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Open Thread: April 5, 2014

Have a good weekend, folks.


You have no idea how much I just laughed, like a crazy woman, and felt like shouting, “FINALLY THEY HAVE NOTICED” watching this SBS report.

I had started to notice how people in shops in Korea seem to be putting 존댓말 to *everything* even if the subject is not the customer, but the merchandise itself. This has been driving me up the wall for quite a number of years.

It seems this rampant wrong honorific usage to denote all merchandise being discussed has resulted from having to deal with the odd ignorant customer(yes, usually the older lot) who has little idea about correct grammar usage themselves and shouts at the poor kids, and this has managed to turn the whole service industry into some sort of ruled-by-fear Third Reich of honorifics – the return of the well-known joke “아버님 대갈님에 파리님이 앉으셨습니다.” (the joke is that a newly married daughter-in-law was so scared and mindful that when she tried to say “There is a fly on the head of father-in-law” she made the mistake of putting honorifics for the fly as well as using a very derogatory word for the “head” (대가리) and putting a 님 at the end)

So here is the youtube link to the satirical video produced by the 한글문화연대, this should get shown on TV.(It’s a bit too long, they should cut some of the beginning..)

The big LOL sentence for me, was when the Coffee 알바 (short for 아르바이트, “Arbeit(work)” from the Japanese-German arubaito/baito which denotes part-time workers in Korea) in the video says,

그 사물 들에게 우리는 존경의 마음을 억누를 수 없습니다. 커피 나오셨습니다. 커피가 제 시급보다 더 비싸거든요.

roughly translated as:

“We cannot control the boundless respect we have for these things. “Here’s your coffee.” (this is the kind of sentence they are talking about, which to my ears, can only be translated into English as (with a little bit of exaggeration) “His Coffeeness has graced us with his presence.” Then she goes onto say “It’s because (a cup of) coffee is more expensive than my hourly wage.”


The heads of the ruling and opposition parties were in Jeju-do today to attend a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Jeju Uprising of April 3, 1948, which led to the killing of thousands of islanders by Korean security forces tasked with putting down the revolt. Ugly, ugly stuff – see also here. A film about the uprising, “Jiseul,” won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Not in attendance was President Park Geun-hye, a fact noticed by the opposition.

The ceremony was the first to be held since April 3 was designated a national day of remembrance in January. The designation was not entirely welcomed by all, especially conservatives who note that the uprising started as a revolt against the very founding of the Republic of Korea. From a January editorial in the Dong-A Ilbo:

However, it is a different matter to designate the day as a national memorial day. After a plan to hold the May 10, 1948 general elections was announced to form South Korea`s initial parliament, the Communist Workers` Party of South Korea, which was linked to North Korea, waged an all-out struggle to obstruct the founding of South Korea by instigating a riot in Daegu on February 7 and attacking 11 police stations on Jeju Island on April 3. The Jeju April 3rd Peace Park records that leaders of the Communist Workers` Party of South Korea attended South Korean people`s representatives meeting held in Haeju, North Korea in August 1948. Those who waged armed struggled against the founding of North (South) Korea risked their safety to attend a ceremony for the founding of the North. It is the reality that many people criticize the move to designate April 3 as a national memorial day because of that fact.

There are national anniversaries commemorating pro-democracy popular resistances such as the April 19, 1960 Revolution, the May 18, 1980 Gwangju Uprising and the June 10, 1987 Democracy Movement. The incidents were major watershed in South Korea`s democracy. However, the nature of the April 3 incident is different from those pro-democracy movements. The planned designation of April 3 as a national memorial day could cause considerable controversies over the legitimacy, identity and the constitutional values of the Republic of Korea. The government`s naming of the day as the “Memorial Day for Victims of April 3 (Incident)” indicates its painstaking considerations.

The Chosun Ilbo also raised questions about this in January, arguing that we needed to do a better job separating the innocent victims who deserve to be memorialized from the armed rebels who do not. As conservative groups were still protesting last month that the list of commemorated victims includes a lot of communist insurgents, I’m guessing little has been done to allay the Chosun’s concerns. If you prefer to read similar griping in English, see here.

While the Korean government has apologized to the victims of the April 3 Uprising, some ask why the United States hasn’t yet. Direct US military involvement in putting down the Jeju Uprising was limited, but the United States certainly knew what atrocities were happening and did nothing to stop them. The roots of the revolt, likewise, go back to when Korea was ruled by the US occupational government. The question of an apology is a bit tricky, given that Korea was not the only place at the time where US-backed counterinsurgency operations involved some nasty business—see the Greek Civil War. I’d say in the bigger picture, US support for hard-pressed pro-Western regimes at the time was not only the right call, it was geopolitically necessary. On the ground, however, this support could lead to atrocities, as is wont to happen in a counterinsurgency. I’ll leave it to you to debate whether that requires an apology.


Trailer for ‘Lucy’ released

Here’s the trailer of Luc Besson’s upcoming science fiction film “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and… Choi Min-sik.

Shooting in Taipei apparently had its moments.


1.North Korea
is suspected of being behind the drone which crashed into Paju area, as well as another one in 백령도 only a week later.

is accused by the Blue House of using language that even “a low-life” wouldn’t use. What pissed them off is obviously the language they used to criticize Park , including “twisted spinster”, “frog-in-a-well” and her speech as “nonsense spewed like sewage” & “random stuff which she scraped together and presented under the grand pretext of suggestion for unification”.

I have a feeling that politicians in general suddenly develop the urge to become even more self-important than usual when they visit Berlin/Germany. They suddenly think that they have to make a charismatic speech, or leave a sound-bite into posterity..I would call it “AASS” (Affected Air Speech Syndrome). This AASS is obviously what afflicted Park as she was planning her trip to Germany. I suspected as much when they were talking about 드레스덴 선언 (Dresden Declaration) in the press before anything was declared..Park has said she admires and respects Merkel in the past. She should take a page out of the relevant section of Merkel’s book, not the bit on how to dress and the mushroom haircut. The reason that Merkel stays popular is that she is a relatively straight-talker, and rarely acts self-important.

2. Temperature rise and cherry blossom emergency
Last month was warmer than usual in Korea.

This has led to a panic of the organizers of the cherry blossom festivals up and down the country.. as there might not actually be any flowers left on the tree by the time it gets around to the scheduled dates.

3. Find out what your boss earns.
The directors of large companies in Korea are sitting tight and apprehensive of the public sentiment after their paycheck was revealed. You can now give them *that look* when you hand them a report – “I know what you took home for yourself last summer, you shameless b******”

4. Buses
The bus accident which everybody merrily went off hand in hand and contributed to great irrelevant lengths on – is more probably a mechanical failure , as asserted by experts and drivers alike. They are angry that the press initially tried make it the “sleepy driver’s fault”..the kind of error that arose is unlikely to have been from the driver’s mistake. We should wait for the result of a further investigation, but it is looking difficult as the crucial records seem to have been destroyed in the accident. It could very well be that the first crash might have arisen from the driver’s fault, but the second subsequent “1 minute of holding down the accelerator pedal” while trying to swerve is what is deemed unlikely to be the action of the driver with 20 years of experience. Some system on the bus was probably destroyed by this time, is the point put forward by the expert.
It was most likely nothing to do with a “suicidal rampage”.
One should know by now if one spent any time in Korea and went on the bus that the bus drivers tend to “let the pressure out” every 3 seconds by repeated switching of the foot from one pedal to the other pedal, and treating passengers like dirt, so no pressure would actually build up for such an action.

“Tayo bus” based on a Korean children’s animation and in operation for a month around Seoul -타요(370번)와 로기(2016번), 라니(2211번), 가니(9401번) – is proving to be such a popular hit among the tiny tots , that they are skipping kindergarten to go on them, and people from other cities are bringing their kids to go on it..
From http://media.daum.net/society/others/newsview?newsid=20140402111306534
Some internet commenter suggested that all Korean police cars to be changed into 로보카 폴리 “Robocar Poli” and one funny guy says that as they need an event for adults as well, Seoul metro Line 2 could be made to look like 설국열차 (from the film, “Snowpiercer”)
Many are asking for the Tayo-event (it is temporary for a month, to mark the Public Transport Day) to be turned into a permanent thing.


Newsweek, like many old traditional print news sources, is getting hammered by declining readership and circulation.  In August 2013, dying Newsweek was sold to International Business Times (“IBT”).

So, who owns IBT?  Apparently, it is a privately owned enterprise with two main shareholders, founders Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis.  However, there has been a wealth of information uncovered that IBT, and its founders, have very close ties with Olivet University founder David Jang.  Olivert is a Christian evangelical university and David Jang is a evangelical Christian leader who may have controversial religious and secular views.  Billy Graham’s Christianity Today accuses Jang of unorthodox religious views such as Jang claiming to be the second coming of Christ.

Of course, when one links “second coming of Christ” and “Korean religious leader” the first thing one may think of is the late Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.  The Guardian actually tries to link Jang with the Moonies, whereas Mother Jones thinks the link is now dead (David Jang went to Moonie meetings when he was younger, but now rejects that church and its teachings).  A cursory review of Olivet University’s mission statement would also indicate that its theology is not compatible with the Unification Church.

Anyways, what’s really gotten the press riled up is the possible association of a stalwart of left leaning news to right leaning religious organizations.  Both Jang and the founders of IBT appear to support controversial anti-gay conversion therapies, where individuals go through programs to reduce same sex attraction and increase opposite sex attraction.

Disclaimer: “Very close ties” and “Legal ownership stake” are two very different things.  Currently, there is no conclusive proof that Jang owns IBT.  The connections are certainly deep and “interesting,” and may be more so as this story develops.


I would be the first person to admit many Chinese loan words have made it into Korean.  However, it’s interesting when there are reports that the reverse is happening.

The Chosun Ilbo reports that due to the popularity of Korean dramas in China, Korean terms such as “oppa” (오빠) and “ajumma” (아줌마) are entering Chinese popular vernacular.  The Chinese, however, are putting different meanings behind the words.  오빠, which in Korean can mean anything from a female’s older brother to a female’s older male friend or even boyfriend/lover, has adopted the Chinese characters “,” pronounced “ou-pa” in Mandarin and the meaning of “…amorous feelings toward the subject.”

Ajumma/아줌마?  Well, the Chinese already has a popular word for “auntie,” (阿姨/āyí in Mandarin) the rough equivalent of “아줌마” so it’s adopted the meaning of “…to refer to tough women.”


I guess it’s safe to photograph Solseom now

Seoul Central District Court ruled yesterday that Korean Air did not violate British landscape photographer Michael Kenna’s copyright when it used a photo of Samcheok’s Solseom Island in an advertisement.

A copyright lawyer involved with the case warns that the ruling was “a death penalty for creative artists”:

“If all the assertions made by Korean Air are believed, it’s a collapse of intellectual property rights in Korea,” Kim told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “It’s important to reinterpret or engage in creative thinking when taking photographs of natural landscapes, but this ruling says that people don’t have to make such efforts anymore.”

Kim added that this case is not only an individual fighting against a big corporation but a crisis in the country’s art circle as a whole. “This society will have to think deeply about the country’s creative industries and how such a ruling will affect Korean artists when they are abroad,” said Kim.

As I think I’ve said before, I really, really like Michael Kenna’s work. Went to his exhibit at Gallery Kong, in fact. But as I’d said before, too, I never really got his case. This weekend I took photographs of the pine forest in front of Gyeongju’s Samneung Tomb. Does that mean I need to cut Bae Bien-u a check? Even when I’ve clearly being inspired by him?

BTW, even before the ruling, you were pretty safe in shooting Solseom, because thanks to the big LNG facility somebody built right behind the island, there’s no way now you can copy Kenna’s shot.


North Korea crap

- North Korea will conduct large-scale naval gunnery drills near the West Sea NLL. The North has declared it will conduct drills in seven spots along the NLL, in effect turning all the waters north of the line into an artillery range. South Korean authorities have told fishing boats to stay far away from the NLL just in case North Korean shells start falling south of the line, which has happened before.

UPDATE: North and South Korea now firing shells into each others water after North Korean shells fell south of the NLL. No word on how many fish have been killed so far. On a more serious note, it seems the islanders on Yeonpyeongdo have taken to shelters. Probably smart—you can never rule out North Korea raining a few shells on a West Sea island just for shits and giggles.

- North Korea is threatening to nuke itself again. And they don’t like ongoing joint Korea—US drills (and I suppose large-scale amphibious landing drills involving thousands of Korean and US marines might give Pyongyang pause):

The North also took aim at joint South Korea-U.S. military drills, accusing Washington of “madcap nuclear war exercises” and vowed to conduct war drills itself.

The ministry claimed to have “unimaginable” moves planned should the U.S. continue to provoke it.

“Madcap” is a word we just don’t use enough anymore, so good on the North Koreans for bringing it back.

It might be interesting to note—well, OK, it really isn’t—that North Korea’s bluster comes right after President Park unveiled the so-called Dresden Doctrine, which calls for expanding exchanges between the two Koreas and lots and lots of economic assistance if Pyongyang gives up its nukes. As Donald Kirk points out, it’s not as if we haven’t heard previous South Korean presidents offer much the same, and given what happened to Libya and what’s happening to the Ukraine, I’m guessing North Korea is, if anything, even less inclined to give up its nukes that at any time previously. I also wonder if the North noticed that Park made her speech in a) a country that reunified after one side got absorbed into the other and b) in a city most famous for getting firebombed by the United States and Great Britain.

Back to the nuke test threats, though. According to Jeffrey Lewis (a.k.a Arms Control Wonk), director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct regular tests:

“The old way was that we thought of the North’s test as ‘atomic temper tantrums’ — they’d do one-offs every few years to show us how angry they are. But to me, it looks like they’re getting ready to do a lot of tests over the next few years,” Mr. Lewis said in a phone interview.

Possibilities, he said, include simultaneous tests, conducting a nuclear test in a shaft rather than in a tunnel, or most seriously, an “atmospheric test” — such as detonating a nuclear device from a tower, or using a live warhead on a live missile.

“The universe of bad things they could do is pretty big,” Mr. Lewis said. “The main takeaway is that they’re moving away from ‘stun’ and using the tests to develop the military capabilities that they know they want.”

Atmospheric tests? OK, that would grab my attention.


I suspect this is somebody’s idea of humor, and to be honest, the “trying to get all up in your wonton soup” line was kinda funny.

Still, with what’s passing for racial dialogue on the Internet nowadays, I can never be too sure.

See the writer’s follow-up post here.


Open Thread: March 31, 2014

Have a good week, folks.


The Filipino air force is a joke.  The last jet fighters they had were the old F-5 Freedom Fighters that they retired in 2005.  Even their Defense Secretary teased, “Our Air Force… [is]… all air without force.”

China lays claim to much of the South China Sea (particularly the Spratly Islands) and have routinely violated the Philippines’ territorial claims with both military aircraft and ships.  As of now, the Filipinos have nothing to send in response, other than unintimidating prop planes, patrol boats and antiquated destroyers.  Although the Filipinos do not officially acknowledge they are seeking weapons to counter Chinese incursions, they are essentially trying to obtain specific weapons to counter Chinese incursions.

Yesterday, the Philippines and Korea signed a contract to provide 12 F/A-50 light fighter-bombers, within 38 months, for about $420 million.  As both a war capable plane and a trainer is it the be all and end all for what the Philippines needs to counter China?  No.  But, the Philippines is not a rich country and cannot afford to buy and maintain more capable planes such as Saab’s Gripen, the F-16C (Block 40 or better), the Sukhoi Su-27, etc.  Plus, they are nine years out of practice in flying jet fighters and probably couldn’t use top-of-the line planes to their fullest capabilities because they have no training infrastructure.  The Filipinos themselves acknowledge that the F/A-50 was the best they can do for now.

Manila buys fighter jets worth $520m

(Photo credit: Oman Daily Observer)

Predictably, the Chinese were not happy with this news.  Rumor has it (from the Chosun Ilbo via the Yomiuri Shimbun) that a “Chinese official” made a request to the Park administration to not sell the jets, which Korea reportedly ignored.

So, what could the Chinese hypothetically send against Filipino F/A-50s?  It would have to have long range, so probably Sukhoi Su-27s or Sukhoi Su-30MKK.  Head to head does an F/A-50 have a snowball’s chance in hell against an Su-30MMK?  Most likely not.  An Su-30 is faster, more powerful, has advanced beyond visual range (“BVR”) missiles and sensor driven helmet mounted displays that control “off-boresight” weapons.  However, the F/A-50 has something that may save it: Link-16.  The Philippines are buying long range ground based radars that they will station near the Spratlys.  If linked with the F/A-50s then they can see Chinese planes before Chinese planes can see them, thus giving the F/A-50s a fighting chance, particularly if they are armed with their own BVR missiles.

Lastly, as I had mentioned before, the procurement pattern for the T-50 family of jets appears to belie the fact that it was originally designed as a trainer.  The customers (namely Iraq and the Philippines) want this supposed “trainer” to fight.  As a cheap jet fighter in a “stop gap” role it may not be all that bad.  Smaller and poorer nations don’t have a lot of choices.  Back in the Cold War the Soviets and the Americans sold their poorer client states cheap and easy to maintain Mig-21 Fishbeds and F-5 Freedom Fighters.  America and Russia don’t offer these planes (or modern facsimiles) anymore so there is a market need.  At the end of the day the T-50 family might be a better 21st century F-5 than a 21st century version of a T-38.

Next up?  KAI is pitching the T-50 family to the UAE, PeruBotswana, Thailand, not to mention the U.S. T-X program (in conjunction with Lockheed).


Say you are bestowed with the honor of being involved in the restoration of your nation’s number one national treasure which will allow you to contribute to a structure that will stand, hopefully, long after you’ve passed from this earth, and represent your commitment to your country and craft.  This is, one might think, the opportunity of a lifetime that few could imagine let alone dream of screwing up.


Sin Eung-soo, the chief carpenter/master artisan who’s restored a number of national treasures, the latest being Sungnyemun (aka Namdaemun). (JoongAng Ilbo)

Yet what we’ve learned over the past several months since a “restored” Sungnyemun’s wood started cracking, its paint peeling, signboards falling apart (prompting President Park to order an investigation into the matter) paints a pathetic picture of greed, rampant corruption and bold disregard for integrity of any kind.  The most recent news emerging Thursday further highlights the turpitude of the “chief carpenter,” 71-year-old Sin Eung-soo, holder of an Important Intangible Cultural Property (IICP) title, who in addition to using “substandard” wood in the restoration of the gate and hastily carrying out the restoration, is now accused of stealing wood donated by the Korean public for the project.  He says he has no idea what happened (but he has said that there wasn’t enough time to do the work right).  It has been reported that the wood used in the restoration may have come from Russia, though Sin denied this following a raid on his office in January.

Moreover, Sin is accused of further wrongdoing in other restoration jobs, including Gyeongbok Palace during which four 200 to 300-year-old Geumgang pines donated by the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) vanished, a wrongdoing that links him to another criminal who’s been loaning out his heritage restoration certificate in exchange for large bribes while also bribing officials at the CHA.  In response to the allegations, the CHA has asked for time to “grasp more clearly” what occurred and how to fix it.

It is hard to know how far this will go, how many “restorations” involved corruption, use of inauthentic materials and careless, third-rate craftsmanship.  The suicide of one of the civilian investigators in late January could be a sign of how abysmal the whole opprobrious operation is.  The 56-year-old professor of wood science was found hanging by an electrical cord in his wood specimen lab at Chungbuk National University.  In a broadcast news interview days before the professor had claimed that some of the wood specimens he examined were not Geumgang pine.  Police had summoned the professor for questioning following the filing of a suit by one of the companies involved in the restoration claiming impropriety in the investigation.  Police say they have phone records indicating that the professor received a call immediately after his interview ended.

Seems like everyone was lining his or her pockets with nary a care about the historical structures on which they were working.  Sin’s career spans more than 50 years like many of the other master artisans involved with these projects; perhaps a comprehensive examination of all the restoration projects on which these people worked should be initiated.

And all of this started so well with “dedicated artisans of our time” turning the act of arson “into an opportunity to restore and transmit the legacy of Korea’s rich cultural traditions to posterity.”  An opportunity indeed.


Andrei Lankov: North Korea can feed itself

Surprise, surprise, by and large yes says Andrei Lankov.  We here at TMH haven’t quoted or linked to Dr. Lankov for awhile since his regular Korea Times column ceased.  It doesn’t mean he isn’t eminently quotable or linkable.  It’s just been harder to find his latest musings without a regular column to go to.

Andrei appears to be freelancing more nowadays: Asia Times, Russia Beyond the Headlines and Al Jazeera.  Yes, Al Jazeera.  Andrei’s latest piece is in today’s Al Jazeera editorial section where he makes the claim that North Korea isn’t starving and can in fact feed itself:

One of the most commonly cited cliches is that North Korea is a “destitute, starving country”. Once upon a time, such a description was all too sadly correct: In the late 1990s, North Korea suffered a major famine that, according to the most recent research, led to between 500,000 and 600,000 deaths. However, starvation has long since ceased to be a fact of life in North Korea.


The gradual improvement in the food situation is closely related to changes in other areas of North Korea’s economic life. Contrary to what a majority of lay people tend to believe, the last decade has been one of moderate economic growth north of the DMZ.


Quest for the T-X Holy Grail

The original rational for Korea Aerospace and Lockheed’s cooperation in developing the T-50 was to build a trainer that could qualify for the “whale” or “mother lode” account: America’s replacement for the venerable, but older than dirt, T-38 Talon.

KAI and Lockheed’s chief rival has always been Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Master.  In the global pre-battles between KAI and Alenia Aermacchi there have been wins and losses.  Alenia drew first blood with a win in Singapore.  Then KAI won an order from Indonesia.  Alenia won Israel.  KAI got a big order from Iraq.  Alenia won a modest order from Poland.  KAI is apparently dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with the Philippines.  It’s been back and forth for the past four years.

However, all this is early dress rehearsal for the estimated 350 new jet trainers that the U.S. Air Force will need.  This is, to say the least, a huge account, that neither side can afford to lose, thus both are playing to win.  Alenia has partnered with General Dynamics, one of the largest U.S. based aerospace companies, and has offered to manufacture the M-346 at General Dynamics’ plants in Arizona and North Carolina.  Needless to say the Koreans and Lockheed are probably dreaming up the same manufacturing arrangement in order to buyrecruit the support of influential Congressman.

Today’s Flightglobal has an excellent summary analysis (with a lot of pretty pictures) of the upcoming battle:

Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis at Teal Group, calls the KAI/Lockheed T-50 Golden Eagle the “most capable” option – but also probably the most expensive to buy and operate. Lockheed declines to discuss prices, but Aboulafia estimates the T-50’s flyaway cost will be $26 million per aircraft.


The T-50, which has been in service since the mid-2000s, can reach Mach 1.5 and pull 8g, Lockheed says. The type’s single General Electric F404 engine also has an afterburner. “If the [USAF] has the budget, and they want [pilots] to [transition] easily into an F-22 or F-35, the T-50 is the choice,” says Aboulafia.

The BAE/Northrop Hawk option is the cheapest at an estimated $21 million per, but they are clearly the dark horse in this fight.  The Alenia Aermacchi option is in the middle at an estimated $24 million per.

Aboulafia says Alenia Aermacchi’s T-100 – a derivative of its M-346 trainer – holds the middle ground. The aircraft are “very modern”, have “great flying characteristics” and will likely cost about $24 million each, he estimates. The M-346 (below) is powered by two Honeywell F124-200 turbofans, can pull 8g and reach 590kt at 5,000ft (1,520m), according to Alenia Aermacchi.


“It’s a good compromise,” says Aboulafia of the T-100. “The market has spoken to that. Israel and Singapore [are] two of the most prestigious militaries around.”

Here is a blog with an interesting (but technical) specification comparison between the two jets.

It will be an interesting, hard fought battle between the two.  I am not normally a betting man, but looking at the selection process I would say that the M-346 Master has the edge if a pure trainer is what you are looking for.  Key U.S. allies with similar air power doctrines have the M-346 or have it on order (Singapore, Poland and Israel).  Out of all the KAI wins, only Indonesia has selected the T-50 as a pure trainer.  The procurement history would favor the M-346 and imply that the T-50 a bit of an underdog.  However, as it often happens, the USAF may want the “Cadillac” option and if so, then that would give the T-50 the edge.


(Photo credit: Flightglobal)