• Are light aircraft in danger?

    Recently the rules for aircraft flying under visual control at Geneva airport have changed. Many light aircraft seem not to obey the new rules: are they a danger to themselves or others?

    According to this newspaper, on 1 May 2012, the Airport Management have requested that all aircraft operating in Visual control mode (VFR), including helicopters. must fly inside the CTR (the immediate vicinity of the airport) without activating the aircraft's transponder. The stated reason for this request is "pour des raisons de sécurité" (for reasons of safety).

    It actually seems as if many pilots disagree with this new rule, and continue to fly with an active transponder: some Aéro Club pilots at the recent open day for light aviation claimed that they want to do this for reasons of safety (a transponder broadcasts their presence to other aircraft and can signal any possible collision course)!

    HB-CHW.jpgAmongst the flights of light aircraft, many are aircraft belonging to the Aéro Club de Genève. One, in particular, registered as HB-CHW, is painted to advertise this newspaper! Since the start of June we have detected 25 flights of this aircraft alone, including a takeoff yesterday, 25 June, at 2h42 pm.

    I need to say that we cannot always be absolutely sure that these light aircraft are operating in VFR mode from Geneva airport. In fact, light aircraft may be operating from Annemasse or other local small airfields. However, since I actually saw this Tribune de Genève aircraft in the Aéro Club hangar late last week, it seems very likely that it has often flown from here.

    It is not, of course, impossible that all of  these light aircraft were specifically instructed by the Air Traffic Controllers of SkyGuide to turn on the aircraft's transponder, but to me this does not appear particularly likely! More likely is that the Air Traffic Controllers might be turning a blind eye to this practice, not least because many of them are quite likely to fly small planes themselves.

    We appear, therefore, to have a situation under which the airport management has pushed the federal authorities into making rules with which many pilots, including those of the Aéro Club, disagree! One might ask who are likely to be more correct in matters of safety: people sitting in offices or people flying an aircraft?

    So what might be the underlying reason behind this controversy? A clue might be in the report in this paper on 14 June, entitled

    A Cointrin, l'école de pilotage est en danger

    This report states that the federal authority OFAC has just decided that from October 2013 the two runways at Geneva airport (the main one and the grass one) may no longer be considered as separate, because they are not far enough apart (the lower limit is 760 metres separation). We are asked to believe that the airport had nothing to do with this sudden decision: I find this almost impossible to believe, given the very close cooperation between Geneva airport and OFAC.

    It can be imagined that this decision, allied with the curious decision on the non-use of transponders, is simply the first manifestation of a desire to force the light aviation to leave Geneva. Once that is done, the next step would be to concrete over the grass runway so as to be able to park more private jets there: part of a big expansion of the area north of the main runway (at around the same time as the new long courrier terminal south of the runway is completed!). In other words, an ever-continuing expansion inside the airport boundary.

    As I understand it, developments inside the airport boundary need not be announced at cantonal level. I even doubt that there would need to be any public discussion or environmental study! Partly, this is because I can remember that many years ago the area around the General Aviation Centre was simply grass. In the space of 3 days, and without any authorisation being displayed, all of the grass was concreted over!

    By around 2020 will we be talking of Geneva as an airport surrounded by industry and with a city attached to it: a city where everyone will live inside soundproofed accomodation?



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  • A flight from Japan

    Yesterday, 25 June, saw the arrival of a big Boeing 777 of Japan Airlines. Its arrival was not on the airport list, whilst its departure for Tokyo was cancelled! Another mystery.


    The aircraft, registered as JA710J, arrived at 6h41 pm as flight JA 8821. This is normally supposed to be a flight from Tokyo to Prague, but the arrivals at Prague yesterday showed no such flight. Equally, the arrivals board at Geneva did not show this incoming flight. The Geneva arrivals board did, however, show a flight JA 8822 as due to leave at 9h30 pm for Osaka, but it was cancelled.

    On today's list of departures, flight JA 8822 is due to leave at 5 pm, but for Frankfurt, not Osaka. That should give the planespotters time to go and photograph it!

  • Alan Turing: a homosexual genius

    Alan Turing, born June 23 1912, was a mathematical genius, the modern founder of computer technology, the man who did most to ensure the defeat of Hitler's Germany and ... a homosexual.

    This newspaper, like others all over the world, recognises his genius and relates his life. To me, a mathematician and computer scientist, his life is fascinating, inspiring and tragic. His work in Bletchley Park, whose task was to break the German Military Enigma codes, is something that I can hardly rate high enough. Although Britain was saved from invasion by the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft of the RAF in 1941, it could later have been defeated without the ability of Bletchley Park analysts to extract secret information to counter the U-boat destruction of the Atlantic convoys, which Winston Churchill described as the only thing that really frightened him.

    Turing's work in the development of computers is second to none: the only other comparable person who could be said perhaps to have foreseen and developed computers was, in the opinion of many, Charles Babbage. After the war, Turing continued with his ideas, already in his mind before the war, to create the first computer. This computer, the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), was constructed at the National Physical Laboratory, in Teddington, Middlesex. The choice of the descriptor "Engine" is said to be a homage to Charles Babbage's Difference Engine and Analytical Engine.

    Turing's life turned to tragedy when he refused to hide his homosexuality after the war: during the war this was known to many of his colleagues, but they were interested more in his work than his leisure activities. In 1952, having been convicted of indecent practices, he was subjected to chemical castration. When, on June 7 1954, he was found dead of cyanide poisoning in his room next to an apple, it was widely assumed that he had committed suicide. However, recent studies have suggested that there was no proof that the apple contained cyanide, and that it might have been an accidental exposure as part of some experiments that he was performing.

    This history raises a fundamental question of whether what is perceived as unacceptable in a person should be tolerated if that person has good qualities. There is a school of thought that says that Germany might have been the first to develop the atomic bomb if they had not eliminated some brilliant German Jews. In the USA, Robert Oppenheimer was the son of wealthy Jewish parents, whilst another Jew, Lew Kowarski, fled to Britain at the start of the war with the entire world stock of heavy water (he later came to Geneva to work in CERN).

    I do feel to have been distantly connected in several ways with Alan Turing. As a mathematics student at London University, I spent the Summer vacation in 1962 working in the National Physical Laboratory (their current Web site is very informative), where I met people who had worked for and with Alan Turing: one of these for whom I worked (Mike Woodger) gives a commentary about Alan Turing in a BBC report on his life. At that time, the ACE machine was still there, though it was supplanted by DEUCE, and there was pioneering work on computer languages, in particular ALGOL, and on computers communicating over networks by a method called packet-switching, which is now fundamental to the Internet and the World-Wide Web which originated in CERN. It also happens that the 23 June, today as I write this, is the birthday of my wife.

    Thankfully, Alan Turing has posthumously been pardoned by the British Government of any offence, with consenting acts in private between consenting adults no longer considered as a criminal offence. However, in other parts of the world things are very different: in Mali the parents of a child born out of wedlock have been recently flogged for their "crime". The idiocy of this type of punishment is demonstrated by the fact that in some countries, which claim not to tolerate homosexuality, powerful men go around in public accompanied by their catamites. A flagrant example of the principle of "Do as I say, not as I do"!

  • Geneva's own Boeing Business Jet

    Boeing Business Jets (BBJs) are aircraft fitted out luxuriously to carry rich people where they want to go, and when. One of them, oerated by PrivatAir, is based in Geneva.

    This BBJ, a Boeing 757-200, is registered as HB-IEE and is owned by the aircraft leasing company Tierralta Holdings Corp. Originally built in 1989, it has had a chequered history, during which time it was actually used by the UK Royal Air Force for some time. In July of last year it was repainted and sent to Geneva for the use of PrivatAir.

    The company PrivatAir also has an interesting history, interlinked with this aircraft. In 1989 the company which operated the aircraft was called Petrolair, but in 1997 this name changed to PrivatAir. Currently, the main office of PrivatAir is in Geneva, with offices also in Germany and Saudi Arabia.

    In general, the aircraft seems to operate in central Europe, mainly Paris and London. However, last Saturday, 16 June, it left, over Vernier,  just before midnight and headed South-East, almost certainly towards the Middle East. It is not easy to know where it went, because tracking of aircraft in that region is often impossible. In the region of Mecca, for example, there seem not to be any private listening posts.

    The lateness of the departure is fairly easy to understand. It takes over 5 hours to fly to Jeddah, whose time zone is an hour ahead of Geneva. Thus, by leaving just before midnight the arrival is just after 6am. The sort of people who can afford such luxury travel and want to fly overnight to the Middle East would naturally not want to leave Geneva before 10 pm and arrive there around 4 am in the morning! This is an illustration of what might happen more and more often when Geneva Airport builds its new long-courrier terminal! I am not aware of any "étude d'impacte" for this new terminal.

    In fact, on that same Saturday evening, there was another very late departure (a well-known low-cost airline flying to Liverpool), plus a couple of small private jets landing here. Then, just to rub salt into the wounds, on the Sunday evening the last three movements at the airport were all private jets: two incoming (NetJets and FairJet) and one outgoing (MJet).

    A taste of night flights to come, as the airport pushes for more and more growth?

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  • Hard times: not for the rich and influential!

    Despite these difficult economic times, those that have seem to get even more, sometimes beyond the borders of legality. Perhaps, as with some chimpanzees,  it is built into their DNA.

    A new scientific report by the magazine Nature looks at the contrasting behaviour of the chimpanzee and its african cousin, the bonobo. Like chimpanzees, with whom they share 99.6% of genomes, bonobos and humans share 98.7 percent of the same genetic blueprint. However, they have distinctly different behaviours, both of which can be seen in humans. As the report says (and you can hear a BBC World Service review of this report, repeated on World Radio Switzerland)

    Bonobo.JPGBonobos make love, not war. Chimps have been documented to kill and make war. Bonobos share food with total strangers, but chimps do not.

    In our human world we see constant news articles that demonstrate how some humans are more akin to the chimpanzees than to the bonobos. However much they have, these humans desire ever more money, power and influence, and are often willing to go to, and even beyond, the legal limits. Regrettably, the supervisory authorities often seem unwilling to use their regulatory powers, so this behaviour goes uncontrolled.

    Unsurprisingly, top bankers and their associates feature prominently in this list of chimpanzee-like behaviour. One, however, has recently gone too far over the limits. According to reports on Saturday June 16, Rajat Gupta, a former director of Goldman Sachs (the bank that helped Greece get into the Euro zone!) has been convicted of leaking confidential information to a former friend and business partner.

    Mr Gupta sat on the boards of Goldman Sachs, Proctor & Gamble and American Airlines (he could probably fly anywhere for free!) and was world-wide head of the consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. He clearly had everything that anyone could want, yet he wanted still more. Now, instead of working on his golf handicap, he is contemplating many years in a US jail. As far as I know, his defence has not yet offered his DNA profile as a mitigating factor, but maybe one day ... !

    In Switzerland, the rich and famous equally seem to want more and more, whilst the regulatory bodies procrastinate interminably. On the same day, the Swiss paper "Le Temps" carried an editorial suggesting that the Swiss Parliament (le Conseil national) had conspired to prevent the Swiss from voting on the initiative of Thomas Minder to ban excessive payments to executives ("contre les rémunérations abusives"). This initiative was handed to the Swiss authorities on February 26, 2008, i.e. 1573 days ago.

    It is not hard to imagine some reasons for this delay. The political parties in Switzerland may receive donations for undisclosed amounts of money by unnamed donators. The members of both Chambers may have outside affiliations which, whilst normally being disclosed, may affect their point of view. Finally, there are very effective lobbies of powerful outside interests which try to influence members.

    The end result of this is that Thomas Minder has shortly to decide whether to withdraw his initiative. He is reported as saying that he would have available only about 100,000 francs to invest in a campaign, whereas his adversaries would have millions at their disposal! Personally, if he had a Web site where I could make a donation then I would do so, merely on the principle that people should have a right to vote on the initiative.

    Nearer home, and of particular interest to me and the association of which I am President, is the continual growth in air traffic around Geneva. I have the distinct impression that the same DNA mentality may be playing a rôle in the desire of the airport authorities to have more and more flights to more and more places at all available hours of the day and night. In this case, the regulatory authorities, who should be defending the rights of the airport neighbours to a minimum of nuisances and nights of sleep undisturbed by the noise of aircraft flying until after midnight, appear not to want to interfere.

    The example which makes me doubt whether these authorities really care about the airport neighbours is that of the acceptance by the airport management of a final incoming flight from Lisbon by the portuguese airline TAP. Progressively, over the last few years, this flight has been scheduled later and later, so that now it is scheduled to arrive at 11h35 pm. As such, it is the last scheduled flight into Geneva, as well as being the last TAP flight to leave Lisbon for the principal mainland Europe destinations.

    The two regulatory bodies which could have affected this decision are the Geneva state authorities (state councillor François Longchamp is president of the Geneva airport administrative council) and the Swiss Federation Civil Aviation Office (OFAC). Sadly, it is unrealistic to expect the Geneva authorities to do anything: the airport is, for Geneva finances, the goose which lays the golden egg. Thus, they will insist that this is a federal affair under the competence of OFAC.

    OFAC, to whom we wrote to complain about this extreme lateness of the flight from Lisbon (click here to see the letter), normally side with the airport. In this case, their reply, which arrived yesterday, seems to obey this observed rule. After the falsely reassuring paragraph reiterating their principle that airlines should be restrictive in scheduling flights between 10 pm and 6 am, there is a paragraph clearly written by the airport management trying to justify the flight, followed by their own (OFAC) statement that the planning of this flight, albeit at the end of the evening, is perfectly normal. Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise.

    So how is the flight justified (francophones can read the text here)? Firstly, by the need for the airport to ensure an increased number of destinations from Geneva: this argument is completely irrelevant since Lisbon has always been one of the destinations. Secondly, a flight at the end of the evening is necessary to ensure the maintenance of the aircraft before its departure the following morning: again, completely irrelevant, especially since TAP has its own maintenance facilities in Lisbon, and the later the flight arrives in Geneva, the less time there is for maintenance. Finally, the airport management has made the airline aware of the constraints in Geneva: clearly, these constraints have not been sufficiently strongly emphasised to stop TAP progressively retarding the arrival time.

    For me, the conclusion is that the airport authorities have capitulated without any serious protest to a request by TAP to land aircraft in Geneva later and later. Either this management does not care about its neighbours or it could not bear to envisage the loss of face by refusing the flight (which would leave only 4 flights per day from Lisbon!). Either way, we suffer the consequence of this craven acceptance: we might suffer even more if/when other airlines realise how late they can send evening flights to Geneva. Perhaps we don't protest enough because we have the Bonobo type of DNA!

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  • Did Moscow protests affect Geneva-Moscow flights?

    Yesterday, 12 June, two evening flights from Moscow to Geneva were late: their return to Moscow even later (over the heads of sleeping people in Satigny and St Genis). Why?

    The only apparent reason why the Swiss flight LX1337 from Moscow Domodedovo airport and the Aeroflot flight SU2382 from Moscow Sheremetyevo airport both arrived in Geneva in the evening over 90 minutes late seems to be the protests which took place there in the afternoon. Both aircraft had arrived in Moscow pretty well on time, but as from mid-afternoon there were serious delays for very many aircraft leaving Moscow.

    The unfortunate consequence for people living around Geneva was that both aircraft were due to fly back to Moscow the same evening. As a result, AFL2383 to Moscow Sheremetyevo only took off at 11h36 pm, and SWR1338 to Moscow Domodedovo airport at 11h45 pm. With the current westerly winds, both aircraft took off over Vernier.

    20120612_KONIL_23h-00h.jpgA further unfortunate (unacceptable for some) consequence was that the Air Traffic Controller of Skyguide allowed both aircraft to make a 180° turn to the right when they arrived over Vernier. This manoeuvre surely increased the noise of the aircraft (one turning must surely make more noise than one climbing gently in a straight line), and also ensured that the towns of Satigny (in Switzerland) and St Genis (in neighbouring France) both shared in this increased noise.

    This route, for aircraft wanting to head eastwards after a takeoff over Vernier, is called KONIL. It has long been opposed by the French authorities of the area around Ferney Voltaire, who argue that the aircraft should climb in a straight line with a minimum of noise, until turning in a longer arc at a higher altitude. The committee of the association of French and Swiss regions close to the airport (ATCR-AIG) has long been demanding that this KONIL route be forbidden after 10 pm, and even may have believed that they had an agreement in principle. However, this is clearly not the case.

    The position of the airport, as reported in the minutes of a meeting with the ATCR-AIG, appears to be that this demand for suppression of the route after 10 pm is part of a wider procedure which follows a ruling of the Swiss Federal Tribunal several years ago and which is generally referred to as CRINEN. Despite the final documents sent to the Swiss Civil Aviation Office OFAC over two years ago, we are still waiting for their ruling! To me, this is a triumph of procrastination on the part of Geneva airport and OFAC.

    This procrastination is in stark contrast to the way in which OFAC responded remarkably promptly when the Airport Management requested that for reasons of safety all aircraft operating in Visual control mode (VFR), including helicopters. must fly in the immediate vicinity of the airport without activating the aircraft's transponder. The end result of this change to the Swiss rules for Geneva is that it will no longer be possible to check any flight path after the event.

    It actually seems as if many pilots disagree with this new rule, and continue to fly with an active transponder: light aircraft pilots at the recent open day for light aviation claimed that they want to do this for reasons of safety (it broadcasts their presence to other aircraft and can signal any possible collision course)!

    Who are likely to be more correct in matters of safety: people sitting in offices or people flying an aircraft?

  • England, Germany, Russia and Poland together

    England, Germany, Russia and Poland are currently playing in the Euro 2012 football competition. Over 70 years ago these nations were savagely at war. Here is a story of forgiveness.

    Poland was where the second world war began, when it was invaded by Germany on 1 September 1939. As a country, it suffered greatly from its position squeezed between two great powers. Like Germany and England, it had to suffer greatly, in particular when the Warsaw ghetto uprising was suppressed on the eve of Passover of April 19, 1943. The country also housed notorious concentration camps, most notably Auschwitz-Birkenau, which the English team visited before the start of the competition, and Treblinka.

    I have just watched the BBC TV "Songs of Praise" programme, devoted to the old and the new Coventry Cathedral. Both were named after St Michael, the name given to me and one whose origin is the Hebrew question "mi kəmo ʔelohim", translated in English as "Who is like God". The old one, a 14th century Gothic church, later cathedral, was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid on Coventry on 14 November 1940. Although Christianity preaches forgiveness, it is hard not to think that this bombing played some part in the decision to bomb Dresden to destruction in February 1945.

    The new Coventry cathedral was designed by Basil Spence, later knighted, and its foundation stone laid by Queen Elizabeth on 23rd March, 1956. On 25th May 1962, when she had reigned for just 10 years, Queen Elizabeth was present at the consecration. Thus, when we are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Coventry Cathedral is celebrating its Golden Jubilee.

    The decision to rebuild the Cathedral, taken on the day after its destruction, not simply as an act of defiance but rather as a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. Since then the Cathdral has been at the centre of a Ministry of Reconciliation. One example of this is the statue, called Choir of Survivors, very recently given to the Cathedral by the Frauenkirche in Dresden.

    One particularly well-known symbol, which originated in Coventry Cathedral, is the Cross of Nails, a cross of three nails from the roof truss of the old cathedral. This gave rise to the Community of the Cross of Nails, an organisation devoted to reconciliation in the world, and which has donated crosses to several German cities whose own churches were destroyed in the war.

    It is a very sad sign of the times that, while writing these words, the TV news carried a story of the bombing of two churches in Nigeria. The above-mentioned Community would preach forgiveness, but it is hard to do so.


  • Queen Elizabeth diamond jubilee

    Britain is currently having four days of celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. Some may disapprove of her inheriting the Head of State position, but what other countries can do better?

    How many other countries have a head of state who, before actually being in that position, could have made the following declaration on her 21st birthday (on the 21st April 1947, when in Cape Town) and then have stuck to it

    I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service

    Although I have been in Geneva a very long time, I did all my schooling in England. I was not (quite) a teenager when my family watched her coronation on the black and white television of our neighbours. Even at my age, I could understand what a great occasion I was witnessing as it was happening. Later on, of course, we could see it in colour on Pathe News in the local cinema.

    The debate on a Royal as head of State is often heated, but loses sight of the fact that, unlike other heads of State, Queen Elizabeth's rôle is mainly symbolic. However, no bills passed by the two houses of Parliament can be law until she has signed them. As such, she has to read and approve Government papers on all but about two days per year: no statutory right to any limitation on the number of hours per week, nor weeks of paid holiday.

    So what might the anti-royalists propose instead? Election by the people (such as is being suggested even for Switzerland!) sounds fine, but the recent election in France showed us two snarling dogs of war shouting insults at each other: when that happens can whoever is elected be a popular choice for everyone?

    How about election by politicians? Well, we all know that politics is too often a dirty game, with back-stabbing and secret quid pro quo agreements. Germany's Angela Merkel forced in her choice as president of Germany a few years ago, despite a body of opinion that the choice was wrong. They seem to have been proved right, since he had to resign!

    OK, maybe we should let religious people choose their head of State: a theocracy? The problem is firstly that many countries have multiple religions, with the monority religions then risking ostracism (or worse). Also, of course, you cannot argue logically against religious beliefs!

    Maybe we can keep thinks in the family without calling them Royals: I could call this a kinocracy! It does not take much thought to find numerous counter-examples, North Korea being one which might spring to mind.

    So, no system is guaranteed as "the best": it all depends on the persons concerned. I remember once, at school, having to debate which was better: a corrupt democracy or a benevolent dictatorship. Whatever argument I thought of could be countered pretty easily.