Weekend musings: Whole-body scanners faking it, round-the-world travel, coming pilot shortage


This weekend we take time to look into one of TSA’s largest contractors being suspected of faking software tests to alter the performance of whole-body scanners. We take a close look at the costs of round-the-world travel and think about changes coming from a looming pilot shortage.

Whole-body-scanner maker denies faking tests

Rapiscan, one of the two manufacturers of whole-body scanners used by TSA at airports across the US, is mired in a controversy over whether they manipulated testing regarding producing less-invasive scans of travelers. The House Transportation Security Subcommittee in a hearing on November 15th raised this issue about falsifying software tests.

Rapiscan makes the x-ray backscatter version of the whole-body scanner that has been mired in controversy over radiation effects.

DHS has spent about $90 million replacing traditional magnetometers with the controversial body-scanning machines.

Rapiscan has a contract to produce 500 machines for the TSA at a cost of about $180,000 each. The company could be fined and barred from participating in government contracts, or employees could face prison terms if it is found to have defrauded the government.

It’s not the first time Rapiscan has been at the center of testing problems with the machines. The company previously had problems with a “calculation error” in safety tests that showed the machines were emitting radiation levels that were 10 times higher than expected.

It turned out the company’s technicians weren’t following protocol in conducting the tests. They were supposed to test radiation levels of machines in the field 10 times in a row, and then divide the results by 10 to produce an average radiation measurement. But the testers failed to divide the results by 10, producing false numbers.

The cost of traveling around the world — amazingly affordable

Bootsnall.com, an independent travel website, just published a story about the costs of traveling around the world. Their story showed how travelers can make it around the world for less than $8,000 traveling as a backpacker and staying in hostels, or around $10,500 while staying in moderate hotels. These costs include air, hotel and some excursions, but exclude entertainment.

The trip they planned, “included 10 flights: New York>London >overland> Paris > Madrid >overland> Casablanca > Cairo > Johannesburg > Bangkok >overland> Singapore > Sydney> Auckland >overland> Queenstown >overland> Auckland > Los Angeles >overland> Las Vegas >New York.

The story details the trip from city to city and provides travel junkies with plenty to dream about.

Most simply dismiss the idea of extended travel as impossible. So many people dream of traveling around the world, but unfortunately most never make it past that dreaming stage. But by doing a quick scour of the internet, you will find that normal, everyday people do actually travel the world, so it is possible. But many fear the unknown and costs of such an adventure.

Budgeting is always a tricky thing when traveling, particularly when on an extended trip. A few wrong estimates could send your budget soaring, so it’s really important to do as much homework as possible.

… I’m going to estimate the cost of taking a 7-week trip around the world (don’t worry, you can actually pack a few bags). … it’s important to know that much of a travel writer’s time spent on the road is spent, well, writing and working. So while a re-creation of his trip and itinerary will be as accurate as possible…

Airlines face an acute shortage of pilots

While not a new issue, the looming pilot shortage received more attention during the past week with the release of a story by the Wall Street Journal heralding the possibility of searching for new pilots.

Estimates differ on the problem’s magnitude. Airlines for America, a trade group of the largest carriers that collectively employ 50,800 pilots now, cites a study by the University of North Dakota’s aviation department that indicates major airlines will need to hire 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace departures and cover expansion.

Mr. Darby’s [a consultant on pilot-hiring trends] firm calculates that all U.S. airlines, including cargo, charter and regional carriers, together employ nearly 96,000 pilots, and will need to find more than 65,000 over the next eight years.

In the past eight years, not quite 36,000 pilots have passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s highest test, the Air Transport Pilot exam, which all pilots would have to pass under the congressionally imposed rules.

For passengers, the biggest impact is expected to be at smaller, regional carriers. They have traditionally been a training ground feeding pilots to the bigger airlines, which are expected to step up their poaching.

  • Anonymous

    Re: Shortage of Pilots. One solution is end the wars and when all our military pilots come home they can work for commercial airlines. Peace.

  • AKFlyer

    As the wife of an ATP pilot who got his training as a USMC pilot, I can tell you that there are not enough military pilots these days to fill the gap. There will be even fewer in the future due to the transition from fighters to drones. The reason the shortage is starting to be felt is that Congress extended the mandatory retirement age for ATP licensed pilots from 60 to 65 back in 2007. The cohort that did not have to retire over the past five years is now being eliminated. Too bad airline management still views pilots as expendable tools to be exploited and abused every chance they get.

  • Anonymous

    Following 9-11, the US airlines furloughed over 3000 pilots. 1100 have been called back since then. 1900 are either working for foreign flag carriers, retired or still looking for work. Part of the problem is that the airlines, are looking for pilots who will work for peanuts. As an example, a pilot starting at a regional airline will make about $20,000 annually after spending $100,000 to get the licenses and certificates necessary to hold down the job. It is similar to the software companies saying that they can’t find enough programmers so they have to either import programmers or outsource the jobs. The reality is that there are plenty of people ready, willing and able to do the job, provided that the pay is worth their time.