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  • Amazing Pathé Newsreel of Dublin Airport under construction

    July 26, 2012 @ 4:43 pm | by Laura Slattery
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    Take note, Ryanair landing jingle composer – this is how you do trumpets… You really can’t beat a Pathé newsreel for some good old-fashioned jaunt, though the narrator’s optimism with regard to Dublin Airport’s ability to link “all nations in peace” was ill-founded, sadly. This report is from 1939 – not a year that’s especially famous for the smooth passage of international diplomacy. After the airport’s official opening in January 1940, it spent the rest of the Second World War (aka the Emergency) effectively mothballed.

    Still, onwards and upwards. For the airport, obviously. And in terms of European diplomacy. For news reporting, anything with such a jubilant, brassy soundtrack clearly represents a peak of sorts.

  • Taxi to Spaceport America, launchpad for suborbital flights of fancy

    October 21, 2011 @ 8:55 am | by Laura Slattery

    Performers hang from wires on the facade of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal at Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The runway, the WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two are shown in reflections on the glass. Photo: Reuters/Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic.

    You’re supposed to grow out of wanting to go into space, but if anything, my desire to see this blue sky from above has only increased with age. Notwithstanding a conspiracy theorist-nurturing lack of lunar landings in recent decades, the possibility of going off-planet now seems within closer reach. You used to have to be a super-fit, super-impassive, super-American specimen in order to venture off the Earth; now you just have to be super-rich or in close proximity to someone who is. Even in these gloomy times, the latter seems the more likely prospect: The genetic lottery is no longer open for play, but I might one day win EuroMillions and cultivate close personal relationships with members of the Branson family.

    Earlier this week, Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic friends held a modest dedication ceremony for Spaceport America, the New Mexico base from which the era of commercial suborbital spaceflight will eventually launch, possibly as early as 2013. Its gleaming hangar is designed to house the mothership, WhiteKnight Two, and the actual people-carrier, SpaceShip Two (aka the VSS Enterprise). Tickets cost $200,000, which seems like a bargain when benchmarked against bubbly Irish house prices, but is still twice the annual salary of a Nasa astronaut – should they want to take a busman’s holiday.

    Deposits “start from $20,000“, apparently, though any would-be passengers should probably read the small print that states how suborbital flights will rise up into space, but won’t actually complete a full orbit – or indeed do anything as exciting as slip off to the Delta Quadrant to chase renegade aliens. In essence, Virgin Galactic’s jumpsuited commercial astronauts will get to feel all weightless and floaty and superior and stuff, without having to spend much time contemplating the black depths of infinity.

    Spaceport America’s departures lounge promises to be spine-tingling, but arrivals will surely just be plain tense. What goes up, must come down, but doing so without burning up will be the trick. Branson and his children Sam and Holly will be among the first passengers though, which might prove something of an incentive to make sure all the nuts, bolts and freeze-dried ice-cream are correctly secured before take/lift-off. (Freeze-dried ice-cream, according to an episode of Blue Peter I saw sometime in the late 1980s, is special astronaut food. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all they eat.)

    Back when Pluto was still considered a planet, astronauts were remote, unflinching, patriotic veterans of Nasa training; sturdy and fearless. Now they mix freely in the Twittersphere and arm themselves with pepper spray to vanquish love rivals. Who hasn’t been there?

    Last year, “astronaut” made its debut appearance in a UK careers’ handbook, with the inclusion naturally dubbed “space: the final career frontier” by headline writers. But soon trips to the stars will be not just work, but pleasure. Wikipedia has a page with the title “list of spaceports“. Even though most of them seem designed purely to fire up more space debris, it’s still exciting. Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal and CEO of SpaceX, is frequently seen walking the corridors of Capitol Hill, lobbying the US government and occasionally muttering something about his plans for the human colonisation of Mars. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s site boasts the words “book with your local accredited space agent”, and maps them.

    So my question is… How cold can it be, really?

  • Aer Lingus lifts its nose, advertises for interns

    August 31, 2011 @ 1:53 pm | by Laura Slattery

    With no volcano-related airspace closures to contend with, Aer Lingus has enjoyed a strong second quarter to the year. Passenger numbers are up 8.3 per cent compared to the same period last year, the amount of cash earned per passenger increased 6.6 per cent to €113.13 and revenue has climbed 14 per cent to €351 million.

    These are reassuring numbers for the airline, which has, of yet, failed to invent time travel, though it is currently advertising for more assistants than Doctor Who.

    In common with a number of major employers, Aer Lingus has alighted upon a new way to get work done on the cheap: the JobBridge internship scheme. Its website is currently advertising 19 internships, with titles including IT project assistant; revenue evaluation assistant; and most eye-catchingly of all, air safety assistant.

    Some 14 of the 19 advertised positions are for nine months, the other five for six months. And 12 of them specify a requirement for degree-level qualifications in fields such as accountancy, IT and business.

    To recap the terms of the JobBridge scheme again, the Government, via taxpayers, will throw in €50 per week pocket money on top of dole entitlements, and, er, that’s it. Crucially, the interns are not supposed to be doing work that the company would otherwise have to hire someone to perform at a proper wage – so, on that basis, I guess that air safety assistant position isn’t really necessary at all.

    According to interim accounts published this morning, Aer Lingus’s losses in the first half of 2011 were higher than they were in 2010, with the airline citing the impact of industrial disputes. But this is still a company happy to declare that it is “positive” about its trading prospects for the rest of the year, as well as talk up, for the benefit of shareholders, its success in whittling down operating costs. Staff costs, which represent a fifth of its operating costs, fell 6 per cent in the first half, as the airline cut wages and headcount.

    One can only assume – given how optimistic chief executive Christoph Mueller is about the outlook for the airline – that he will at least consider adding this team of interns to the payroll at the end of the six- or nine month-period of paying them nothing.

    This is not the same company that during the boom would hire cabin crew for nine months, terminate their contracts en masse, and then prevent them from applying for cabin crew positions advertised soon after they were let go. Is it?

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