. Ostrom can see the principle in action every time he watches the reaction of one of his drivers as the truck's windshield fills with the hulking mass of an airliner about to ruin everyone's day. "I call it the 'Oh (expletive) factor,' " he says. "I guarantee they'll remember that."

New Legs for 

When Southwest Airlines decided to retrofit Blended Winglets on its 170 737-700s two years ago, managers had the advantage of a clear, concise cost-benefit tradeoff: The $750,000 drag-reducing devices would save the discount carrier an average of 92,000 gal. of jet fuel per aircraft per year and boost payload by about 6,000 lb., paying for themselves long before the aircraft would have to be retired.

Almost Ready for Prime Time 

By summer, the fruits of nearly four years of seemingly disparate government biometric technology tests could weave together quickly into a cohesive strategy for US airports as key mandates come due and various trials conclude.

Because of the sheer size of the US market, with more than 200 airports receiving scheduled service, decisions here will play a large role in influencing technology development and choices around the globe.

The Nexcom Nexus 

Airlines soon may get an inkling as to which radio technology to buy-or not to buy-for their future aircraft.

The enlightenment will commence in a meeting room in Montreal next month when technical experts from FAA, NASA and Eurocontrol unveil to a 30-member ICAO aerocommunications panel their top six or so ideas for what type of communications system will make the most economical and functional sense for global interoperability through 2030.

Faster, Better, Cheaper Passenger Processing

Coming this May, Disney in a partnership with ARINC and Baggage Airline Guest Services Inc. will take the "hold" out of hold baggage and put a zip in the trip to the airport for guests at its Walt Disney World Resort.

Saving Private Luggage

On any given day, the specials at Bryan Owens' Unclaimed Baggage retail store in Scottsboro, Ala., include deals like a $75 Sharper Image pillow for four bucks, a brand-new Trivial Pursuit 20th anniversary edition board game for $15 and a Schwinn double jogging stroller in excellent condition for just $40.

Without A Trace 

Russian investigators are homing in on RDX, the main ingredient in C-4 and Semtex, as the explosive that triggered the near-simultaneous destruction of a Tu-154 and a Tu-134 over Russia on the night of Aug. 24. The materials are believed to have been carried into the cabin inside the clothing or carryon bags of two suicide bombers who detonated the RDX at altitude, killing all 89 passengers and crew on the two aircraft.

Choose Your Pipeline 

George Cooper, head of airline operations and Aircom services for SITA, has a six-word business strategy: Voice and data, long-haul and short-haul, Airbus and Boeing.

"It's an approach that takes into account what people say they want," he says. "What do you as an airline manager want to provide?"

De-Wired in Des Moines

The US heartland is a popular stumping ground in an election year and Des Moines International is the politicians' portal to get there. Reporters covering such rituals as the Iowa caucuses noticed a difference this year at the Iowa state capital's airport, however. Last October Des Moines went live with its airportwide wireless LAN with coverage in the terminal, ramp areas, concourse, car rental lots, general aviation lobbies and some private hangars.

Transformation not modernization 

John Kern is surprisingly calm for a man on a mission to save an economy. Kern, director of FAA's Joint Planning and Development Office, is at the helm of the US's latest and presumably greatest attempt to jolt the curb-to-curb air transportation experience, a do-or-die manifest if the $10 trillion US economy is to remain constraint-free on the global stage.

Cabin Safety On Trial 

A push to expose international airlines to greater liability for cabin injuries will either hit a brick wall or surge forward early this year when the US Supreme Court rules on Olympic Airways vs. Husain. At stake is whether the high court will agree or disagree with a broad new interpretation on what can be considered an "accident." The action represents the latest assault on the tried-and-true threshold for liability under the Warsaw Convention and could have a major impact on the priority of cabin safety initiatives.

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