Saturday, 24 April 2010

Iraq's symbolic return to the skies

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Ever since 2003, when Saddam Hussein's statue was smothered in an American flag, torn to the ground, and set upon by shoe-wielding Baghdadis, symbolism in Iraq has been dominated by strife and degradation.

The image of an Iraqi man, hooded, standing with arms outstretched as he awaits electrocution in Abu Ghraib. The mugshot of a dishevelled, heavily bearded former tyrant still adapting to sunlight after being rooted out of his bunker in Tikrit. The crumbled dome of Samarra's al-Askari mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, smouldering from explosives laid by Sunni insurgents.

It is a testament to the power of symbolism that each of these events, imprinted in the minds of millions around the world, simultaneously caused no injuries and yet precipitated waves of bloodletting that killed hundreds.

But no less powerful is the symbolism of unity...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

When it comes to the ash cloud and planes, trust the scientists

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There's a brilliant scene in the film Fight Club where Edward Norton's character is unnerving a woman on a plane. In this scene, Norton explains the process by which the company he works for, a carmaker, decides whether or not to issue recalls of faulty lines.

"Take the number of vehicles in the field, A. Multiply by the probable rate of failure, B. Multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C," Norton calmly explains. "A times B times C equals X.

"If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one."

It's macabre to the extreme, but there's an innate rationality to the logic of allowing bad things to happen. After all, car manufacturers, like airlines, are in the business of risk management. It's part and parcel of their existence that they take calculated risks, some of which will affect the sanctity of life for a few, very unlucky individuals...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

BA will fly high with Iberia deal

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Just like the bookies, the City has a remarkable knack for getting to the nub of an issue. It seems whenever the serious matter of money is concerned, the invisible hand of the market has an almost transcendental capacity for clairvoyance – far more so than the meanderings of journalists or pundits.

So it was last month, when shares in BA spiked dramatically upon the (one would assume) worrying news that strike talks with Unite had collapsed. And so it will be again today, now that Britain's flag carrier has sealed a crucial merger deal with Spanish airline Iberia.

International Airlines Group, as the new company will be called, is unlikely to win any awards for its name. But the commercial reasoning behind this partnership could not be sturdier, and the synergies it looks set to bring about – estimated to raise a staggering £350m for the airlines every year – should be welcomed with open arms by shareholders, customers and employees. And yes, that includes cabin crew...