Wednesday, September 27, 2006

BALPA: Seven new security steps

British pilots are unhappy with certain aspects of current airport and aviation security procedures. The Chairman of the British Air Line Pilots' Association (BALPA), a union with over 9,000 members, has sent a letter to U.K. Transport Minister Douglas Alexander expressing the pilots' frustrations and proposing some remedies.

The pilots say that problems at national level are worsened by different interpretations of security measures by local airport security staff, a situation that "frankly gives security a bad name." BALPA wants the government to agree on a list of items that pilots can carry onto their aircraft, which they need to do their job, and which are being removed from them as they pass through security. They complain that flying licenses, log books, laptops and even contact lens cleaner have been taken from them and in some instances lost.

Here is BALPA's list of proposed remedies to address airport security as it applies to crew:
  • Develop a central international biometric security pass system for all pilots so that pilots can be identified and travel through airports more easily.
  • Speed up passenger profiling and new technology such as body scanners, semi-automatic x-ray machines and bottle scanners for essential medicine, and require all airport operators to have a dedicated fast track channel for pilots.
  • Insist on the application of a consistent security regime, getting rid of anomalies between airports.
  • Require all airport operators to establish an operational task group so that employee representatives can meet security directors face to face and iron out problems.
  • Review the standards of recruitment and training of security staff. Give them decent conditions and more power to exercise discretion.
  • Accelerate the fitment of hardened cockpit doors for cargo aircraft. Cargo aircraft often carry non-security-cleared personnel. Both types of aircraft can be weapons of mass destruction. In addition, freight profiling to determine which cargo needs particularly careful screening.
Finally BALPA urges the Government to help more with the cost of these measures. Too much of the cost of security is borne by the industry.

Says Captain Mervyn Granshaw, Chairman of BALPA: "We want to work with the Government but too many pilots feel that the system is conspiring to make their jobs more difficult rather than improving security.

"Some of the measures we are calling for assist and enhance the security of passengers directly. Others assist us, as the pilots, to do our job and not be burdened by unnecessary and often inconsistent applications. This is not about special pleading; it is about recognising that we are in a different position. And of course, if we cannot do our jobs properly, that puts passengers at risk too."
Source: British Pilots Call for Seven New Security Steps - BALPA News

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

World speed record for Lear 60

It happened in South Africa: A Learjet 60 has flown round-trip between Capetown and Johannesburg in less than three hours, a world speed record for its class. The flight is fully sanctioned by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

The Learjet 60 aircraft is manufactured by Bombardier Aerospace.

From Bomardier's press release about the flight:
In customer service since June 2006, the Learjet 60 aircraft, owned by Skyros Properties of Cape Town, cruised at Mach 0.81 throughout the flight, until it clocked-in with the Cape Town International Airport tower at 13h35, where its 2,000-foot (610 m) flyover confirmed its impressive time and speed. The Learjet 60 aircraft then performed several fly passes as part of the flying display at the Africa Aerospace and Defence show, landing just in time to co-star with the high-speed Bombardier Global 5000 business jet at an exclusive reception.
The Aero-News Network reported this about the record flight:
"The aircraft performed superbly as expected," said Terry Redman, chief pilot and director for The Aviation Co., the aircraft's operator. "We took off from Cape Town at 10:00, local time, and quickly climbed to 37,000 feet) to avoid turbulence and traffic. The first leg to Johannesburg took just one hour, 24 minutes.

"The aircraft's performance was put to the test against the wind on the return leg to Cape Town, arriving only one hour and 35 minutes later," Redman added. "The aircraft handled beautifully throughout the flight and the roundtrip time easily establishes the benchmark speed standard for this trip."
Aero-News also reported that "National Aeronautical Association (NAA) official Frank Eckhart was on board the plane during the flight, and validated the speed record with the help of two GPS devices installed specifically for the record attempt. The NAA will submit the record to the FAI in Paris, France, for international ratification."

Sources: Bombardier Learjet 60 Sets World Speed Record in South Africa -
Lear 60 Sets World Speed Record In South Africa -

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Update on Comair 5191 accident

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released an update on the investigation into the cause of the crash of Comair CRJ-100 aircraft in Lexington, Kentucky last month. Comair Flight 5191 crashed on takeoff, killing 49 of the 50 souls on board.

An NTSB press release, issued today (see link below) says that the on-scene portion of the investigation into the cause of the accident has been completed. Here are the findings, to date:
Accident Sequence

Flight 5191, from Lexington, Kentucky to Atlanta, Georgia, was the third of three airplanes scheduled to take off in the early morning. The previous two departures took off without incident from runway 22. Flight 5191 was also cleared to taxi to runway 22 and subsequently cleared for takeoff; however, the airplane attempted to take off from runway 26. According to recorded information, the aircraft began its takeoff roll, accelerated to a maximum of about 137 knots, ran off the end of the runway through the airport perimeter fence, and impacted trees on an adjacent horse farm. The entire sequence took about 36 seconds. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire.

Aircraft Wreckage

Witness marks on scene indicate that all three landing gear were on the ground as the airplane exited the runway. The main wreckage was located approximately 1,800 feet from the end of the runway. Both engines were examined at the accident site and no evidence of pre-impact failure was noted and the thrust reversers were stowed. The flaps were found in the takeoff position and no problems were noted with any other airplane system or structure. The wreckage from flight 5191 has been moved to a storage facility in Georgia.


The flight data recorder (FDR) and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) were recovered immediately and have provided valuable information. Investigators are continuing to extract data from the flight recorders, the air traffic control tape recordings and airport video surveillance cameras. FDR data indicate that the airplane stopped near the end of runway 26 for about 45 seconds before the flight was cleared for takeoff. The airplane was cleared for takeoff and 6 seconds later started to taxi onto runway 26. It took about 36 seconds for the airplane to taxi onto runway 26 and complete the turn before power was increased to initiate the takeoff. FDR vertical accelerometer data indicate that the airplane departed the end of the runway about 32 seconds after the takeoff was initiated. The FDR recording ended about 4 seconds later. Time correlation of those data continues.

Operations/Human Performance

Operations/Human Performance group has completed initial follow-up interviews at Comair headquarters in Covington, KY. The group conducted airport observations under day and night conditions; a simulator observation of Comair taxi and takeoff procedures; and interviews with multiple persons including: ramp personnel, flight instructors, check airmen, and several pilots who had flown with the accident flight crew. These interviews provided investigators with information about procedures and techniques used by pilots for taxi and takeoff runway identification and information about the accident flightcrew. Additionally, the Director of Corporate Safety for Comair and FAA personnel responsible for oversight of the Comair certificate were interviewed. The group gathered relevant documents pertaining to the accident flight, flight crew training and evaluation, operations of the CRJ100, and oversight of the airline. Investigators are now reviewing interview summaries and documentation to identify areas for further investigation and evaluation. The group continues to evaluate the pilot actions that led to the attempted takeoff on runway 26.

Airport Information/Survival Factors

Runway 22 is 7003 feet long, 150 feet wide, and is lighted for nighttime use. Runway 26 is 3500 feet long, 150 feet wide but marked to 75 feet wide, and is not lighted and is restricted to daytime use only. In order to take off from runway 22 it is necessary to taxi across the end of runway 26. An airport construction project, begun in 2004, was still underway at LEX at the time of the accident. The project was intended to mill and repave runway 4-22 and upgrade the safety areas at both ends of runway 4-22, the main runway. This project necessitated changes to some of the taxiways and signage. The group continues to evaluate the airport taxiway and runway markings, lighting and signage as well as additional information that was available to pilots. The Airport/Survival Factors Group will also be documenting the factors that may have contributed to the loss of lives in this accident.

Air Traffic Control

At the time of the accident, there was one air traffic controller in the tower. After handling several aircraft at the beginning of his shift, there were several hours without aircraft movements. In the 20 minutes leading up to the accident, there were three departures, including Comair 5191, from LEX under his control. The ATC group has interviewed several Lexington control tower personnel and FAA air traffic personnel. The controller on duty at the time of the accident relayed the following information to investigators: he cleared the accident flight crew to take off (from runway 22) and to fly runway heading (220 degrees); after providing takeoff clearance for flight 5191, he turned away from the window to perform an administrative task (traffic count); he did not witness the accident, but heard the crash, turned around and saw fire, and immediately activated the emergency response. As in all investigations, the group will review the controller's workload and duty schedule and the tower staffing level.

Toxicological Test

Toxicology testing performed on specimens from both pilots did not detect any illicit substances or alcohol. An over the counter decongestant, pseudoephedrine, was detected at a low level in the first officer's blood.

Post Accident FAA Action

On September 1, 2006, the FAA issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO), titled, "Flight Crew Techniques and Procedures that Enhance Pre-takeoff and Takeoff Safety." This alert highlights existing FAA aircraft ground operation guidance and reminds flightcrews that maximum attention should be placed upon maintaining situational awareness during taxi operations.
The Aero-News Network has published an article that raises the question of whether or not the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) recording that the crew heard on the morning of the accident was detailed enough to ensure they taxied to the correct runway.

The same article also questions details of the NOTAM regarding the taxiway at LEX.
According to FAA transcripts received by the Louisville Courier-Journal, the published NOTAMS the crew had access to were accurate, but did not explicitly direct pilots how to get to the correct runway with part of the taxiway closed. The hourly ATIS that they monitored was evidently even less clear regarding taxi instructions.

As Aero-News reported, the crew was using an outdated chart when they were cleared for Runway 22, and departed instead from the much shorter Runway 26. The aircraft crashed on takeoff.

The NOTAM on the day of the crash says: "TWY A CLSD N OF 8/26".

The pilots would have understood that to mean "Taxiway A closed north of Runway 8/26." In other words, the part of the taxiway to get to Runway 22 beyond 26 was closed.

The new NOTAM issued after the crash tells pilots exactly where to taxi. It reads "LEX TWY A7 CLOSED (UNDER CONSTRUCTION) USE TMPRY TWY A NRTH OF 8/26 FOR ACCESS TO AER 22." This identifies the specific part of Taxiway A that is closed and directs pilots to use a temporary taxiway to get to Runway 22.

It is safe to assume the Blue Grass ATIS is now equally explicit regarding taxi instructions.
The only survivor was the flight's First Officer James Polehinke, who was believed to be at the controls at the time of the accident. An Associated Press article published on and elsewhere says that Mr. Polehinke's leg as been amputated, and that he faces several additional surgeries to repair fractures, one involving his spinal cord. Family members have said that the badly injured pilot has no memory of the accident.

Sources: Update on NTSB Investigation into the Crash of Comair Flight 5191 - NTSB News
Was Lexington ATIS, NOTAM Too Vague? -
Plane Crash Survivor Has Leg Amputated -

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Liquids and travel restrictions

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced an easing of its restrictions against carrying liquids and gels aboard commercial airliners.

According to a Reuters article on
Under the new plan, travellers may carry drinks and other items purchased in the secure areas of the airport. They also may bring travel-size lip gloss, hand lotion and other toiletries of 90 ml [3 ounces] or less that will be subject to screening and then placed in a small clear plastic bag.

The measure takes effect on Tuesday and is the second time the ban, introduced on August 10, has been revised. Homeland security officials called the latest change a prudent step but said the main provisions will remain in place indefinitely because the threat of attacks on aircraft has not diminished.

"After the initial, total ban, we have learned enough from the UK investigation to say with confidence that small, travel-size liquids are safe to bring through security checkpoints in limited numbers," said Kip Hawley, the Bush administration official overseeing US transportation security.
Canada has announced a similar change to its carry-on rules.

A USA Today article says that these changes came about after FBI tests that showed that it's highly unlikely that terrorists could bring down a jet with a bomb made from small amounts of fluids.
Jim Kapin, head of health and safety for the American Chemical Society, said small quantities of liquids could not seriously damage an airplane. Even if several terrorists smuggled liquid explosives on board, it is "practically speaking, impossible" to make a bomb on an airplane because of the equipment and expertise required, Kapin said.

Sources: US To Relax Some Carry-On Restrictions -
Canada Relaxes Airport Security Ban - Airport Business
Liquids not as risky as first feared - USA Today

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Air Traffic Controllers oppose FAA cuts

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is pushing to reduce the number of air traffic controllers it employs by about 10 percent. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) opposes this plan, saying it could have a significant negative effect on aviation safety.

From an article on the Airport Business website about this issue:
Pat Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said having only one air traffic controller on duty "degrades the safety net," by "not having another set of eyes and ears."

Michael Conely, president of the union in Dallas, said "you can't staff all the positions properly" with the number of controllers currently scheduled at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

"You are on position longer, watching more airplanes, and it becomes a tired-eye syndrome," Conely said.

Conely and others have also questioned the FAA's motives for its new mandatory dress code.

"It's absolutely a power thing," he said. "They want to show they're in charge and this is how we're going to do it and if you don't like it quit."
Source: Air Traffic Controllers Condemn FAA Cuts - Airport Business

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Behavioral Pattern Recognition for airport security

There is an interesting article on the Airport Business website about a technique that can assess threats from passengers while they are still at the departing airport.

The technique, a form of behavioral profiling, is known as Behavioral Pattern Recognition (BPR). It teaches airport and airline personnel how to spot odd conduct that could signal a security threat. According to the article, the BPR program has been adopted at Miami-Dade airport, as well as airports in Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and San Francisco.
The crux of the program is that terrorists are human and give their motives away via stress-induced behavior. Often they are first-timers with no prior record of illicit activity, and they are aware that they will probably lose their lives in the attack.

"Their ability to contain their stress or excitement is low," says Rafi Ron [president of New Age Security Solutions in Maryland]. "You can note movements or actions that are relevant only to someone who has something burning under his head."

Likewise, before the actual staging of the attack, there are certain tactics and information-gathering methods known to terrorists that can be spotted by an educated observer. "Attacks follow a stage of information collection, which is characterized by certain patterns not typical for people at an airport," says Ron.

Finally, there are distinct behavioral differences in people concealing something on their body, reflected in their style of dress or the way they walk.
Mr. Ron notes that the method works for thwarting crime as well as terrorism.

Source: Assessing Threats from Passengers - Airport Business

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Senate lifts limit on TSA screeners

At the present time, there is a legally mandated upper limit on the number of airport screeners that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can employ. That number is 45,000.

The Department of Homeland Security has complained that 45,000 screeners are not enough to do the job adequately.

Today the U.S. Senate lifted the cap on the number of airport screeners that the TSA can employ.

Quoting from an article posted in the Airport Business website:
According to Reuters, an amendment to port security legislation sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg was approved by a vote of 84-12. The number of screeners required may now be determined by the Transportation Security Administration.
Source: US Senate Lifts Upper Limit on Airport Screeners - Airport Business

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cyprus may lose EU landing rights over safety issues

The commercial aviation industry in the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus has been under scrutiny ever since the crash of a Cypriot airliner in Greece a little over a year ago. All of the more than 100 souls aboard the Boeing 737 operated by Helios Airlines were lost in that accident, which occurred after a catastrophic loss of cabin pressure.

Now we learn from an article on the Aero-News Network that "all of civil aviation from the Republic of Cyprus, faces the possibility of being blacklisted by the European Union because of unresolved safety concerns."
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is now meeting in Poland and they are seriously considering the ban because nearly two thirds of their recommendations have not been implemented.

Last July, the European Commission sent a letter to Cyprus aviation authorities, asking that the shortcomings with air safety be urgently addressed. The Cypriot officials responded three weeks later, but their arguments were not considered satisfactory to the EASA.
The EASA "blacklist" currently includes some 90 airlines, but if this action is taken against Cyprus, it would be the first instance of a European country losing the right to land in other European countries.

Source: Cyprus May Lose European Landing Rights

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter maiden flight

A Boeing press release announced today that the company's Large Cargo Freighter (LCF), a specially modified Boeing 747-400 freighter, has made its maiden flight.
The enormous jet -- with its enlarged upper fuselage that can accommodate three times the cargo by volume of a standard 747-400 freighter -- gracefully took off under rainy skies from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (formerly Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport). Boeing flight test pilots, Capts. Joe MacDonald and Randy Wyatt, took the airplane north, and then flew roughly 150 miles south following along the east side of the island before heading north again.

"It went beautifully," MacDonald said after the flight ended. In fact, the airplane handled so well, "quite often during the flight, it was easy to forget you were in an LCF rather than a regular 747-400," he said.

Evergreen Aviation Technologies Corp., part of Taiwan's Evergreen Group, is modifying the fleet of three airplanes at its facility at the airport.
Today's flight, which lasted 2 hours and 4 minutes, was the beginning of a 250 hour test program for the aircraft. The flight test program is expected to continue through the end of the year. Once it achieves certification from the FAA, the LCF will be used to transport major composite structures of the all-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The LCF also will complete more than 500 hours of ground testing in Taipei and Seattle combined. This comprehensive test program will ensure the LCF's reliability and ability to fly its intended mission.

After completing initial flight tests in Taiwan, during which the airplane's handling characteristics will be evaluated as well as ensuring the LCF is free from flutter and excessive vibration, the airplane will fly to Seattle's Boeing Field to complete the remainder of the flight test program. The ferry flight to Seattle is expected to occur mid-month. A fleet of three LCFs will ferry 787 assemblies between Nagoya, Japan; Grottaglie, Italy; Wichita, Kan. and Charleston, S.C., before flying them to the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash., for final assembly. The first two LCFs will enter service in early 2007; the third will follow later.
Congratulations to the people at Boeing on this milestone event.

Follow the link below to view photos and a video clip of the LCF.

Source: Boeing 747 Large Cargo Freighter Completes First Flight - Boeing News

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Friday, September 08, 2006

TSA airport screeners

And now for something completely different: an article about a day in the life of a TSA airport screener. USA Today profiles Transportation Security Officer Matt Bulger, who works at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. It's an interesting read.

The focus of the article is on 28 year old Mr. Bulger's on-the-job experiences. He has worked as an airport screener for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since 2002. Bulger seems an amiable sort, as he recounts the kinds of incidents -- some funny, some serious, some simply routine -- that occur on a daily basis at airport screening checkpoints.

From the article we also learn things such as this:
Dulles employs 671 full-time-equivalent transportation security officers, or TSOs (the official name for screeners) at 21 security lanes at a single central checkpoint. (By comparison, TSA's largest operation at Los Angeles International, which has eight terminals and eight separate checkpoints, employs three times that number.)

Screeners undergo criminal-background and medical checks. They have to be able to lift 70 pounds, be proficient in English and be U.S. citizens. New hires complete 40 to 60 hours of training, and everyone is subject to up to three hours of additional training weekly.
The sidebars on the article provide additional nuggets of TSA trivia. There is a "Glossary of TSA Lingo" -- our favorite item:
VAP (Voluntarily Abandoned Property): Banned items stopped at security checkpoints. The most common are cigarette lighters (37,000 a day, nationwide), which are disposed of as hazardous waste. Non-hazardous items are given to state agencies for surplus property.
Another sidebar gives us "TSA by the Numbers."
2002: Year TSA was created

$6.2 billion: The agency's annual budget

43,000: Current number of screeners

55,000: Number of screeners in 2002

$23,000 to $56,400: Salary range

2 million: Average number of airport screenings daily, nationwide
Reading the article gave us a great idea for a sequel. How about, "Confessions of a crew line screener." On second thought, maybe not!

Read the whole article (with photos) here: A day in the life of an airport screener - USA Today

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

CAPA: Aviation Security Report Card

The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), a trade association of passenger and cargo pilots, issued a press release today on the subject of its annual Aviation Security Report Card.

CAPA says that there has been "little progress in addressing major air security concerns." The press release identifies "several areas requiring urgent action." It attributes "an industry lobbying campaign that continually puts profits ahead of passengers" as a reason for the lack of progress.
"While airline CEOs sit behind the safety of their immobile desks to ponder the challenges of generating revenue, passengers and aircrew members who frequent the skies are left to worry that they will be at the mercy of a weak aviation security program should terrorists attack," said CAPA President Gary Boettcher.
Here are some of the security issues that CAPA says require urgent attention:
  • Biometric credentialing -- Readily available technology to identify aircrew and ramp personnel has been delayed by TSA because of misplaced priorities. The lack of progress on this front earned federal officials an F grade.
  • Cargo inspections -- Relying on an inadequate "known- shipper" program, TSA has essentially left cargo uninspected and vulnerable to sabotage, resulting in a D-grade. Cargo airlines remain "one of the weakest links in the aviation security system -- largely because of big business lobby efforts," Boettcher said. CAPA urged TSA to dedicate resources to concrete cargo inspection methods, improved explosives detection, including stepped-up use of canines, one of the few positive programs.
  • Protecting aircraft on the ground -- The nation's airports are largely unprotected on their perimeters, and aircraft on the ramp are unguarded, susceptible to sabotage, earning a D grade in the CAPA report. Although aircraft security inspections are adequate, the aircraft are vulnerable afterwards because of the lack of effective and consistent security of aircraft and airport ramps.
  • Aircrew training/notification of threats -- Five years after 9/11, airline Captains still are routinely denied access to information about potential threats, earning federal officials a D grade in this category. In addition, training for aircrew in dealing with terrorism threats is not effective, nor is it encouraged.
  • Screening -- While more than half of TSA's resources have gone to passenger screening and carry-on bags, screeners are hamstrung because they are prohibited from using risk-based behavior profiling. Instead, aircrew and workers with ramp access are unnecessarily screened -- tens of million of times a year for individuals with security clearances. This category gets a C- grade.
On the issue of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or shoulder-mounted missiles, CAPA gave officials a grade of "Incomplete."
"We have to salute the FBI and DHS officials for keeping these systems out of the country, as far as we know," Boettcher said. "But eventually we must develop effective countermeasures - the sooner the better."
There was praise for both the Federal Air Marshal Service, and the program known as the Federal Flight Deck Officers program, under which pilots can be armed. CAPA urges Congress to provide more funding for both of these programs.

Although CAPA has been working with TSA, DHS and members of Congress, CAPA President Gary Boettcher says that progress has been slow, and that is frustrating for pilots.
"In the 2004 Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Protection Act, Congress mandated a series of reports on critical aviation security issues," he said. "But as far as we can tell, not a single report has been written and submitted to Congress." "Our nation cannot afford to avoid behavior profiling or physical inspections of cargo," he said. "Our pilots believe it's urgent that we plug these security gaps."
Source: Annual Aviation Security Report Card Finds Little Change, Many Concerns; Pilots Troubled by Slowing Air Security Improvements - U.S. Newswire

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Frontier orders 10 turboprops

To quote the Aero-News Network (ANN), "In case you hadn't noticed... after the rush to replace turboprop airliners with regional jets a few years back, the propjets are making a comeback."

The comment is in response to the news that Frontier Airlines has ordered 10 Q400 74-seat turboprop airliners from Bombardier Aerospace, with options on 10 additional Q400 aircraft.

An article about the purchase on ANN says:
The Q400 aircraft is the airline's first turboprop. Frontier operates 280 flights a day to 57 destinations in the US, Canada and Mexico -- some of which are flown by Horizon Air as Frontier JetExpress, using Bombardier CRJ700 regional jets. (Horizon also flies Q400s on its own routes.)

"Only the Bombardier Q400 aircraft has the very low operating costs and operational characteristics that we require to develop new flying from our hub in Denver to points in Colorado and surrounding states," said Frontier President and CEO Jeff Potter. "The aircraft's high cruise speed and excellent passenger comfort complete an extremely attractive package. Judging from the experience of other Q400 operators, our passengers are going to enjoy flying in this aircraft."

Frontier Airlines becomes the 18th operator to order the Bombardier Q400. Firm orders stood at 185 aircraft as of July 31, 2006, with 125 having been delivered.
Source: Frontier Airlines Orders Its First Turboprops -

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Canadian crews want exemption from U.S. rules

In case you did not know, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a program, called US-VISIT, which collects biometric data from foreign visitors to the United States. US-VISIT is an acronym for United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology.

According to information on the DHS website, one feature of the US-VISIT program is that "the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer now uses the inkless, digital fingerscanner to capture two of your fingerscans. You first place your left index finger and then your right index finger on the scanner. The officer also takes your digital photograph."

Some Canadians are taking issue with this new program. Specifically, Canadian airlines want their crews to be exempted from the US-VISIT procedures. Here's what was reported about this issue in the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail:
Canadian pilots and flight attendants already undergo rigorous security checks, and it would be inefficient to add yet another U.S. entry hurdle for "low-risk" aviation workers, said the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents the country's carriers.

ATAC policy vice-president Fred Gaspar said Canadian airlines are worried that their flight crews will face disruptions in the U.S. inspection process, creating delays on the tarmac as pilots take time to exit and re-enter the cockpit.

"Pilots from Canada in some instances don't even get off the plane. In future in the U.S., they would have to leave the plane, line up for security, do the fingerprint screening and then get back on the plane. It may only take 10 seconds for the scanning, but the rest is a time-consuming operation," Mr. Gaspar said in an interview from Ottawa.
A spokeswoman for the US-VISIT program was quoted as saying, "Flight crews would automatically have their own lineup, and the digital scanning time would take five or 10 seconds of time. They place their hand on a digital glass plate. It's inkless, very clean and easy."

We have a feeling that providing a special crew line and pointing out that the procedure is "inkless" do not address the concerns of the Canadian crews and their employers.

Here's the real issue:
Transport Canada and the RCMP already screen pilots and flights attendants for Canadian identification cards, and crew lists are provided 48 hours in advance to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Flight crews are also interviewed by U.S. customs officials at major Canadian airports prior to departure to the United States.

"In light of these multiple and layered security screening processes, which are already applicable to Canadian crew operating into the United States, we are left to wonder as to the marginal value provided by" US-VISIT's new inspection proposal, Mr. Gaspar wrote.

The U.S. plan threatens to upset transborder airline schedules and "seemingly offers no tangible security value," he added.
Source: New U.S. security rules rile airlines, air crews - Globe and Mail, Canada

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IATA: Transatlantic crisis coming

An article on the Airport Business website quotes the International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Giovanni Bisignani as saying that a crisis is looming for Transatlantic travelers because the U.S. and the E.U. are not in agreement about rules pertaining to passengers' personal security.

Here's the gist of the problem:
In June, the European Court of Justice ruled illegal the EU's approval for airlines to pass on to US authorities private data on passengers on flights bound for the US or making stopovers there. The US had introduced the rule for security reasons. The court gave the EU and the US a deadline of end-September to negotiate a new agreement, allowing the transfer of the data to continue till then.

If there is no agreement by Sept 30, the airlines will have a legal problem, as the transfer of private data will be banned in Europe but mandatory in the US. Bisignani said airlines should not be obliged to choose which national laws they should transgress.
Mr. Bisignani is urging Europe and the U.S. "to act swiftly to avoid a huge transatlantic crisis over the coming weeks, with potential legal chaos leading to many flight cancellations."

Source: IATA Warns of World Flight Chaos - Airport Business

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