Aircraft Technology – ahead of the curveWednesday, 1 April 2015
It’s nice to be ahead of the curve sometimes. I spoke at a Future of Travel conference in Spain for The Economist last week and one of the questions I posed was ‘why can’t those air maps I spend so much time looking at work better, give us more information?’ Why can’t I get the Wikipedia story on whatever I’m seeing down below?
Only a couple of days later Airbus put out a story of a new patent for an interactive window which would do exactly what I was asking for. See something out the window, tap on it and the story pops up.
In between I flew back to Australia from Spain with Emirates. Now their moving maps are not too wonderful, they’re not very informative and they’re interrupted far too frequently for Emirates ads and other stuff I’d rather not have to watch. And then they don’t work at all. Between Dubai and Sydney, the map simply gave up an hour or two before the Australian coast and stayed that way. We were stuck, out in the Indian Ocean, like a mobile version of Malaysian Airlines MH370 (although somewhat north of where that flight was supposed to have ended up), for the last five hours of the flight. Useless.
And then there’s inflight Internet
Flying somewhere should be an opportunity to escape from the World Wide Web, out of range of yet more unwanted emails. Still when inflight internet is available I’ve felt obliged to try it out a few times. On that Dubai-Sydney flight you could try 10Mb for free. It worked pretty well so I signed up for another 100Mb for just US$1. Which also worked pretty well until suddenly it fell over, about the same time as the moving map stopped moving. Later I enquired why it wasn’t coming back on and was told it work out over the ocean, but stops once you’re over the Australian mainland, which is counter-intuitive.
A few months before I’d signed up on an American Airlines flight between San Francisco and Los Angeles so I could try out Flight Radar24 while actually flying. That worked fine too, once I’d found our plane amongst all the others heading in the same direction. ‘And look there’s a United flight crossing below us.’ But it all grinds to a halt when you descend below 10,000 feet so you can’t follow your own plane down to the runway.