Monday, February 15, 2016

Do Laser Pointers Pose A Danger To Airline Flights?

Though they are not yet capable of blowing up a plane like those shown in science fiction movies, but can high-powered laser pointers pose a danger to airline flights?

By: Ringo Bones 

A “laser incident” forced a pilot to turn around a flight from London to New York, Virgin Airlines said. Virgin Atlantic Flight 025 was en route from Heathrow Airport on Sunday – February 14, 2016 – when a laser was pointed at the plane, spokeswoman Jamie Fraiser said. “Following this incident, the first officer reported feeling unwell. The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing,” the airline said on its website. The aircraft landed safely at Heathrow with 252 passengers and 15 crew Fraiser said. Virgin Atlantic said its offering the affected passengers overnight accommodation and the flight is scheduled to depart London on Monday. 

The airline is working with authorities to confirm the source of the laser, it said. London’s Metropolitan Police Service said it is investigating, but there have been no arrests. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority recorded 48 laser incidents at Heathrow Airport in the first half of 2015. Such incidents are on the rise – especially in the United States – as handheld lasers that are several times more powerful than the ones used in a boardroom presentation become more common and affordable. A laser beam has the potential to burn a pilot’s cornea and cause serious injury. Direct hits have put pilots in the hospital. The beams can also temporarily disorient and blind pilots.  

The laser used to “dazzle” pilots and cause near-crashes during “laser incidents” are a more compact version of those bulky helium-neon lasers used in planetarium laser shows during the 1970s. They range in size from those as big as torch-lights to those as big as a mid-sized pair of binoculars. These lasers are legitimately used in stage lighting effects during concerts and other special occasions but due to their relatively affordable cost – they range in price from 10 to 40 US dollars and are widely available on online shops like e-Bay – pranksters have used them to point at planes especially at the cockpit window part of the plane. The green ones pose the most danger because the human eye is most sensitive in this part of the visible light spectrum and they are the most likely to disorient the pilot and the co-pilot and could trigger a tragic crash because “laser pranksters” often point lasers at planes during takeoff. These lasers are so bright that during tests by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, these lasers are capable of disorienting pilots even if the pointed lasers are located 3,000 feet away from the plane’s cockpit windows. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Will Climate Change Soon Make Airline Flight-Times Take Longer?

Though still dismissed by conservative Evangelical skeptics as a left-wing conspiracy, is there evidence that climate change will soon make airline flight-times take longer?

By: Ringo Bones 

Ever since the neo-Conservatives successfully managed to seamlessly use both politics and organized religion to discredit the validity of the science behind climate change and global warming during the latter half of the 1990s, climate change concerns by the world’s poorest 99-percent were largely dismissed by right-wing Evangelical conservatives as nothing more than left-wing conspiracy to tax the world’s richest 1-percent. Sadly, it seems that the longer we ignore the signs of climate change and put off ways to mitigate and even reverse its worst effects on humanity, all of humanity will be doomed – just that the richest 1-percent will be the very last to feel its worst effects. But will the frequent-flying richest 1-percent be affected by the insidious effects of climate change in the form of longer flight times as they jet-set to their various dens of iniquities?

Even though this will too affect the working-class frequent-flyers, flights from the U.K. to the U.S. could take longer due to changes in the climate, according to a new study. Global warming is likely to speed up the jet stream, say researchers and slow down airplanes travelling from the U.K. to the U.S. While eastbound flights from the U.S. to the U.K. will be quicker but overall round trip journeys will “significantly lengthen.” The University of Reading scientists believe the changes will increase carbon emissions and fuel consumption and potentially raise airline ticket prices. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. 

High altitude jet streams in the northern and southern hemisphere are the powerful winds that help move weather systems around the globe. Air traffic normally tries to take advantage of these speedy flows of the Atlantic jet stream from west to east to reduce journey times on routes between Europe and North America. This is one of the world’s busiest air routes with around 600 flights every day. Previous studies have shown that climate change is likely to increase turbulence on these transatlantic flights. In this new study, researchers modelled how atmospheric winds would change given a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. They fed the results into the same route algorithms that airlines routinely use to plan their transatlantic journeys. They found that winds in the New York to London route will become 15-percent faster on average. Flights from London to New York will become twice as likely to take over seven hours while the flights from New York to London will speed up and will become twice as likely to take under five hours and twenty minutes. While on average, flights will only gain and lose a few minutes each way, the cumulative impact is “significant” says the study. 

“If you look at the round trips, the eastbound flights are getting shorter by less than the westbound flights are getting longer.” Lead author Dr. Paul Williams from the University of Reading told BBC News. “So there is a robust increase in the round trip journey time, which means planes spending longer in the air, when you add that up for all transatlantic aircraft you get an extra 2,000 hours of planes in the air every year, with US$22-million extra in fuel costs and 70-million kilograms of carbon dioxide.” The researchers say the extra carbon dioxide generated is equivalent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 7,000 British homes.