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Peanuts, Blimps, Corpses and Queens

Sounds like the plot for an Agatha Christie novel, but it’s not. It’s our call on the latest aviation trivia. Enjoy.

  Phuket City

October 2010

Forget the Icelandic volcano spewing ash and exposing the real or invented vulnerability of European aviation to cataclysmic eruptions forget biofuels and how they could save the industry in the long term forget the explosion of budget carriers throughout Asia, forget even the impending introduction of the Boeing B787 Dreamliner. Instead let's take a look at some of the more unusual, even bizarre, events which have made the aviation headlines in 2010.

First, enter the humble peanut. The US Department of Transportation, in its infinite wisdom, recently announced that it was banning this salty snack on commercial flights under its control, because of the allergic reaction to peanuts which some people experience. The announcement provoked a furious response (nut rage?) from the American public, who are apparently addicted to the small briny nibble, which precedes the first 'free' drink on board. It's good to know that when it really matters the great United States 'vox populi' can still make itself heard.

Okay, so the argument went, there's a section of the public which suffer from the allergy and they must lead a miserable, deprived existence, but it's hard to believe that they'd be unaware of the problem by the time they board their first aeroplane. I mean, Americans put peanuts in everything from sundaes to, um, peanut butter. For goodness sake, lots of people are lactose intolerant - so no more milk on planes? Others are caffeine sensitive - no more coffee? Where do you stop? In the face of all this furore, the DOT hastily backtracked, and the aerial peanut survived to delight again.

You might have missed the strange case of a stowaway's body found in the landing gear of an Airbus 320 after it landed at Riyadh's King Khaled International Airport in Saudi Arabia? The man apparently managed to mount the wheel strut in Beirut without the control tower noticing. Passengers later reported seeing a man in a baseball cap and a backpack dashing toward the plane as it taxied. Sadly, he never lived to tell the tale. However, cases of stowaways hitching rides on aircraft undercarriages are not uncommon - and some have, miraculously, survived.

For those who prefer a more comfortable ride there's the new Aircruise, a luxurious airship conceived as a flying hotel, which will transport travellers in leisurely style and splendour. The airship's designer says it's aimed at people wanting a 'more serene transport experience looking for a reflective journey'. Nick Talbot, for it is he, also designed the world's first private spaceship, Virgin Galactic.

The plane will carry up to 100 passengers and offers an ultra-modern cocktail bar and guest lounge, a penthouse, four duplex apartments and several smaller apartments. Personally I'd go for it.

Then there's solar-powered flight. In Switzerland, in early July, an experimental solar-powered aircraft took off on an historic journey. The single-seater plane has a giant airliner-sized wingspan (at 63 metres, equivalent to that of an Airbus A340), and relies on 12,000 solar cells and almost half a ton of batteries for motive power. The aircraft flew 8,500 metres before making a slow nighttime descent. The seven-year project has the objective ultimately of fl ying around the world on solar energy.

Finally, there was a case of good old-fashioned air rage. A German football fan was given a suspended jail term for shoving airline cabin crew after his flight was denied landing permission in Durban, South Africa. The man was among hundreds of fans who missed the Germany-Spain semi-final match because of landing problems at King Shak International Airport in Durban. Apparently the man had pushed the crew, screamed, sworn and refused repeated commands to return to his seat normal fan behaviour in the UK.

Air rage is still quite common on commercial flights - usually accompanied by too much alcohol, but this is probably a first in the World Cup annals. In declining to award a custodial sentence the sympathetic judge said, "I'm not going to add to your burden."

Then, did you catch the one about the chubby queen of a small Pacific Island nation who got stuck in the aircraft toilet - a right royal jam? Remember, you heard it here first.

By Alastair Carthew, a Phuket based writer and communications advisor.
Tel +66 (0)76 317929
Email alastaircarthew@gmail.com

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