The Alchemist

It has been a while since I read Allegory. When I picked up The Alchemist I tried to leave all notions of grandeur and all prior propaganda aside, I tried to imagine as I am reading the book that I have never heard a word about it prior.

It worked, I couldn't put the book down and it took me four days and a layover in Abu Dhabi to finish the book. I tore through it with the restlessness of a 3 year-old, and reached the conclusion in no time at all.

Despite providing great entertainment, I thought the book took a simple concept of fate as part of the daily culture of the Levant and the Middle East, and placed undue emphasis on simpler parts of the belief system. It was one of the finest allegorical reads in a long time but readers with more "oriental" background or have read the epic stories, legends and folklore of the Middle East will find the book less enchanting and not what it is hyped-up to be. However, I doubt two will ever disagree on how entertaining it is.

Another thing it provided me was a perfect example to explain a certain set of beliefs in "my" culture. When a friend asks me if I believed that what will happen tomorrow for instance is set in stone, and I tell him that I do, many insist on telling me that they can prevent me from my destiny by, say, tying me up. When I tell them that, in that case that means what was "written" was that I will be tied up, certain frustration emerges in the conversation.

To the receiver it seems that I am changing the rules as the game goes on, however what they don't seem to understand is that the variable in the equation is that I don't know what is set in stone and in my belief structure, no one is ever able to predict the future. That changes a certain dynamic in the approach to fate that makes whether or not you believe in your destiny a very insignificant part.

The Alchemist makes the matter of destiny and personal legend a known rather than a variable, which requires in Near Eastern concepts a magical figure to allow it to transpire. Namely the Old King. Part of the work in understanding your destiny that is set in stone, is to now know what to expect, so the motivation to work for your dream is always there.

The other part is to pass the "written" -or as Coelho insists the "maktub"- and look back with belief. When my father passed away, the younger me, well coached by the deceased himself in understanding that everything happens for a reason and that his passing is nothing if not part of a series of events that will lead me to my dreams. The 13 year-old me shed a few tears the first day and spent the next few days contemplating everything my old man tried to teach me and instill in me, and then promised myself to make a the best of the situation.

Next time someone asks me about my beliefs I have added another book to the collection I can refer people to.

Then comes the parts of the book that deal with the Elixir of Life, The Philosopher's Stone and other magical things and the various orientalist descriptions of the desert and the Arabs, which show the level of description and attention that the author enjoyed, it made me not want to drop it and in certain cases, I didn't.

Unless I find a large gap in my to-read list, I doubt I will pick-up a Coelho in the near future, but if his other books are half as smooth as this one, I might buy the whole set.


Most visited page of my site

I am proud to announce the most visited page on my website is: (drumroll please...)
Things To Do Before I die. The page with the least personal content and the most search hits prevailed over the rest of the site, which if anything is motivation to write better and write more.


Hypersonic Flight Successful

There was a point in time not so long ago when supersonic flight was thought to be decades into the future, as a pilot and an aviation enthusiast I thought my life would not witness commercial travel at speed higher than 95% of the speed of sound or in aviation parlance .95 mach. Especially since the demise of the beautiful Concorde and the cancellation of the Sonic Cruiser.

Both sides of the Atlantic seemed to have dropped out of the race for what once was -arguably- the most prestigious record to showcase the technological achievements and aerodynamic knowledge of the time.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear of an August 11th launch of a DARPA project that allowed an unmanned vehicle to accelerate to speeds exceeding mach 20 and sustain flight for at those speeds for around 3 minutes. Surely it is part of Prompt Global Strike, which is the American idea to be able to strike anywhere in the world with conventional non-ICBM weapons "within
an hour or two"

Why would I be excited about such news? It goes without saying that breakthroughs in military technology radiate to civilian aviation albeit a few decades later, all the inventions from the jet engines to the composites of the B787 and from the transponder to the HUD started their life in the military. I expect that Boeing engineers and maybe even Airbus will learn from Hypersonic experiments and revisit a supersonic commercial aircraft only this time have it as wide spread as the B747 which was designed as a cargo plane in an era where all future travel was thought to be heading towards supersonic travel.

Simply put, I want to fly the next Concorde ;)


The Company

Royal Jordanian's identity and company culture has gone through a lot in its 48 years, the place it ended up in is neither the best of places, nor the worst. There seems to be a company culture of helplessness, and of effective impotence in a region where airlines seem to be going through the boom of a lifetime, our airline seems to be barely holding on.

The latest announcement by the company to have lost $55.5 million in the first half of this year didn't seem to help. The morale hit rock bottom, the employees felt that there was undeniable corruption going on and it kept going unchecked until it ate up all of the resources of the company. The consequent statements of the CEO didn't seem to help, the pilots -yours truly included- as a block felt the squeeze, with income falling anywhere from $800 to $2000 per month in a time when inflation is going through the roof.

I could say the same about different employees in different departments but to be fair I won't because I have less contact with them and so I will let them speak for themselves. The fact is there is a growing percentage of people in the company who are stopped thinking of this company as their own and started looking at the picture from another angle.

The Jordanian Government owns 26% of the flag carrier and the Social Security Corporation of Jordan owns 10% while the Armed Forces own 3% of this, our Airline. The public interest owns 40% of this airline and comprises the first, third and fifth largest shareholders and the public holding of the company is more than double of the second largest shareholder, Mint Trading Middle East which is one of the trading arms of the current PM of Lebanon and the hyper-successful businessman Najib Mikati.

The employee stopped believing that it is our company, more than 70%of shares are in the hands of ten individuals and entities, among them only the provident fund at 1.9% means anything to the employees.

There is pressure on the people higher up the chain to turn a profit, the current CEO is rumored to only understand cutting cost, in hopes of creating a leaner operation and therefore raising the amount of revenue that he can turn into profit. In and of itself the strategy seems sound, but the consequences need follow up to understand the effect not only on profit but also on revenue.

I have flown the same airplanes that customers fly and seen the face of our airline, paler faces and leaner service is becoming the norm, and while cutting costs on the front line of service persists, there is talk of cars as gifts for directors and managers. If the CEO is aware of the falling standard of service he isn't showing it, and if he isn't he probably should try doing more than standing at the check-in counters of New York and Chicago destined flights.


Boeing Versus Airbus

I picked up a book in the gift shop of The Leela Mumbai, a hotel famous (maybe infamous) for accommodating airline crew and its proximity to the airport doesn't seem to help. The gift shop was designed around that fact, there were many books about airlines and flying, many miniature airplanes, and travel magazines that seemed to exclude Mumbai.

Everything in that place seemed to spell aircrew, so for once I let the shop decide the purchase. I bought a book called "Airbus Versus Boeing." I bought it and decided to call it my next reading material. The book deals with the business side of the competition and the complex characters and leaders in both firms, it deals with the international support that both these entities have and details his arguments pretty well. The author clearly has a wish to see Boeing win the race but has enough facts in front of him to be able to cover the story unbiased.

I agree with Publishers Weekly in the statement that:

The thousands who work in the airplane and airline industries may enjoy the details; the rest of us—even frequent fliers—might not be as interested.
I think the author did a good job talking about the facts outside the cockpit, but were it matters most to me is in the cockpit and pilot-related talk. The comparison of the Airbus and Boeing philosophies. Those items were discussed by Slate and Salon. Since I currently fly an Airbus aircraft from the FBW family, I have a certain bias towards its flying.

Personally, I enjoy looking at Boeing Jets, the 747 is without doubt the most recognizable commercial aircraft that was ever built and the newest version, the 747-8 is arguably the most beautiful aircraft ever built. The Airbus answer to it, the A380, is an unsightly behemoth and I have always showed a certain loathing for it.

It still does not mean that I will ever have any objection to fly one of the two.
What I do like is competition, the greatest masterpieces of aviation were created in moments of great pressure.
The 747 was created in an era when the people envisaged that all future travel will be supersonic, and so they created an aircraft that can be used for cargo in subsonic settings. They were wrong but made something amazing out of it.

The A300, the first in the A3x0 was in direct competition and acted as a replacement of the L-1011 and the DC-10, used techniques such as the cancellation of the flight engineer station and fuel consumption that is 30% less
than that of the L-1011 to penetrate a market almost exclusive to american companies. However, ETOPS came later and then killed the trijets.

The A320 was created in an attempt to compete with the very popular 737 and therefore had to include so many advancements and technological breakthroughs to be a formidable opponent, it lead to the Airbus "philosophy" and the real launch of the Airbus brand.

The 787, the aircraft that came to signify the next war between Airbus and Boeing, is not in direct competition with the A380 in terms of seats obviously but in terms of business strategy, Boeing is thinking of a smaller airplane with less flights between hubs and more traveling directly between city pairs. This led Boeing to look at fuel savings, composite materials and no-bleed architecture, it also encouraged Boeing to look at the cabin conditions for the first time in more than 30 years. More humidity, lower cabin altitude and more spacious windows are the primary improvements.

The more I think I about it, the more I like the competition and I am hoping that more companies join the war of large commercial aircraft.


My two cents were worth a bit more!

A week ago I was considering shutting this blog once and for all, mainly because I lacked the time and the energy, but before I took it down, I wanted to have one last look at it. I read this post from May 2008 which ended ominously:

People are almost fed-up, and if there isn't any immediate improvement, people will go to extremes. That includes a revival of an Islamic party, protests and public or mass strikes.

Please people wake up!!!
I was 23 when I wrote that and the only explanation to this perception was what I noticed on the streets daily. I like reading into people and while sometimes it is disillusioning, at others it can lead to very real perceptions.

I was not -or at least I like to think I wasn't- much more wise 3 years ago, but I had to explain to myself why I realized people would start protesting if the status quo remained. If for nothing else but my own sanity. The year 2008 was the effective end of the economic boom, the highest inflation I noticed on the streets that was not matched by any real growth.

The people, I always conclude, can accept a degradation in social rights and turn a blind eye if they wore busy building a future, they will forget a few freedoms -sic- in the interest of some economic growth. There will be a belief of "Safety and Security Requirements" if there was something that we needed to be safe and secure.

Baltasar Gracian once said: "Never contend with a man who has nothing to lose." That was what I anticipated in Jordan, I never would have guessed that the last straw would have been from Egypt or Tunisia but I knew the straws were piling up.

I hate to say it but people woke up, people took to the streets and thankfully decided on one common denominator, HM The King. I always agreed that his presence is a stabilizing factor but never would have guessed that people were constitutionally aware.

The past few years allowed me to meet with a number of individuals, but none more surprising than our elected officials. I asked a number of parliamentarians both in private and in public to tell me what they thought of our alleged constitutional monarchy, and all the MPs I have met insisted that the Prime Minister was to be chosen by a Royal Decree, a large percentage were of the opinion that Royal Decree are legally overpowering, and they could allow themselves to reject the composition of the cabinet but not the person chosen to lead the government.

It also was shocking to know how many MPs were running to be a "services" member, meaning they were intending to be on good terms with any government that comes to vote, for the sole purpose of providing services to their constituents and gain another term. They refuse to be in "the opposition."

I want to deal with the proposed amendments in a later post, if for no other reason than to write down for posterity what I believe, and to be able to come back and visit.


Jordanian Pilots' Union

It made my day, the governmental approval for the creation of "Jordanian Pilots Union." My dear colleagues worked tirelessly in the past weeks and months to create the union and their efforts came into fruition yesterday.

I have always maintained that a professional union for pilots is similar to that of the Jordanian Bar or the Jordan Medical Association or the Jordan Engineers Association. However, pilots have tried before to set up a union and failed. So what changed?

To me it seemed that everything lined up at this moment to allow this event to transpire and to allow this collective to achieve what was previously unattainable. The protests that started on the 24th of March and its consequences allowed the government the privilege of hearing what the collectives are saying. The government could not afford to continue in the undemocratic pursuit of simply ignoring the just demands of the people. Jordanians post-march 24th were wiling to fight and the government wasn't.

It was a common belief that a Pilot Union will be a disservice to the only employer of pilots, Alia, later Royal Jordanian, and therefore a disservice to the country. In the past decade Royal Jordanian was privatized and the monopoly on pilots expired, and the special protection that the successive governments used to afford to RJ became a matter of the past and RJ was left to fend for itself. There are more than 10 different entities that employ more than 10 pilots.

The issue of numbers is an important one, Jordanian pilots are estimated to number more than a thousand in the most conservative estimates, which gives a sense of entitlement that having a total of 200 doesn't.

Lastly, previous attempts at a union were met with a simple question, "what do you want? Did you go to the Head Of Department (Flight Ops) with your demands?" Previous HODs had direct access to His Late Majesty, intelligence services, the CEO and could easily meet the demands while the most recent administration of Flight Ops was not only disconnected from higher centers of power but also from the pilots themselves as more and more pilots are non-RJ and more demands of RJ pilots are unmet.

Congratulations to my fellow pilots, I hope we use this right and privilege better than other unions and associations do and stay away from dealing with issues that are irrelevant to our careers. We do have the obligation to maintain an air of professionalism with our choices and our actions an