Sunday musings: Travel by elevator, supersonic travel, criminalizing crashes


This Sunday there is plenty to ponder. How do experts make high-tech elevators move more efficiently? What is the solution to sonic booms that will allow supersonic flight? And, when should criminal charges be made when dealing with aircraft accidents?

Moving at the speed of an elevator
Moving elevators is not as simple as having a bank of elevator cars all responding to waiting passengers who push buttons. More comes into play. This article is fascinating.

For instance, “A passenger on the sixth floor wants to descend. The closest car is on the seventh floor, but it already has three riders and has made two stops. Is it the right choice to make that car stop again? That would be the best result for the sixth-floor passenger, but it would make the other people’s rides longer.”

Plus, calculating how many people get into elevators is another factor in figuring out how quickly elevators can handle crowds.

At their core, elevators are a mode of transportation. Serving passengers well is constrained by the number of elevators, their speed, how fast their doors open and close, and how many people can fit in a car. In the U.S., these factors come together 18 billion times a year, each time a passenger rides an elevator.

That experience is at the heart of what Ms. Christy does. From her sparse second-floor office in a leafy office park in Farmington, Conn., she writes strings of code that allow elevators to do essentially the greatest good for the most people—including the building’s owner, who has to allocate considerable space for the concrete shafts that house the cars. Her work often involves watching computer simulation programs that replay elevator decision-making.

“I feel like I get paid to play videogames. I watch the simulation, and I see what happens, and I try to improve the score I am getting,” she says.

Supersonic travel set for a comeback
The Concorde is gone. It never caught on because of its sonic boom. It could only fly at supersonic speeds over the ocean. Hence, it’s use was limited. Plus, the costs were sky high, so to speak. But, now supersonic seems to be making a comeback; at least in terms of aircraft creators and planners.

“Given the amount of fuel you need to burn to achieve supersonic speeds, it’s going to be a more expensive proposition that only a sliver of the market is going to pay the price for,” said George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia. “When you’re talking about a supersonic business jet, that begins to make more sense.”

The largest corporate planes already cost almost as much as the smallest Boeing and Airbus airliners, and can fly about 90 per cent as fast as sound. Gulfstream’s G650 lists for $US58.5 million ($A56 million). Bombardier’s Global 7000 and 8000 jets retail for as much as $US65 million. Warren Buffett’s NetJets unit ordered 20 last year.

The chief obstacle to supersonic flight is the same one that bedeviled the Concorde: the sonic boom.

That is where research efforts are focused. This article presents a fascinating picture of development efforts.

Airlines try to clip criminal litigation

Last week while meeting with a former Assistant Secretary of Transportation, we discussed the decriminalization of aircraft accidents in the wake of the ruling from the French appeals court that absolved Continental Airlines of criminal negligence regarding the Concorde crash.

His thoughts were that bringing criminal charges makes determining the cause of aircraft accidents more difficult because everyone withholds evidence in to protect themselves. A group of aviation lawyers have pondering this question for some time.

From Asia to Europe to Latin America, judges and prosecutors over the years have aggressively pursued charges against aviation officials in the wake of aircraft accidents. Sometimes, the targets include mechanics or air-traffic controllers. In many jurisdictions outside the U.S., “every big accident automatically prompts” some type of criminal probe, said John Goetz, a partner at the law firm Jones Day, based in Pittsburgh.

“The accident investigator’s job is to find out what happened, but it’s the prosecutor’s job to blame someone,” said Kenneth Quinn, vice chairman of the task force created by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. arm. “Yet legal systems are woefully behind safety officials in protecting” the confidentiality of essential safety data, he said.

Photo Empire State Building Elevator by Bob B Brown from Flickr Creative Commons

  • VOX 1769

    Using the standard measurement of passenger deaths per 100,000 miles, the elevator is the safest form of transportation in the world.

  • AKFlyer

    But stairs are better for you (one of the reasons my BMI is 19 at almost 60). I always take the stairs when I can (not when I’m going 20 stories, obviously). An added advantage to taking the stairs in hotels is that it orients you to your fire escape route, and lets you know if fire codes are being obeyed. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve found stuff — including highly flammable substances like paint thinner — stored in the stairwells of my hotels. A quick chat with the front desk usually fixes it; failing that the local fire inspector is a phone call away.

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  • James

    I always take the elevator where possible and practical. First for the added exercise, second, because I’m mildly claustrophobic and finally because I’ve seen elevators in the US Asia and Europe that could have well carried Eisenhower or MacArthur.