The Boarding Logjam

March 3, 2023

The glacial pace of boarding planes irritates frequent fliers and airline employees, writes The Wall Street Journal (March 3, 2023). Along with other preflight requirements, it also adds costly time on the ground for Southwest and other airlines, which regularly study ways to speed up boarding.

Southwest employees carry mobile devices to speed up processes such as checking bags.

Today, Southwest is on a mission to shave 5 minutes off the time a plane spends at the gate between flights. The average “turn’’ is now 40 minutes for its smaller Boeing 737s and 50 for the larger ones. “If you can collect up enough of these minutes in each turn, then you can start to squeeze out some more flying,’’ says Southwest’s COO.

Research shows boarding bottlenecks are the biggest detriment to turnaround times. Delays in seconds between passengers finding their seats, or sitting in the wrong seat, add up fast. Southwest is testing 11 concepts at four gates at the Atlanta airport. Signs tell passengers they are entering an “innovation zone.’’ The Atlanta project is a big component of Southwest’s 5-minute quest, with goals of saving 2-3 minutes on boarding per flight. Southwest hopes the rest of the time savings can come from efforts including bigger overhead bins, a possible increase in boarding planes from the front and back simultaneously, and paperless takeoff documents.

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Electric Cars and the Climate

February 16, 2023

An EV charging at a shopping center in California

Replacing all gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles won’t be enough to prevent the world from overheating, says a new U. of California reportThe report offers a look at the environmental and economic sacrifices needed to meet net-zero climate goals,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 13, 2023).

The study notes three problems:

Problem No. 1: Electric-vehicle batteries require loads of minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, which must be extracted from the ground like fossil fuels. If today’s demand for EVs is projected to 2050, the lithium requirements of the US EV market alone would require triple the amount of lithium currently produced for the entire global market. Unlike fossil fuels, these minerals are mostly found in undeveloped areas that have abundant natural fauna and are often inhabited by indigenous people. Mining can be done safely, but in poor countries it often isn’t.

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EV Plans Hinge on Made-in-America Batteries

February 8, 2023

Companies and the U.S. government are shelling out billions of dollars to establish a supply chain for batteries in North America, a manufacturing effort that is critical to the auto industry’s long-range plans to put more electric vehicles on the road.

Batteries are the most expensive component in an electric vehicle, accounting for about one-third of its cost, reports The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 7, 2023).

Lithium, produced at this site in Nevada, is among the minerals that are crucial battery components.

American electric-car makers traditionally haven’t assembled batteries themselves. They rely on a far-flung supply chain. The raw materials are mined primarily in countries such as Australia, China, Congo and Indonesia. Chemical processing, battery components and assembly are mostly done by Chinese companies.

A recently passed law provides incentives for North American-built batteries and penalizes car companies that source batteries abroad, is spurring a wave of new projects in the U.S.—from cell-making factories to new ventures to mine the raw materials.

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