Why Do Bees Swarm Airports?

A swarm of bees kept US Airways Flight 2690 grounded at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport yesterday afternoon for over two hours. The plane, which was heading to Indianapolis, was unable to take off when the swarm surrounded the nose of the plane. Since some people on board were allergic to bees, the passengers were kept on the plane to avoid contact with the insects. A beekeeper was called in to dissolve the dilemma — an appropriate response to a situation like this since honeybees, which are becoming rapidly endangered, play an instrumental role in agriculture. But this isn’t the first time bees have affected air travel, nor will it be the last.Swarming bees are not, despite pop culture representation, aggressive. To the contrary, these bees are full of honey they stored up on for their trip and are relatively placid — they’re just looking for a new home. Swarms develop when a colony has become overpopulated. The old queen bee assembles a team of workers to follow her to a new location, which is determined and agreed upon by scout bees. The swarm typically travels only 20 minutes or so from its original location to the new hive. Every now and then, the location for the new hive is not ideal -– as in the case of swarms near airports or airplanes. A beekeeper is usually then brought in to help relocate the migrating bees.

Yesterday’s occurrence wasn’t the first time swarming bees affected air travel. Here are some other flights affected by bee interference:

Airport, Airline Weather System Updates To Save Time, Fuel, Eventually

When unavoidable bad weather causes turbulence in the air, passengers can expect a rocky ride. In the past, while pilots have aimed to avoid turbulence, they have been limited in the number of available tools. Now, a new turbulence avoidance system promises to change that.

A smoother ride
Called the Juneau Airport Wind System (JAWS), it was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and provides information pilots can use to route aircraft away from patches of potentially dangerous turbulence.

“By alerting pilots to areas of moderate and severe turbulence, this system enables them to fly more frequently and safely in and out of the Juneau airport in poor weather,” says Alan Yates, an NCAR program manager who helped oversee the system’s development in an R&D Magazine article. “It allows pilots to plan better routes, helping to reduce the bumpy rides that passengers have come to associate with airports in these mountainous settings.”

The system uses a network of wind measuring instruments and computational formulas to interpret rapidly changing atmospheric conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration accepted JAWS for operational use this year.

Just how bad can turbulence in the air be? Check this video:

Sliding in for a landing
In the works and delayed for several years, another system relies on satellites and GPS rather than the radar system developed in the 1950s to direct planes and jets from takeoff to landing.

Called the NextGen system, it will be initially used in Orlando, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, northern and southern California, Houston, Charlotte and northern Texas. The new system should allow planes to fly with less spacing between them on more direct routes, and allowing them to glide to a landing rather than following a step down pattern that is not fuel efficient.

The NextGen system has been compared to walking down a flight of stairs vs. sliding down the banister.

“In addition to improving safety and increasing capacity, this plan will allow for more direct routing for airplanes, less holding at the destination and better planning for constant descent arrivals mentioned above, resulting in less carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise.” said Gadling’s Kent Wien in Plane Answers: Airlines see green in appearing green back in 2009, just to show how long this one has been in the works.

This video tells the whole story:

Flickr photo by Ack Ook

Photo of the Day (7.8.10)

Delays happen. Sometimes there are mechanical issues. Other times, weather plays a role in the form of ash clouds or blizzards. And other times, your flight crew just needs to sample every flavor of Jelly Babies, the UK equivalent of Gummy Bears.

This Flickr shot from OurManWhere captures a moment in Bangkok in the Golden Age of Air Travel (at least for the crew) when travel is still an exciting and sweet time. So what if you are stuck in the airport when you could be enjoying a “Bigheart” treat? Add some local tabloid reading and a quick airport massage, and you could have a rather pleasant layover.

Catch any flight attendants on a sugar high or find a way to make the most of your flight delay? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group right now and we might use it for a future Photo of the Day.

AXE rates best and worst airports for “connections”

It took me a while (halfway through writing the article) to figure out what the exact meaning of the term “connection” was, but now holding the context and the source of the data in the correct light, I can understand why AXE would sponsor a study on travel.

Instead of the “layover” interpretation of the term, 860 participants were asked where the best airports were to make a “connection”, as in, with another person.

The results? Quite opposite to those of a functional nature; Philly, Newark and JFK topped the list of airports in which to meet a member of the opposite sex, while Houston, Sacramento and Tampa were at the bottom (in that reverse order).

Why? Because more often than not, you’re stuck on the eastern seaboard waiting for your delayed flight and have to commiserate with other stranded passengers. Airports with no delays and smooth operation don’t seem to have those problems.

Additional consideration was given to airports with good bars and restaurants inside of security in which to socialize, as well as meditation rooms and magic shops.

More info can be garnered from the PR Newswire.

U.S. News & World Report Summer Travel Issue

Be sure to pick up the latest (June 18) issue of U.S. News & World Report magazine. It’s their featured article that we’re drawing attention to: “Air Travel Summer Survival Guide.”

It lists worst airports, simple travel tips and the like. Check out their comprehensive list of the best and worst airports here, in which they rank airports on the basis of percentage of flights delayed as well as “average load factor” (how full the flights are).

Their findings were unsurprising to the seasoned traveler: avoid the big airports and try using regional airports instead. The best? Oakland. The worst? Detroit.

Another important tip that, while obvious, can’t be over-repeated: be prepared for big delays as planes fill up and more folks hit the airports for the vacation season.