Archive for June, 2009

A Brief History of Flight – and a Look at the Future

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

The brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright are mostly credited with inventing manned flight.  It is true that Orville piloted “the Flyer” in man’s first powered flight on December 17th 1903.  That flight lasted 12 seconds and travelled 120 feet.

An inauspicious beginning you might think, but humankind was now able to fly!  During the next century, many new airplanes and engines were developed to help transport people, luggage, cargo, military personnel and weapons.  The 20th century’s advances were based on this first flight at Kitty Hawk by the American brothers from Ohio.

On Friday next a new type of aircraft will be unveiled in Switzerland that sounds just as outrageously implausible as that first 12 horse-power Flyer that lifted off in North Carolina all those years ago.  Read on…

Man’s quest to fly is ancient, from the mythical engineer Daedalus, who made wings of feathers and wax and set off with his son Icarus to fly from Crete to Naples.  Icarus, you will recall from your schooldays, flew too close to the sun and the wax melted, with predictable consequences.

But the Chinese were the first to seriously study flying possibilities with the invention of kites about 400 BC.  These were the forerunners of balloons and gliders.

For many centuries, humans have tried to fly just like the birds.  Wings made of feathers or light weight wood have been attached to arms to test their ability to fly.  The results were often disastrous as the muscles of the human arms are not like birds and can not move with the strength of a bird.

Leonardo da Vinci made the first real studies of flight in the 1480’s.  He had over 100 drawings that illustrated his theories on flight.

The Ornithopter flying machine was never actually created.  It was a design that Leonardo da Vinci created to show how man could fly.  The modern day helicopter is based on this concept.

The brothers, Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, were inventors of the first hot air balloon.  They used the smoke from a fire to blow hot air into a silk bag.  The silk bag was attached to a basket.  The hot air then rose and allowed the balloon to be lighter-than-air.

In 1783, the first passengers in the colourful balloon were a sheep, a rooster and a duck.  It climbed to a height of about 6,000 feet and travelled more than 1 mile.

After this first success, the brothers began to send men up in balloons.  The first manned flight was on November 21st 1783.

George Caley is credited with inventing the first real gliders in the 19th century, but he realised that there would be a need for power if the flight was to be in the air for a long time.  Various developments took place and finally in 1891 an astronomer, Samuel Langley, built a model plane, which he called an aerodrome, that included a steam-powered engine.  It flew, unmanned, for ¾ of a mile before running out of fuel.

But he had proved it could be done and a mere 12 years later manned flight became a reality as Orville Wright took to the air, however briefly.

From there flying took off, literally, and the technology rapidly advanced through the 20th century bringing us all the way to supersonic travel and rocket propelled spacecraft almost routinely bringing man to the moon and back.  So where can the next great advances come from?

Curiosity, opportunity, genius, and need, all drive invention, and it may be “need” which drives the great aviation invention of the future.

As oil becomes more scarce and more expensive it becomes a huge burden on the viable operation of commercial aircraft.  Last year the world’s airlines lost over €10 billion, and despite fuel cost savings of almost €60 billion this year, losses are likely to exceed $9 billion.

When an airliner takes off for a transatlantic flight it needs to carry some 80 tonnes of fuel, which accounts for around 1/5 of its weight.  On really long flights, fuel can account for 40% of a plane’s take-off weight, so that around 20% of the fuel is used to carry the rest of the fuel.  Each tonne of fuel burned also produces 3.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  So from a global warming perspective, there is also a compelling reason to find an alternative aviation fuel.  And those great inventors just may have.

On Friday next, June 26th, the prototype of an aircraft that does not use any fuel at all will be unveiled at a Swiss airfield.  The wings of this aircraft are almost as big as those of a conventional aircraft, but they are covered in a film of solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity to drive its engines.  Voila!

Known as the HB-SIA this aircraft is being launched by Solar Impulse, a project run by aviators.  But they have an impressive list of backers including Deutsche Bank, Omega, Solvay, Toyota, Altran, Dassault and many others.  Once this plane has tested successfully at low altitudes (non-pressurised) another version will be built and this will take off and climb to over 30,000 feet and, by storing some of the electricity generated during the day, continue flying through the night.  Its pilots, two brave fellows by the names of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, plan to cross the Atlantic, and later fly it around the world.

But that’s later, the first critical test flight comes later this year.  If the prototype succeeds in flying through the night then the design of its successor will be finalised.  This aircraft, HB-SIB, is intended to operate in stints of around five days and nights.  If it succeeds in crossing the Atlantic, it will then try to circle the globe, following the Tropic of Cancer and landing on each continent.

This will involve some daring, with the aircraft spending all day climbing as its batteries are recharged and then descending slowly under power throughout the night to conserve energy.  It means keeping a close eye on the weather and navigating around windy areas.  The team has experimented with simulated flights using real-time meteorological data.  Encountering a headwind at night is a worry.  “It could make the night much longer and cause you to run out of energy before sunrise, which would be a disaster,” says Mr Borschberg.  Success means a flight plan which ensures that “every morning you are in sunshine”.

Do we have an airport in the sunny South East?  Of course – Waterford.

Well as they say its early days, but who would bet against the reality of solar powered flight being a reality within the next 50 years.  After all it seems a far more realistic ambition than an aircraft like the Airbus A380 (which can carry up to 800 passengers) would have seemed to Wilbur or Orville Wright back in 1903.

June 24th 2009

Aer Lingus cuts Transatlantic Winter Schedule

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Aer Lingus recently announced its transatlantic winter schedule, and not unexpectedly it reflects the unprecedented operating environment in which the entire aviation industry currently finds itself.

Direct services between Dublin and Washington and Dublin San Francisco will be suspended for the winter (though daily one-stop services will be offered in cooperation with Jetblue and United Airlines).

The service from Shannon to Chicago will be suspended for the winter from September 1st, and the Shannon to Boston service will be reduced to 4 flights a week from daily.

In light of Delta’s earlier decision to suspend its winter services on the Shannon/New York route, Aer Lingus are now reappraising their 4 times weekly service on this route.

Enda Corneille, Aer Lingus Director of Corporate Affairs, spoke with ITIC Chief Executive, Eamonn McKeon.

Got a comment on anything you’ve heard here? VISIT OUR BLOG!

June 17th 2009

Ideas for Tourism

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

In March of this year the Ideas Campaign, an independent, citizen’s initiative based in Ireland, was launched.  The driving force behind this was Aileen O’Toole of AMAS, the online consulting specialists, and its principal objectives were to:
-  seek citizens ideas for Irish economic recovery and renewal,
-  help stimulate a debate about solutions to our economic problems,
-  set a challenge to people in Ireland to be innovative and creative, and to play their part in planning the country’s economic recovery.

The response was enormous.  In terms of the number of ideas received, tourism was one of the top three categories.  Many of the ideas came from overseas from the Irish diaspora.  There was a real sense of tourism’s importance to the Irish economy and innovations were in plentiful supply.

The tourism ideas ranged from the zany like, “create a very large Irish-themed Euro Disney-style fun park called Tir na nOg”, to the practical like “extend the current free travel scheme for Irish citizens aged 66+ to all EU citizens in the same age category”.

One suggested that free flights be given to tourists who fly at off-peak times and agree to stay at least one week.  Carriers please note.

Another helpfully suggested that “politicians who normally travel abroad for St Patrick’s Day should stay at home and invite and entertain people from other countries here instead”.

Indeed it may have been the same person who also said, “we have the largest government per head of population – we should reduce the number of elected representatives”.

Excise duties came in for lots of criticism, perhaps best encapsulated by the person who simply said, “remove the large taxes on pints”.  Bless him, oops maybe it’s a her.

Click here to read the dozens and dozens of other tourism ideas.  And post a blog to let us know what you think.  You might even let us have your own ideas for what might help restore tourism growth.

If you wish to go beyond tourism, the overall Ideas Campaign Action Plan is available on, and it is well worth a browse.

June 16th 2009

Niall Gibbons to head Tourism Ireland

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Moving swiftly to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Paul O’Toole, the Board of Tourism Ireland this week appointed Niall Gibbons as Chief Executive, with immediate effect.

Niall is no stranger to the industry as he currently is Corporate Director of Services and Policy at Tourism Ireland.  In his first public interview since being appointed, Niall spoke with ITIC Chief Executive Eamonn McKeon, who first asked him how he felt about taking on this formidable role.

Niall Gibbons, Chief Executive – Tourism Ireland

June 12th 2009

Airline Industry still hurting

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is presently holding its annual meeting in Kuala Lumpar, and despite some signs of an easing to the global recession, IATA are of the view that this will not be reflected in airline financial performance for some time.

Having lost $10.4 billion in 2008 and despite fuel savings of $59 billion in 2009, IATA has revised its airline financial forecast for the current year to a $9 billion loss.  Scary stuff.  And it’s worldwide.  North American carriers who have slashed routes and costs expect to see red figures of $1 billion.  European carriers are looking at a loss of $1.8 billion.  Asia Pacific airlines expect to drop a massive $3.3 billion, while Middle East carriers are looking at red ink to the tune of $1.5 billion.  The remainder of the projected losses will arise in Latin America and Africa.

After 9/11 airline revenue fell by 7%, but in the midst of this global recession revenues have fallen by $80 billion, or 15%.

IATA Direct General, Giovanni Bisignani, doesn’t see facts to support optimism.  He is of the view that “whether this crisis is long or short the world is changing.  Travel budgets have been slashed and consumers will need to reduce their debt.  It will not be business as usual in the port-crisis world”.

He went on to describe the airline industry as being in survival mode.  Consumer confidence is low, and their need to reduce debt means less cash to spend.  IATA sees business habits changing too as corporate budgets are slashed and video conferencing becomes much more popular.

The IATA view is supported by the Association of European Airlines who said that there remains no indication of when an economic recovery might begin, and that the current downturn could have a “profound impact on the market well past this year”.

Some better news is that aviation’s emissions will fall by 7% in 2009, 5% from the fall in demand and 2% as a result of the industry’s strategy to address climate change.  And the industry remains committed to achieving carbon neutral growth by 2020, and a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050.

But first its survival, and no one would doubt the resilience and capability of the aviation industry to turn challenges into opportunities to be safer, greener and profitable once more.  As an example of that determination, the new Boeing 787 finally appears set for its first flight before the end of this month, an event that could shape the future of commercial aviation.  This twin engined fuel efficient, emissions friendly aircraft which can carry up to 250 passengers for distances up to 8,000 miles, has already signed up 56 customers who have ordered a total 866, a record number for a pre-delivery aircraft.

IATA is confident that recovery will come, but it’s not just around the corner yet.

June 9th 2009

Tourism Ireland chief is confident about the future

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Paul O’Toole, Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, leaves this week to take up his new position as Chief Executive of FAS, the Irish National Training and Employment Authority.

In this interview with ITIC, Paul looks back on his 8 years as Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, a period which has seen lots of highs and lows in this notoriously cyclical industry.  He also looks to the future, and sees lots of blue skies.

Paul O’Toole, Chief Executive – Tourism Ireland

June 2nd 2009

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