Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Engineers: U.S. infrastructure a 'D'

American Society of Civil Engineers says under-funding has caused the nation's infrastructure to crumble - and stimulus won't do enough.

By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- The nation's roads, bridges, power grid, water supply, schools and transit systems are all in a state of disrepair due to under-funding - and the proposed stimulus plan will not go far enough to solve the problem, according to a report released Wednesday.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, which represents 146,000 engineers across the country and grades the nation's infrastructure every four years, assigned a "D" grade to the country's infrastructure. The group said the cost to repair crumbling public structures has risen to $2.2 trillion from $1.7 trillion in 2005.

"The nation's infrastructure crisis is endangering our future prosperity," ASCE President Wayne Klotz said at a press conference. "Crumbling infrastructure has a direct impact on our personal and economic health."

The group rated 15 infrastructure categories, none of which received a grader higher than "C+." Drinking water, inland waterways, levees, roads and wastewater facilities all received a "D-," the lowest grades on the 2009 report card.

Roads got a particularly poor grade, as Americans spend an estimated 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, which costs the economy about $78.2 billion a year, according to ASCE. Highway construction is set to receive $30 billion from the stimulus plan - the largest portion of infrastructure spending in the bill.

The national power grid, another key project in the stimulus plan, got a "D+." ASCE said public investment on the grid has not met rising demand for power and electric utility investment needs could rise to $1.5 trillion in 20 years. President Obama has proposed updating the existing structure to a new "smart" grid.

But even if the federal government passes its economic stimulus plan, ASCE still estimates that infrastructure will be under-funded by $1.1 trillion. State and federal spending will only amount to $903 billion in the next five years, according to the group's estimates, and stimulus spending is expected to be less than $100 billion.

The group said the stimulus program would amount to a good start, but the country "clearly still has a long way to go."

"By all accounts, infrastructure investment only represents a small percentage of the overall package," said Klotz. "Even with the stimulus package, there remains a still significant - some would say staggering - $1.1 trillion gap in funding."

Still, Klotz supported the bill, calling government's effort a historic level of leadership." He said that each billion dollars spent on infrastructure supports 35,000 jobs and is a key element of the economy's recovery efforts.

The report also presented several broad solutions to the problem, including increasing infrastructure investment on a state and federal level, promoting a culture of sustainability and developing plans for future public works programs.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Change of venue upsets bus company

View: CVLB should have announced plans to change departure locations at least a month before the festive season, the Jan 12th order came very late.

Friday January 23, 2009 By LESTER KONG - THESTAR

PETALING JAYA: The Chinese New Year rush home is about to start. However, a bus company which has sold millions of tickets is upset with a transport authority for issuing a last-minute directive that can potentially disrupt the smooth travel of the masses.

The Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board, in a Jan 12 directive, ordered all north-bound buses to depart from the Duta Terminal instead of the Puduraya Terminal in Kuala Lumpur.

Konsortium Transnasional Bhd executive director Tengku Hasmadi Tengku Hashim said the board should have informed bus companies of the venue change early.

He said his company started selling the tickets for the festive season two months ago with instructions for north-bound passengers to depart and arrive via the Puduraya Terminal.

Packed: Crowds gathering at the Puduraya Terminal in Kuala Lumpur Thursday to buy tickets or to begin their journey back to their hometowns.

In an immediate response, board chairman Datuk Markiman Kobiran said the directive had been in force for several years.

“Bus companies should know. Why kick up a fuss now?” he said.

He said the Duta Terminal was the designated one for north-bound destinations, the Putra Terminal (near the Putra World Trade Centre) for east-bound destinations and Puduraya for south-bound buses.

“There are even shuttles to ferry passengers among the three terminals,” he said.

Markiman added that he had ordered his officers to issue summonses to bus operators defying the directive.

Tengku Hasmadi said there was a slight confusion at Puduraya Terminal yesterday, when north-bound passengers were re-directed to Duta Terminal.

“Many were really upset. One was so angry, he kicked the counter and the clerk ran away. Tomorrow (Friday), I expect the situation to worsen,” Tengku Hasmadi told The Star.

He said tickets to the northern regions, the east coast and from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur were being sold out fast.

The company would be adding more tickets for the Singapore-KL route depending on demand; while there were still tickets available for the KL-Singapore journey.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Passengers report scare on earlier US Airways Flight 1549

VIEW: US Airways will have a major PR blow if previous claims of engine problem had already exists are true and relates to the same engine issue prior to the emergency landing on the Hudson on 15th Jan 2009

(CNN) -- Two days before US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River, passengers on the same route and same aircraft say they heard a series of loud bangs and the flight crew told them they could have to make an emergency landing, CNN has learned.

Steve Jeffrey of Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN he was flying in first class Tuesday when, about 20 minutes into the flight, "it sounded like the wing was just snapping off."

Crews successfully hoist the wreckage of US Airways Flight 1549 out of the water on Saturday.
Crews successfully hoist the wreckage of US Airways Flight 1549 out of the water on Saturday.

"The red lights started going on. A little pandemonium was going on," Jeffrey recalled.

He said the incident occurred over Newark, New Jersey, soon after the plane -- also flying as Flight 1549 -- had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York.

"It seemed so loud, like luggage was hitting the side but times a thousand. It startled everyone on the plane," Jeffrey said. "We started looking at each other. The stewardesses started running around. They made an announcement that 'everyone heard the noise, we're going to turn around and head back to LaGuardia and check out what happened.'

"I fly about 50 to 60 times per year, and I've never heard a noise so loud," he said. "It wasn't turbulence, it wasn't luggage bouncing around. It was just completely like the engine was thrown against the side of the plane. It just -- it didn't shake the plane but it shook you out of the seat when you're drifting off, it really woke you up. And when it happened again, everyone just started looking at each other and there was a quiet murmuring around the plane, and you could feel the tension rising just in looking.

"I remember turning to my [business] partner and saying, 'I hope you got everything in order back home, life insurance and everything, because that didn't sound good.' "

Jeffrey said he sent a text message to his wife about a "scary, scary noise on the plane. Doesn't sound right. They're flying back to LaGuardia to check it out. I'll call you when we land. I love you."

He added, "About 10 minutes later when we never made the turn, we kept going, that's when the pilot came on and explained -- I wish I could remember the words -- I remember him using air, compression and lock -- I'm not sure the right order, but he made it sound like the air didn't get to the engine and it stalled the engine out, which he said doesn't happen all the time but it's not abnormal."

Expert Aviation Consulting, an Indianapolis, Indiana, private consulting firm that includes commercial airline pilots on its staff, said the plane that landed in the Hudson was the same one as Flight 1549 from LaGuardia two days earlier. See images from the rescue in last week's crash »

"EAC confirms that US Airways ship number N106US flew on January 13, 2009, and January 15, 2009, with the same flight number of AWE 1549 from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas [International] Airport in North Carolina," Expert Aviation said in a statement to CNN.

The company said it checked with contacts in the aviation industry to confirm that it was the same plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, did not return calls regarding this matter Monday. It has released the tail number of the downed Airbus A-320, which is N106US.

The Federal Aviation Administration referred CNN to US Airways.

US Airways would not confirm that the Flight 1549 that took off January 13 was the same plane that splashed into the Hudson two days later.

Valerie Wunder, a US Airways spokeswoman, said: "US Air is working with the National Transportation Safety Board in this investigation." She would not comment on any other details, including Tuesday's flight, though she did confirm US Airways is looking into it.

Jeffrey told CNN that US Airways earlier Monday confirmed to him that the Tuesday incident occurred aboard the plane that crashed.

John Hodock, another passenger on the Tuesday flight, said in an e-mail to CNN: "About 20 minutes after take-off, the plane had a series of compressor stalls on the right engine. There were several very loud bangs and fire coming out of the engine. The pilot at first told us that we were going to make an emergency landing, but after about five minutes, continued the flight to Charlotte."

In an interview, Hodock said the pilot "got on the intercom and said they were going to have to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport. But then, only five to 10 minutes later, the pilot came back on and said it was a stalled compressor and they were going to continue to Charlotte."

A third passenger, who did not want her named used, also said she heard a "loud banging sound" on the right side of the plane. She said she heard the pilot say the "compressor for the engine was stalled" and they needed "to turn around and go back." However, she said, the problem was fixed and the flight continued without incident.

Pilots and aviation officials said that a compressor stall results from insufficient air getting into the engine and that multiple stalls could result in engine damage. However, the officials said, a momentary compressor stall may be less serious and could be corrected in flight by simply restarting the engine.

A bird strike could lead to a compressor stall, the officials said.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fuel hedging by airlines not of much help

Friday January 9, 2009 By FINTAN NG - THESTAR

Airlines need to shift concern from earnings to balance sheet as operating cash flow is affected

PETALING JAYA: Airlines’ jet fuel hedges last year will not do them much good as the global economic slump crimps demand for travel.

Yesterday, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said it had encountered paper losses of US$980mil from fuel hedging. The price of jet fuel has fallen by more than 70% in tandem with the price of crude oil, which peaked at US$147 per barrel in mid-July.

The International Air Transport Association said statistics pointed to a further 5% global air traffic contraction in November 2008, the third consecutive month of decline. The Asian region registered the worst drop at 10%, the fifth consecutive month of contraction.

According to AmResearch Sdn Bhd research head Benny Chew, airlines would need to shift their concern from earnings to their balance sheet as operating cash flow becomes affected.

“The load factor (passenger volume) is the key. It’s already down and with the bad macroeconomic picture in the coming quarters, operating cash flow will be affected,” he said.

Chew told StarBiz that things had turned from bad to worse in terms of load factor. “There’s going to be less travelling; retrenchments will mean less corporate travel,” he said.

Chew said airlines had got themselves some breathing space with the much lower price of oil but those that were highly leveraged would feel the impact of the weak demand for air travel.

“Lower oil price is not really that important a factor in such an environment. All it means is that the airlines have bought themselves more time because if oil were still above US$100, many would be in trouble or go bust,” he said.

In an e-mail reply, AirAsia Bhd deputy group chief executive officer Datuk Kamarudin Meranun said the airline was currently not hedged for all of its fuel consumption.

“We’ve either unwound or neutralised the impact of any remaining hedges. Our current strategy is to buy a fixed swap with a downward coverage. We are holding the view that oil price will still go down in the next few months,” he added.

Meanwhile, HwangDBS Vickers Research Sdn Bhd said load factors for Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia for the first nine months of 2009 were expected to remain low at 68% and 72% respectively.

However, it said, AirAsia “could benefit from the current environment as customers are increasingly shifting to cheaper flights.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Panel Recommends Federal Fuel Tax Increases

View: It's about time. Higher mpg in new vehicles are causing less revenue collected even though the load on roads remains the same.

1/5/2009 9:30:00 AM -- Transport Topics

A commission created by Congress plans to release a report this month recommending increases in the federal taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline, the Associated Press reported.

The National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing will recommend that Congress increase the diesel tax by 12 to 15 cents per gallon, AP said. It is currently 24.4 cents per gallon.

The panel will ask Congress to raise the gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon, 10 additional cents per gallon.

Both fuel taxes would be tied to inflation under the commission's plan, AP said.

Roads and bridges need to be built and repaired, commission members told AP, but as Americans drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles, revenue from fuel taxes is falling.

The commission will recommend that Congress move toward a system in which drivers are taxed according to how much they use roads, not how much fuel they purchase, AP said.

American Trucking Associations Chairman Charles "Shorty" Whittington told AP that Congress may disguise a fuel tax as a surcharge to curb climate change.

Traffic congestion costs the trucking industry 243 million truck hours and $7.8 billion per year, the commission said.