New safety video for Qantas + preview of PDX new gates

Happy Friday. Here are two fun videos to kick off the weekend. A pretty new safety video from Qantas and a time-lapse preview of a concourse expansion at Portland International Airport.


Pass the mustard: Qantas uses mustard seeds to power a flight

Airlines have been testing a variety of aviation biofuels made from everything from sugar and used cooking oil to corn and forest wastes to replace some of the traditoinal jet fuel on airplanes and reduce carbon emissions.

On Sunday, Qantas gave it a try, flying its Dreaminliner 787-9 on the world’s first dedicated biofuel flight between the United States and Australia.

The 15-hour trans-Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne used about 54,000 pounds of blended biofuel made from Brassica Carinata, a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed developed by a Canadian-based agricultural-technology company.

The ten percent biofuel blend delivered a seven percent reduction in emissions on this route compared to normal operations.

Carinata is a promising biofuel source, says Qantas, because it needs no speical production or processing techniques, is water efficient and is a good crop to grow in the Australian climate, either in fallow areas where food crops don’t thrive or in between regalar crop cycles to improve soil quality.

Expect more biofuel flights to and from Australia in the future. In 2017, Qantas announced a project to work with Australian farmers to grow the country’s first commercial aviation biofuel seed crop by 2020.

This wasn’t the first biofuel flight for Qantas. In 2012 Qantas and Jetstar operated Australia’s first biofuel trial flights using biofuel that included used cooking oil.


Winning names for Qantas’s fleet of Dreamliners


Qantas’s inaugural Dreamliner flight will travel from Melbourne to Los Angeles – but not until December 2017.

But the carrier already has names for all eight 787-9 Dreamliners to be added to its fleet.

Customers sent in more than 60,000 suggestions and the public was asked to vote for the ‘keepers,’ which are:

Great Barrier Reef, Boomerang, Skippy, Waltzing Matilda, Uluru, Great Southern Land, Quokka and Dreamtime.

Some of those names are easy to connect with Australia; others need a little context, which Qantas has been kind enough to provide:

  • Great Barrier Reef:  an ecosystem comprising of reefs and hundreds of islands off coast of Queensland.
  • Boomerang: a traditional hunting tool of First Australians, with a bent or curved shape; also used in music and sport.
  • Skippy: an Australian television series featuring a young boy and his intelligent pet kangaroo ‘Skippy’.
  • Waltzing Matilda: Bush-ballad narrating the story of a swagman.
  • Uluru: A sacred monolith in the heart in Australia’s Northern Territory’s
  • Great Southern Land: A term used to describe Australia.
  • Quokka: A type of marsupial from the island of Rottnest near Perth, Australia.
  • Dreamtime: The English word used to describe First Australians’ understanding of the creation period.





Visit Australia with Qantas’ new virtual reality app


Virtual vacations are starting to compete with the real thing.  But Qantas is hoping that by giving you a virtual taste Australia’s offerings, you’ll put get on a plane and go see for yourself.

Qantas first experiments with virtual reality  last year, when it offered a virtual reality visit to a couple of Australian destinations on Samsung Gear VR headsets in its First-Class cabin and Lounges.

Now the carrier has released a virtual reality app  with 13 videos showcasing a wide variety of Australian landscapes and events, with more promised in the next few weeks.

The app offers two modes: split screen for those who have a compatible headset or Google Cardboard and 2D landscape for viewing directly on a smartphone.

And if you like what you see, you can book flights to these destinations directly from the app.

Here are a few samples.

The first is a helicopter flight offering an aerial view of Uluru, one of the great natural wonders of the world.

Other videos offer a hot air balloon ride of Alice Springs and the Australian outback, a helicopter ride to Hamilton Island and a swim in the Great Barrier Reef, a climb on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and a wide  variety of other you-are-there experiences.


Virtual reality testing, courtesy Qantas

Forget the seat-back screen and your bring-on-board tablet.

In an in-flight entertainment first, Australian carrier Qantas will soon be making Samsung’s virtual reality headsets, called Gear VR, available to premium passengers on some long-distance flights.

Qantas virtual reality headsets to be tested on some A380 flights_courtesy Qantas

A three-month trial run begins in mid-March, when Qantas plans to make the headsets available to first-class passengers on some of the airline’s A380 flights between Australia and Los Angeles.

Visitors to Qantas first-class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne have headsets to test now.

Someday, Qantas says the VR technology “will transport customers to an immersive virtual world … and showcase the sights and delights of network destinations, new Qantas products and the latest in-flight blockbuster movies.”

But for now, Qantas is just giving passengers a virtual reality sampler of short features, or “vignettes,” filmed in Australia and produced by Palo Alto-based technology company Jaunt. The playlist that allows headset-wearers to watch a Qantas airplane take off and land and visit the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, a Qantas airport lounge and Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park.

“Travel and VR make a natural pair,” said Jaunt CEO Jens Christensen. “We’ve gone from no in-flight entertainment, to one drop-down screen, then screens in the seats, and now personal screens,” said Christensen.

“VR is the next step on the evolutionary scale,” he added. “Instead of a limited-size screen, a passenger is transported to a new location.”

That’s appealing if the technology is someday used to “virtually transport economy-class passengers in ultra-tight seating … to other more spacious ‘realities’ outside of the metal tube,” said Mary Kirby, founder of the Runway Girl Network. But widespread adoption by airlines “appears unlikely now” due in part to the high costs associated with the headsets and their handling, she added.

Another concern: making passengers sick. For some people find virtual reality experiences can sometimes trigger vertigo, nausea or worse.

“I think putting any device that simulates motion into something that is already moving will guarantee those air sickness bags won’t just be used for scribbling notes,” said Frank Catalano, a tech industry consultant and a columnist at GeekWire.

The stationary filming techniques used in the Qantas VR vignettes should help, said Jaunt’s Christensen, “When you’re in our environments, you’re stable. We found that eliminates the nausea.”

But what if the virtual reality experience is too good? Will travelers no longer need to actually go to the places they’ve “visited” during their flights?

“We think by transporting our customers to the immersive virtual worlds of destinations that [they] have never seen, the VR Gear will actually inspire our customers to travel more,” said Olivia Wirth, a Qantas executive for marketing and corporate affairs.

Catalano, a frequent traveler, agreed. “You simply can’t replicate the smells, the tastes, the serendipitous discoveries, the off-handed casual conversations with locals, the immersion into a new and different culture,” he said. “All virtual reality can do is stimulate the appetite for the real thing.”

(My story about virtual reality testing Qantas first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different format.)