Friday, 18 December 2009

Its got to be good if its British..!

British Airways – how much do you love em..? More than British Gas or British Telecom? Hard to say, its so close you couldn't get someone else’s credit card between them! I know British Airways from way back – when they were masquerading as BOAC, which in case you’ve forgotten, means ‘Better On A Camel’ Often faster anyway - and probably just as comfortable, if you were a poor bloody passenger!.

So the cabin staff called a strike to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas and with the usual familiar mixture of aggression and stupidity, got it so wrong that it was declared legal. But this lethal writ is nothing new - it's run for a long time and it’s not only the unionised employees, the management has, step by crunching step, perfectly complimented them and until Virgin came along they really were British Aviation – the other airlines scavenging on the meagre extras BOAC didn’t care for. Remember when poor old Freddy Laker took them head on? They got rid of him through a mixture of dirty (and criminal) tricks and political intrigue – but Freddy lived long enough to get his own back advising Branson when Virgin Atlantic finally and successfully took them on.

I knew all this first hand as I flew for ten years from the mid sixties as an airline navigator for one of the pilot fish feeding of the scraps from BOAC’s table. We prospered (for a while) on the routes BOAC either didn’t want or couldn’t make pay (South America for example).

And this wasn't all, they also very nearly destroyed the British aircraft builders. Two examples – when the VC10 was on the drawing board, they told Vickers that if their spec was not accepted they wouldn’t buy any - in other words, build it as we want it or you won’t build it at all. The VC10 was a lovely aircraft to fly but because BOAC had insisted on a spec so insanely inappropriate that the VC10 only came into its own when operating out of about three airports in the entire globe – Abbass Ababa, Nairobi and Mexico City because they'd insisted on an optimum performance summed up by the three H’s – at their best when they were High, Hot and Heavy. The downside of this was that at sea level and at normal temperature – at Heathrow, New York, Paris, Los Angles and just about every other airport on the planet, it was practically out of the game, crazily over powered and overweight.

Now Abbass Ababa would usually have about half a dozen joining passengers and Nairobi a few more while at Mexico City they all flew on Mexican airlines anyway so BOAC and the two other airlines that bought the VC10 (my airline (BUA) and East African Airways had about another eight VC10s between us) - and so my job as a navigator was to bend the rules and fake the paperwork to add a thousand miles to the VC10s pitiful range to bring them back into contention with the Boing 707 and the 1011s.

I remember a trip once to Buenos Aires from Freetown where we legally had not enough fuel to continue. We shut an engine down to save fuel (didn’t make any difference, they were insanely over powered) and ignoring the last enroute alternate airfield, went visual, calling the field at BA a hundred miles out and landed with just enough fuel to get on to the stand.

BEA, the local arm of BOAC, insisted on a similar murderously stupid spec with an aircraft called the Trident – which then turned out to be about the most dangerous passenger aircraft flying with a succession of crashes to prove it. BEA had come up with a spec that gave the Trident so little lift that both take off and landing speeds had to be dangerously excessive to get it in the air and keep it there.

Again Hawker Siddeley, which built the Trident, couldn’t sell her to anyone except the Communist Chinese and even here they did their bit for democracy when one of the junta running China, getting on the wrong side of Mao, decided to take it on his toes. He commandeered a Trident and before his ex friends could even shoot it down, it crashed and did the job for them...

And what do we get when monopolies like British Airway, British Telecom and British Gas are dragged screaming into the light? Revealed are huge organisations ostensibly with some commercial raison d’être (like the BBC, the last member of this Gang of Four) but actually a huge self serving morass of stolid time servers and brown nosers whose only purpose is to stay in place, snouts to the trough – and who, by the same deadly dialectic, eliminate anyone of talent, independence or promise, leaving rank up on rank rank of fat slothful monkeys bent on eternal self service...

These organisations are all relics of structures that once seemed to offer answers at the time but instead invite inevitable abuses – the abuses when groups of self selecting, talentless people are allowed to conspire against the common weal (another take on the corruption power).

They have the same moral outlook as our darling bankers now rewarding themselves lavishly for spectacular failure - what for Christ sake does the word bonus mean...but that's another day!

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