FAA probes Southwest calculations of baggage weight on jets
By The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 19
Federal officials have told Southwest Airlines to fix the way it calculates the weight of luggage loaded on flights after finding frequent mistakes during a yearlong investigation.
Southwest said Tuesday that it has made improvements in its methods for calculating the weight and balance of loads, and that it isn’t facing enforcement action.
The airline said that it voluntarily reported the issue to the Federal Aviation Administration last year.
The FAA investigation was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper said internal FAA documents showed that the airline made frequent mistakes in calculations and luggage-loading practices that could cause errors when pilots compute their plane’s takeoff weight.
Southwest told The Associated Press that ground workers manually count and record how many bags go on each plane. The airline uses FAA-approved average weights for bags and passengers, then adds the actual weight of fuel and freight to calculate each load. Southwest said it also builds in a safety margin.
The FAA found cases in which the bag load was more than 1,000 pounds heavier than paperwork indicated, the Journal reported.
Safety experts say pilots might respond incorrectly to an engine emergency if they had inaccurate information about the distribution of weight between front and rear cargo bays.
“It can be extremely critical,” Doug Moss, a retired United Airlines pilot, told the AP. “If the weight and balance is not calculated correctly, you could have a flight-control issue.”
Moss said pilots calculate the thrust and wing-flap settings for takeoff based on weight and other factors, and faulty data could lead pilots to put the thrust settings too low. That could be critical if an engine fails while the plane is still climbing, he said.
An FAA spokesman told the AP that the agency opened an investigation in February 2018. Since then, he said, the FAA directed the airline to develop a comprehensive fix to the methods and processes it uses to determine baggage weight.
Southwest, based in Dallas, asked the agency to close the investigation. The FAA said the agency won’t do so until regulators are satisfied that Southwest’s corrections are being applied consistently.
Southwest sought to downplay the investigation, saying that a so-called open letter of investigation is a common way for the FAA to discuss safety issues with an airline.
Since the investigation started, the airline’s publicity department said in a statement, “Southwest has implemented controls and enhanced procedures to address our weight and balance program concerns, and we’ve shared those measures with the FAA.”
Those changes include face-to-face verification of loading information between employees, controls on revising calculations before takeoff, new software and more training.
Southwest said it will begin scanning bags on the tarmac this year to improve accuracy. Other large U.S. airlines already use this technology. Southwest’s contract with bag handlers did not include a provision for using scanners until 2016. The airline then spent time evaluating technology and testing scanners at a few airports.
Southwest said all the changes it made “have enhanced our weight and balance program and resolved the issues that we originally reported to the FAA.”
Southwest, which carries more passengers within the United States than any airline, disputed an estimate cited in the Wall Street Journal article that one-third of its flights took off after faulty calculations of the weight of checked bags, but it declined to give a figure.
No passenger had died in an accident on Southwest until last April when a piece from a broken engine smashed into a window on the plane and a passenger was partially pulled through it. The accident led to stepped-up inspection of fan blades on certain engines used by Southwest and other carriers.
The airline, however, has been fined for safety violations. Notably, Southwest agreed in 2009 to pay $7.5 million to settle FAA allegations that it operated 46 planes without performing required inspections for possible cracks in the planes’ aluminum skin.
Greener Skies: How To Assuage Your Air Travel Guilt Have An Nice — And Environmentally Friendly — Flight
Kate Harveston February 19, 2019
Airplanes utilize a lot of fuel, rendering the term “green travel” a bit of an oxymoron. While it’s true that travel requires some fuel expenditure, jet-setters can take simple measures to decrease the environmental impact of their frequent flyer miles.
Any travel other than walking or biking increases our carbon footprint, but when everyone works together to choose more sustainable travel methods, the entire planet benefits. Follow these tips to prevent regular business trips from contributing to environmental catastrophe.
The Fewer Stops, the Better
Airplanes expend the most fuel during landing and takeoff, so choosing nonstop flights whenever possible helps to minimize the environmental impact of travel. While many marvel that it could take so much fuel to land a plane, industry professionals know the thin air higher in the atmosphere create less wind resistance, equating to reduced fuel consumption at cruising altitudes. Additionally, those with lengthy layovers often find themselves purchasing items like newspapers they wouldn’t ordinarily read to pass the time, creating extra waste.
Choose Airlines Carefully
Airplane architects understand the environmental impact of flying and have worked hard at designing more eco-friendly planes. Lighter planes require far less fuel, so opt for airlines that invest large amounts into improving fuel efficiency whenever possible. Researchers hope to someday power flight with bio-friendly fuels made from vegetable matter, but until they perfect this technique, consider an airlines’ commitment to sustainability when booking a flight.
Heavy suitcases decrease airplane fuel efficiency, as added weight requires more energy to propel. Decrease travel loads by taking advantage of hotel laundry services to wash and re-wear clothing instead of packing a separate outfit for each day.
Choose wardrobe options that do double-duty, such as a skirt that can be paired with a suit jacket during the day and dress up with some strappy heels for evenings on the town. Remember that travelers tend to fill every ounce of available luggage space with trinkets reminding them of their trip, so select the smallest suitcase as possible. The environment will thank you, not to mention your neck and back!
Donate to an Environmental Cause
Until flight evolves to the point where jet fuel emissions no longer cause environmental concerns, consider offsetting the impact of travel by donating to a charity devoted to preserving Earth’s natural resources. Many organizations host free tools on their websites to help world explorers estimate the carbon footprint of their journeys. Those with limited financial means can devote time to volunteering instead of donating.
Choose Souvenirs Carefully
Everyone loves bringing home mementos of their globe-trotting adventures, but particularly bulky, cumbersome objects may require separate shipping — as well as more jet fuel — to transport. Whenever possible, choose mementos that weigh comparatively little, such as jewelry, simple home decor items like wind chimes or lightweight clothes such as T-shirts.
While those traveling on business may need to sign in while in transit to check work-related emails, those traveling for leisure should embrace the opportunity to disconnect. Even lightweight electronics like Chromebooks use up battery power, so leaving gadgets powered on increases energy requirements. Additionally, immediately uploading vacation photos to social media rolls out the welcome mat for thieves, and no one wants their holiday interrupted by phone calls to their insurance company to file a claim!
Pack a Snack
Most people fail to think about how their first-class dinner service impacts the environment, but as airlines create tons of food waste annually, taking a hard pass on pushing half-eaten broccoli around a tray lessons flight-related rubbish. Those flying coach often find themselves purchasing substandard snacks that usually carry a hefty sticker price per value received. Once passing through security, stop by the airport food court or corner convenience mart to stock up on provisions. Better yet, eliminate packaging waste by buying snacks in bulk before phoning the airport shuttle and storing them in small, reusable containers.
While young people today grew up in an age of fluid restrictions on commercial aircraft, many older travelers fondly recall the days when flying the friendly skies didn’t involve forced dehydration. Always carry an empty reusable water bottle in a carry-on bag and fill it once clearing security. Travelers can save money and the planet all while avoiding the interminable wait for the flight attendant to reach their row for refreshment.
A Greener Travel Future
Engineering experts constantly seek new ways to reduce the environmental impact of flying. However, everyone should do their part to reduce the impact their jaunts have on our planet. By flying wisely now, we can create a greener world to trek around tomorrow.
E-The Environmental Magazine
A Project of EarthTalk Inc.
Saudi crown prince backs India’s fight against terrorism
By ASHOK SHARMA
Wednesday, February 20
NEW DELHI (AP) — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday offered intelligence sharing and other cooperation with India in fighting extremism and terrorism, as New Delhi tackled rising tensions with Pakistan following a suicide bombing last week on Indian paramilitary soldiers in disputed Kashmir.
The crown prince, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side, told reporters that he “shared India’s concern on terrorism” but did not make any reference to Pakistan.
Modi is under heavy pressure from his supporters to punish Pakistan. India has placed the blame for the bombing squarely on Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.
Modi in his remarks to reporters referred to the attack and said steps would be taken to punish the perpetrators and their supporters. He didn’t elaborate.
The crown prince said his visit will improve centuries-old ties between his country and India, which he said are “in our DNA.”
“Saudi Arabia and India share views on increasing cooperation in counterterrorism and tackling cybercrimes,” Modi said.
Modi also called for strong action for combating extremism so that the powers spreading violence and terror cannot mislead young people.
The two sides signed agreements on promoting investment, infrastructure, tourism, housing and communications. Their two-way trade totaled $27.5 billion last year.
The Saudi side also signed a framework agreement on the International Solar Alliance, a treaty-based international body for the promotion of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, according to India’s External Affairs Ministry. It was launched by India and France on the sidelines of the 2015 Paris climate conference.
The agreement aims to create credit mechanisms, crowd funding and sharing of technology to promote solar energy in 121 countries associated with the treaty.
Prince Mohammed said he saw a potential for $100 billion in investments in energy, agriculture, technology, culture and social services and said the two countries would evolve a strategy for mutual gain. He said Saudi Arabia had invested $44 billion in India since 2016.
Last year, Saudi Aramco in partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. signed an agreement with Indian oil companies to jointly build an integrated refinery and petrochemical project at Ratnagiri in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.
The crown prince’s trip to India comes five months after he came under intense pressure following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. In keeping with a long-standing policy of not commenting on countries’ internal affairs, India declined to take a position on the Washington Post columnist’s killing by suspected Saudi agents.
The crown prince arrived in India on Tuesday night after visiting cash-strapped Pakistan, which voiced support for him amid the international outcry over Khashoggi’s killing. The Saudi delegation signed $20 billion in investment deals and vowed to free thousands of Pakistani prisoners in Saudi custody.
India describes Saudi Arabia as a “key pillar” of its energy security. It provides about 17 percent of India’s crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas.
The relationship is likely to become more significant as a deadline nears for India to comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, one of India’s main oil providers.
Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.
Prince Mohammed was to leave New Delhi later Wednesday and make a two-day visit to China starting Thursday.
Hundreds of genes linked to blindness could lead to new therapies
February 20, 2019
Author: Ala Moshiri, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, University of California, Davis
Disclosure statement: Ala Moshiri does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Inherited diseases of the eye account for at least 2 million cases of blindness worldwide. A few hundred genes that cause eye disease have been identified, but in many cases the cause is unknown because not all eye disease genes have been identified.
As a result, genetic testing is only able to determine the mutation responsible for blindness in only 50 to 75 percent of blind children and young adults.
As an eye doctor and researcher, I am frustrated at the lack of treatments for my patients with genetic forms of blindness such as retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease and age-related macular degeneration. To address this problem, my lab launched a study of genes required for normal eye formation and function. We discovered 347 genes that, if mutated, cause blindness in laboratory mice. Of these, 261 had never been linked to vision loss before our study, which we published recently in the journal Communications Biology.
Knockout mice help identify more blindness genes
Researchers first identified eye disease genes in the late 1980s by studying families in the United States with inherited forms of retinitis pigmentosa, a disease of retinal cells called rod photoreceptors in children and young adults, which leads to eventual blindness. Since then, more and more families have been studied to add to the list of blinding mutations in people.
To figure out which genes cause blindness, we took advantage of something called knockout technology. Researchers engineer a knockout mouse by deleting both copies of any single gene. This effectively deletes it from the mouse’s genome. Abnormalities result, and they provide clues as to the function of the “knocked out” gene. The mouse genome is similar to that of humans and contains roughly 22,000-25,000 genes. So far, scientists around the world have knocked out about about 7,000 genes in mice, and the process of studying these mice is ongoing.
The invention of knockout mouse technology in the 1990s led to the identification of eye disease genes by studying the eyes of mice with targeted deletions. The International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), which consists of more than a dozen mouse biology centers across North America, Europe and Asia, aims to create a knockout mouse for every gene in the mouse genome. The IMPC has created and carefully examined over 4,364 knockout mice.
By analyzing the recorded data from the mouse eye exams at all IMPC centers across the globe, my colleagues and I found that 347 of these knockout mice, each one representing a single deleted gene, had eye abnormalities as determined by trained ophthalmic experts. The abnormalities sometimes involved the anterior structures of the eye, such as the eyelids, cornea and lens, and sometime posterior structures, such as the retina and optic nerve.
Testing mouse eye disease genes in humans
Since the mouse and human genomes are similar, it’s highly likely that these newly identified genes, if mutated, also cause human eye diseases. The next step is to study these newly implicated mouse genes in blind human patients. Specifically, we will analyze the genomes of patients whose prior genetic testing could not link their condition to one of the previously known eye disease genes.
The addition of hundreds of new eye disease genes in this IMPC study will help eye doctors like me around the world provide more precise genetic diagnoses to our patients. To validate these genes in humans, we plan to create a panel of these new 261 genes that can be scanned for mutations.
Furthermore, the knockout mice themselves will serve as publicly available research models for the newly discovered eye disease genes. All of these knockout mice are available to all researchers and can be ordered from the IMPC repository for additional scientific studies and therapeutic discoveries. These mouse models can be used to test new medications, gene therapies and stem cell approaches.
Knockout mice teach us about the genetics
The scientific discoveries of the IMPC are quickly advancing our understanding of the thousands of genes and molecules that underlie many human disease processes. In each organ system of the body, researchers are finding many genes that have never been linked with disease. The results of the IMPC project, including the eye disease genes, could advance the diagnostic capability, and identify new targets for novel therapies.
I hope that eye doctors at major universities and eye centers will cross reference our list of 261 new eye disease genes from mice with the genetic sequence of their human patients in whom they found no mutation that causes disease.
We hope our list of genes will guide our colleagues to the genetic culprit in many cases and provide both a specific diagnosis and a path forward toward eventual treatment for those families afflicted with inherited forms of blindness.
Sharwan kumar: ….By analyzing the recorded data from the mouse eye exams at all IMPC centers across the globe, my colleagues and I found that 347 of these knockout mice, each one representing a single deleted gene, had eye abnormalities as determined by trained ophthalmic experts……There is no point in creating eye problems in mouses with normal vision. Nature will not forgive you for harming Nature’s creations. Try to find out other means, in particular non invasive ones. Remember, where there is a will, there always is a way. Best wishes and regards.
Mexico closes temporary migrant shelter near US border
Wednesday, February 20
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Officials in the northern Mexico border state of Coahuila said Tuesday they have closed a shelter in the border city of Piedras Negras where about 1,600 Central American migrants had been confined during the past two weeks.
Many of the migrants have been bused to neighboring states, leading to complaints that Coahuila was dumping migrants on other cities to clear out the camp at an empty factory building.
Armando Cabada, the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, to the west, said Monday that he might file a complaint against Coahuila officials. “They are offering them free transportation to bring them here. That kind of thing is not fair,” Cabada said.
Jose Borrego, a Coahuila state spokesman, confirmed that the shelter in Piedras Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, was closed Tuesday, a day earlier than scheduled.
The shelter’s population had been steadily falling since last week as migrants who had obtained humanitarian visas were given bus rides to other cities where they would have a better chance of finding work.
The migrants arrived at the border hoping to request asylum in the United States, but Mexican authorities corralled them in the shelter and only about a dozen were allowed to request asylum at the Eagle Pass crossing each day.
Since last week, buses have been taking migrants from Piedras Negras to Ciudad Juarez and to Hermosillo, Sonora, the latter a stepping stone toward the border city of Tijuana, which was inundated with migrants from a previous caravan last year. Other buses have gone to the nearby city of Monterrey and to the border town of Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas.
The arrival of hundreds of migrants angered authorities in Ciudad Juarez, which is across from El Paso, Texas. Officials there set up an improvised shelter at a gymnasium, but complained that Coahuila officials had lured the migrants by telling them it would be easier to cross into the U.S. at El Paso.
“They are promoting this by saying that 150 to 200 people are entering here per day, which is a complete lie,” said Cabada, the mayor. “They are doing this to shove their problem off on us, and that is not fair.”