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  • Writer's pictureGoldfinch

Cybertravels

I've been traveling a lot lately. Since the beginning of this year, I have covered about 50,000 kilometers, of which over 7,000 in the car (only counting long-distance trips). Is that a lot? I have already circled the earth once (circumference of the earth is about 40.075 km) and I already have a good advance for the next lap and I hope that this is not my last word this year ;) There are probably those who have already done more, but it is not little.


Most of these trips were made privately, although sometimes I traveled for business. As you can see, I like to travel, and I like flying even more - for the last 7 years I have made 225 flights, which is an average of one flight every week and a half. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by large passenger planes, not military ones, but the biggest ones. No wonder, since I flew a plane for the first time when I was only a few months old. And so, during the last flight on the Boston - Warsaw route, I decided to make a small summary of what planes I had the opportunity to fly.

- Airbus 310, 319, 320, 321, 330, 350, 380

- Antonov 24

- ATR 42, 72

- Boeing 727, 737 (wszystkie 3 generacje), 747, 767, 777

- Bombardier CRJ 900 (obecnie Mitsubishi), Dash 8 Q400

- Embraer 170, 190

- Fokker 100

- MD-11, MD-80

- Tupolev 134, 154


In total, for almost 40 years, I had the opportunity to fly on board 24 different aircraft models. From the currently flying ones, I only have a few left Airbus 220, 340, Beoing 757 (which is becoming more and more difficult to meet in our skies), and the pride of our national carrier, Beoing 787, known more widely as "Dreamliner". Of course, there are also machines like the Sukhoi Superjet 100 and the Comac 919, but I don't count on the fact that I will ever have the opportunity. Looking at all these models, I can confidently say that aviation has changed a lot over the last 40 years.



When it comes to the quality of services, it is a definite degradation, especially on the old continent. You can see that Mr. O'Leary got his way and changed aviation in Europe, I hope not forever. Nowadays, on a short-haul route in the largest and best European airlines you can count on a bottle of water and sometimes a snack in the form of a chocolate. You can see that Poles are rich because they give buns in LOT. Some time ago you could count on a sandwich and coffee in Lufthansa, but that has changed too. Interestingly, more and more often you can find better prices with traditional carriers than with low-cost carriers such as Ryanair or Wizzair. Although, looking at our European airlines, they are far from American or Asian carriers, where Starbucks coffee and snacks are included in the price of the cheapest ticket, each seat is equipped with an infotainment system and business class seats are actually business class seats . The price is about the same as in Europe. But I wanted to talk about planes and cybersecurity not about food.


The development of aviation, as well as probably every means of transport for people, has undergone huge changes, thanks to which we can travel over longer distances in much more comfortable conditions, all thanks to modern technologies. Aviation owes a lot to the development of IT. Even 30 years ago, many airplanes had a crew of two pilots plus a radio navigator. Today, the latter is history, as its role has been taken over by the on-board computer. A modern airplane is able to perform the entire flight alone, including landing. During such a flight, the pilot only raises the machine during take-off and controls the touchdown. If you look at air traffic monitoring applications, there are currently around 33 thousand passenger airplanes in the air, which means there are over million people in the air right now. All these people rely on well-written code and a computer that should not crash. It is true that we constantly require pilots to be well prepared, to test various critical scenarios on simulators, such as a cabin fire, engine loss or bad weather conditions. The catch, however, is that pilots are not programmers, and when code fails, even the best pilot can fail.


On October 29, 2018, a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX plane crashes into the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff. Half a year later, on March 13, 2019, the same machine, the Boeing 737 MAX of Ethiopian Airlines, crashes 6 minutes after takeoff. None of the 346 people on board survived. Shortly after the second accident, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) grounded all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for a period of 20 months, including 5 machines that were already owned by our national carrier, LOT. The reason is prosaic, the new MCAS system (Maneuvering Characteristics Augementation System), i.e. the system responsible for stabilizing flight parameters. The system, which was invented in the 1960s, failed, but did it? If you have read the reports, in both cases the problem was the same badly written code. It wasn't until the system update that 387 planes could safely fly back into the air. Boeing has valued the losses at around $60 billion.



So is flying safe? Could these accidents have been avoided? Of course, if only the developers weren't in such a hurry. In the last post, I touched on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Currently, large companies have already forgotten about CSR and invented a new three-letter abbreviation ESG, i.e. Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance – in short, in addition to financial results, we must show that we are doing something more in order to become more interesting for investors. As before, Cybersecurity does not exist there. It's a pity. Although it has been known for a long time that financial results are and will always be the key element that investors follow when making their choices - after all, everyone wants to earn. But why does the client, i.e. the person at the last end, always have to be the victim?


Code security is not only the lack of gaps and appropriate security controls, but also its functional testing, especially when it comes to human life. As travelers, we entrust our lives in the hands and knowledge of a group of programmers, probably not small, who are currently creating code dedicated to aircraft handling. I don't know if you know, but there are over 500 km of wires in an Airbus A320. If you're wondering why there are so many cables on the plane, I'm in a hurry to explain. The Airbus A320 is currently the most popular airliner in the world, and its every move is controlled by a fly-by-wire system. In short, this means that the pilot does not use the classic yoke, but a joystick, which of course is connected to the computer and this computer calculates all parameters in real time and forwards commands to specific components of the aircraft whether it should turn left, lift or reduce the thrust in engines. In addition, computers analyze flight routes, monitor the movement of other aircraft, weather conditions and all other factors so that our journey is as comfortable as possible. But in case of miscalculation by the code, is the pilot able to do Debugging in real time? He's not a programmer. Of course, at any time, the pilot can bypass the computer operation and completely take over the so-called stere. The fact is that in the Boeing 737 MAX this functionality was introduced by a system update that was forced by a human tragedy.


If you take a closer look at modern means of transport, there is basically no vehicle that is not partly or fully controlled by code. Unmanned subway cars, Internet-connected trains or smart cars. It would seem that cars are after all is an engine, four wheels and a steering wheel. Nothing could be more wrong. Currently, cars are equipped with a multitude of support systems, analyzing every movement of the driver and the environment in order to react at any time and protect against an accident. And what if the driver trusts the assistance systems too much and it simply won't work? As in the case of Boeing, it may simply be too late to intervene, because the driver is not a programmer.



About 6 years ago I owned a great car, a VW Golf. Well, this Golf had a dual-clutch automatic gearbox (DSG) considered by many to be one of the best in the world, used by the VAG concern all the time. One day I noticed a problem with the gearbox. Two visits to the Volkswagen service center did not bring any result, because the problem could not be diagnosed when the car had already driven even five hundred meters. It wasn't until the third visit that the mechanic suggested that I leave the car overnight so that they could replicate the conditions in which the problem occurred. You know what helped? Gearbox software update. And indeed, after a few minutes' visit, the problems with the transmission disappeared, it was enough to connect the car to the mechanic's computer and upload the new software. If we take a closer look at the work of a mechanic in a modern service, it is actually more IT support than a classic mechanic.


Today's travels are more and more cyber, and I'm not talking about the fact that you can visit every corner of the world without leaving your home, and I think it's worth reminding the manufacturers that in order for travel to be safe for passengers, it must also be cyber secure.


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