Letters: Transport possibilities

Why airships can never replace aircraft as viable transport
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Sir: In response to John Helberman (Letters, 2 February), let's compare a conventional passenger aircraft with a modern airship, the UK Skyship 600.

This weighs 7.5 tonnes, is 59m long, needs 6,580 cubic metres of helium for buoyancy, has eight passenger seats and a top speed of 40 knots. A 100-seater aircraft 30m long cruises at more than 400 knots, half the size and 10 times as fast.

Airlines allow 100kg for a passenger and luggage, so such an aircraft can carry 10 tonnes of revenue-earning weight. An airship, without counting the weight of the structure, engines and fuel, would need 9,000 cubic metres of helium just to carry a similar load. So it would have to be considerably more than twice the volume just for passenger weight alone; the bigger the payload, the bigger the size, the bigger the disadvantages.

A journey from London to Paris takes a little more than two hours by Eurostar, and three hours by plane, if one counts checking-in time and the journeys from city centres to airports. It would take about five hours in this airship, not counting the time to and from the outskirts, where it would be possible to moor, to the city centres. So in ideal conditions, the airship takes three times longer than the quickest possible alternative. But if there were headwind or sidewind, it would take considerably longer and would not be able to fly in very windy conditions. Scheduling would be a nightmare.

Transatlantic flights, or long-distance flights such as London to Sydney, with 300 to 500 passengers would just not be an option for an airship.Conventional aircraft just adjust the engine throttles to maintain a steady altitude as fuel is burnt or as air pressure changes, but airships have either to dump gas or use devices to generate water as ballast. I suspect if airships were economic, we would be using them.



Global warming is on the curriculum

Sir: Your front page, articles and editorial announcing that climate change is to be taught in schools (2 February) must have left other science teachers as speechless as I was. Does no one, including the minister for Education, know what is in the national curriculum?

Children have been learning about the greenhouse effect for at least 20 years, in biology, chemistry and geography. They are asked questions in GCSE about the likely effects of global warming, to which they are expected to answer that sea level will rise, low-lying areas will be flooded etc.

All through the 1990s, I was showing a video explaining the evidence from atmospheric and historical data and analysis of ice cores. I have been putting up articles from New Scientist and newspapers on noticeboards, with pictures of retreating glaciers and melting Arctic ice.

In biology, we have discussed the effects on disease distribution and agriculture and water shortages resulting from the retreating snows. Study of the carbon cycle involves consideration of the effects of deforestation on CO2 concentrations.

Since science is a compulsory subject for GCSE, no one who has left school over the past several years can be completely ignorant of climate change.

Another knee-jerk reaction from the Government.



Sir: It is extremely disturbing that in the same week as the IPPC's devastating report on global warming (3 February) the EU plans for the restriction of CO2 emissions from new cars to 120mg co2/km should be scuppered by Chancellor Angela Merkel in collusion with Germany's powerful motor industry.

So cynical is their attitude that in the past two years German manufacturers have actually stopped production of three excellent lightweight, efficient vehicles which already met the 120mg co2/km standard, the Audi A2 diesel, the VW Lupo diesel and the Smart roadster. Instead they concentrate on ever bigger and more powerful 4x4s, sports cars and limousines which are aimed far more at massaging egos than providing transport.

Because the US is their main market, German manufacturers clearly must accept some responsibility for America's grotesque levels of energy consumption and CO2 emissions from vehicles which will still be in use for 12 or 15 years.

Perhaps it is Germany's unique failure to impose speed limits which has resulted in it turning out so many vehicles wildly inappropriate to the desperately urgent needs of the 21st century? It is tragic that its greedy, short-sighted motor industry is making a nonsense of Germany's otherwise excellent Green credentials.



Sir: As the global warming debate gathers pace, not one politician has raised the most fundamental point of all. Most experts now agree the world oil reserves will run dry in 37 years at present and projected consumption.

There is much blathering about hydrogen-powered cars, absurd assurances that wind farms will provide all our needs for electricity, and an unwillingness to revisit the nuclear option for fear of alienating an uninformed electorate who may transfer their votes to another party.

Whether the oil runs out in 37, 40, or 50 years matters little. It's too close for comfort, and we cannot dodge it. Which party will have the courage to square up to it?



How young Muslims were radicalised

Sir: It should not come as a surprise to anyone that a large number of young British Muslims are more radical than their parents (article, 29 January), displaying signs of militancy and being attracted to extremist ideologies.

The extremist imams and community elders indoctrinating today's Muslim generation against the western way of life are the products of the Islamic fundamentalism that proliferated under the patronage of the grand anti-communist alliance of the past century, comprising western powers and Saudi fundamentalism, generously funded by petrodollars.

The extremism and intolerance took decades to sink in and become a way of life for many Muslims, not just in Britain. Equally, its eradication will not be swift and easy. Yet a combination of drastic measures and patient understanding of the religious, cultural and social pressures faced by today's Muslim youth can achieve the desired objectives, although this may take yet another generation.

The monitoring of hate-preaching imams, strict regularisation of uncontrolled growth of madrassas and compulsory inclusion of women in the committees managing British Islamic institutions need to made top priorities for the government, should they wish to avoid a situation where Oldham riots of 2001 would seem like a picnic in the park.

British Muslim communities need to start presenting truly moderate and well-integrated role models with proud Muslim identities yet with success stories to tell their youngsters.



Juries' dilemma in rape cases

Sir: Michael Scholes refers to juries being faced with two conflicting accounts (Letters, 1 February). This was certainly true of the rape case in which I was on the jury in 2004. The case concerned two young teenagers. The issue was one of consent. It was accepted by both parties that an attempt at intercourse had happened.

As jury members, we only had the two versions of the story to consider, with no concrete evidence to support either. The defendant's account stated that there had been two other people in the house at the time but no statement had been taken from them about anything they could have seen or heard (if they existed).

Her story was entirely different. My personal feeling was that "on the balance of probability" he was likely to be guilty but that we could not be sure beyond all reasonable doubt. I felt great sympathy for the girl because the system had possibly failed her but I believe that, based on the information given, the jury made the appropriate decision.



Courts jail people, not TV Licensing

Sir: I wish to clarify that you cannot be imprisoned for non-payment of a TV licence, as suggested in "Jailing people has become an Olympic event" (31 January). A custodial sentence can be imposed for non-payment of court fines, including fines for failure to have a TV licence. This is a matter strictly for the courts.

The most recent Home Office figures show only 28 people were jailed in 2004 for non-payment of fines related to TV licence evasion. TV Licensing would always prefer people to pay rather than risk prosecution. For further information on concessions or payment schemes, they can contact TV Licensing on 0870 241 5590, or visit www.tvlicensing.co.uk



Finns show way to efficient recycling

Sir: The Independent listed "Ten ways to cut waste" (24 January); there is an 11th. All those ways are good but you missed the most efficient system, used in Finland (also an EU country, somewhere in the far north).

There, all glass and plastic bottles of wine, other alcohol and soft drinks and drink tins are refundable in all shops selling them, and you will get the refund in cash. If you throw away an empty bottle or tin, some kids or other people will collect it and bring to a shop for payment. This keeps the environment rather clear of bottles, and about 90 per cent of bottles and tins are recycled. For example, beer bottles are washed and reused several times.



Sir: Environment minister Ben Bradshaw's suggestion of removing excess packaging at the supermarket check-out is an excellent one. But there are better ways to effect change than by lobbying supermarkets. In the long term, supermarkets are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Supporting alternatives is the ideal step towards a sustainable future.

I work in an independent grocery store in Derby. We sell our organic vegetables direct from the containers the farmers pack them in. Often, we return these containers to the grower for refilling.

Customers put their vegetables in recycled paper bags. At the tills, we put the shopping into reused carrier bags donated by our shoppers. In addition, our dry goods, such as porridge and rice are packed in bio-degradable cellophane packaging.

There are similar independent grocery stores in many towns and cities. Readers should seek them out and support them while they still exist as an option.



Sir: Did anyone else notice the price of the shrink-wrapped Swede on your front page (22 January)?

The price of 35p for 0.59kg is about 27p to the pound weight. I recall not so long ago sourcing local vegetables for community food co-ops and they were one third of that price, unwrapped, in reusable, recyclable sacks.

We were able to provide a family bag of produce for a week for £4 that would cost up to £12 in nearby supermarkets. The answer to waste and cost in supermarkets is in our own hands. Organise food supplies locally.



Sir: Last Saturday, I bought a week's supply of fruit and vegetables at Leeds Market. Result? Sixteen brown paper bags, three rubber bands and a whole lot of bargains. The market is next to the bus station as well.



Blair's purpose

Sir: Tony Blair is absolutely right to say he's not going yet because "There's still a job to do". He has to take the blame for the election results to be expected in May. Then he can go.



Forgotten victims

Sir. On 15 September 1963, four young black girls were killed in the racist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This marked a major turning point in the US civil rights movement, leading to a huge change in US domestic policy. Forty years on, the bombing of a Sunni school in Iraq (article, 29 January),when five young girls died in a sectarian attack will soon be forgotten, because violent child deaths are common in Iraq. This really represents a total failure of US foreign policy in Iraq.



Change mobile law

Sir: The Liberal Democrat Transport spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, is right that "Mobiles and cars don't mix" (Motoring, 30 January). The law bans use of mobile phones inside a car at any time. This is unfair if drivers are using their phone when the car is parked, say, in a layby. This part of the law should be eased, but the penalty for use when in motion should be harsher, even to impounding the car. The phone can then be used to call a taxi and finish the journey.



Honour due

Sir: Your article on religious leaders and the media (2 February) incorrectly stated that the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is "the UK's first black bishop". That particular honour belongs to Dr Wilfred Wood, a founder member of the Paddington Churches Housing Association and Bishop of Croydon from 1985 to 2003.



Who knows?

Sir: Would Mr I B Yaughan (Letters, 3 February) please explain how he knows "if our history were rerun without religion it would be a chaotic, ugly and dangerous business"? Scientific knowledge builds by discrete, verifiable increments. Personal opinions are pulled out of the air. There are reasons for listening to scientists, hardly any for listening to those possessed of religious certitude.



Strictly cash

Sir: I support cash for honours. Remove all political power, publish a tariff, let buyers decide whether their cash is given to Health, Education or Welfare, and let those who feel they can afford and need a title receive the accolade they can afford.



Why Iceland?

Why did Scottish Widows film their latest advert in Iceland? Scotland itself has enough beautiful and rugged scenery.