China Opens World’s First ‘Airplane Supermarket’

On the heels of a report that shows Chinese tourists spend more money than anyone else comes news that the world’s first “airplane supermarket” has opened in Beijing.

Typically, private aircraft are purchased through private deals, at local airports or online. Opening a brick-and-mortar aircraft store akin to a car dealership should be a boon to private aircraft ownership in China, which is a relatively novel concept. Private pilots are a rarity in the country because of strict military control of Chinese airspace. However, China’s newly minted millionaires are frequently happy to pay fines of upwards of $17,000 for violating the regulations. And soon, the government will ease restrictions on certain types of low-level flights.

Affluent Beijing businessmen can now swing by their local aircraft emporium on their way home to pick up a Pipistrel 4-seater or a Eurocopter helo. Prospective customers can take airplanes out for a test fly in a specially designated zone surrounding the store. While recreational flying is a pricy hobby, according to a manager at the new store getting rid of their stock is “as easy as selling cabbages.”

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

The Solution To China’s Smog Problem? Fresh Air In A Can!

China's smog has gotten to record levels of dangerBy now I’m sure you’ve all read the reports of just how horrible the air quality in China has become. The smog has gotten so bad in Beijing, for example, that it has delayed flights, shrouded skyscrapers like fog and prompted health warnings for those venturing outside. But one Chinese entrepreneur thinks he may have the solution to this problem – fresh air in a can.

Last September, millionaire Chen Guangbiao introduced his product to the market for the first time, offering up three flavors of air in cans that resembles a soft drink. Those flavors include “Post-industrial Taiwan,” “Revolutionary Yan’an,” and the always popular “Pristine Tibet.” The cans of air sell for 5 yuan or roughly 80 cents a piece.

It would be easy to dismiss this move as a publicity stunt – something that Guangbiao has a reputation for in the past – but the businessman seems genuinely concerned about the growing environmental problem that his country now faces. He told ABC News that selling the cans of fresh air was an attempt to raise awareness of the issue and to show how committed he is to the cause. He went one step further by also giving away 5000 bicycles in an effort to encourage people to use non-motorized transportation.

For now though, improving the air quality seems like a low priority for the Chinese government, which is focused on continuing to ramp up industrial production for the 21st century. Considering that all but a handful of days in January were classified as “hazardous” air conditions in Beijing, however, perhaps they ought to reconsider their approach. Or at least start stocking more vending machines with these cans of fresh air.

[Photo Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]

Record Pollution Suffocates Beijing, China (PHOTOS)

If you’re looking to visit Beijing, China, in the near future you might want to consider packing a face mask in your suitcase. According to the Associated Press, one of the worst rounds of air pollution is currently engulfing the population there, keeping schoolchildren indoors and sending residents to hospitals.

According to the outlet, pollution peaked over the weekend, when off-the-charts levels hid the tops of city skyscrapers and caused face masks to fly off the shelves of drug stores. The news source reported that government monitoring showed levels of PM2.5 particles reached more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter on Saturday – a number that far outshadows the World Heath Organization’s safety levels of 25. At one point, separate monitoring by the U.S. Embassy reached 886 micrograms.

According to the Denver Post, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index only goes up to 500, and the agency says anything greater than 300 would trigger a health warning of “emergency conditions.”

The pollution, which is a major problem throughout China, is mostly due to the country’s rapid pace of industrialization, which also includes a reliance on coal power and explosive growth in car ownership, not to mention a general disregard for environmental laws.

Things are starting to look up, though. Thanks to vocal residents and environmental groups, the government is being more transparent about the air pollution than usual. In the past, officials played down the smog, but this time they are holding news conferences and posting messages on the Internet that discuss the pollution.

For more amazing photos of the smoggy capital, click through the gallery below.

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[Photo credit: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan]

Is There A Perfect Way To Board A Plane? Researchers Say Yes

It’s little surprise that China is crowded. Given a booming population that can afford to fly – and without an equally booming plane population – researchers in Beijing have been examining ways to make boarding planes most efficient.

The idea is to accommodate the heightened Chinese flying demand and relative scarcity of planes. Western Australia’s ScienceNetwork reports that researchers are doing something new by looking into boarding patterns, as opposed to just luggage congestion and takeoff scheduling.

The findings? Move over, screaming children and slowpokes.

The researchers found that there is an “optimal” way to board a plane, and it involves categorizing passengers by their “individual properties.”

Under our current model of assigned seating, passengers at the front can reach their fastest possible boarding speed, but after that things slow down. The “optimal” system would categorize you by your luggage type, timeliness at the gate and other factors, and sort you into boarding order that way.

Although this is nice in theory, there are some obvious problems. Math can’t, after all, account for factors like passengers’ personalities, how distracted they are or even how large they are. Oh, and the fact that humans aren’t generally as predictable as variables in an equation.

[Image credit: Flickr user Reuben Whitehouse]

Evacuated Tube Transport could take you to China in two hours

evacuated tube transport - tube networkEver look at a pneumatic tube at a bank and think, “Why couldn’t I travel like that?” A new form of high-tech transportation called Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) could take passengers in car-sized capsules traveling through tubes so fast that you could make it from New York to Beijing in two hours. Unlike pneumatic tubes that work with air and suction, the ETT works via magnetic levitation and frictionless tubes. The ETT could travel up to 4,000 miles per hour for long trips (over twice the speed of the supersonic Concorde jet), or 370 miles per hour for shorter trips, and tubes would be routed like freeways to avoid congestion. ETT proponents claim it’s silent, cheaper than planes and faster than jets, though an extensive network of tube rails would have to be constructed to connect the network.

While the capsules may look a bit claustrophobic, the ET3 consortium claims that the transport would provide more room per passenger than airplanes or cars, and TVs could be provided to “provide distraction from negative thoughts.” Tubes would be constructed with emergency escape hatches and EMT facilities in case of emergency, and the braking system would be automatic with multiple backups (unlike the Springfield monorail).

Licenses for the ET3 concept are said to have been sold in five countries, and you can sign up for the “first 3D Virtual Ride” (coming in Q2 of 2011, oops!) on the ET3 website, but a prototype has yet to be developed. ET3 hopes that with more support, low-cost world travel could be possible in a decade. The question remains, would we still have to turn off our electronic devices for the trip?