Archive for the ‘Viktor’ Category

loose ends tied up

Remember this post from back in September, 2005? (And what a fine month that was.) A Lebanese court has sentenced several people involved to terms of imprisonment, including highly dubious aviation identity Imad Saba and two of his managers. The aircraft captain, who survived, and Saba’s representative, who also survived after haranguing the other pilot (who didn’t) into taking off with the aircraft several tonnes overloaded and out of balance, were also convicted in absentia and remain on the run.

party like it’s 2008

A bit of Viktorfeed. Scheduled for 1845Z, there’s a flight from Dubai to Mogadishu under ICAO code JBW708. JBW? That’s Jubba Airways, described by as “Formed 24/4/1998 by Canadian (Calgary) interests and the Southern Somali Business Groups (50%), in association with Phoenix Aviation. Started operations on 28/5/98.”

The aircraft roster consists of two Boeing 737s, one of which belonged to both Phoenix Aviation/AVE and Kam Air, the other to Kam Air twice and East Air, a Tajik company started by Eastok Air, an operation banned in the EU since July, 2007 and which, interestingly, leased aircraft to Iraqi Airways.


Well, here‘s a piece of news. Al-Jazeera seems to think the Russians are hoping to exchange him.

A Bout sidelight

Anyone know who this is?

SHARJAH // A former associate of the suspected international arms dealer Viktor Bout, had his appeal against his conviction for murder postponed yesterday because of power cuts which hit parts of Sharjah.

AS, 47, was just one of around 90 cases due to be heard at Sharjah Appeals Court which were disrupted yesterday morning due to the electricity cuts.

The defendant, who is being held at Sharjah Central Jail, was taken to the court building but never appeared inside the court because the electrical systems failed. The power cuts also affected traffic lights, homes and businesses across the emirate.

A bit of Viktorfeed news. I’ve noticed, in the last few months – when the damn thing’s been working – that the traffic seems to be concentrating into relatively fewer operators, and ones with less horrible reputations. Ariana, Iraqi Airways, Southern Air. There are surprises, of course – what, pray, is Tropic Air? – but there does seem to be a trend that way. And overall traffic is down a tad. Here’s the chart.

535a2a60-7184-11df-b203-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

I theorise that the heavy Southern Air activity through 2009-2010 was driven by the US withdrawal from Iraq.


Yr Viktorfeed. I fixd it agin. Kthanx fr fiting evul strukturd html!

In other admin, I finally found out what the mysterious referrals were. London Fixed Gear and Single Speed, indeed. Maybe I should get a new haircut?

Progress update on fixing the Vfeed.

Dubai Airport has done something awful to their Web site; where once flights were organised in table rows with class names like “data-row2”, now, exactly half the flights are like that, they’ve been split between separate arrival, departure, and cargo-only pages, they only show the latest dozen or so movements each, and the rows that aren’t “data-row2” don’t have any class attributes but random HTML colours.

And the airline names have disappeared, replaced by their logos as GIFs. Unhelpful, but then, why should they want to help me?

Anyway, I’ve solved the parsing issue with following horrible hack.
output = [[td.string or td.img["src"] for td in tr.findAll(True) if td.string or td.img] for tr in soup.findAll('tr', bgcolor=lambda(value): value == 'White' or value == '#F7F7DE')]

As it happened, I later realised I didn’t need to bother grabbing the logo filenames in order to extract airline identifiers from them, so the td.img[“src”] bit can be dropped.

But it looks like I’m going to need to do the lookup from ICAO or IATA identifiers to airline names, which is necessary to avoid having to remake the whitelist and the database and the stats script, myself. Fortunately, there’s a list on wikipedia. The good news is that I’ve come up with a way of differentiating the ICAO and the IATA names in the flight numbers. ICAOs are always three alphabetical characters; IATAs are two alphanumeric characters, which aren’t necessarily globally unique. In a flight number, they can be followed by a number of variable length.

But if the third character in the flight number is a digit, the first two must be an IATA identifier; if a string, it must be an ICAO identifier.


Yes, the Viktorfeed is indeed down. Dubai Airport has redesigned its Web site, and the parser is now not parsing, and the error handling has failed to handle an error where the target page loads but contains unexpected HTML. I’ve stopped the cron job to save filling up the system logs. There will now be a short break.

Meanwhile, here is some music, or more likely a high-pitched buzzing sound

Note the faintly mischievous expression.

fun with statistics

So mainline British political blogging is a horrible reality TV show, a eurobox estate crammed with CCTV cameras everyone welcomes and plays up to for the amusement of a tiny audience of media wankers and professional partisans. How about a bit of Viktorfeed data visualisation? Last weekend I wrote a little program to generate statistics from the database of flights, only really remarkable for being the first time I’ve used itertools.groupby() to solve a practical problem. You can get the weekly operations of every airline name that accounts for at least 1% of total activity here (CSV file, currently about 9.8KB). It’s updated every eight hours. Interestingly, I note that setting a cut-off as a percentage of the total screens out essentially all the false positives.

Obviously, I threw the file at IBM ManyEyes:

3f9e2890-1320-11df-bbae-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

As soon as I work out what my username for the Wikified version of that site is, I’ll do one that loads the data dynamically.

A couple of points: There’s been a big decline in no-name movements, and some operators have cashed in their chips entirely, notably BGIA. The apparent jump in traffic in early 2009 foxes me slightly; we lost a few weeks’ data in the spring, but that shouldn’t explain it. I suspect it’s an artefact of the filtering by percentage; some operators that account for significant traffic, but that shut down, when the Antonov 12s were expelled may not have made the cut.

I’ll do something similar for destinations and total activity.

More mystery jets. In the last couple of weeks there’s also been some progress on the 727 abandoned in North-Eastern Mali. For a start, it’s a 727, which is something. And, finally, there are pictures. The National of Abu Dhabi – a newspaper that is developing into a surprisingly useful source – has a good piece on the case and the growth of the Trans-Saharan drugs route more broadly.

Mr Lyman, a former US ambassador to both South Africa and Nigeria, warned that a heavy-handed approach by African officials would probably exacerbate the problem and threaten the desert region’s delicate security balance.

“Taking on the smuggling problem presents the danger of driving these tribal groups into the arms of AQIM because they resent a government presence that impinges on their smuggling activities, so it’s a delicate area how you increase in security” he said.

“You’ve got to build greater trust between Tuaregs and their home governments, and that requires more development and maybe even closing their eyes to some of the more benign smuggling activity that’s taking place. It’s not an easy task at all.”

Unsurprisingly, AFP wire service reporter Serge Daniel was the first journalist to get to the crash site, or more importantly, the first to file having done so. There are pictures of the wreck, which has been extensively scavenged for scrap metal; of course, the scrapmen will have helped to get rid of the evidence.

Hawa Semaga of Journal du Mali has an excellent piece which makes clear that the Guinea-Bissau authorities were looking for the plane at the time of its last flight, for a variety of reasons involving safety and registration violations. Further, it seems that the crew used false documents claiming that the aircraft was registered in Saudi Arabia. In yet another piece of useful information, the article confirms part of the route, and introduces the news that the plane passed through Cape Verde airspace on its way to the fateful airstrip, and then headed for Guinea-Bissau. They also suggest it stopped in Colombia as well as Venezuela.

My sources add that the current route was thought to be Dakar-Fortaleza-Panama-Maracaibo and then to the crash site, but there would have had to be intermediate stops between FOR and PTY and between MAR and Gao, as the sectors in question are 2,952 and 4,820 miles respectively. Replotting, with the new data:

(The map details are here.) That’s all possible, but the 727 would have needed a further South American stop between Fortaleza and Panama outward bound and between Maracaibo and Sal, Cape Verde inward bound – the simplest option would be to have gone via Maracaibo outward bound and via Fortaleza inward, which is marginal for the 727-200 (2,489 miles), but there might have been a fair wind that day.

Here’s their destination: N18.00031, W0.0031.

Bugger all is an understatement. This Senegalese Web site has a gripping account of a visit to the crash site, starting off with a roast sheep party, hours of gruelling desert travel, fear of stumbling on another clandestine landing, and proceeding to a chat with security sources. Key facts appear to be that the landing zone was prepared on a dry lakebed, that the aircraft was taxied off the hard surface into the sand, and that some five vehicles with Niger registration plates met it, but that the Niger plates were faked in another neighbouring country. There’s also some detail on the scavenging of the aircraft:

Mais ce 10 décembre 2009, je constate que l’appareil a perdu beaucoup de poids. Je trouve sur place la réponse : je vois des traces de tadjila, nourriture prisée chez les touaregs. Alors que s’est-il passé ? Des dizaines, et des dizaines de personnes dont des touaregs viennent s’installer et couper l’épave, récupérer de l’aluminium, et aller le vendre aux forgerons. 1 500 FCFA le kilo d’aluminium. Triste fin pour l’épave. Triste fin pour l’avion.

Everyone is now working on the assumption that the aircraft was deliberately destroyed. It’s possible that the aircraft was driven into the sand in order to give the impression of a runway excursion accident. The author states that the aircraft’s registration is visible, and that it’s South American, but he or she doesn’t say what it was.

Boeing 727-230F number 21619, currently the top suspect, was placed in storage in Dakar by “Africa Aviation Assistance” in June, with a view to ferrying the aircraft to Rio in July. This company was shut down in July after it turned out that its AOC had never been issued. Around about the same time, another 727-200 freighter, number 22644, operating for DHL under the Saudi registration HZ-SNE, was destroyed in an accident in Lagos. And, after this crash, the first 727 was registered HZ-SNE for a while.

I therefore guess that the fake Saudi documents were used to pretend that the 727 that ended up in the desert was actually HZ-SNE/22644, respectably carrying general cargo for DHL. AAA planned to register it in the Guinea-Bissau (J5-) registry; apparently they involved Guinea in some way, as the Guinea authorities were looking for the plane. But we know that if it used the registration J5-GGU at all, as previously thought, it was yet another fake.

It doesn’t seem obvious, though, that anyone would casually torch an aircraft that had the special feature of having a twin identity.