Thailand’s long awaited succession

Thailand’s royal succession was finally completed on 1 December

The Kingdom has a new King after His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn on Thursday accepted an invitation to ascend the throne from the National Legislative Assembly president.

The new King was formally named His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

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Although there has been a seven week delay the date of the succession has been back-dated (only in Thailand) to the date of King Bhumibol’s death.

Here is the Economist’s commentary on the succession.

Thailand has a new king – Economist

“For two centuries a hoary prophecy held that Thailand’s Chakri dynasty would produce no more than nine kings. That curse was lifted in Bangkok on December 1st, when authorities formally proclaimed that Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn had become King Rama X.

The televised announcement ended an odd interregnum following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 13th. That evening the government reported that the prince had chosen to delay taking the throne, to allow more time to grieve. This breached the palace’s own rules and surprised the junta, igniting fears among outsiders that the succession was being contested behind the scenes. The high-living prince is unpopular among Thais and loathed by the elites, many of whom would have preferred his younger sister, Princess Sirindhorn, as monarch.

As it turns out, the seven-week hiatus may have slightly improved King Vajiralongkorn’s standing among Thai royalists. At least some of them have accepted his foot-dragging as a mark of respect for his late father. He has managed to look regal at a series of processions and ceremonies (unlike in July, when paparazzi spotted him at a German airport sporting a too-small vest that revealed lurid temporary tattoos). Censors have embarked on a fresh effort to block local and foreign websites that carry criticism of him, a grave crime under Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws.

The assumption for now is that the new king—whose powers are only loosely defined by law—will continue to spend much of his time in Germany, near Munich, where he maintains a court of around 200 people and to which he has retreated several times in the weeks since his father’s death. Such an arrangement might suit the junta, which would prefer him not to meddle bluntly in the country’s politics. At some point the appointment of a new Privy Council will give observers a better indication of how actively King Vajiralongkorn intends to reign. So might a soon-expected reshuffle at the Crown Property Bureau, an institution which manages the royal family’s investments and which is thought to command more than $50bn.

Thailand is still only at the start of a long period of national mourning, which will continue until King Bhumibol’s cremation next October. Officials are planning an ornate pyre on a parade ground in the capital, topped by a 50-metre spire. King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation ceremony will follow, perhaps in 2018. Having insisted that all this will not impede a general election scheduled for the end of next year—the first since a coup two-and-a-half years ago—members of the junta are now hinting that the vote may get pushed back.

The only certainty is that Thailand’s leaders will continue to rely heavily on the late king’s prestige. Since his death his portraits have multiplied around the capital. Officials say his birthday, December 5th, will remain a public holiday; this year’s celebrations will include the auspicious assembly of 999 monks. Glorifying King Bhumibol has helped Bangkok’s elites hang on to a dusty political culture which reveres rank, rewards status and devalues electoral democracy. They will not want to let the succession break the spell.”

Qatar Airways – the Middle East’s boom airline?

While Emirates Airline appears to be in a period of consolidation and cost-cutting Qatar Airways continues to forge ahead with new route announcements from its new hub airport in Doha.

The new airport has been a massive boost for Qatar Airways as transfers that used to involve long bus rides and over-crowding in an inadequate terminal are now through a super-modern terminal building.

Earlier today Qatar announced eight more destinations for 2017-18, in addition to seven previously announced new cities for a total of 15 new destinations.

Joining the Qatar Airways’ route network are: Canberra (recently served by Singapore Airways), the airline’s fifth destination in Australia; Dublin, Ireland; Las Vegas, the airline’s 11th destination in the United States; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Medan, Kualanamu International Airport, the airline’s third destination in Indonesia; and Tabuk and Yanbu, the 9th and 10th destinations in Saudi Arabia.

These newly-announced destinations join the already-announced list of new destinations to start in 2017 including Auckland, Sarajevo, Skopje, Libreville, Nice, Chiang Mai, and Douala, the airline said in a statement.

It might be worth noting here that Chiang Mai was originally announced as a December 2016 start and this has quietly been dropped to 2017.

Qatar Airways will begin service to Krabi, its third destination in Thailand, on December 6 and service returns to the Seychelles on December 12.

Las Vegas joins US destinations of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, LA, Miami, New York (JFK), Philadelphia and Washington.

Dublin is an interesting choice – with Emirates (2xdaily) and Etihad (daily) already flying there. Given that almost all the traffic is transit traffic through the ME hubs is there really enough demand out of Dublin for approx 1,500 seats a day. There will be a(nother) price war and that cannot be good for yields on any of the carriers.

Las Vegas leaves Phoenix for Emirates – widely thought to be the next destination for the Dubai carrier.


The fall of the American empire

Empires have risen and fallen throughout history.

The Greeks, Romans, British, Spanish, Portugese, Japanese, Russians (Soviet Union) – have all built empires.

They have all been rich nations using their wealth to become early proponents of globalization. The real difference was that their globalization was not based upon trade between nations for mutual benefit but based upon complete control of nations that were colonised, controlled and managed for the good of the ruling nation.

The Japanese empire ended the day that the USA dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  The American empire arguably started that day. The USA became the dominant force in Asia and had become the leading force in NATO. The US went as far as to occupy a number of countries including Germany, Japan and the Philippines.

The British Empire was in terminal post-war decline. The USA had saved the world from Nazi-ism and from a cruel Japanese domination of Asia.

But the US empire died in November 2016 with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the USA.

A man and a regime that will be tested from day one. In North Korea, Russia, China and others there will be whole departments already planning aggressive geopolitical and trade action to challenge America’s new administration. And the only likely reaction appears to be a Trump twitter-storm. All noise. But I do not see a coherent foreign and defence policy. I see a nation looking in, building walls and protectionism; not a nation that will seek to provide a moral compass for the rest of the world.

Global threat is back. Russia, led by the strongman Putin, has taken a lead role in the Middle East because other world powers and influencers have walked away. Russian influence will then extend to the FSU states and to de-stabilizing Europe and undermining the NATO alliance.

China, led by the strongman Xi Jinping, will dominate Asia and increasingly the world economy. Japan will be forced to look to China as a difficult best friend as America walks away from its Asian allies. Korea similarly. An emboldened North Korea could see the next four years as an opportunity.

Mr Obama’s legacy is in shreds. Presidential decrees will simply be torn up. Presidential reason replaced by presidential chaos.

As Edward Luce wrote today in the FT, Obama is a fundamentally decent leader who has strived to make the case for international co-operation to a world that was not really listening. “Mr Obama came bearing hope. He leaves warning against fear.”

I was on an airplane flying to Los Angeles a week before the election. The nice woman sitting at the window was born in California from a Pakistani family who she had just flown home to visit. She is a surgeon; specialising (if my memory is right in liver and kidney treatments). SIngle, mid-thirties, smart, articulate. Exactly the sort of remarkable success story that the USA should be proud of.

And she was fearful of what a Trump presidency would mean for her, her profession, her nation and her family’s home country.

Where would you live to escape this world I asked. Belize she said; as soon as she could afford to! She may well be right.

Goodbye to Barack Obama’s World – FT.

Bye bye Fidel

Havana in about 1993

Fidel Castro has died. A man who took the word to the very brink of nuclear war and left his nation largely impoverished. The last leader of the cold war years of the 1960s.

While he has been praised by many, the Cuban people that have exiled themselves in Miami are celebrating. A good indication of the oppression suffered by so many under Castro’s dictatorship.

Late on the evening of November 25th in Havana, Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, announced that his elder brother, Fidel, “commander-in-chief- of the Cuban revolution”, had died at the age of 90.

Castro’s death will be marked by nine days of official mourning in Cuba.

His admirers praise how he led Cuba in defying the United States for decades. He put Cuba on the world stage. He lived through ten American Presidents. He survived numerous assassination attempts by the Americans.

There were genuine achievements in health care and education, but his communist rule impoverished the island and deprived generations of Cubans of freedoms and opportunities.

Castro had stepped down from Cuba’s presidency when he was taken ill in 2006. Since then Raúl Castro has cautiously begun to reform the island’s limited economy.

But in his last years Fidel Castro made no secret of his distaste of the rapprochement with the United States and Mr Obama’s visit to Cuba in March.

Fidel’s departure removes the biggest single obstacle to change in Cuba. With the decline of the Soviet Union and of its support for Cuba the economy struggled in the 1990s supported by the growth of tourism, from everywhere except the USA.

More recently the economy was propped up by subsidies from Venezuela, mainly in the form of near-free oil. With the collapse of Venezuela’s economy, that aid has been cut.

Castro’s departure may be the start of a more open debate in Cuba about the island’s future. That would be welcome.

For some more reading here is the Miami Herald obituary:

Fidel Castro is dead


The Economist on the future of the A380

The Economist has shared its thoughts on the future of the Airbus A380 in this article. See below.

The issue for Emirates is that its own growth and success is so closely tied to this airplane. Dubai International Airport has no room for new flights at peak times. The only way to add capacity has been to upgrade flights to the double decker aircraft. This will remain the case until Emirates can eventually move to the new airport at DWC; but that will not happen until 2025 at the earliest.

For popular holiday routes or for flights to airports with capacity constraints the A380 serves Emirates well. Heathrow, Bangkok, Sydney, New York, Toronto. There are also routes that Emirates would like to serve with A380s into China and India where EK has to live with inter-government rights-restrictions.

But the issue is where can Emirates profitably fly the rest of its fleet of high capacity planes. We may well see a decision to convert a part of the remaining A380 order into lower capacity twin engined A350s. That would be the end of the A380.

The Economist article:

Three years ago Emirates rescued the A380 aeroplane. Its own problems now cast doubt on the super-jumbo’s future

At the world’s major airports, plane-spotters often spend days waiting for the world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, to make an appearance. The nerds at Dubai International Airport are spoilt for choice. It is home to Emirates, an airline that owns 86 of the monster aircraft, almost half of the global A380 fleet. These planes have propelled Emirates from insignificance a decade ago to its position as the world’s biggest carrier (measured by international passenger mileage in 2015). Now the airline has hit a rough patch. That is bad news for Airbus, the European aerospace and defence giant which makes the A380, and for the plane itself.

Demand once seemed insatiable for flights through Emirates’ hub in Dubai, which is known in the industry as a “super-connector” airport. Now its location helps explain the airline’s difficulties as well as its spectacular past growth, says its president, Sir Tim Clark. When he helped set up the airline in 1985, he says, Dubai was “an enchanting Arab village” that generated little air traffic. Instead of filling up the planes with locals, his strategy was to use its position halfway between Asia and Europe to connect flights between cities that lacked obvious links, such as Cairo and Shanghai or Moscow and Cape Town.

Connecting these “strange city pairs”, as he puts it, led to soaring passenger numbers. A string of purchases of A380s, starting in 2008, helped traffic to more than double to 51m in 2015. Good airport facilities and access to cheap labour (even expatriate pilots are inexpensive in Dubai because of low taxes) contributed to profits as well: the airline has the lowest costs of any long-haul carrier in the world.

But over the past year or so problems have mounted. Low oil prices have hit the economies of many of Dubai’s neighbours, reducing regional passenger traffic. Terrorist attacks in cities and airports in Europe and the Middle East have dampened tourism activity generally.

Although Dubai itself is safe, conflict in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as Turkey’s attempted military coup in July, are prompting passengers to choose other connecting cities. Currency volatility has also meant abrupt drops in revenue on some routes. “We used to have one of these business-damaging events once a year but now we have them more than once a month,” groans Sir Tim. In the year to March, Emirates made a record $1.9bn in profits, but since April its earnings have tumbled by 75%. Weak demand has forced it to slash its fares to keep planes full.

Emirates can take some solace from the fact that its super-connector rivals in the Middle East—Etihad of Abu Dhabi, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines—are also hurting. Turkish Airlines has had to suspend flights on 22 routes and mothball 30 planes. Industry analysts reckon the airline will this year suffer its first annual loss for a decade. Qatar and Etihad may also end up in the red.

Tricky geopolitics is nothing new for Emirates, which was founded during the Iran-Iraq war, argues Sir Tim. Dubai is trying to boost its own tourism industry, which should help replace some of the connecting passengers the airline is losing. No one doubts that it will pull through.

Emirates’ appetite for the A380 is a different story. That may dwindle more quickly than Airbus had anticipated. On December 2nd the first planes in a new batch of super-jumbos are due to arrive in Dubai. In total, Emirates has a further 56 A380s on order: 31 are to be delivered between now and 2019, with another 25 due to arrive in the 2020s to replace older ones nearing retirement. Emirates rescued the A380 programme with its last big order in 2013. The airline had wanted to buy another 200 A380s equipped with more fuel-efficient engines. But in current conditions Sir Tim says there is little chance of his airline making another large order anytime soon.

Airbus has orders for only another 18 super-jumbos from other airlines that are likely to be delivered and paid for, according to Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group, a consultancy in Virginia. The manufacturer has already cut planned production, but may still run out of customers for even this diminished number.

So Airbus is on the hunt for new buyers in China and Japan, places where runways are most congested and the need for larger planes is most acute (the firm originally gave the A380 its name because eight is considered lucky in some Asian countries). Chinese airlines have only bought five so far but the hope is they might buy more now that the country’s aviation regulator, a noted super-jumbo sceptic, retired earlier this year. If they are not willing to step up, as Emirates once did, plane-spotters will have even more reason to cherish their sightings of the A380.

Macy’s thanksgiving parade – once is enough

So there we were – gathered in New York. Tai, Alex and I. It is Thanksgiving Day and there really is only one thing to do – head for the Macy’s thanksgiving parade with 3 million other people.

Annually for ninety years there has been a parade of floats, marching bands and minor celebrities in New York on this day.

Nowadays the route runs from Central Park and down 6th Avenue to Macys at 34th Street. The highlight (such as it is) are a couple of dozen massive floating balloons mainly representing cartoon characters or American icons (cough, cough) such as Ronald McDonald.

But some of these balloons appear to be held together by band-aid and tape. They may be passed their best.

There is a massive security presence. And a very low key atmosphere. The crowds are lined deep all along 6th Avenue with many people trying to watch from the side streets. BUt it was a strangely muted crowd.

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But the marching bands were barely audible. And almost invisible unless you had a front row view (and had been waiting since around 7am!). The atmosphere was very muted.

Perhaps the saddest sight was the garbage left behind. There are bins. Use them or take your garbage home. The people New Yorkers should be celebrating at Thanksgiving are their garbage collectors.

Thanksgiving is a big deal in the USA. But it has become more an occasion for shopping gluttony than for traditional thanksgiving. Macy’s opened in the afternoon and was to stay open all night and through so-called Black Friday.

Once in a lifetime. Done. But much though I live New York I will be happy to miss Thanksgiving.


Blue Rodeo bring 1,000 Arms to New York.

City Winery near the Village in Manhattan. A full house packed in seated at small tables.

Restricted views anywhere to the left and right of the stage. So while we could hear Mike Boguski we could not see him.

As in Nashville the show opened with Devin Cuddy. The same set as before.

And then Blue Rodeo. By the end of the opener, Heart Like Mine, there was already more energy than at Nashville. More energy from the band and from the audience. Tonight the band looked like they were having fun….and it made for a much better concert with more chat to the audience.

But it is still strange watching the show while working through a decent Shiraz. And there was no room to push back our chairs and stand up to sing along.

The set list – I reckon that was eight songs off the new album. And it felt like a longer set than Nashville. Though I suspect both were 17 songs in total.

One of the objectives of the new album was to have the band singing together more – more emphasis on harmonies rather than individual songs from Cuddy and Keelor. And it shows it the choice of songs, both the new material and the older songs.

Heart Like Mine
Hard to Remember
What Am I doing here
One more night
Jimmy Fall Down
Long Hard Life
I can’t hide this anymore
Mascara Tears
1,000 Arms
Dust to Gold
You’re everywhere
5 Days in May

Encore –

Head over heels
Hasn’t hit me yet

Nice evening finishing with a fine audience sing-along to Hasn’t Hit me Yet. Tai was tired. She had flown in from Dubai in the morning. “Are they finished yet?” she would ask as her eyes closed! But I am happy she was there.









Blue Rodeo cruise through Nashville

Sadly I cannot think of a better headline. And sometimes, even with my favorite people, you have to be honest. This was a strange concert in a strange venue.

The location, City WInery, Nashville, is basically a posh wine bar and restaurant. Blue Rodeo became a cabaret act for the evening; singing while people sat at tables in front of the stage and ate posh food and drank expensive alcohol.

The acoustics and sight lines are fine.

Waiters serve food and drink throughout the show. They are unobtrusive but still noticeable. There were people drinking coffee. At a Blue Rodeo concert!

OK; we are all getting older. This was not a young crowd. And I guess we are more affluent than in the days of the Horseshoe Tavern; but Blue Rodeo concerts are fun when the band are having fun. When people are standing, singing along, dancing. When there is some interaction between the audience and the band.

This just felt like a “going through the motions concert”.

Devin Cuddy opened the evening with Mike Tuyp, on guitar. They were joined by Blue Rodeo’s Bazil Donovan and Glen Milchem. Devin’s voice is fine; I am just not sure he knows what style of music he wants to sing. It was a smorgasbord.

Blue Rodeo’s playlist was:

Heart Like Mine
Hard to Remember*
What am I doing here
Jimmy Fall Down*
Long Hard Life* (I like this song!)
Head Over Heels
Cant’ Hide this Anymore*
1,000 Arms*
You’re Everywhere
5 Days in May
Lost Together
Hasnt Hit Me Yet

Songs with * are from the new 1,000 Arms album.

That’s it. It was good. But not memorable. That said I would probably pay just to hear Mike Boguski play scales! Let loose in his solos he is formidable.

On to New York!


EK521 – a three year investigation?

Honestly this is not good enough. The investigation into the Emirates jet crash landing at Dubai International on Aug. 3 will take two to three years to complete, the director general of the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said today.

It is not a complex investigation.

The passengers and crew all survived.

The black boxes were quickly recovered.

The plane crashed on landing at its home airport; it did not drop out of the sky; it did not disappear into the Indian Ocean.

All 300 passengers and crew safely evacuated the jet but a firefighter died tackling flames after the Boeing 777-300, arriving from India, caught fire after skidding along the Dubai airport runway on its fuselage.

In a preliminary report released on Sept. 6, the federal aviation authority said the pilot of flight EK521 tried to abort the landing after the plane’s main wheels had already touched down.

Director General Saif Mohammed al-Suwaidi told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai that the investigation would be completed by 2019 and the GCAA was likely to introduce “some precaution measures” before then. He did not say what those measures would be.

A two- to three-year timeframe “to complete an investigation report of this nature is not unusual”, an Emirates spokeswoman told Reuters.

Nonsense – the NTSB investigation into the Asiana 214 crash at SFO saw the final report released within one year of the crash – and that was a similar crash on landing made more complex by the serious injuries  to passengers and the involvement of a foreign airline.

BA38 (January 2008) was another more complex investigation; The UK Department for Transport’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) investigated the accident, with the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Boeing and Rolls-Royce also participating.

This investigation did take two years to complete The AAIB published its final report on 9 February 2010.

However, a number of preliminary reports and eighteen safety recommendations were issued during the course of the investigation.

Al-Suwaidi also said he expected the Russian-led investigation into the March 19 flydubai crash in southern Russia to take “another two years.”

Also a more complex and fatal incident. All 62 passengers and crew on board were killed in the crash.

The accident investigators have a responsibility to the traveling public to thoroughly investigate the accident and to provide a detailed commentary on why the airplane crashed and the causal factors.

The Dubai based airlines suffered two hull loss crashes in just five months. Both in attempted airport go-around maneuvers; one at higher altitude, one on landing.

A three year silence is really not good enough and does not reassure the flying public that any necessary corrective action is being taken.


Statistical games at DWC

In a press release today Dubai airports trumpeted that the airport “is now gaining ground in the region as a popular airport for passengers with traffic surging 161 per cent in the third quarter.”

Surge. 161%. Sounds like a big deal.

That depends where you star. So let’s have a look at this:

“DWC welcomed 191,950 passengers during Q3, a sharp increase of 161 per cent compared to 73,466 passengers recorded during the corresponding period in 2015.”

There are 92 days in Q3. So just 2,086 passengers a day. Assume an even spread between arrivals and departures and that is just over 1,000 people a day leaving or arriving.

flydubai operates 35 weekly flights to five destinations from DWC…ie seven flights a day, operating to Amman, Beirut, Doha, Kathmandu and Kuwait.

Qatar Airways and Wizz Air are the other two other carriers carrying out scheduled passenger operations from DWC. Qatar Airways operates four flights a day from Doha. Wizz Air does not operate daily.

So about 70 departures and 70 arrivals each week for 140 aircraft movements; 20 a day. With just 2,086 passengers a day that suggests loads of about 100 on each flight. Not great; The 737s and A320s would each hold 170+ passengers.

Commenting on the results, Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, said, “we are very happy with the way passenger traffic has been growing at DWC….by the end of next year the airport will see tremendous growth as it becomes the new home for flydubai. The project to expand the annual capacity of the passenger terminal at DWC from 5 million to 26 million passengers in underway and on track to be completed by the third quarter of 2017.”

Dubai Airports will need to do something dramatic with DWC airport access before the end of 2017; which is currently served by an hourly bus connection to the metro or by expensive taxis.

For passengers that want to transfer from flydubai to Emirates the transfer will be unpleasant