Why trains instead of planes for long distance?

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by dande, Oct 13, 2019.

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  1. Dec 2, 2019 #276

    Bluejet

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    A shill for the airline industry? Ok, I was having a civil discussion that obviously ruffled your feathers. So gloves off. Trains make sense, I have sat here and ADVOCATED for them where they make sense, but sorry if my opinion is over long distances they make little sense unless you intend to spend TRILLIONS of dollars in infrastructure for something that STILL won’t compete against airfares. While we’re at it why don’t we just at build fleets of “high speed ocean liners” to get us to England. The train owns less then 1% of the long distance market, and that 1% requires significant government subsidies to operate in the first place. And I have no doubt one day some technological leap will make airlines look like, well, today’s long range trains. This whole thread was “why long distance trains vs aircraft,”, so as a pilot yeah I think I can chime in reasonably.

    Buisness class domestic travel certainly exists. Look at the delta one network, the jetblue mint network. What I find disingenuous is you balking at priority lanes and premium travel while paying thousands for roomettes and bedrooms. If you want to compare a spade to a spade, coach tickets to coach tickets, see how you come out of you long distance train in coach class after 2 days without a shower. If you want to compare a premium experience then compare it to a premium airline experience. You cant data mine the worst of the airlines vs the best the railroad offers.

    as for CAHSR, it’s “postponed” (basically dead unless you want to go where... Bakersfield?!?!) Its not political.... it’s MONEY. Even liberal wealthy California won’t pay its up to 90 billion dollar tab.


    Lastly, I’m not advocating the elimination of the train. Simply put, as a boutique travel experience it simply doesn’t compete against the airlines on long segments. Short? Yes there are many scenarios where I use and will continue to use their services, speaking of which I’ll likely be on the bright line today.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019
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  2. Dec 2, 2019 #277

    jebr

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    1. As stated above, it's not "gone."

    2. You could build a transcontinental HSR network by building interconnected corridors that are under 1000 miles each. It might not be time-competitive from the east coast to the west coast, but it should exist for all the major cities along the way. The case is much stronger for NYC - Chicago HSR, then Chicago - Denver HSR (perhaps via St. Louis and Kansas City,) then Denver - Albuquerque - Phoenix HSR, then Phoenix - Las Vegas - Los Angeles HSR. Each of those segments, on its own, is pretty competitive for HSR - 1000 miles max would be 10 hours if we could average even 100 MPH, and 5-10 hours on a train is quite competitive. It'd be even more competitive if we properly account for the emissions caused by flight and require that to be built into the cost of flying - those extra few hours would then likely be worth saving the cost of the short flight (or two short flights, if nothing direct is available.)

    We don't build a HSR network for the NYC - LAX market; we build it for all the markets in the middle. Connecting/through traffic is just gravy on top.
     
  3. Dec 2, 2019 #278

    crescent-zephyr

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    I do agree with this general point. It annoys me when rail advocates compare a roomette to coach on an airline. I almost always fly first class, just like I always buy a roomette for long distance. (I just look for deals.. I don't have enough status with any airline for the upgrades yet.)
     
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  4. Dec 2, 2019 #279

    crescent-zephyr

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    This is where you lose me... Amtrak is not a boutique travel experience. I consider the VIA Rail premium rooms a boutique experience but they are operating on a train that still moves Canadians within their own country in both coach and regular sleepers (that's based on my personal travel experience on VIA talking to fellow passengers).

    I feel like a decent percentage of amtrak sleeping car passenger trains on a few select trains could fall into the "boutique" travel or "experiential" but the far majority of coach passengers are using amtrak for transportation. Not a boutique travel experience. I don't have any data, and neither do you, but I'm guessing the majority of sleeping car passengers nationwide are also using amtrak for transportation.
     
  5. Dec 2, 2019 #280

    Devil's Advocate

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    That was your version of holding back? Nothing says ruffled feathers like declaring it's time to take the gloves off. Your posts seem stuck in some sort of binary logic trap where we can only have one option or the other, and your wording implies that your views on transportation may come from emotional investment or loyalty to a paycheck rather than calm deliberation. As a pilot with operational shortcuts and insider workarounds it's not that surprising that you would have only the dimmest idea what it's like for average travelers with no special access.

    I'm no stranger to priority lanes or premium airline travel, but I still think it's important to remember that most passengers do not enjoy such benefits. I'm a fan of passenger rail, especially modern highspeed variants, but I am not a fan of Amtrak specifically. Amtrak's pricing, service levels, and fitness for duty are all suspect and if it were possible to replace Amtrak with a better steward tomorrow I would support doing so. Since that's not practical I'm fine with implementing smaller highspeed corridors and then adding longer and longer segments to build out and connect a new network over time. Since airlines are doing so well and priced so competitively it sounds like now is the right time to remove any remaining government assistance and redirect those benefits elsewhere, such as for implementing new HSR.

    California may be liberal, but that does not change the fact that it takes a lot less money and effort to hold something back than it does to push it forward, and in my view that is the primary reason HSR has stalled in the US. Originally the plan was to use carbon credits and federal money to help shore up the HSR budget. Numerous legal attacks and political setbacks delayed implementation and raised costs. Partisan adversaries revoked some of CA's funding and financing leaving the state with a higher projected cost and fewer options to resolve it. It's possible that a change in our national government would be able to help bring those options back again. How you're able to separate government funding from politics is beyond my ability to comprehend.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019
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  6. Dec 2, 2019 #281

    Bluejet

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    When someone calls me a shill my feathers indeed become ruffled. Yes I enjoy some (limited) benefits from being a pilot. Known crew member is fantastic, and I can use it on domestic personal travel. Internationally I’m right there with everyone, and yes I am well aware of TSA’s shortcomings. It’s an imperfect system, but it is what it is as long as crazy and it politically motivated people still have a desire to use an aircraft as a weapon of mass destruction.

    And as I’ve said, let’s build HSR if when, and where it makes sense. A problem with today’s technology though is it’s likely still too expensive to ever recap the costs. At even the lowest estimates of 30 million dollars per mile, any corridors are going to be built for billions upon billions of dollars. And 30 million per mile is a very low estimate.
     
  7. Dec 3, 2019 #282

    Qapla

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    Before air transport became commonplace - many back then thought it would never fly because the cost of buying planes and building airports was just too much money ... but, they went ahead and invested the money. Now that air and roadway congestion is reaching epidemic proportions, finding an additional means of mass transit would be an investment just like building roadways and airports were - and we have to keep in mind, the roads and airports were built with public money not expecting them to "make a profit".

    If the HSR were given the same chance that highways and airports were, it would not be nearly as costly to build them ... but, unlike back when that initial expansion took place, today - law suits, greedy land owners and addition red tape increases the cost of building to an exponential amount that road and air travel did not face during their growing years.

    It should also be considered that road and air travel ARE subsidized - it is just not as obvious. Those industries get to use the infrastructure that was built with tax dollars without a direct charge so they can make a profit - but people expect Amtrak to pay for the infrastructure and make a profit
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  8. Dec 3, 2019 #283

    dlagrua

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    If we group together the federal and state transportation budgets that number is in the hundreds of billions. Amtrak received about $2 billion in subsidies this year while its operating loss is something like $200 million. That is a bargain for the American taxpayer.
    Now if you examine how much fuel is used per passenger on an Amtrak train going coast to coast; it is a fraction of what is used per passenger on an airline. An airline has a fixed capacity of say two hundred passengers. The train can accommodate more than a thousand passengers who get on and off along that route. Why trains instead of planes? They are far more efficient and serve areas where small airports do not offer much. Many of us here also believe that trains are more comfortable. If the seats get any closer on an aircraft, why before you know it, they will start imposing a weight and size based ticket system as they do with cargo.
     
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  9. Dec 3, 2019 #284

    Anderson

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    I am just going to chime in and note that "priority travel lanes" are something that I resent, but not because "Oooh, it's somebody paying to skip the line". It's because the frakking line shouldn't exist in the first place [1] and essentially a bad situation has been created and then monetized.

    [1] Ok, I'll admit that on super-peak days there was likely a bad security line pre-9/11. The issue is that the long line is a regular thing that has been imposed in general at many airports. And I say this as someone who both travels almost exclusively "up front" and who has Global Entry, and thus almost always gets PreCheck.
     
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  10. Dec 3, 2019 #285

    Bluejet

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    The math was done earlier in the thread, but essentially the train doesn’t have a significant fuel burn advantage over modern jets. Now. Again, it’s a 1980s locomotive pulling entirely too heavy cars, so that could change in the (near) future, but as it currently stands they are pretty comparable.
     
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  11. Dec 4, 2019 #286

    toddinde

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    No
    None of that means anything. Aviation gets huge subsidies at the federal state and local level. But besides that, there is nothing wrong with subsidizing public services. Roads, schools, fire, police, parks, waste water treatment, food inspection; none of it makes money. Nice that you were going from Chicago to New York, but what about people going from Elkhart to Buffalo? Or Cleveland to Rochester? The bottom line is that more people are going to have to travel by rail because of climate change. Air will be reserved for real long haul travel.
     
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  12. Dec 4, 2019 #287

    Anderson

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    Yes, but what about cases where it is a new(er) locomotive hauling those cars? e.g. How much better is a Charger over one of those 1980s locomotives (or the ACS over a GG-1, for that matter)?
     
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  13. Dec 5, 2019 #288

    Bluejet

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    An Airbus 321-200 with sharklets and V2500 powerplants will burn roughly 35,000lbs on a trip from New York to Los Angeles. At 6.8lbs/ gallon, the Airbus will burn 5150 gallons carrying 159 people in a low density configuration with 16 or those seats in buisness class. The a321neos coming online burn 20% less fuel, so about 4100 gallons. By Amtrak’s reporting (and if I’m wrong here, apologies) long distance trains average .4m mpg, so considering a trip from NYC to Los Angeles the train will burn roughly 7000 gallons. Now, I do realize that the train has a bit more capacity, but likely significantly lower load factor, so there can’t really be a direct burn per hour total comparison, but my guess is the loads are likely similar. Our NYC to LAX flights run 12x daily and have 90+% load factors.

    Current AMD103 NYC-LAX r/t
    Total 14000 gallons (.4 mpg)

    a321CEO 5150 west bound 4100 East (tailwinds)
    Total 9250 gallons

    Airbus capacity 159 low density ~85% load factor 68 gallons / passenger (actual LF is higher)

    Airbus 321 high density 200 passengera
    54 gallons /passenger


    Train capacity ~340 at ~61% LF (reported by Amtrak for the chief peak July 2018, less for the lake shore) 68 gallons /passenger

    charger ~16% fuel burn reduction (reported Siemens) 58 gallons per passengers

    a321neo low density ~20% fuel burn reduction
    54 gallons per passenger.
    A321NEO high density 43 gallons a passenger

    If the train had full load factors they would be more efficient then the plane, but how trains run with multiple intermediary stops it’ll always have significantly lower load factor, so based on Amtrak’s numbers, they are almost exactly the same.

    Id run airline CHI-LAX but I don’t have aircraft burn numbers for those cities.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2019
  14. Dec 5, 2019 #289

    jis

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    Indeed one of the tragedies in the US is the relatively inefficient operation of passenger trains leading to significantly suboptimal fuel economy. This comes not only from infrequent service leading to poor utilization but also from across the board reluctance and indeed resistance to electrification which immediately yields further energy efficiency due to the ability to regenerate and reuse energy, and indeed use energy from completely renewable sources.
     
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  15. Dec 5, 2019 #290

    Qapla

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    To get an apples-to-apples comparison we might want to compare not gallons/passenger ... but "ton miles" ... since a train carries more luggage than a plane.

    Also, since, as was mentioned, trains run with multiple intermediary stops, we should probably combine the fuel used by the "local puddle jumpers" (shuttle planes) that cover the same cities along a given route - for the example used, NYC to LA, we should also look at the passenger load and fuel used by the planes that only went between the the shorter stops if we are going to include that fuel used by the train that stopped at those cities.
     
  16. Dec 5, 2019 #291

    Trollopian

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    The public areas (lobby and concourse) at the Pennsylvanian are glorious and well-preserved. The apartments are frankly very ordinary. Except for the views. Ceilings are high, enormous (and heavy) windows occupy much of that height, and if you're a railfan it's hard to beat this. Would everyone like a view over train tracks? No, but we do. I could never hear the trains, but my cat and I quickly learned to sense a telltale low rumble and we (well, I) would head to the window. It never staled.
     

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  17. Dec 5, 2019 #292

    jebr

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    It still makes sense to look at it per passenger, since generally* the luggage is directly tied to the people on board that are travelling. Just because the train is heavier, or people bring more on board, doesn't mean that the fuel used to carry passengers' luggage should be considered separately. It's still directly related to getting that passenger from point A to point B.

    *Both Amtrak and the airlines have cargo contracts as well, though if anything I'd imagine the airlines would carry a bit more since they have the "super express" niche and still have USPS contracts to carry mail.
     
  18. Dec 5, 2019 #293

    Bluejet

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    Its never been debated trains win on Ton Miles. A super liner car weighs 150-180k pounds...... MGTOW of an A321 is 206,000lbs. Passengers cars, especially super liners are very very heavy, likely way too heavy, hence I said a fuel problem is the weight of the carriages, not just the age of the diesels.

    Freight rail will always destroy air freight in fuel efficiency, always.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2019
  19. Dec 5, 2019 #294

    Qapla

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    Yes and no ... while it is true that luggage directly ties to passengers - a passenger can take much more luggage on the train. True, they may have to pay for "extra" baggage - but they can already take more baggage for free then air passengers can. Also, the extra baggage doe not require sending an extra train like it does/would for the plane - since a plane has to restrict it's weight in order to get off the ground ... excessive baggage would require another plane but excessive baggage does not require an extra train.

    In any event ... no one is saying that planes should be discontinued in favor of planes - only that trains should be viewed as equitable means of travel and given the same respect as planes and cars. Planes and cars get the benefit of gov't money in the provision of the airports and roads and no one complains or "requires" the highways to be "profitable" like they do with Amtrak.
     
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  20. Dec 6, 2019 #295

    Bluejet

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    Airlines, more specifically passengers, pay a LOT of taxes and fees that pay for airport access, security, etc. Airlines pay for the airport improvements made via landing fees and leases for facilities. Airlines are the most taxed form of transport in the United States, I don’t know that they are getting a subsidy.

    Baggage, In a 200 seat or 159 seat config the airplane can haul as much fuel, people, and baggage as needed to fly a transcon. It won’t bulk out or weight out. Airlines don’t send another plane, if they weight out they deny boarding and send the passengers on the next flight, with a lot of compensation for the inconvenience.

    You want to say it’s an equitable form of transport, but it’s simply not. Airlines will send three times as many seats between LAX and JFK then Amtrak will send on their entire long distance network tomorrow out of Chicago. That’s one route. Amtrak provides a niche form of long distance travel, but it’s responsible for less then 1% of what the airlines are doing daily. Probably a lot less then that 1%. From nyc it’ll take you 68 hours vs 6, and cost you more money then a buisness class lie flat seat. That’s not equitable. There might be some situations that are equitable especially from rural communities or such, but from the largest metros over long distances I don’t see it.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2019
  21. Dec 6, 2019 #296

    west point

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    Blue jet. Are your figures for aircraft SFC the whole route or just cruising altitudes ? As well aren't the neos able t cruise at higher altitudes?.
     
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  22. Dec 6, 2019 #297

    neroden

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    1. Regarding contribution to climate change:
    Air "puddlejumpers" are shockingly, horrifically inefficient. Far better to fill a train from Utica, Syracuse, and Buffalo to Chicago than to run puddlejumpers from any of those locations to Chicago. I'm sure you can do the math, Bluejet. When you talk about LA-NY jumbo jets, you're doing apples to oranges. Compare apples to apples or I'll consider you to be arguing in bad faith.

    2. Airlines are monumentally, massively subsidized.

    This is mostly done through airport subsidies. I don't think you can deny that almost all airports in the US have been heavily subsidized for almost their entire existence. Hell, most of them were former Army Air Force bases which were *given for free* for use as civilian airports, so they started right off with free land and facilities. But coming to the modern era, they repeatedly get gigantic subsidies out of state and local tax dollars. (It's ***ing happening again to my local airport, for the third or fourth time, my state tax dollars being wasted on unnecessary airport expansion.) If you don't know this about airport funding, you're ignorant. Airports are DEFINITELY NOT funded just by landing fees, there's huge amounts of state & local tax money going into them.

    And then there's "Essential Air Service" -- the annual funding for that is about 1/4 of Amtrak's annual funding by ITSELF! While EAS is justifiable in Alaska, most of the rest of it is subsidies to places which already have passenger train service which is cheaper. And it's subidies to those polluting puddlejumpers, too!c

    3. I'm OK with subsidies for transportation, because it benefits the economy. But it's unfair and ridiculous to subsidize airlines by a huge amount, subsidize roads by far, far, far, far more, and then say that we won't subsidize trains.

    4. Bluejet, if you don't realize who Amtrak is serving, I suggest you shut up and listen.

    A. There's the 10% of Americans who don't fly at all. Most of them drive. Amtrak is far more efficient than driving and saves the governments of the US a lot of money on highway spending. (Let's be clear -- nearly everyone going between the biggest of cities on Amtrak is in this group. We absolutely should support these people, it's 10% of the population, it's more expensive for taxpayers if they're all driving.)
    B. There's people going from third-tier cities to big cities. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of them. Again, most of them drive. Amtrak is far more efficient than driving, again, and saves the government money. But also, Amtrak is massively more efficient on these routes than flying polluting, low-capacity puddlejumpers multiple times per day. That's not even commercially viable in a lot of places, hence "Essential Air Service"... and cities which don't have an air option at *all*.

    Amtrak isn't really competing with flying, it's competing with driving. But on the other hand, flying is totally uncompetitive in most of the "puddlejumper" markets, and the puddlejumpers only exist to feed passengers into the big-airplane routes. Trains can do this just as well or better, which is why the airlines (who mostly want to get out of the puddlejumper business) have started supporting train service.

    5. To help break you of your misguided airline-based point-to-point thinking, I suggest you think about Amtrak's longer-distance routes as being like the Interstate Highways. How many people take the Interstate route all the way from New York to Chicago -- let alone NY to LA? Very few. Most of the people using the interstates are taking much shorter trips. However, it is efficient to have one connected-up network so that it is *possible* to drive from NY to Chicago, even though most people will be driving from NY to Poughkeepsie, Syracuse to Buffalo, or South Bend to Chicago. This is exactly what Amtrak long-distance routes do.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2019
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  23. Dec 6, 2019 #298

    neroden

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    In addition, due to starvation funding, Amtrak is usually using really archaic locomotives. (Fuel efficiency went up significantly when the Sprinters arrived.) If you want to compare locomotive to airplane fuel efficiency, you would have to compare Amtrak's P42s with planes of the same era. So it's cheating to compare it to the A321neo, you have to compare it to the original 1994 A321.

    Also, Amtrak passenger cars are too heavy. This is the result of archaic 1940s FRA regulations which have *finally* been repealed but only a couple of years ago.
     
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  24. Dec 6, 2019 #299

    Bluejet

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    They are actual release burn. I was able to pull up a release on a random day and look at the burn number. Today’s modern software combined with computer modeled winds is shockingly accurate. Burn and EFOB (estimated fuel on board destination) are usually modeled within 2-300 lbs.

    The NEOs don’t necessarily climb higher, though sometimes they can just by virtue that they carry less fuel, and thus weigh less allowing for a higher max recommended cruising altitude. The sharklets instead of wingtip fences allow for a 2000 foot increase in cruise altitude. Depending on wind the aircraft will give you a recommended max altitude (weight dependent) and an optimal cruise altitude. (Wind and weight dependent) Usually we will aim for the next highest cruise altitude above optimal as our cruise altitude, traffic dependent.
     
  25. Dec 6, 2019 #300

    Bluejet

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    I did. Read the post above. I compared an a321CEO and an A321NEO to a genesis and a Sprinter. I also agree that half the battle is the hugely overweight cars, and lets be honest, the buy America stuff isn’t helping because even if you want a foreign off the shelf design, the manufacturer now has to spend massively to set up a FAL somewhere in the states just to be able to deliver the product. No where are the airlines required to buy domestic goods.


    Also, I will not compare it to a 1994 a321 because A) I don’t have exact burn data, and B) were not in 1994. The failure of the railroads to innovate even reasonably isn’t the fault of the airlines they compete against. Airbus constantly innovates their products, so things like sharklets should absolutely be in the mix. A 1994 a321 while having the same components as one built in 2017 was woefully inadequate for what the airlines are doing with it today. Sharklets, weight reduction programs, multiple MTOGW programs, aux tanks, higher output motors have all contributed to the a321CEO being what it is when the last one rolls off the production line shortly vs what Airbus rolled out in 1994. The rail industry in this country could learn some things about innovation and constant updates of their products like the aviation manufacturers have committed to.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2019

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