PUNCH BAG

Reading again the rather positive intro in last month's Punch Bag, we are pleased to note that not much has changed in the past few weeks. The splendid summer has alas come to an end and our hibernating plans for the coming months are still on hold, while air cargo gracefully continues its upward trend despite earlier mentioned capacity constraints.
We have also been confronted with the first strikes by militant unions in France, while the difficult negotiations about Brexit between the EU and the UK have hardly resulted in any major breakthrough. And in the U.S.? It seems people are getting used to the fact that loose promises to "Make America great again" are further from the truth than ever.
So, while autumn leaves are slowly piling up, we suggest you sit back and relax and spent a few moments savouring this edition of Punch Bag with its usual dose of crazy things that are going on in the world.

Happy reading

Nol van Fenema

AMBITION

- Apart from leading the world's drone market (see related item in this issue), China apparently is also keen to get involved in the global, or at least the regional, high speed train industry.
A clear example of this ambition is the proposed 350km high-speed train project between Singapore and Malaysia, which will slash travel time from the Lion City to Kuala Lumpur from hours by road to 90 minutes by rail.
When completed, the new link will compete head-on with all carriers serving the route, including Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Scoot, Air Asia, Jetstar and several others.
To be awarded by the end of next year, the project is reportedly worth billions of U.S. dollars, with most of the eight-stop line to be constructed in Malaysia, with the remaining 15km in Singapore.
China, as well as Japan, have started high-level lobbying for the lucrative contract which involves an open tender for the privately financed company that will design, build, finance and maintain the link will be called by the end of this year. It is likely to be awarded by the end of next year.
In addition to China and Japan, other interested players include France’s Alstom, Canada’s Bombardier, and the German industrial group Siemens.
While Japan has arguably build up a solid reputation in high-speed railway constructions with its Shinkansen system, China is also rapidly developing its own domestic high-speed rail network, requiring massive investments in construction and development of high-speed rail technologies.
The latest entrant in this specialised market is China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, which last month announced plans to research a futuristic train network that would first run at 1,000km per hour between cities, eventually developing the technology to reach top speeds of 4,000km/h.
That target is well over 10 times faster than the maximum speed of existing bullet trains.
Whether this newcomer will be allowed to enter the fray for the Singapore-Malaysia project remains to be seen, but its high-speed concept underlines the spectacular development that Chinese technology firms, including the aerospace sector, have undergone in the past 20 years and one which reaffirms the country's leading economic position in the world.

China eyes high-speed train projects

BIG MONEY

- In what could be labelled as another Trump attempt to endanger the commercial ties between the U.S. and China, the U.S. Army has ordered its members to stop using highly sophisticated drones made by China's DJI Technology, the world's largest drone manufacturer.
Why, one may wonder? Well, it seems the Army folks are a bit paranoid about so-called “cyber vulnerabilities” in the drones.
According to a recent on-line Army memo, the order applies to all DJI drones and systems that use DJI components or software. All service members have been ordered to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media and secure equipment for follow-on direction.”
The memo said DJI drones are the most widely used by the army among off-the-shelf equipment of that type.
Not surprisingly, DJI reacted “surprised and disappointed” at the army’s “unprompted restriction on DJI drones" and claimed it had not been consulted during the decision.
Because studies conducted by the Army Research Laboratory and the Navy have concluded that there are unspecified risks and vulnerabilities in DJI products, we suspect there could be another motive for the ban.
Money. Big money that is.
According to a study by Goldman Sachs and Oppenheimer, DJI in 2016 had about 70% share of the global commercial and consumer drone market. Goldman analysts estimated the market, including military, to be worth more than US$100 billion over the next five years.
So, just as a thought, could it be that, because of Trump's egocentric grandiosity, some U.S. drone makers have been quietly lobbying the White House that "America First" also applies to the U.S. drone industry?

America First’ for US$100 billion drone market?

BACTERIA BAN

- Cheese-lovers attention! Bad news has reached our shores that China has banned the import of a host of European-made soft, mould-ripened cheeses. More in particular, the ban especially affects French and Italian cheese, including brie, camembert, gorgonzola and roquefort, as well as the English delicacy stilton.
The reason?
Tests by Chinese Customs officials have concluded that the banned cheeses allegedly contain “too much bacteria,” with authorities reportedly alarmed that the mould contained colonies of bacteria that have not been officially approved.
Sinodis, a distributor of foreign-based cheeses in Shanghai, reportedly sent a letter to customers announcing “cheese products containing certain moulds cannot temporarily be imported in China.” The company has stopped importing a laundry list of nearly 50 kinds of cheese since 23 August. The ban started in July in some cities, but was expanded nationwide last month.
A spokesman for the delegation of the European Union to China, noted in an email that the ban effectively means that China is banning famous and traditional European cheeses that have been safely imported and consumed in China for decades. "The entire Chinese market for soft cheeses is now closed.”
According to customs data, China imported more than US$402 million of cheese last year, but the statistics do not specify which varieties made up the bulk of that. Most of the strong, pungent cheeses affected by the ban are unpopular with Chinese people and are mostly consumed by foreign residents.
Not surprisingly, expats have been scrambling to buy up remaining foreign cheeses in the past few weeks, ignoring the fact that China considers the same cheese safe if produced in China. Different bacteria, we presume.
As a result of the ban, there are currently tonnes of cheese being wasted because it cannot clear customs and the EU is currently surveying member states before it lobbies China to update regulations covering cheese.
Which leads us to the intriguing question: Do we smell a rat here, or is it still the cheese?

Too much bacteria. Really?

SHODDY

- It looks like U.S. carriers are becoming masters in mistreating customers who have the gall to question barking orders from airline staff or law enforcement officers.
The most shocking example of airline bullying was of course the violent removal of a Kentucky physician, Dr David Dao, from a United Airlines flight in April after he refused to get off the full jetliner at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Dr Dao was yanked out of his seat by three airport police officers and in the process suffered a concussion, a broken nose and lost two front teeth in the incident.
One would think that this shoddy treatment of United customers and the ensuing wave of worldwide negative publicity, would at least have prompted other U.S. carriers to take appropriate measures to avoid such ghastly scenes.
Not so.
Last month, an almost similar incident involving a Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore to LAX, showed the industry hasn't learned a thing and continues to treat their passengers like, well…plain shit.
Southwest's ground staff called in the cops when a passenger refused to leave the flight to LAX claiming she had a life-threatening pet allergy after noticing two dogs - one a pet and the other a service animal - on the flight with her.
Screaming “don’t touch me, don't touch me...you ripped my pants off!” and “I’m sorry, my dad has a surgery! What are you doing?”, the female passenger was physically dragged off the plane by three male police officers and booked for disorderly conduct.
The Youtube video made by a film producer, who recorded the ensuing struggle and posted it online, has meanwhile clocked 500,000 hits. That's half a million potential customers who will think twice before booking their next flight on Southwest.
Welcome to the friendly skies of the U.S. carriers.

Half a million hits for shit treatment

AROUSAL

- We take it that members of the unofficial "Miles High" club are quite busy making advance bookings on Qatar Airways' 777 flights from London to Doha, following the airline's launch of the world's first double beds in business class.
For the uninitiated, according to Wikipedia, the mile-high club (or MHC) is slang for the people who have had sexual intercourse while on board a flying aircraft.
Some people are aroused by the vibration of the aircraft, while other members claim they have fantasies about pilots or stewardesses, or a fetish about planes themselves.
Mind you, we're not making this up, but are still quoting Wikipedia, so it has to be true.
Back to the beds, or Qsuite cabins as Qatar Airways prefers to call them, the airline plans to roll out Qsuite across its business class fleet, with flights to Paris and New York set to be next.
Contact the airline for rates and don't forget to bring the peignoir.

Happy dreams in Qsuite

JUST LIKE UBER

- Still on drones, but this time the German-designed Volocopter, which has been re-branded into the autonomous aerial taxi, or AAT, has made its first - unmanned - flight in Dubai.
Fitted with 18 individual rotors, the AAT has a 30-minute range at 60 mph without the need for a battery recharge. Under an ambitious transportation plan, the Middle Eastern emirate expects this two-seater drone to handle a significant amount of the city's passenger transport by 2030.
A spokesman for Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority explained that the “AAT is also fitted with optional emergency parachutes, nine independent battery systems, a battery quick-charge and plug-in system, which takes two hours to reach full charge in the prototype version, a time that will be significantly reduced in the production version.”
Ultimately, the AAT will be compatible with a smartphone app, whereby you order one and have it pick you up like an Uber service.
The short first flight conducted near the Jumeirah Beach Park last month, kicked off a testing period of five years before regular AAT services are expected to begin.
During the testing period, local authorities will develop laws and policies governing certification of the aircraft and AAT operations, defining aerial routes and corridors, designing and locating take-off and landing points.
We can't wait.

Dubai drone to change public transport scene