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British Airways’ Costly IT Collapse makes it Rethink the Strategy

The company was left counting the cost of the disruption, both in terms of a one-off impact to its profit and the longer term damage to its reputation

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People wait with their luggage at a rebooking zone at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London, Britain May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

– by Alistair Smout

LONDON, May 29, 2017: British Airways (BA) said it would take steps to ensure there was no repeat of a computer system failure that stranded 75,000 passengers over a holiday weekend and turned into a public relations disaster.

BA had been forced to cancel all its flights from Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, and Gatwick on Saturday after a power supply problem disrupted its operations worldwide and also hit its call centers and website.

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The airline was returning to normal on Monday, planning to run more than 95 percent of flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick, with only a handful of short-haul flights canceled.

BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz said the root of the problem, which also affected passengers trying to fly into Britain, had been a power surge on Saturday morning which hit BA’s flight, baggage and communication systems. It was so strong it also rendered the back-up systems ineffective, he said.

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“Once the disruption is over, we will carry out an exhaustive investigation into what caused this incident, and take measures to ensure it never happens again,” Cruz said.

Over the weekend, some stranded passengers curled up under blankets on the floor or slumped on luggage trolleys, images that played prominently online and in newspapers.

“Apologizes all well and good but not enough. BA has lost another loyal customer #disgraceful,” tweeted Tom Callway, who had been due to fly to Budapest.

The company was left counting the cost of the disruption, both in terms of a one-off impact to its profit and the longer term damage to its reputation.

Check-in information boards are displayed at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London, Britain May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Spanish-listed shares of parent company IAG <ICAG.L>, which also owns carriers Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, dropped 2.8 percent on Monday after the outage. The London-listed shares did not trade because of a public holiday.

Flight compensation website Flightright.com said that with around 800 flights canceled at Gatwick and Heathrow on Saturday and Sunday, BA was looking at having to pay around 61 million euros ($68 million) in compensation under EU rules. That does not include the cost of reimbursing customers for hotel stays.

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BA would fully honor its compensation obligations, Cruz said. Of the 75,000 passengers who missed out on flights, around two-thirds would have been flown to their destinations by the end of Monday, he added.

COST CUTTING

BA has been cutting costs to respond to competition on short-haul routes from Ryanair <RYA.I> and easyJet <EZJ.L> and recently faced criticism for starting to charge passengers for their in-flight snacks.

Ireland’s Ryanair was quick to seize on the marketing opportunity, tweeting “Should have flown Ryanair” with a picture of the ‘Computer says no’ sketch from the TV series “Little Britain” to poke fun at BA.

Ryanair said it had seen a spike in bookings over the weekend but gave no further details.

The GMB union said that BA’s IT systems had shortcomings after they made a number of staff redundant and shifted their work to India in 2016.

“This could have all been avoided. BA in 2016 made hundreds of dedicated and loyal IT staff redundant and outsourced the work to India,” Mick Rix, GMB National Officer for Aviation, said.

Cruz rejected the union criticism.

“They’ve all been local issues around a local data center, which has been managed and fixed by local resources,” he told Sky News.

Several passengers complained about a lack of information from BA staff at the airport. Others said their luggage had been lost.

The airline said it was working to get reunite passengers with their luggage after many items were left at Heathrow over the weekend, although staff on Twitter warned this “could take some time”.

While other airlines have been hit by computer problems, the scale and length of BA’s troubles were unusual.

Delta Air Lines Inc <DAL.N> canceled thousands of flights and delayed many others last August after an outage hit its computer systems.

Last month, Germany’s Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> and Air France <AIRF.PA> suffered a global system outage which briefly prevented them from boarding passengers. (Reuters)

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan in Berlin, Costas Pitas in London and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Keith Weir)

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Indian Railways Are No More Popular Mode of Transport in India

Airlines are soon to replace railways as a popular mode of conveyance as the number of passengers traveling via air will exceed the AC passengers in 2019-2020

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Indian Railways
Indian Railways. Wikimedia Commons
  • Indian Railways get aggressive competition from Airways, as Airways to become popular mode of transportation in 2019-2020
  • Augmenting the pricing and capacity can save the downfall of Indian Railways
  • Indian Railways fares not as unfair as people make them out to be

New Delhi, August 03, 2017: Reportedly, the aviation sector is said to grow in 2019-2020 as the Indian Railways prices continue surging. Recently in a blueprint laid out by Indian Railway, it was mentioned that the number of passengers traveling by air would exceed AC-class passengers in 2019-20.

Indian railways and domestic airlines carried about 145 million and 97.8 million passengers respectively between December 2015 and November 2016. With a projected 20% growth in air passengers and 5% growth in rail AC-class passengers between December 2015-November 2016 and 2019-20, it is estimated that air passengers will outnumber rail AC-class passengers soon.

As the Indian railways surged the price on the base fares of Shatabdi, Rajdhani and Dhuranto trains last year giving leverage to the aviation sector. The base fare of these railways was raised on the basis of selling capacity as recommended on Railway Board formula, the base fares would increase by 10 per cent with every 10 per cent of train berths sold.

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While the railway’s fares went remarkably high, Air India announced that the last minute fares won’t be raised making the last minute booking before take-offs at par with AC rail fare. All the airlines have followed similar fare patterns and therefore reducing airfares, the shift of 2AC and 1AC rail passengers to Airlines have increased remarkably since. Leading to this alarming state of affairs for Indian Railways, 3AC still remain unaffected because even the Tatkal bookings are lower than the last minute air fares.

Can Indian Railways still beat the growing Airline Traffic? Click To Tweet

The two factors by which Indian Railways can still gain traction and recovery by 2020 are through augmenting capacity and pricing. Although Indian railway has been leveraging its track capacity at a rate of 7km per day since 2015, it cannot be augmented to a level that can stop the growing aviation sector from mangling the rail AC passenger segment by 2019-20. Hence, Indian railways can hardly do anything till 2020 when both dedicated freight corridors are commissioned, relieving sizeable capacity for railways.

Pricing and travel time, are two most important factors that can affect the passenger segment of Indian railways. Talking about pricing, the railway pricing is not as simplistic as it is made out to be. The costing of air carriers are significantly more than 1AC/2AC rail and considering that more than half air tickets are sold within two weeks the departure, despite the flexi-rates, there is a huge difference between the railways and air fares. However, the air fare for tickets that were booked at least two weeks before the travel day may be in the range of 1AC/2AC rail fares. Taking the price factor in regard Indian Railways are doing well and should have no concerns on this front.

Also Read: “Better than London” free WiFi on Indian Railways stations! RailTel and Google are making it happen at 400 locations

While travel time is of the essence to the passengers and not the authorities, and the only alternative to combat the huge difference of time saved in airlines compared to railways, should not be bullet trains. While major routes like Delhi-Bombay have access to electric tracks and serve under “A” category of railways, they still need to up the speed of express trains which run at the maximum speed of 160kmph/130kmph. The speed of these trains can be increased up to 110kmph which 80% of the maximum speed, there will be a lot of time that could be saved benefiting the 6PM-8AM trains which do not enter the slab of productive hours.

Indian railways can tweak their options to gain the leverage over the aviation sector, which is said to overtake in 2019-2020.

-Prepared by Nivedita Motwani. Twitter @Mind_Makeup


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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

Also read: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang