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Glide Path: Laying the groundwork

I was recently reading an article about the impending reversal of north and south. The earth’s magnetic polls are getting ready to flip, according to those who make this their life’s work.


September 8, 2014
By Paul Dixon

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I was recently reading an article about the impending reversal of north and south. The earth’s magnetic polls are getting ready to flip, according to those who make this their life’s work. It’s happened before, many times in fact, and we’re told that the next flip is actually long overdue. The smart money says about 2,000 more years, but hedges by allowing it could just as easily be in another couple of hundred years. In an effort to cheer us up, the article states that in past polarity flips there were no mass extinctions or evidence of other mayhem, then goes on to conclude that researchers think that “power grids and communication systems would be most at risk.” I’m thinking that given our almost total dependence on “power grids and communications systems,” we may be forced to re-think the potential for mass extinction.

TheWayAhead
The talent lies in being able to take today’s skill set and apply it to tomorrow’s market. Photo: Paul Dixon


 

It got me thinking about how transportation technology has changed since the Industrial Revolution and the impact that changes have had on the status quo. If you’ve taken the tour at Boeing’s plant in Everett, Wash., they start off by showing a short movie that opens with a replica of Capt. George Vancouver’s ship Discovery under sail, with the comment that, in 1791, when Vancouver had been dispatched to the Pacific Coast to investigate rumours that the Spanish were taking an interest in the region, it took him a year to get here. Today, London is a 10-hour flight to Vancouver or Seattle. The difference between 365 days and less than half a day is mind boggling, more so when you realize that George Vancouver died in 1798 at the age of 40.

There was an old joke about buggy whip holders on early motor cars and the poor soul who had the misfortune to invent a better buggy whip just as Henry Ford arrived on the scene. My grandfather entered his apprenticeship in 1893 in Northumberland, bound in servitude for five years to a wheelwright and joiner, learning the trade of building and repairing horse-drawn conveyances. Ford started his first automobile company in 1899. My grandfather was still able to work most of his life as a carpenter, but it was a close call.

In 1921, my grandfather’s family in “the old country” shipped a piece of furniture to him in Vancouver (I have it in my house today). It came by sea, around Cape Horn (just like George Vancouver), because it was cheaper to ship it around the Horn than via the Panama Canal. Today, the Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate the largest container ships afloat. Due to open to these super-ships in 2016, the retooled passageway could have a huge impact on shipping in general and the West Coast ports of North America in particular. Currently, to get cargo from Asia into the heart of North America by sea, it is quicker to dock on the West Coast and ship by rail, but it is $600 cheaper for each container that goes through the Panama Canal and is then barged up the Mississippi into the heart of the continent. Once the canal is widened, the biggest container ships will be able to transit the canal and shipping prices will likely drop.

Moving containers has been one of the key drivers in how Canada’s two major railroads operate their businesses. CN and CP have both become long-haul, big-train operators running unit trains for containers, coal, potash, grain and, increasingly, oil. It wasn’t that long ago that the railroads were the stitching in the Canadian mosaic, but think of how many towns have all but disappeared after the tracks were pulled up.

The aviation world is shifting on its axis and what will the impact be on Canada and Canadian airports? The drive from some quarters to make the Persian Gulf the major hub between Europe, the Americas and the Middle East and Asia could have profound impacts on the status quo, especially given the deep pockets in the region that support such a move. We have the apparent dichotomy created by competition between the A380 and B787. When both projects were long overdue, the industry pundits were pretty much equally split in suggesting that Boeing or Airbus had got it wrong. Is it possible that, in their attempt to steal a march on their competitor, they both got it right?

The future of any business is about knowing what your customers will require at some point in the future and being the person or organization capable of meeting those needs. The talent lies in being able to take today’s skill set and apply it to tomorrow’s market, much as the wheelwright of the 19th century was able to use the skills he developed for the carriage trade in the old world and transition into a carpenter and builder in the new world of the
20th century.


Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.