Wadi or paddy field?

Wadi or paddy field?
Jun 8, 2018 (WiC 412)

Who says nothing grows in the desert? Not Chinese scientist Yuan Longping, known domestically as the “father of hybrid rice”, who is developing a strain of the staple with greater resistance to saltwater. Trial harvests of crops grown with diluted seawater on the outskirts of Dubai are said to have yielded more than 7.5 tonnes per hectare. Scientists are planning a 100-hectare experimental farm and there is talk of planting at least 10% of the United Arab Emirates with paddy fields in the future.

Back in China there are similar programmes at a series of sites with the main types of saline-alkali land. They could be crucial for a country already facing massive water shortages, plus land area at least the size of Ethiopia with soil deemed too salty for cultivation, the South China Morning Post reports.

The harvest is Yuan’s second success with a salt-resistant crop in the past year. In fact, research into saltwater rice dates back to the 1970s, when a researcher called Chen Risheng stumbled across a species of wild rice growing in mangrove swamps in Guangdong.

A convenient ride

A convenient ride
Jun 1, 2018 (WiC 411)

These days when it comes to pioneering new cashless, smartphone-led business models, China is generally at the vanguard. Yet another instance involves the rollout of in-taxi convenience stores in several major Chinese cities. These serve snacks and beverages and enable passengers to buy from an ‘electronic shelf’ by scanning a code with their smartphones. Hangzhou Taxi Group and Beijing Little Orange Convenience Technology Development, for instance, have just inked a deal to install the stores in its Hangzhou-based fleet. Jin Kai, a spokesperson for the taxi firm, told National Business Daily that drivers’ incomes had fallen as a result of competition from Uberesque ride-sharing firms like Didi Chuxing. The convenience stores offer drivers a chance to supplement their incomes, as they receive 20% of sales – giving them an incentive to talk up their merchandise.

Not everyone is convinced. Sohu reports that some passengers worry that if drivers are preoccupied with plying their food and beverage wares, they may pay less attention to the road.

Service provider Gogo+ claims to have been the first to install a taxi convenience store, having pioneered the model in Shenzhen. Its spokesperson says that it plans to deal with the public’s fears about safety through driver training programmes and assessing the fitness of drivers: “So far, there are no major problems. We have been developing this for two years and sold more than Rmb10 million ($1.56 million) worth of goods, and served nearly a million passengers. And there have been no complaints.”

Aside from Hangzhou and Shenzhen, taxis with convenience stores can now also be ridden in Chengdu and Nanjing. However, many cities do not have regulations covering whether such stores are allowed, reports National Business Daily.

Captain Liu to the rescue

Captain Liu to the rescue
May 25, 2018 (WiC 410)

In 2009 a US Airways plane struck a flock of geese and had to make an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River. Captain Chesley Sullenberger became a national hero. Tom Hanks played him in a cinematic version of the event, which pilots have described as a near-impossible act of aviation skill.

Will Liu Chuanjian get his own film too? That’s a valid question after he made a similarly spectacular emergency landing in Chengdu. His Sichuan Airlines flight was bound for Lhasa and was cruising at 32,000 feet when the cockpit window smashed open.

“There was no warning sign,” Liu told the Chengdu Economic Daily, “Suddenly the windshield just cracked and made a loud bang. The next thing I know my co-pilot had been sucked halfway out of the window. Everything in the cockpit was floating in the air. Most of the equipment malfunctioned and I couldn’t hear the radio. The plane was shaking so hard I couldn’t read the gauges.”

After pulling the co-pilot back into the cockpit, Liu landed the plane in extraordinary circumstances – relying on his eyes and his instincts to guide it down.

Chinese aviation authorities are now investigating how the glass could have broken, as is Airbus, the manufacturer of the aircraft in question.

“I’ve flown that route at least 100 times and I know it well,” said Liu. “I was confident I could pull it off, but I had to decide whether to get the plane down as quickly as possible – which would put people in danger because it would mean higher speed – or lower the altitude a bit more slowly. I went for the middle option.”

The incident is a reminder of the increasingly pressing need for high-quality pilots as China rapidly expands its passenger jet fleets. Just prior to Liu’s heroic feat, the Financial Times had published a detailed article about China’s pilot shortage. It noted estimates from Boeing that airlines in the Chinese market will need to employ 110,000 pilots by 2035. With shortages of available staff, foreign pilots are already being lured with tax-free monthly salaries of $26,000 (up from $10,000 a decade ago, according to Dave Ross of Wasinc International).

The next generation of Captain Liu Chuanjians are likely to have been trained abroad, it seems, because of restrictions on available air space for flight schools in China (an estimated 75% of the country’s airspace is limited to military use). Almost half of the 5,053 trainee pilots from China are studying in foreign flight schools in countries like Australia, says the FT. One such is 22 year-old Bo Song from Shandong who told the newspaper: “English is really important. We have to communicate with our instructors and the tower.”