We were having a dinner at the Belvedere restaurant, just south of Warsaw, in the historical complex that used to be the summer residence of Polish kings. I was having a glass of wine and the man I was talking to, a glass of orange juice.
I have known him for a long time, he is a pilot for life - I think he knew how to fly before he knew how to drive. For the last twenty something years now he flies the big airliners all over the world.
“How is the Boeing 737 Max flawed?” I asked, “it’s been grounded all over the world by now.”
“Well” he said slowly, not rushing to a judgment, “Boeing is really a big plane company, 747, 777, 787, this is what they’re good at. The smaller ones may be out of their comfort zone.”
“And why does the software to control the dive and the stall on the 737 confuse the pilots?”
“Talk to the people who found the black boxes, which are yellow actually.”
I was quiet for a while looking through the big window at the brightly lit Castle on the Isle, the center point of this area.
Think Central Park infused with beautiful history.
“It could be the lift,” said the pilot after being silent for a while.
“You get the plane to fly evenly if the center of gravity matches the center of lift, obviously. But this is far from easy, can’t predict weight distribution of the passengers or the luggage, plus the fuel burns down as you fly and then there are other variables, so you need a control system to compensate.”
“Which part of the plane does it?” I asked.
“The rear wings, they have a movement built into them, up to 20 degrees or so. But if the controls fall apart, things really fall apart.”
He got up, “talking about places where things fall apart, I’m flying to Riyadh tomorrow morning. They appointed a 30 year old prince to modernize the country and limit oil dependence. If that’s not a sign of desperation, I don’t know what is. Anyway, he said he would modernize the country within 20 years. It didn’t happen in 2000 years, so good luck with that.”
He left me thinking about the Arab peninsula and the House of Saud.
When the Middle East was stable, it was because Turkey dominated the region.
When Turkey fell in the World War I, the Europeans re-drew the borders in a way that was useful for the French and the British, but they make no sense in the Arab world. There never was a country like Iraq or Syria or Jordan, the divide is totally artificial. And everybody seems to have forgotten about it.
For many years the United States guaranteed the stability of the region, so that oil would flow. When the price of oil collapsed the importance of Middle East declined economically and U.S. willingness to support the region and the House of Saud pretty much evaporated. Nobody else from the outside has any interest to intervene, so it is going to be stabilized by one of the regional powers: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Israel.
Israel is unlikely to make this move. Saudi Arabia has to many economic problems to even imagine it. The Iranians have internal issues too, even though they’re hungry, so it really comes down to Turkey. And they have the power, economically and militarily to do it, but the thing is – it may just not be worth doing.
The obvious question that will define the future of this region is this:
What is the future of hydrocarbons?
We’ve been using them for 200 years and this is clearly not going to go on forever in an economy that is transforming quickly. There are new energy forms that are going to come, like space based solar for example.
Energy comes from the sun, but on earth we can’t take a full advantage of it because of clouds and nights. Not so in space, it’s pure energy there and you can beam it to the earth using microwave radiation. There is no coincidence that Branson, Musk and the likes hang out in Western Texas working on their space programs. Not for space tourism, I don’t think, – there is no money in it. It’s the energy they’re after.
Whoever gets out there first will be the Saudi Arabia of the future.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler