(james benedict brown) on the road

My flight memory

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 23 June, 2010

About a month ago I rediscovered my FlightMemory account. It had lain dormant for a couple of years, and on a quiet evening I was able to bring up to date relatively easily. FlightMemory is a free-for-basic / paid-for-premium online service that allows you to log aeroplane flights in an online database. You can specify the date, time, route, airline, aircraft; even the seat number. It can then calculate the flown distance to build a comprehensive database of how far you’ve flown, and which airlines and aircraft you’ve used the most

Even if it were possible to do it – which I don’t think it realistically is – the site doesn’t offer you an indication of the carbon emissions or environmental impact of one’s travels. Different planes, different engines, different climatic conditions, different passenger and cargo loadings, etc. all conspire to make each flight unique. By its very nature, the website seems to err on the side of celebrating rather than lamenting flying. There’s a machismo table of users so that you compare the size of your emissions to the size of everyone elses.

Although I appreciate that the very act of blogging about my (publicly accessible) statistics makes me guilty of participating in the macho competition. But to put it in layman’s terms, I’m prepared to admit that I have flown too much in my lifetime.

I’ve now flown in excess of 125,000 miles, equivalent to five circumnavigations of the planet, or half the distance between the Earth and the Moon. I’ve been able to take into account almost every commercial flight I’ve ever taken, starting with a short cross-channel hop in a Dornier 228 in 1994 (although the exact date still eludes me) up until the Ryanair flight I took this morning. All my recent flights have been booked online, so the receipts were somewhere in my inbox. My diaries filled in the gaps, and only a few school and university trips to Europe are missing precise journey data.

FlightMemory will generate a global, continental and domestic map for each user, personalised around their home country. The European visualisation of my travels is a record of many different holidays and study trips, but doesn’t represent the many journeys I’ve taken to France, Belgium and the Netherlands by train. At a push I’d guess roughly half my trips to the continent have been by train, so don’t throw the book at me yet.

My UK map is, however, a dense hive of lines, primarily because of my personal and professional connections between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. By my reckoning, I’ve only ever flown domestically within Great Britain three times, the train having always been cheaper and more attractive. But the real damage to the environment (and the real damage to my personal life) has been my commute between Glasgow and Belfast. While the longest route I’ve flown was more than 4,200 miles in length (from Edmonton to London) the shortest is between Belfast and Prestwick, at just 80 miles – the shortest route operated anywhere in Europe by Ryanair, and one that is quite surreal in a Boeing 737-800 series, lasting as little as twenty minutes tarmac to tarmac.

According to FlightMemory, I’ve now flown between Belfast and Glasgow fifty times. Strangely I’ve flown to Belfast more times than I’ve flown to Glasgow, and yet as I look around me, I’m still in Glasgow. Similarly, until earlier this year, Glasgow International Airport was one that I had departed from several times, but never arrived into. Having now done both, however, I can confirm it’s a ****hole whichever way you pass through it, and more expensive to use than comparable airports.

This unpleasant existence of commuting across the Irish Sea will continue for the next year or so. As long as I remember, I’ll keep updating the FlightMemory too, although I look forward to the day when I doubt have any trips planned by plane.

Northern Ireland’s favourite airline

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 22 November, 2008

Belfast City Airport has a handful of different names. Some still refer to it by its original name – the Harbour Airport. Nerds and trainspotters like me sometimes refer to it in writing by its three letter code, BHD. The airport itself places get pride in its newest offical name, which is in honour of one of Northern Ireland’s greatest footballers. It’s just a shame that every time I land here I remember that he was also a serial wife beater and alcoholic. Such foibles are apparently easy to forget if you’re a good footballer.

The airport has a modern and friendly passenger terminal right next to the A2 Belfast – Bangor road, about five minutes from the city centre. It’s also adjacent to the Belfast – Bangor railway line, making it probably the only airport in Ireland to be easily accessible by train: a footbridge connects Sydenham station with the old airport entrance (above). This, however, has been closed to vehicle traffic since the old passenger terminal was decommissioned and the new one constructed about half a mile away to the north east. Passengers arriving and departing by train have to request a shuttle bus: easy enough in the terminal but dependant on a mobile phone if you arrive by train and find the almost permanently broken courtesy phone in the shelter on the left of the picture above.

While waiting for the bus to come and collect you there is the occasional plane taking off or landing near by, just beyond rows of neatly parked rental cars. There are also discarded remnants of the old passenger terminal, and the majority of a large structure (on the right in the photograph) that was used for checking arriving vehicles during the Troubles.

Most entertainingly, there are a number of old advertising hoardings that haven’t been removed since the old passenger terminal was shut down. I might possibly have seen this very same advert for the now twice rebranded Jersey European when I made my first visit to Northern Ireland in the mid-nineties, flying in on an Air UK flight from London Stansted. Jersey European became British European and then just FlyBe. Air UK became KLM UK. I hope there’s another airport somewhere with a fading advert for Air UK somewhere, although I’ve yet to find it.

Sheffield City Airport R.I.P.

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 21 April, 2008

At 20h00 this evening, Sheffield reclaimed a title it’s not held since 1997 – the city (population 525,800) is now the largest in Europe without its own airport.

Sheffield City Airport has closed tonight, barely eleven years after it opened. The airport lost commercial service in 2002, supposedly because of post-9/11 travel fears, but more reasonably because low cost airlines never established service. The runway was built frustratingly short – too short for a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, the two aircraft that now dominate low cost airline service in Europe.

When I arrived in Sheffield in 2001/2, the City Airport had (if my facts are straight) multiple daily flights to Amsterdam, Belfast, Brussels, Dublin, London City and Jersey. British Airways, AirUK, Sabena and numerous smaller charter operators all used the airport, which still features the beautifully simple little terminal building designed for it by Sheffield City Council’s architecture department. It was, by all accounts, a delightful little airport to fly in and out of, barely 10km from the city centre.

I’ve heard many grumbles from other Sheffielders about the airport’s demise (see this thread on the lively Sheffield Forum), namely that Peel Airports who own the site entered into an agreement with the City Council that basically allowed them to buy the airport land for a single figure sum if they could prove that the airport had no commercial future. Their attempts to draw new airlines and services to the airport were notably languid. Understandable really, since they were far too busy investing in and developing the all new Robin Hood Airport about thirty kilometers away in Finningley. Many blamed the short runway for limiting commercial service, although many airlines (Eastern Airways, FlyBe etc) are doing very well operating regional links in planes that could use Sheffield City.

After commercial service ended in 2002, the airport continued as a private aviation airfield, with pleasure flights and private aircraft using the landing strip. The South Yorkshire Ambulance and Police have helicopters stationed there, and they’ll continue to use a limited heliport facility. The runway and the rest of the site will be torn up to form a business park.