Posted by: Peter Scott | March 30, 2014

Running an Airport

If Manston Airport is up for sale (and the current owner’s motavation to make money may mean that she has other plans) I’d buy the place. The price has to be right though as a lot of extra money will need to be invested to give a chance of success. Sadly, I can’t stretch to putting my hand in my pocket and starting out on the road to becoming a major force in aviation facilities. What I can do is write about what I see would be needed to make a profitable and sustainable airport.

First off lets deal with a couple of terms. The public has a tendency to confuse Airlines with Airports; a carrier goes bust or routes are pulled and it is a “failure of the airport”. We also confuse the big subject of “Aviation” with fare-paying passenger flights (either scheduled or chartered); there is a world of other aviation out there: freight,aircraft maintenance, business flying, public services (Air Ambulance, Police, Search and Rescue etc) and that’s before we start to cover private pleasure flying, flying schools, gliding and the military. They all need some form of airfield to service them. I am not saying that Manston is suitable for all of these, just that there is more to life than passenger flight.

True, for many people, their only exposure to aviation is as a passenger, however, a lot of the confusion of terms comes from the media. Headline writers conflate airports and airlines; journalists pull out old archive material on airline failure and weave it in to stories on airport closure (this is one of the laziest forms of journalism – only trawling social media such as Facebook and Twitter is worse); “expert” opinion is sought from the wrong experts – ask a travel writer about airports and he can only speak from the point of view of someone going on holiday and probably just those in his readership demographic, which is often “middle-class metropolitan” and thus an hour or less from a major international airport (but not under the flight path), he can’t speak about airports as a business, and, oddly, that is exactly what an airport is.

Since man discovered barter or invented money, business has worked by person ‘A’ having something that person ‘B’ wants and the ability to trade something that ‘B’ can give ‘A’ in exchange. The same goes for airports. Airports trade the ability to use their facilities with aircraft operators, and usually (in modern times) that is for money. Airports make their money by charging people to land and take off and for other less obvious things such as “parking” planes (by the hour), unloading freight (by the kg)  and processing passengers (per person). There is also the possibility of selling fuel. Airports also have costs to cover from this revenue, air traffic control costs, fire service, infrastructure maintenance, runway lighting and that is before we even get to costs of the people that interface directly with passengers and freight. For a sustained business model an airport ‘A’ needs have a steady stream of customers ‘B’ paying for services over the years. Critically, this is just not one customer ‘B’ but a whole host of customers with a mix of operating pattens. Seasonal flights for holiday makers, year round flights to major hub airports, private aviation, and freight. I used to co-own a specialist IT company that had 15 of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies as customers; over time, mergers and consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry reduced our customer list to just two, we still did the same amount of business but were very exposed to loss of a customer, when that happened, we had to fold our company.  Likewise, for an airport, having just CargoLux and KLM as principal sources of income is a business risk.

Making an airport attractive for air operators is more than just having a catchy name, though the wrong name can certainly harm things on the passenger side. Putting “London” in the name is dual edged. It worked for London Luton as a lot of their passengers come from overseas and may not have heard of Luton but know they want to go to London, it didn’t work out well for Oxford – as people just laughed about the fact that “Oxford isn’t that near London” I do much the same when Ryanair pass off Charleroi as Brussels South. Given the time to get to Central London from Manston, I am not convinced that a London monnica works. Nor does using the word “Isle”, you just give potential passengers the idea that they need to use a boat to get there. For freight operations the airport name is not that important. They have a pragmatic view on where to fly to. This is based on airfield size (can it take their large freight aircraft?) Are there facilities to quickly offload or load cargo (aircraft make money flying, not sitting on the ground), how likely is my flight to be delayed by air traffic congestion, what happens if my flight is late arriving (can I still land) and is there a reasonable infrastructure to get freight to market.

Which brings me to the subject of access to the airport, obviously it is accessible by air but what of getting to or from the airport, and perhaps more importantly, what is the catchment. For whatever reasons the major road network from the M2 to Sandwich is pretty good, nice dual carriageways, no traffic lights. The poor bit is the last section getting around the airfield to the freight and passenger facilities. A new road access from the A299 or the Haine Road would help a lot, moving the building to the south of the runway may not as there is a lack of space on the current airfield. Travel to Dover is not too bad once you have navigated the single lane section from Sandwich to Eastry, that said I rarely get held up there. Getting to Canterbury by road suffers from the fact that Canterbury is Canterbury and it’s definitely not the city of the car. Ashford road journeys are not good as Canterbury is in the way and the alternative routes go a long way out  ofthe way.  Ironically, one of the worst places to travel to airport by road is the Thanet towns themselves. Through traffic is routed by way of the major shopping complex at Westwood Cross, there is no alternatives other than narrow country tracks. As a town, Ramsgate is well served by rail routes to London, it is not well served by fast trains though – even the HS1 Javelin trains just amble along at low speeds between Ramsgate and Ashford or Broadstairs and Ebbsfleet. Substantial rail improvement work would be needed to boost line speeds, better power supplies, better signalling, track improvements and the removal of level crossings to reduce risk associated with higher line speeds. Ramsgate station could handle a bus shuttle to the airport, an airport parkway station would be an option but the investment is only worthwhile if the car-parking acts as a magnate for London commuters to avoid the limited near station facilities or has a steady stream of airport passengers throughout the day. Freight rail is currently not an option, the network is geared for bulk-freight (minerals, oil, steel etc) or container traffic and not the sort of freight that might be consolidated at an airport. In terms of catchment in is relatively simple; is Manston more convenient to get to than any other airport? Personally, it takes me 10 minutes or so to get to Manston, I’d have to allow 3 hours+ to get to Heathrow. For all people there is a balance point between whether the journey time + check-in time for one airport is more attractive than another. Other factors come in to play such as quality and reliability of journey, the “how much margin to allow to make sure I am on time” thing. 

For a passenger airport,it needs to have flights that go to places people want to fly to and at times they want to go. Price comes into it too whether the flight cost + cost of getting to the airport is reasonable. To be honest most of my flying is on business, for me I want a feeder to service to a major hub airport with good connections to onward flights – I often change planes in Amsterdam and a wait of couple of hours relaxation in an airport lounge or bar is a less stressful part of travel than spending that time getting to Heathrow. Two flights a day from a single carrier is not enough to sustain an airport. The airport should do more to encourage more flights to hub airports, I’d love to get to Paris Charles De Gaulle as that would give me direct access to more destinations, albeit with the same AirFrance KLM carrier. Likewise Frankfurt or to a lesser extent, Brussels would give me great European access and ability to meet many of my worldwide customers after a simple change of plane. Flights to UK hubs would be good, but superficially only Manchester and perhaps Birmingham seem viable, the London airports are too close and also at capacity, and other regional airports lack international flights. Passengers flying for leisure tend to take only a few flights a year and are driven by cost and a desire to maximise the time at the destination. They are often less interested in hub flights. Leisure routes are a harder market to bring in. Operators make their money by maximising the number of paying passengers per aircraft per day, to do this they work the planes hard an minimise hours not flying. These operators often fly early and late to ensure they get the most revenue per day. For them an airport must have the facilities to economically process passengers, have rapid turnaround times and allow flight slots to fit their business. They are heavily driven by cost and do their utmost to minimise airport fees, They also willing to axe unprofitable services, which is a risk to a company that relies on a service for income

Freight is an simpler offer and is usually predicated around being able to land large aircraft, have ground services to prepare the plane for departure, and most importantly get the goods on or off the plane quickly.

To be viable the airport needs to build the number of operators using it – freight is an obvious choice as the catchment area is greater as is the scope of poaching from other airports on the grounds of costs or more reliable turnaround, Airport hours need to be extended to make it more attractive to flights landing or taking off in the margins of the working day; I would not want my freighter diverted to another airfield because the plane is 30 minutest late. Passenger flights would also benefit from extended hours as this could reduce the number of overnights needed for aircrafts and aircrew. For sustained passenger development there needs to be a mix of carriers and destinations, and flights at more times of the day, that however comes at a cost of providing more police and border control staff.

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 24, 2014

Let’s keep Manston

It is said that aviation is in the blood (or in the genes). My partner worked as cabin crew with Air New Zealand before becoming their senior HR manager responsible for all off-shore based Air New Zealand staff; her cousin is a senior pilot with Cathay Pacific; of her uncles, one was managing director of Heathrow (when BAA was still civil service) another flew V-bombers during the cold war. Once you are involved in flight you always want to return to it; It becomes hard to imagine an employment without being close to aircraft and breathing aviation fuel. Even working landside at airport gives a buzz that you just don’t get working in ‘normal’ job

My involvement in flight was less direct (although I had a government posting to LHR for a while and KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Manchester Airport are customers of mine) – my first flight was in rearward facing seats back in the ‘70s and I became hooked; since then I knocked up a lot miles as a passenger in a variety of planes from de Havilland Beavers and Fokker Friendships through to modern wide-bodied jets. My work often takes me abroad, I am world authority in my field, I get invited to speak at conferences around the world or do some troubleshooting (and often at only a couple of days notice). I need reliable access to air transport just to do my job. The globally accessible internet virtual presence ideal just does not cut it when you are speaking to a hall-ful of people or need to sit down with people for several days to diagnose problems.

So, when it was proposed to close my local airport at Manston I was appalled. Knowing how my partner thinks, I was appalled by the prospects for the staff losing a way of life that becomes part of their soul. The prospect of skilled ancillary workers either having to move great distances or leave an industry they love, the prospect of customer-facing staff not having pax to deal with. The human costs of closure are not light ones.

As a local, I know too of the history – few places have an aviation pedigree going back a century to the early days of combat flying; have links to many other significant periods of history during wars and peace, and even into the space age as a designated emergency field for the space shuttle, though, thankfully, never used.

Physically, Manston has a lot going for it. The length and width of the runway makes it capable of handling the largest aircraft; its location outside of the congested London area can give advantage to carriers running on tight schedules, the distinct microclimate of Thanet can mean the airfield is useful for diversionary use when the London airports are shutdown or compromised by weather. True the passenger facilities are basic, but they work, and efficiently so.

But for me it is the access to international flights without having to travel for hours to get to an airport that appeals. It takes me 10 minutes to get to Manston’s car park; to get to LGW or LHR takes hours by road and much the same by train; add too the time to drop bags and get airside (even with frequent flyer priority) and a journey from LHR would need to be three or four hours quicker than changing in Amsterdam to make it worthwhile. London City is an option for me but even with the HS1 to Stratford International it is still about 2 hours by rail. Recently I had work in Johannesburg, flying on the early flight from Manston via Amsterdam I could be in South Africa in about 13 hours – flying back via Paris and Amsterdam would get me home an hour or so sooner than travelling non-stop to London. Even on shorter flights such as Manston to Helsinki I save an hour or so by changing in Amsterdam on my door to door journey time.

If Manston were to close I’d be forced to make longer and more stressful journeys to the airport, I don’t need much contingency on a ten minute drive. How many people have been stuck on the M25 for an hour or more. Going to Gatwick almost forces you to travel up to London and across as East-West roads in the South East are poor as traffic planners assume that everyone goes to London. Lydd, if it had flights, is over an hour by road, Southend would be an option if there were a hydrofoil link to cross the Thames at speed. As for rail, since HS1 started the Eurostar service from Ashford to Paris and Brussels has been curtailed to just one or two trains a day. Perhaps when DB starts operating Germany to London via the tunnel we might get a more frequent service to Europe.

I have become use to flying from Amsterdam, I hope I can continue to be used to it.

Posted by: Peter Scott | January 3, 2014

It’s been a while!

Well actually 3 (almost 4) years since I last blogged here. So it is high time to write some new content for my personal blog and perhaps change the nature of the content.

When I started blogging (on Blogger) many years back it was mainly a technical blog on Data Warehousing with an Oracle slant. A lot was drawn from my experience working as a manager at a global IT management company. Over time I migrated my blog to wordpress.com but carried on writing technical stuff on topics such at deadlocks, partitioning, DWH design and modelling interspersed with non-technical stuff about gardens, kids and holidays. When I joined Rittman Mead I took the chance to copy the technical stuff to the company blog (but leave it in place so any links might continue to work) Most new technical stuff is published on the company blog as it has a bigger readership. The odd April Fool posting appears here, partially so that it less likely to be believed, which was an embarrassment we had one year on the company blog where a vendor cited our ground breaking methodology; we had hoped that people would realise that we could not make ETL faster by making the data flow down hill and get a performance boost from gravity.

In the past years there has bee a lot of change in my life. My children have grown up, graduated and work for a living with a place of their own, I have moved to a cottage near the beach (just a bike ride away or 5 minutes in the car) I can commute to London if I need to. Amsterdam (by air) and Northern France and Belgium (by road) are even shorter journeys. The house and garden here are still in need of love and care and the next few years of free time will easily be consumed by various projects around the house. The occupants of my house have changed too. The core “family” is KG, my New Zealander partner and Tosh, the Burmese-cross cat with loads of attitude and claws. Sadly Rob, 65kg lump of New Zealand Huntaway passed away; the Robster was taller than me and had a bark that could carry for miles. He was also well travelled – he flew over from New Zealand to live with me (OK he was KG’s dog and came with her!)

 

So, my return to personal blogging has started – I will write on technology occasionally, especially if it does not fit with my corporate stance, but mainly it will be about life here, and the odd social rant where society is on the wrong path.

 

But for now, bye-bye from Ham Sandwich.

IMG 0140

 

 

 

Posted by: Peter Scott | April 17, 2010

Home thoughts on aviation

Today my normally silver car has a more golden-bronzy tinge, or a thin film of volcanic dust. Part of Iceland is now travelling around the streets of Milton Keynes attached to my car, a sort of grimy hitch-hiker.
I should not really know about the dust on my car as I should not be in England, I should currently be mid-Atlantic on my way to speak at a conference in Las Vegas. But that is not to be. Optimistically, I followed the hour-by-hour announcements from the airline and the NATS air traffic service right up to the time I was texted with my flight cancellation. I have now cancelled the flight booking (there was no point rebooking to arrive after the conference finished) cancelled the hotels, briefed a colleague in the hope that he could give my talk. I have even been to the supermarket to buy food (what is the point of food in the fridge if you are away?)
There is no point ranting about a volcanic eruption blocking air travel to or from north-western Europe, these things can happen (obviously). I am one of the fortunate people, I am still at home, my journey, although long anticipated, is not critical in course of world history. Yes, I was invited to speak at a conference in the USA; yes, I would be representing and publicising my company; yes, delegates have told me that they would like to meet with me and talk; but my not being there will not stop the conference. And, as I said an American colleague at the conference may be able to give my talk for me.
I am a lucky one; I have friends and colleagues in the USA trying to return to Europe, friends in Denmark (amongst other places) trying to cross the Atlantic to get home, and friends dotted around northern Europe just trying to make it home to the UK. One friend is in Northern Italy singing with a choir, tomorrow she should fly home to be with her children and ready to return to the school she teaches at on Monday – but that won’t happen, and I can think of no quick way for her to return from the wrong side of the Alps.
Some might think that having no flights is as if aviation had not been invented and we can proceed with a more sustainable, low carbon-footprint, way of life. True, it is technically feasible for me to do my job by the wonders of telephony and the internet, I could video-conference my presentations, I even could go to the pub and phone my colleagues so that I can take part in social interaction outside of the office over a few beers. But powered flight has been invented and the suddenly switching it off for several days is not the same thing; people have not planned there lives in anticipation of this and the event causes big problems to those who just need to get home, those that would not be where they are if a plane had not taken them there.

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 19, 2010

Is location aware internet content a good idea?

I am sitting in a train travelling to the North West of England and using the at seat wifi connection. This service is provided by T-Mobile, a brand with a global presence an major UK mobile operator. “So what?” I hear you say, the problem is that the internet connection from the train surfaces in Germany – and hence I get Google Deutschland, LinkedIn and Facebook with German Language content, all of which I can cope with – but what drives me nuts is that I for some sites content is blocked that is not relevant to the ISP location and that is not my location…

Posted by: Peter Scott | April 1, 2009

UNGROUP BY

For various reasons I have gained a reputation in data warehousing – whether it is from my older blog posts, speaking at conferences, or my role in a high profile BI consultancy, I am not sure.

One outcome of this is that I get asked to take part in various activities to promote new products; PR companies write (perhaps under the mistaken impression that I am a real journalist) to invite me to interview some CEO or CTO of a software company to discuss a new product; I also get invited to try new software, either at launch or as part of a beta program.

Recently, a software company (NOT Oracle, hence I write here on my personal blog, and not the company one) invited me to try their beta release BI database. There are a lot of innovative features but one really caught more eye as a one of boosting performance without breaking the hardware budget: the UNGROUP BY clause.

Readers of my postings on my employers blog, or attendees of my DW design courses will know that I am strong advocate of the principle that IO throughput is the biggest constraint on DW performance. You need the right capacity of disk, the right number of IO channels working at fast enough speeds (fibre channel, InfiniBand etc.), some vendors move some processing close to the disk so that smaller (skinny?) result sets are passed over the wire to the CPUs. Other database vendor-specific techniques centre on the use of segment compression and partition elimination to reduce the number of bytes brought from disk to answer the query. But for all database vendors the traditional way of reducing IO is to fetch back “summarised” data that answers the user’s query. But until now there was no way back from the aggregated data to detail. BUT, for this database vendor’s product. Is no longer the case.

Suppose we have a table of total sales by year for our international company and we need to get the yearly results for each country – simple we just execute:
SELECT country, sum(sales_value) from GLOBAL_SALES UNGROUP BY country
need those sales broken down by quarter as well then:
SELECT country, quarter, sum(sales_value) from GLOBAL_SALES UNGROUP BY country, quarter ORDER BY country, quarter.
“This looks magic, can we use it for any query?” Well there are some restrictions; the column names used must match the key column names defined in dimension objects (the next release will also support unique attribute matching), there must be a column in the table to be ungrouped for the parent key – that is, we we need an ALL_GEOGRAPHY column in table, we can’t rely on the fact that the column is not there to assume the total level. There is also a practical limitation on the number of levels you can drill to using this query – two levels. So ALL_GEOGRAPHY can drill to region and country, but not to state or city.
Under the covers we use a novel kind of composite “index” to assign a “proportionality” to the dimensional components, this is the really clever part as the index uses bitmap semantics to provide a compressed array of proportions.
Early days in testing this feature but I am impressed.

Late breaking news – Just been told that this is an April Fools posting and should not be used as part of a functional specification

Posted by: Peter Scott | November 18, 2008

Athens (Greece)

I am very conscious that I have not posted much on this blog recently. In part the technical stuff has been surfaced through the company blog – I get in to trouble if I say Mark’s blog because it is the company one now, an in part because of a load of domestic events have stifled my available creative time.

Still, on-site with a customer in Greece has given me an unexpected amount of online-in-the-hotel-in-the-evening time which I can fill with research or just writing this stuff.

I had always wanted to visit Greece but as I am not a sand-n-sea person it would not be for the islands and beaches, but more the ancient history. So working here and having a weekend in Athens (and not one where I am scheduled to fly to London or San Francisco – which is the case for all the other weekends before Christmas) gave me the ideal chance to see the Acropolis and other historic sites nearby. Put simply, I was stunned by it all. The scale of things, the age of things… the sophistication of the art and the science. It makes you wonder why or how Western Civilisation did nothing from before the fall of Rome until, well, 160 years ago.

I think I can understand the concept of the Grand Tour now!

Posted by: Peter Scott | October 28, 2008

End of summer time

Last Sunday was the end of the daylight saving scheme that goes in these parts by the name of British Summer Time, today 2 days past the end of summertime it snows!

I don’t recall snow so far south in October. Oh well it gives me something to write about!

Posted by: Peter Scott | August 27, 2008

Home!

Seemed to have spent a lot of August travelling. A short-term engagement in a Nordic country and the family vacation let me put on more than my fair share of air miles. The final flight (I hope!) of the month was yesterday when I took my 17-year old to Aberdeen to visit the university. It seems so tiring to get the 7:00 AM flight and then spend most of the day walking around before the 8 PM flight home. Still it was a great day out and nice to get back to Scotland. My Daughter loved the University, so who knows, Aberdeen may become a regular destination for me!

Posted by: Peter Scott | July 14, 2008

Oh, I am still around!

Not written much for a while – or so a dear friend tells me in an email

I have been busy with some consultancy for a non-BI customer and then several days learning to deliver a training course that a colleague produced; well at least build my virtual machines for the exercises and making sure that I can get the examples to work. I also learned how to shrink a VMWare Fusion virtual machine when there is not enough free diskspace on the host to use the shrink tool!

So, what goes on at Scott Towers? The elder girl is looking at colleges for 2009 and like all teenagers wants to get as far as possible from home – in the UK that is not that far, but she has ambitions – OK, she has now decided against going to Canada to study on cost grounds, but her potential choices in Cornwall, Scotland and North Wales are all a long drive from here. Be glad when the last open day is done!!!

Before she goes to university there is that final year of school. She has started to ask me for help checking her work for chemistry (I knew that degree of mine would be useful one day) and asking for help on her database project for IT… think though she is asking the wrong person for help on normalisation (I said that to prevent others – Doug – from doing so!)

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