Wednesday Night #1423

Written by  //  June 10, 2009  //  Aviation & Aerospace, Economy, Europe & EU, Infrastructure, Middle East & Arab World, People Meta, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1423

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AECL ; Douglas Lightfoot’s letter of June 7 to Minister Lisa Raitt on Nuclear Page

Eric McConachie began his aviation career by joining his older brother, Grant, with CP Air. In 1958, McConachie left the company to join Canadair Ltd. During his nine years at Canadair, he was directly involved in development and marketing of the CL-540, CL-41 Tutor, the CL-44D4 Swing Tail cargo aircraft, CL-91 Dynatrac/Army XM-571 and CL-89 surveillance drone, CL-84 Dynavert, and CL-215 Water Bomber. Following the purchase of Canadair by Bombardier, McConachie suggested to the company that it take Canadair’s successful Challenger executive jet and stretch it into a passenger airliner. The introduction of the RJ has been claimed by some to be one of the most significant events in the first 100 years of aviation. Citation, Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame

Eric’s return to Wednesday Night with Iris Glenn (whom he first met at WN in 1993) after a long illness inevitably stimulated a retrospective of Canada’s role in aviation – and the part he played in many of the milestone events, along with an oft-repeated question about Canada’s recurring flaw – despite brilliant inventors and engineering  talent just when something truly exciting is on the verge of being developed, it is either canceled or the technology exported (sold) abroad because of a lack of political will. One answer is that the time to design an aircraft – including the R&D – is longer than the (political) life expectancy of the average politician, or government.

From the earliest days (1909), Canada has been a trail-blazer in aviation   and an acknowledged leader in aircraft architecture, engines, flight simulators and manufacturing. The world-famous CL-215, now the Bombardier-415, “water bomber” is one of the most successful – and useful –  Canadian aircraft.  The evolution from the Canadair Challenger executive jet (based on Lear design) to the Bombardier regional jet (RJ) family was another Canadian success story.
It would be expected that the history, skill and talent evident in this field would make Canada a leader in aircraft design and manufacture, but the motivation and funding to move forward lie elsewhere. The timeline for the development and sale of what would be expected to be winning projects is measure in decades, and politicians are reluctant to spend money on projects whose development period will exceed their term of office, especially when large amounts of money are required for design and development with any blame for error falling on the then-current government and any rewards credited to their successors. The United States has been a leader in design and development basically because funding is not planned by politicians but by the military who do not run the risk of political defeat and whose spending ability is independent of development time and risks.
The acclaimed Avro Arrow  project was abruptly cancelled and all plans and data destroyed. More recently, the Canadian government failed to follow through on the pilot project that confirmed the de Havilland STOL Dash-7’s short-haul inter-city capabilities – likely due to the national airline’s fear of competition – although the Dash-8  became a highly successful member of the Bombardier family.  The Skyhook  was also a Canadian concept (of which John Aikman and André Audet were prime movers) developed in response to the needs of MacMillan Bloedel (sold to American interests) and the forestry companies; it was an ingenious adaptation aimed at enabling the transfer of freshly cut big trees from deep forest to road, but without the necessary support through the R&D stage, the prototype was eventually warehoused .
Unfortunately, the Skyhook project had little interest from politicians or the aircraft manufacturers who don’t sell to logging companies.  Could the Canadian project be revitalized, possibly with an alternative energy source like hydrogen? Probably not.

The forest industry
Today, there is popular distaste for the logging industry, although it has been in large part, responsible for Canada’s wealth and success. There is a decline in demand due to the gradual demise of print media. Forests constitute a renewable resource and although recognition of this fact is slowly being acknowledged if not acted upon by governments, logging remains a potential for long term wealth in Canada. Unfortunately, with apparent insufficient concern on the part of government, short-term gain often seems more profitable than long-term survival, with devastating consequences for our forests.  In British Columbia, where in mountainous areas in some instances, logging is done on the side of the mountain and the logs hauled up to the top for transportation, the rain washes away the soil in which the trees had grown, leading to a delay of many years in the regeneration of the soil for future generations of plant life. Logging could be maintained and the degradation of our environment slowed down if governments were more aggressive in insisting on the environmental conservation of our forests. Recent government reforestation policies are now in effect, and we may hope that our grandchildren will again see healthy trees of imposing height and girth.

Nuclear energy
The deterioration of the environment, largely contributed to by the use of carbon-based fuels, continues to urgently demand a suitable substitute. Clean nuclear energy has been gaining less opposition in some parts of the world although totally unsuitable for aviation or motor vehicles because of the weight of the required shielding. This should be an opportune moment for Canada’s once-proud nuclear industry. The world is hungry for low-carbon energy. Fossil fuel prices are rising and will stay high when governments impose caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Ontario is poised to buy two giant reactors. And dozens of countries are in the market for nuclear power. (Toronto Star)
Douglas Lightfoot has written to the Prime Minister, Minister Raitt and others to ask them to revisit the decision to privatize (i.e. sell) AECL’s commercial division, while maintaining  ownership of the Chalk River research laboratories under private management. Douglas points out that in January 2006, there were 25 new nuclear plants under construction in ten countries. Today, there are 45 in 14 countries. The U.S. is possibly looking at 100 plants in 20 years. It is clear that nuclear energy will play an extremely important role in the future and many believe that Canada would do well to invest in and develop AECL rather than putting it up for sale. It should also be noted that the recent C.D. Howe Institute report reminds the government that it will still have to fund many aspects of the work of a privatized AECL.

As for radioisotopes, Canada was ahead of the world in their development, but the problem developed and was first brought to the public in 1995. By 2002, the people at Chalk River realized that production could not continue indefinitely.  Some claim that there was a lack of first-class engineers due to the public disdain of nuclear energy and the perception that nuclear energy was little understood by politicians. R&D fell behind; money was lost in their manufacture and sale; the reactor producing them was aging and deteriorating. It would take about ten years with sufficient money and talent for Canada to once again be the leader in their production. Although the government has expressed the intention of discontinuing their manufacture, many believe that the resurrection of the process with new, well designed equipment would be worth the cost and effort. Radioisotopes have an important use in medicine because due to their short half-life of just a few days, they can be introduced into the body but the patient remains radioactive for only a short period of time. With transportation by air, they can be produced anywhere in the world but many believe that reliable, modern processing located here as first intended, would be of value.

The tar sands
Those supporting the ecological efforts in the Alberta tar sands point to the restoration of the land following the extraction of the petroleum as indicative of the oil producers’ concern for the environment. The more cynical believe that the appearance of positive ecological measures is window-dressing, concealing measures such as the increasing use of fresh water as cause for concern. Approximately 12 barrels of water are required to produce each barrel of oil from bitumen. Up to 70 percent of this water is reused, but that still means two to four barrels of water are used to produce each barrel of oil from oil sands mining operations. More than 7 per cent of Alberta’s total water allocations — surface water and groundwater — is consumed by the oil and gas industry. [ Editor’s note: Liquid Asset The Canadian dean of the discipline, the University of Alberta’s David Schindler, wrote in 2006 that Alberta, along with Saskatchewan and Manitoba, will soon face “a crisis in water quantity and quality with far-reaching implications.”]  More on Shifting sands: Canada, the world and the tar sands

Guy Bertrand
is again in the news, offering a generous reward for information leading to finding the whereabouts of kidnapped Cédrika Provencher, whatever her fate may have been and guaranteeing absolute confidentiality for the informant. He is apparently able to do this because, as a lawyer, he cannot legally be forced to provide information on the informant. However well-intentioned and certainly generous this offer may be, it could very well set a dangerous precedent by possibly encouraging the kidnapping of other children in anticipation of collecting reward money without disclosure of the act.

Mikhail Lennikov, an acknowledged former KGB agent, is currently being offered sanctuary, effectively delaying his deportation after having been debriefed by CSIS and having lived here for nine years. The deportation appears to have been a political decision following a court decision that confirmed only that he could be deported but did not rule that he should be. As in the rest of the country, opinions at Wednesday Night are divided, although most appear to favour the rescinding of the deportation order.

The economy
This Wednesday Night was unusual because of the dearth of opinion on the current financial crisis with the exception of the observation of the continuing decline in air travel  as bellwether of continuing financial decline.

T H E  P R O L O G U E

This Wednesday is ideally positioned for an aviation night given that the IATA AGM (now modestly termed the World Air Transport Summit) ends on Tuesday and we are on the eve of the Paris Air Show (June 15-21/depending on who you are). To add poignancy, there is the on-going story of AF flight 447.

Many long-serving (suffering?) members of Wednesday Night will have fond memories of Eric McConachie’s frequent participation and fascinating contributions, whether concerning his long-term association with Indonesia and Garuda (Indonesia) Airlines, his love-hate  one with Nigeria, or the development of the Bombardier RJ, of which he was the acknowledged father  (see the Canadian Encyclopedia ), not to mention his passionate search for a sustainable solution to runway/apron/taxiway construction to meet the needs of the Airbus-380 (coincidentally also in the news this week).
Having overcome the worst effects of a severe stroke, Eric returns to WN this week and we hope very much that you will join us. It is a surprise outing, organized by his wonderful companion and care-giver, Iris Glenn, and we hope to make it a very special evening for him.

Of course, not even Eric’s visit can halt the tides of Wednesday Night’s review of world events and local news, so expect the usual full range of topics.

From across the Atlantic comes the continuing saga of beleaguered Gordon Brown   (one commentator on CBC suggested that like his fellow money-man-turned-PM Paul Martin, he was a superb Number Two, but not up to the challenges of being Number One).  Paul Krugman is sympathetic to Gordon the Unlucky , suggesting that Obama was saved from a similar fate by the Bush-Gore election fiasco (thus being able to blame the financial crisis on the Republicans).  Making matters worse for Mr. Brown Is the election of two BNP candidates to the European Parliament     For the history buffs among us, a fascinating piece marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day is entitled “June 6, 1944: UK’s last day as a superpower“;  although the reference is to military might, it could perhaps apply in other contexts?

Elections and the Middle East are in the news, with everyone getting in on the act to comment [see David Jones’ cogent review in American Diplomacy] on President Obama’s Cairo speech, particularly with reference to Israel and settlements.   The results of Lebanon’s electionsare being widely hailed by the western press as a victory for the pro-western anti-Hezbollah factions; Al Jazeera summarizes the mostly predictable reactions   It seems that nothing is quite that simple, as Robert Fisk points out: “There will be no Islamic Republic of Lebanon. Nor will there be a pro-Western Lebanese republic. There will, after yesterday’s vote – for the Hizbollah-Christian coalition and for the secular Sunni-Christian alliance – be a government of “national salvation” in Beirut, run by an ex-army general-president with ever-increasing powers .. out of the shadows will come the same crippled, un-healable Lebanon; delightful, unworkable, poor old Lebanon, corrupt, beautiful, vanity-prone, intelligent, democratic – yes, definitely, democratic – and absolutely outside our powers to reform.”

It will be Iran’s turn on Friday and although there doesn’t seem much doubt that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  will prevail  ; the Economist suggests that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, populist as he is, may not yet be home and dry ; meanwhile production of enriched uranium production is accelerated  and Reuters offers a useful Factbox

Elections closer to home: we must confess that since Mme Harel has plunged into the Montrealmayoralty arena we are sitting up and paying much more attention and like many others are praying for the moment when a White Knight on glorious steed will plunge into the fray to slay all the dragons. Until then, let’s watch the fireworks

The anniversary of Tiananmen Square has come and gone. Despite some vivid and emotional commentaries, in the western media, the day passed almost unremarked in Beijing. D-Day remembrance came off well, despite the dust-up over the failure to invite the Queen – what was Sarkozy thinking trying to turn it into a France-America event?  If we did not have so many dear friends of Hungarian origin, we might be inclined to say something undiplomatic.

The economy
Paul Krugman:Things seem to be getting worse more slowly. There’s some reason to think that we’re stabilizing. 
The Conférence de Montréal  (which we note is gradually rebranding as the International Economic Forum of the Americas) is on this week and as always has an impressive line-up of speakers    including Robert Zoellick, Dominique Strauss-Khan, Donald Johnston and our own Stephen Poloz, not to mention Charlie Rose and Denis Trudeau. As everyone who is anyone will be there, we will take our cue from the daily reports. Meantime, here’s Minister Flaherty’s  interview on stimulus, protectionism, etc. with the Globe & Mail, while Dominique Strauss-Kahn warns that a successful recovery is far from certain.
ETFs have been taking up more time on Wednesday Nights – this discussion  of ETFs as a vehicle for taking advantage of infrastructure spending brings together at least two favourite topics.
A sign of the times: have you noticed that Bloomberg now has a Madoff section on the home page navigation bar?

Finally, we have had considerable debate about whether or not to mention Lisa Raitt, the possibly-waning star of Mr. Harper’s cabinet. Seems like Jasmine MacDonnell is/was a serial misplacer of confidential materials and now, thanks to her marvellous ‘forgettery’ we learn more about Ms Raitt’s attitude towards the ‘sexy’ isotope crisis – we are sure that the public will be happy to hear “You know what solves this problem? Money. And if it’s just about money, we’ll figure it out. It’s not a moral issue.”  So public health is not a moral issue? Meantime, Three cheers for Sherbrooke University Hospital for finding a way around the worldwide shortage of medical isotopes “by resurrecting an old test that uses an isotope that doesn’t require a nuclear reactor to produce it.”   Le Québec sait faire!

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