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How to know your Airbus from Boeing August 12, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Travel.
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Many of us admire airplanes for the graceful, elegant and sleek flying machines that they are.

How many of you have wondered about the type or kind of the aircraft that you are traveling in or flying over you in the sky? Is it a Boeing or an Airbus? Is it an A330 or a B777?

Here’s a simple aircraft identification guide for those with a budding interest in aviation. I’ll try to make this post as visual as possible since plane-spotting works best by observing as many different types of aircraft as possible and drawing your own inferences. Now sit back, relax and enjoy this journey!



Perfect landing for Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Farnborough 2010 July 18, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Travel.
1 comment so far

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner (flight test airplane code-named ZA 003) landed at the 2010 Farnborough International Airshow, the world’s largest airshow, at 9.09 GMT, following an 11 hour flight from Seattle.

This historic flight marks the first ever intercontinental flight by the Dreamliner, its first appearance in Europe and also its international debut.

Captained by 787 Assistant Chief Pilot Mike Bryan, the Dreamliner performed a fly past and a wind-waggle before landing at Farnborough in overcast conditions. Onlookers had words of commendation for its relative quietness and sleekness.

The Beauty Arrives

Image credit: by @roadshownews

Perfect Landing

Enjoy these videos of the Dreamliner landing.

The Meet of the Titans

Here is a snap of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner parked next to its rival Airbus A380.

A380 & 787 together for the first time. #FARN10

Image by: Flightblogger on Flickr

Primer on the 787 Dreamliner

Boeing has 863 orders from 56 companies worth about $150 billion for the 787, which has been plagued by problems since the program launched in 2004 and is currently more than two years behind schedule. Boeing plans to deliver the first 787 to Japan’s All Nippon Airways by the end of 2010. (The Airbus A380 has 234 firm orders from 17 customers.)

The Dreamliner has been touted by Boeing as the most fuel-efficient and eco-friendly aircraft to date. It is also packed with features that aim to give the passenger a more comfortable flight.

In a major shift away from traditional aluminum and titanium, nearly all of the aircraft’s fuselage and wings are made of composites. That allows the wide-body jet to use 20 percent less fuel than similar planes and make less noise, while providing passengers with more room, cleaner air and wider windows.

The 787, which has a list price of around $161 million for a basic model, is configured in two versions — a 787-8 carrying 210-250 passengers and a 787-9 carrying almost 300 people. They will carry passengers non-stop on routes between 6,500km and 16,000km at speeds up to Mach 0.85.

Dreamliner Orders in the Arabian Gulf Region

  1. Etihad Airways: 35
  2. Qatar Airways: 30 (Will most likely be the first airline in the region to fly a 787).
  3. Gulf Air: 24
  4. DAE, UAE: 15
  5. Oman Air, leased through ALAFCO: 6
  6. LCAL, UAE: 5

Global demand rises

Boeing, the world’s second-biggest aircraft maker behind Airbus, last week raised its forecast for the number of planes ordered by airline industry in the next 20 years, predicting 30,900 aircraft worth $3.6 trillion be purchased, compared to a forecast of 29,000 last year.

Boeing at Farnborough

Please visit http://www.boeing.com/farnborough2010/ for latest news updates, photos and videos from Boeing at Farnborough Airshow. Do follow @BoeingAirplanes & @BoeingCorporate for Twitter updates. (#FARN10).

The 2010 Farnborough International Airshow will take place between the 19 and 25 of July 2010.  For more information, please go to http://www.farnborough.com.

SkyBuzz: Arabian Gulf Aviation Report, Issue 1 May 1, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Airlines, Aviation, Marketing, Travel.
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SkyBuzz: Arabian Gulf Aviation Report
Issue 1 – May 2010

Welcome to the first edition of SkyBuzz – The Arabian Gulf Aviation Report for the month of April 2010. The purpose of this report is to provide a short monthly summary of news, events and developments concerning aviation and airlines in the Arabian Gulf Region.

The Eyjafjallajkull Effect
IATA has said that it will take the global airline industry at least 3 years to recover from the volcanic ash cloud crisis, which started on 14 April 2010 following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajkull volcano in Iceland.

The aviation trade body further estimated that the current crisis, which crippled almost the entire airline industry, cost airlines more than $1.7 billion in lost revenue through Tuesday, 20 April 2010 – six days after the initial eruption.

For a three-day period (April 17-19), when disruptions were greatest, lost revenues for airlines worldwide reached $400 million per day, according to IATA.

“Lost revenues now total more than $1.7 billion for airlines alone. At the worst, the crisis impacted 29 per cent of global aviation and affected 1.2 million passengers a day. The scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11 when US airspace was closed for three days,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director-General and CEO.

Effect on Arabian Gulf Carriers
All leading Gulf carriers were hit by the spread of the volcanic dust cloud over parts of Europe.

Emirates President Tim Clark said that the airline suffered an income depletion of about $60 million, including 2,000 tons of cargo disrupted, for the 6 days of ash clouds and an additional $5-6 million in accommodating stranded passengers so far due to volcanic ash-related grounding of planes. 270 flights were canceled, 30 Emirates aircraft were grounded, equivalent to one fifth of the fleet, and 120,000 passengers were stranded across the globe from volcanic ash-related groundings.

Meanwhile, the UAE government issued 96-hour visas to airline passengers stranded in Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports.

Etihad Airways recommenced its full scheduled operations on 22 April 2010. More than 22,000 Etihad passengers were affected by flight cancellations and delays as a result of the aircraft closures around the world. Ash groundings cost the airline $30 million. The government-owned airline put up 2,500 passengers stranded in the UAE capital in 16 hotels.

Qatar Airways canceled more than 135 flights to and from 11 destinations in Europe since 15 April 2010 for safety reasons, resulting in disruption to its network. All flights returned to normal operating schedule on 22 April 2010.

Gulf Air canceled over 32 flights from Bahrain to London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris. Besides, as a gesture of goodwill, for those passengers stranded in transit in Bahrain, Gulf Air also offered a free ticket at a credit value equal to their original full ticket for future use.

Emirates: A380 Ahoy, Amsterdam Calling, Kochi Turbulence
In April 2010, Emirates announced the launch of daily A380 flights (517 seats) to Manchester from 1 September 2010. Manchester will become the world’s first regional airport to have a regular A380 service. The airline currently operates 8 A380s to London Heathrow, Toronto, Paris, Jeddah, Bangkok, Seoul, Sydney and Auckland.

On 1 May 2010, Emirates will launch daily flights to Amsterdam, marking its 23rd route into Europe.

On 25 April 2010, Emirates flight EK530, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 350 passengers from Dubai to Kochi, encountered a weather cloud and a short period of heavy turbulence when cruising at 35,000 feet prior to its descent, injuring 20 passengers and 3 crew members. It dropped about 200 feet in altitude, but landed safely.

Oman Air – 3 new destinations in May
Following back-to-back launches of 5 destinations in 2009, Oman Air is seeking to up the ante by launching 8 new destinations in 2010.

On 1 May 2010, Oman Air will commence its weekly non-stop 4 times service to Kuala Lumpur, its second destination in the Far East after Bangkok. The service will be operated by a new Airbus A330-343 in a three-class configuration.

Oman Air will commence a daily service between Muscat and Ras Al Khaimah from 2 May 2010. Daily flights to Al Ain commence on 3 May 2010. Both routes will be operated by ATR aircraft.

This will be followed by the launch of flights to Lahore (4 times a week) on 10 May 2010 and Islamabad (3 times a week) on 16 May 2010, both destinations served by Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Dar-Es-Salaam (4 times a week) will go live on 1 June 2010 and Kathmandu (4 times a week) on 17 June 2010, and Milan will join the network in the winter schedule.

Oman Air has hiked its capital to $1.3 billion from $779.2 million. Oman Air carried 2.4 million passengers in 2009, up 19 percent from the previous year. Oman Air CEO Peter Hill told Reuters in March 2010 that Oman Air, which posted a loss of $109 million in 2008, planned to return to profit by 2014.

Etihad Airways – Flying high; takes off to Iraq
Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported 25.4 per cent growth in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) in the first quarter of 2010, far out-pacing the industry average and running ahead of the airline’s available seat kilometers (ASKs) growth of 22 per cent. The improvement, against the first quarter of 2009, was matched by an increase in seat factors, from 73 per cent to 75 per cent. Passenger numbers increased by 11 per cent and premium traffic increased by 5 per cent.

Etihad commenced non-stop flights from its home base in Abu Dhabi to Baghdad, becoming the first airline in the UAE to operate to the Iraqi capital. Etihad operates 5 flights per week to Baghdad, using two-class Airbus A320 aircraft, and will expand its operation with two additional A320 return services to a second Iraq destination – Erbil – from 1 June, subject to government and regulatory approvals.

Qatar Airways – 2 new route launches
Tokyo became Qatar Airways’ 89th destination on 26 April 2010 making it the only Gulf carrier with daily flights to the Japanese capital. Qatar Airways flies an Airbus A330 in a three-class configuration to Tokyo with 12 First, 18 Business and 208 Economy Class seats.

On 5 April 2010, Qatar Airways launched a weekly 4 times service to Ankara from Doha. Qatar Airways is the only Gulf carrier flying to Ankara, operating an Airbus A320 with 12 seats in Business and 132 in Economy Class.

News from Gulf Air
Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air has rolled out a dedicated B2B (Business to Business) internet booking tool – for its corporate customers and travel agents. Gulf Air resumed its flights to Najaf following the reopening of the airport on 27 April 2010.

High 5 for flydubai
flydubai, Dubai’s low cost airline has announced 5 new routes in April 2010 taking its network to 18 destinations.
· Flights to Kabul will commence on 17 May 2010 with a frequency of 5 times per week and are priced from AED725.
· Flights to Luxor in Egypt will be 3 times per week, commence on 19 May 2010 and are priced from AED350.
· Flights to Assiut, the largest town in Upper Egypt, will be 3 times per week, commence on 24 May 2010 and are priced from AED350.
· Flights to Istanbul, European Capital of Culture 2010, will be 5 times per week, commence on 17 June 2010 and are priced from AED450.
· Flights to Latakia, flydubai’s third Syrian destination, after Damascus and Aleppo, will be 4 times per week, commence on 20 June 2010 and are priced from AED350.

All fares are for one way journeys including all taxes and charges and one piece of hand luggage.

Kuwait AirBuzz
Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways will commence its thrice-weekly service to Lahore in Pakistan from 12 May 2010. Meanwhile Kuwait-based Wataniya Airways will launch flights to Rome from 31 May 2010, 3 times weekly. Rome is Wataniya’s 11th destination and will follow the carrier’s thrice weekly Istanbul service set to launch on 5 May 2010.

False start for Iraqi Airways
On 25 April 2010, Iraqi Airways relaunched its service to London from Baghdad after 20 years. Commercial air links were cut after the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990. The maiden flight received a nightmare welcome as the chartered aircraft used for the service was impounded and the passport of national airline boss Kifah Hassan accompanying the inaugural flight was seized. As the Iraqi Airways aircraft landed at London Gatwick, lawyers acting for Kuwait Airways, which says it is owed 1.2 billion dollars, served papers.

From DXB Intl.
Dubai International Airport posted an increase of 21.8 per cent in passenger numbers during March 2010, taking the total to a record 3,968,672 in the month compared to 3,259,072 during the same period last year.

World Travel Awards 2010 on the anvil
More than a thousand of the Middle East’s greatest travel companies are battling it out to be winners of the coveted event that takes place at The Address, Dubai Marina on 3 May 2010 just before The Arabian Travel Market.

Established in 1993, The World Travel Awards is regarded as the most comprehensive and prestigious awards programme in the global travel industry, with nominees selected by thousands of professionals from travel and tourism organizations world-wide.

Hailed by the Wall Street Journal as the “travel industry’s equivalent of the Oscars”, it serves to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the world’s travel and tourism industry.This year’s Arabian Travel Market exhibition will be held in Dubai from May 4-7 2010.

Air India’s Cairo Stand Up
And in some crazy news to wind up this report, on 15 April 2010, the harried passengers of an Air India flight bound from Mumbai  to Frankfurt were literally stood up by the crew during a stopover in Cairo, for 16 hours on end – all because the crewmembers wanted to see the great pyramids of Egypt. Read more here.

About Me:
I am a creative supervisor with Wunderman in Muscat, Oman. My interests are aviation, travel and airline marketing. My professional experience includes providing marketing communications expertise for leading airline and travel brands in the region.You can reach me via email at arunjoboy at yahoo dot com. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

Brand Leadership Lessons from Air New Zealand January 26, 2010

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Branding, Conversations, Marketing, Travel.
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At the edge of the world, a small airline is pushing the envelope when it comes to doing the right things. This is a hallmark of a brand that is going places, even in times of adversity. For example: Air New Zealand.

And here’s how they are getting there.

Pic credit: Flickr – source

1. Be bold in your marketing
Air New Zealand is not shy of stirring a little turbulence in your teacup. Bold, edgy and provocative – that’s how I would describe their recent marketing.

Their ‘Nothing to Hide’ campaign was an excellent take on low cost airlines adding hidden fares. Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe even made a cameo appearance in full body-paint as a baggage handler in this campaign. It was extended to airline safety where crewmembers went bare naked in in-flight safety videos.

However, Air New Zealand recently flew into a bit bad weather with their controversial ‘Cougar’ campaign. But there’s really no thing such as bad PR.

In October 2009, Air New Zealand flew probably the first matchmaking flight in the world from Auckland to Los Angeles, complete with its own social media networking site, pre-flight airport party, loads of in-flight merrymaking and a ticket to a gala post-flight mixer attended by 150 single Kiwis.

All these activities fit Air New Zealand’s vision of “putting the fun back in flying”.

Lesson: Let your marketing be bold, unconventional and spoken about.

2. Your product matters

No marketing or promotion can save you if you don’t have a good product or improve your existing product offering.

Today, Air New Zealand is in the news for their newly launched ‘SkyCouch’ flatbed seat in Economy Class.

While it’s too early to predict its success, Air New Zealand can be hailed for bringing innovation to the back of the cabin.

Like an enthusiast commented: “The SkyCouch is up there with EK’s A380 showers and SIA’s double beds. Gotta love the Kiwis!”

Lesson: Never stop working on improving your product/service.

3. Be different to be better

If you are doing something different from the pack, recognition follows you.

The airline industry usually witnesses a “McDonald’s” approach of doing things. If someone is launching a Low-Cost Carrier (LCC), everyone else does the same thing. If you start charging for check-in baggage, everyone else follows suit.

Air New Zealand’s SkyCouch is a daring innovation in terms of product, price and positioning. But this is just one of the many innovations they have been up to in the recent times.

No wonder, the Air Transport World magazine  recently named Air New Zealand Airline of the Year.

Lesson: What are you doing differently to be better?

4. Leadership begins from the top

Positive change begins from the top and flows down the ladder. Under the leadership of Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand seems to have galvanized itself and embraced ‘an authentic Kiwi can-do style’ of getting things done.

“We operate this airline in a New Zealand way – we’re not trying to emulate a Singapore Airlines or emulate a McDonald’s. We’re trying to go out there day in and day out and trying to be authentic Kiwis and give people a real genuine New Zealand experience,” says Fyfe.

Lesson: Are you the Fyfe of your organization?

5. Innovation Quotient

Air New Zealand recently made the world’s first flight using a sustainable biofuel. It also attempted sending a rocket into space. These are innovations at work.

One of the greatest assets in any organization is its people, their knowledge and attitudes. Harness them well and you have a strong culture of innovation.

Air New Zealand has an interesting programme called Test Flight where employees pitch ideas to the executive team. If the idea is chosen, the person suggesting the idea can get to work on the project itself and get a share of the profits.

Air New Zealand also looks outside its own industry for ideas. “We don’t just look at other airlines, at airports. We look at shopping centres, we look at universities, we look pretty much anywhere to get ideas that we could potentially use at Air New Zealand,” says Julia Raue, Chief Information Officer at Air New Zealand.

Lesson: What’s your organization’s innovation quotient?

6. People make the difference

As a company, Air New Zealand is known to create a work environment that values and recognizes people for their enthusiasm and ingenuity.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the airline gave its 11,000 staff an extra day off to celebrate their part in winning the Airline of the Year award.

Lesson: How well are your people contributing to your growth? Are there ways to energize them better?

What else can you learn from Air New Zealand? Feel free to add your views and comments.

Chipping for Oman at Dubai Twestival February 17, 2009

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, Oman, Social Media, Travel.
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The Dubai Twestival Tee
was one of the 175 cities around the world to organize the Twestival on 12 February 2009. Nearly 150 Tweeters gathered at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi’s fab Barasti Bar for the Dubai Twestival @DubaiTwestival.

Dubai PR agency Spot On @spotonpr estimates that out of the 1,500 Twitter users in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), over 500 are based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Currently, UAE has the fastest growing Twitter audience in the region with over 20% per month. Considering that Twitter was banned in UAE till August 2008, these numbers are quite impressive.

With not more than 15 active Tweeters based out from Oman, we couldn’t have a Twestival in Muscat, so I decided to join the Twestival crowd at Dubai. Even more exciting for me was the fact that I drove down from Muscat to Dubai and back (my first time ever) – a distance of 800km.

The ride was exciting and before I left I was like I need to take something special for the Twitterati in Dubai. I first thought about postcards that capture Oman’s beautiful imagery, but then I hit upon a better idea.

Arun Rajagopal with PK Gulati at Dubai Twestival
If you live in
Oman, you would have definitely tasted ‘Chips Oman’ which is one of the most popular snacks in this country. It’s like staple food out here along with Mountain Dew. So I took bags of Chips Oman crisps across the border, because they stand for Oman (a chips brand named after a country is just yummy!). You might take a look at the Chips Oman page on Facebook as well.

Yes, so I made it to Barasti with bags of chips in hand. It was great meeting a lot of interesting tweeps at Dubai. There was a clear sense of camaraderie that goes with being a part of a small community. And it’s a community that will go stronger and get better over time.

I particularly enjoyed meeting @PKGulati, @Renroon, @divine_dee, @kangayayaroo, @umarpirzada, @ MaliZomg, @Lhjunkie, @mayG_UTP, @mnystedt, @DaddyBird, @skinnylatte, @esperanca, @DrBaher, @dxbluey @Carringtonm & many others. I didn’t get to say hello to a lot of people & I’m hoping to connect with more at the next outing.

I missed out on my Dubai Twestival Official Tee (actually left it on the couch & found it missing by the time I remembered) – that was a disappointment considering it would have made a lovely souvenir for my trip.

Many, many thanks to the organizers of the Dubai Twestival who made it all happen. It’s no small task to put up an event of this magnitude – and the outcome was simply splendid.

Another highlight of my Dubai trip was getting to meet David Koopmans from Melbourne @koopmans but that is fodder for another post! Tweet on, people…

News on Dubai Twestival (very extensively covered in local media):

Snaps from Dubai Twestival:

Pics credit @bojicas

From Minnesota to the World-Via Oman February 3, 2009

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Oman, Social Media, Travel.
Muscat Festival 2009-10, originally uploaded by arunmct.

In March 2007, an enterprising guy from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA set out to see the world. Not before selling his thriving business and home, putting his belongings into storage and spending some time with his folks before getting on the road.

For over 2 years, Gary Arndt has been traveling and blogging around the world armed with his laptop, camera and iPhone. On last count, he has visited over 50 countries. A few weeks ago, Gary was in Oman and I had the pleasure of hanging out with him.

As someone with a deep interest in travel, I found Gary’s accounts of his journeys highly fascinating and very insightful.

A visit to his travel blog Everything-Everywhere.com is more than a descriptive account of the places and people a nomadic traveler encounters. It’s a perceptive mirror of history, cultures, societies, quirky foibles, extraordinary experiences and the captivating minutiae of life across the globe.

Gary is not on a mission to change the world with his travels. There is no cause to support or an agenda to push. There’s no poring over a guidebook and attempting to recreate an experience. Off-the beaten path is more like it.

He does not make detailed plans before visiting a destination. He does not know when he will get back home. He is not perturbed that his cash will run out. He will probably not know which city will be next on his itinerary. He digs World Heritage Sites a lot. He enjoys meeting people in the places he travels to. He has been to those teeny-weeny islands in the Pacific that are probably unknown to many.

Gary plans to write a book on his travels. It will be beyond a travelogue that recounts ‘I went here. I saw this. I did that’. A chapter in the book will be on monarchs that will offer a fascinating perspective of rulers around the world. One could be on the history of Marshall Islands. Speaking engagements are also in the pipeline. His amazing collection of travel photographs could fetch him moolah.

Here are a couple of interesting thoughts that Gary left behind.

He believes that a year of international travel is as good as four years of a university education.

He says that a recession is the best time to travel around the world. Why would you want to work harder to make a living when all the economic forces are against you? You would rather go on a ‘sleep mode’ and then on a ‘refresh drive’ around the world.

He believes that the skills you learn from traveling stand in good stead when it comes to work or life.

He says that ‘cleanliness’ and ‘quality of highways’ are the best indicators of how developed a nation can be. He rates Muscat if not the best, among the best cities in the world.

He chronicled the saga of the Musandam Ferry on his blog. (Here’s another account on Muscati’s blog). Gary ran from pillar to post trying to find information on the ferry. His experience on how essential information on a service that is meant for tourists is not easily available to them should be an eye-opener for decision-makers who want to attract tourists to Oman. Change is on its way. The National Ferry Company has just launched a website with the info. Hat tip to Sangeetha at the Digital Oman blog.

His ride from Nizwa to Muscat is a fascinating testimonial of the outstanding hospitality shown by the people of this country. If you are a foreigner wary of the Middle East, Gary‘s experience will be a pleasant eye-opener.

If it were not for him, I would not have visited the ongoing Muscat Festival at Rose Garden, Qurum. It took the company of a tourist for me to go and experience the magic that is happening in my own backyard.

The Muscat Festival was a great opportunity for me to observe firsthand the amazing heritage and culture of this country, something I thought I already knew because I have lived here for 16 odd years. How wrong I was. A blog post on it is in the works.

People like him are the best brand ambassadors Oman can ever ask for. A few months from now, he might sit in a remote corner of the world and regale the locals there of how his arrival in Oman coincided with the country’s famous Gulf Cup victory. Hundreds of readers of his blog will learn about the Musandam Ferry fiasco. His book might feature an anecdote on his Nizwa ride and sharing lamb meat sticks with a stranger’ experience.

I wish Gary happy travels. Do follow his journeys on his blog. If his experiences motivate you to see more of the world yourself or make you look out more from your little shell, I’d say go for it.

Gary was profiled by ‘The Week’ during his visit to Oman. Read the story by Sujit Kumar.

My greatest rail-fanning moments on Indian Railways January 17, 2009

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.

Many years ago, when I was a budding rail-fan, I was fascinated with being a railway guard on Indian Railways. I was so enamored with how the gentleman in white at the rear of the train would lean out of his cab, sound his shrill whistle in a high pitch and gently wave his green flag to let the train move. And as the train picked up speed, his waving of the flag would feverishly increase in its intensity till the train would disappear from your sight.

Years passed and my interest turned into locomotives and their drivers (called Loco Pilots in Indian Railways parlance). Specifically Assistant Loco Pilots who perform inspection of the loco, check signals, and wave the green flag in sync with the Guard at the rear, as the Loco Pilot sounds the horn and takes the train out of the station.

The entire action of a train starting from a station is one of my biggest rail-fanning moments. For a rail-fan like me, those are moments of great anticipation.

Sometimes there is a crew change. The few minutes when the old set of crew interacts with the fresh crew taking out the train are exciting. If there is a loco change, you can bet that there will be a crowd watching to see the loco getting coupled to the train.

Occasionally, you will see a very faithful loco driver pray at the control stand before taking out his ride. Some Assistant Loco Pilots carry waste paper in their hands as they do their loco check. None of them wear a uniform in the place where I come from.

Almost all of them eagerly await the signal of the guard before they start waving their flags. No Loco Pilot sounds the horn till they get a ‘right’ from the Guard. It doesn’t matter even if the starter (signal) is right (green). The Guard’s gotta say ‘aye’.

Sometimes, the train moves as a family makes a last bid effort to the board the train. If the Assistant Loco Pilot spots that he asks his chief to go a bit easy on the wheel.

And I almost forgot about the locos, depending on the type of loco, be it a Diesel (WDM2, WDM3D) or Electric (WAP4, WAM4, WAP1), they all come with different horns, different looks and different take-off actions, which makes each experience different.

A few weeks ago, I created a set of videos capturing the starting of trains at Ernakulam Junction, a major railway station in Kerala. These 12 videos feature probably everything I shared about my biggest rail-fanning moments. I was plain lucky to have the same vantage point for every video, a great place to watch these amazing locos take off. They may all look the same to many. But a true rail-fan will find each journey a different beginning.

Enjoy your videos!

Rail-fanning at Bharathapuzha June 30, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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Bharathapuzha or Nila is the second longest river in Kerala. Bharathapuzha means River (Puzha) of Bharathamba (Goddess mother of Bharath – India).

The allusion behind the name is that the river feeds people like their own mother – (the water is pure and can be used for drinking, irrigation or other purposes).

Bharathapuzha originates in the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and flows west through the three districts of Palakkad, Thrissur and Malappuram and finally meets the Arabian Sea at Ponnani.

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Nila is very close to hearts of the people of Kerala, owing to its historical and cultural significance. Many of Kerala’s greatest creative geniuses such as Kunchan Nambiar (a satirical poet and founder of the Ottamthullal art form), Malayalam writers M. T. Vasudevan Nair, M.Govindan, V. K. N. and O. V. Vijayan have been inspired by her beauty.

Kerala Kalamandalam, a major learning center for Indian performing arts is situated in the village of Cheruthuruthy on the banks of Nila. The famous Ayurveda treatment centre of Kottakkal is adjacent to the Nila. It is also home to several famous Hindu temples as well. Legend goes that those cremated on the banks of the Bharathapuzha achieve salvation.

A train journey over the Bharathapuzha is a very nostalgic experience for Keralites. Many times I’ve seen travelers gaze out of the windows admiring the river that embodies the soul and spirit of North Kerala. It is not uncommon to hear travelers give impromptu lectures about the history of the river and berate the recent man-made ecological problems that have led to its drying up.

The river flows to its fullest only during the monsoon season in the last few years, and this year Kerala has had a particularly bad monsoon and you can see the river much dried up.

The British laid the current railway track parallel to the course of the river from Parli in Palakkad through Shoranur (a major railway junction in North Kerala) and up to Tirunnavaya (the last station on the line). The railway line is thus an inseparable part of the contemporary history of Nila.

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I recently went on a rail-fanning trip to Bharathapuzha. It has been one of my greatest wishes to visit the banks of the river and check out the trains gliding over the majestic rail bridges over the Nila, ever since I was a kid.

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Highlights of the trip included up and down rides on the Bharathapuzha railway bridges on the Ernakulam-Shoranur Passenger and Shoranur-Trivandrum Venad Express (check out video), a dip in the river beneath the bridges where I had oodles of fun waving out to passengers in the trains, a visit to a local toddy shop and finally some action packed rail-fanning at Shoranur Junction and Bharathapuzha (check out the videos of the diesel and electric action).

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Needless to say, with the sun playing hide-and-seek, intermittent showers and constant rail action, the atmosphere was simply enticing. Indeed, one of my best rail-fanning journeys ever!

Enjoy the videos!

Here are a few pics from a journey over Bharathapuzha in December 2006.




Express trains on the Bharathapuzha Railway Bridge

Freight train (push-pull) action at Shoranur Junction

Parasuram Express at Shoranur Junction

WDM3D action at Shoranur Junction

WAP4 action at Shoranur Junction

Life on the curve May 17, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in India, Indian Railways, Travel.
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The WAP-4 hauled 2644 Hazrat Nizamuddin – Trivandrum Swarna Jayanti Express on a magnificent curve between Gwalior and Sandalpur on 1 February 2008. It was a burning hot day and I had an affable railway worker from Gwalior to give me company in the deserted coach. Enjoy the ride!

Great Blogosphere Finds-1 May 13, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Advertising, Conversations, Digital, Social Media, Travel.
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Candles, originally uploaded by [ changó ].

Noah Brier’s Brandtags is a very interesting project (hat tip to Tangerine Toad) that not only lets you tell the world what you think of a brand but also learn what others tag the brand as (quite useful if you are in advertising).

It’s one of those addictive fun apps to power your day, like FreeRice. I said “OK” to UPS, “Understanding” to Toyota (understanding in two planes – understanding the community – Toyota has strong CSR initiatives in Oman & understanding the consumer – Toyota globally innovates and brings out different vehicles targeted at different audiences) and “Uhm awesome” to JetBlue (the uhm coming in after reading a Yahoo! Story on a JetBlue passenger forced to ride in an airline loo).

My suggestions to Noah: Can we have region-specific Brandtags? For example, I’d like to know what consumers think of regional airlines in the Middle East… The IPL cricket teams in India and so on. And may be, a lot of merchandise on the concept of brand tags? Also, I think a cool-tool on the home page which tells you what brands are featured… that one needs to be nimble & smart as the no. of brands will keep exponentially growing in time.

David Armano talks about ‘microinteractions and direct engagement in 2.0 world while Harker Research tells us that microinteractions are best captured by radio.

Every second spent in viewing Apple’s PC & Mac ads is a thoroughly interesting experience. These ads are so creative, funny & entertaining that it’s hard to pick a favourite – but I’ll go for “Pep Rally“. Click here to view all 30 plus of them.

Mack Collier discusses the evolution of social media tools & technologies from 2005 to the future. He says that soc media apps that facilitate connections leading to relationships will be successful.

Bloggers on the Power 150 blog-ranking index tell us what technology marketers should be paying most attention to in 2008. Video, micro-blogging and search marketing get the biggest shout-outs.

Launching Your Startup – PR and Social Media Strategies. A very informative podcast series featuring Neil Vineberg, Matt Dickman, CK, Jyri Engeström and Adam Metz.

JetBlue’s been creating a little buzz on the Web with Happy Jetting. Tangerine Toad suggested a few ways they could improve their web experience. I flew them in April and found their service, in-flight entertainment and even their ads appealing. Today, Yahoo had a story in its home-page that kind of undoes all the great work.

In the wake of the recent Dove Real Beauty ad retouching controversy, Ad Age’s Jonah Bloom talks about how Dove & Ogilvy have a long way to go to be recognized as true WOM proponents.

Dubai cabbie shows the world that honesty is still the best policy.

Astronaut Dr. Scott Parazynski says how risks and success go hand in hand.

Is it time for me to consider Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay?

Again, an interesting NYT read on the fascinating mind of a wine drinker.

Yummy clip of Mr. Beanbastic

Is it time to phase out the creative function? Joseph Jaffe believes that the “traditional specialist” is out and “the creative generalist” is in. A great brief for those looking for a kick in the pants in ad biz.

Interesting findings from ArabianBusiness.com Travel Survey 2008

  • Gulf residents are among world’s most traveled – 4 out of 5 travel to at least 2 countries in a year
  • Saudi Arabian residents are the Gulf’s most frequent global travelers, 4.65% of visit 21 or more countries in a year; Omanis most likely to travel to between two and five countries
  • Saudis spend the most on travel
  • Kuwaitis spend most on their vacations
  • Emirates is the most preferred airline
  • Culture, sightseeing and comfort for the family are the most important facets of a vacation for Gulf travelers
  • People in Qatar take the longest holidays UAE-ites vacation for the shortest period
  • Almost three quarters of frequent flyers are unwilling to pay extra for airlines using greener fuels
  • Business travellers are key to airline profitability