Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Aircraft accidents: No prosecution before investigation is complete

David Learmount, who writes for Flight International, reports that a group of influential aviation organizations has come out against the practice of beginning criminal proceedings after aircraft accidents before the investigation process has run its course.

Learmount's article, posted on the website says:
The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the UK Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) and the Academie Nationale de L'Air et de L'Espace (ANAE) contend that the growing worldwide practice of seeking criminal prosecutions immediately harms the process of investigation, and therefore safety itself, by causing all parties involved to act defensively.

Eurocontrol recently held a workshop at its headquarters in Brussels on related issues that it claims is a world first. "For the first time," says the agency, "justice, transport, legal and aviation experts have come together to discuss how to promote a 'just culture' - a reporting climate crucial to the promotion of public safety in which people are encouraged to provide essential safety-related information."

Eurocontrol has added its voice to the campaign, adding that "flight safety is being jeopardised through [failure to apply] a just culture in the reporting and analysis of safety occurrences. Eurocontrol has established from extensive research and interviews that legal structures and procedures can be contributing factors in delaying the application of a just culture. This workshop has allowed us to come together to explore the sometimes complex legal issues involved."
The article includes this quote from Flight Safety Foundation chief executive Bill Voss:
"We are increasingly alarmed that the focus of governments is to conduct lengthy, expensive and highly disruptive criminal investigations in an attempt to exact punishment, instead of the free flow of information to understand what has happened and why, and prevent recurrence."
There is an International Civil Aviation Organization(ICAO) treaty, ratified by ICAO's 189 member states, which mandates that operational investigations of aircraft accidents should be complete before courts attempt to establish criminal negligence. We hope that officials in Brazil who are dealing with last month's deadly midair collision keep this in mind.

Source: Push begins for just culture -

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Airport security news - Of fines and lines

You probably know that if you show up at an airport security checkpoint with a banned item, it will be confiscated. But did you know that if you carry a forbidden item through airport security in the U.S. you could be fined as much as $1,500?

It's true.

An article from the Dallas Morning News, republished on the Airport Business website says this:
Most passengers don't realize that if they take banned items through airport security - knowingly or unknowingly - they could face as much as $10,000 in fines. Usually the threat is obvious, such as being caught with a loaded gun. But try to pass through metal detectors with a large pair of scissors and a bad attitude and you could be out as much as $1,500.

TSA assessed $1.4 million in passenger fines in 2005, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and three other Sun Belt airports topped the list, in part, said one federal official, because these states usually have more gun owners along with laws that allow individuals to carry firearms. D/FW security uncovers about one gun a week during the screening process, said Dallas-based TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley.
The article goes on to say that from January to July 16 of this year, TSA issued 1,450 fines nationwide.
People usually don't know they've been fined until a letter arrives at their homes. In reviewing incident reports, TSA officials consider factors like whether the passenger tried to conceal the item or the "attitude of the violator."

Ms. McCauley said fliers can fight fines through an informal conversation or a formal hearing. Those who contest the penalties may eventually have to travel to the airport where TSA issued the fine.

Money from the fines goes into the U.S. Treasury General Fund - not to TSA. If the violator doesn't pay, the Department of Treasury takes actions to collect payment, such as withholding the violator's tax refunds.
A related article, also on Airport Business, talks about the idea of an express lane that business travelers and other frequent fliers can pay to use. This is being considered for BWI Thurgood Marshall airport. Here's how that would work:
Participants pay an annual fee and undergo a TSA threat assessment. They also must provide either a fingerprint or allow their retinas to be scanned so their identity can be quickly and positively established at the airport.

In return, they get their own, fast security lane, away from regular checkpoints filled with children, families or elderly passengers, all of whom can slow down the screening process.

TSA will maintain a supervisory role by ensuring security standards at the express lanes remain high and business travelers at BWI are united in their support for the program.
Sounds good to me!

Source: Fines Lurk for Fliers Toting Banned Items - Airport Business
Express Security Lane May Woo Fliers - Airport Business

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

De-icing at PDX harms Columbia River fish

Runoff from aircraft de-icing operations at Portland International Airport (PDX) is affecting Columbia River fish. An Associated Press article appearing in USA Today says:
Discharges containing the de-icing fluid -- variations of glycol, similar to antifreeze -- are harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Bacteria break down the fluid, robbing fish of oxygen in the Columbia Slough, where the water is emptied.

As glycol-laden water passes into the lower portion of the slough, it encounters habitat for juvenile coho and chinook salmon, members of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council wrote the state Department of Environmental Quality in 2004.

Susan Aha, a Port water-quality manager, said the chief problem with the current system was that it was based on models indicating that water flows in the slough ran 100 cubic feet per second.

"Since then we've come to realize that flows are much lower," Aha said, averaging 50 to 60 cubic feet per second. Many days there is no measurable flow at all.

The result of lower water flows is that the concentration of glycol in the slough is not sufficiently diluted.

The Port is looking at piping discharges directly into the Columbia River as part of enhancing its system. Current discharges eventually get there anyway, after passing from the slough to the Willamette River and then to the Columbia.
Read the whole article here: Portland airport's de-icing system harms fish - USA Today

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Airline crew gossip about celebrities goes viral!

And now for something completely different...

This is a story of viral journalism -- the news media analogue of viral marketing -- whereby stories are spread via a self-replicating process around the Internet. Only in this instance, it is viral journalism run amok.

As best I can tell, the story I am about to relate began on October 1, 2006. On that date, the New York Times published an article in its Travel section -- A New Kind of Dish Is Served by Flight Crews, by Jennifer Conlin. The 'dish' that the title of Ms. Conlin's article refers to has nothing to do with meal service; rather, it's the figurative kind of 'dish,' otherwise known as gossip.

The article begins:
Ever wonder what the cabin crews on planes think of the passengers they serve? If you want to find out, log onto, a Web site "connecting crew members worldwide," where flight attendants (or FA's) spout off on everything from the best and worst uniforms (British Airways is the big winner and easyJet's orange shirts are universally hated) to their least favorite passengers (mothers with badly behaved children, especially those who let "junior hit the FA button.")
The article goes on to relate tidbits that airline crew members had posted about their in-flight encounters with celebrities, "from the pope to Prince Andrew."

The article's mention of caught my eye immediately. I know this online forum well, because I have been a regular participant there for the past three years. I knew exactly which thread had supplied most of the material for Ms.Conlin's article.

The title of that thread is Celebrity Sightings. One of the longer-running threads on the forum, it was begun on April 24, 2001. The first line in the first post of the thread asks, simply, "Anyone have good (or bad) on-board experiences dealing with celebrities?" By the time Jennifer Conlin found the thread and wrote about it in the New York Times, it had more than 120 posts, many of which mentioned whole lists of encounters with the famous.

For whatever reason, we all know that people love to read celebrity gossip. Thus, it's not at all surprising that the New York Times article caught the eye of other journalists and editors on the lookout for a good story. The gist of Ms. Conlin's article has been excerpted, reworked, and republished widely by online media. The story 'went viral,' and tracking its spread quickly became a kind of indoor sport with some of the 'regulars' on

I don't know how Ms. Conlin selected the items she chose to mention in her article, but one of those was about Jennifer Lopez:
Jennifer Lopez gets bad reviews from two attendants. "She yelled at me because I could not make her double espresso and then told me my shoes looked cheap," said one.
Of all the one-liners reported by Jennifer Conlin in her New York Times piece, this one seemed to gain the most currency once viral replication began. As of this writing, I must have seen at least 15 clones of the original article, and every one of them includes the J. Lo mention.

Let's pause here for a moment and think a bit more about that 'viral' metaphor. This story has become 'viral' in its replication and spread, to be sure. But it's viral in another way as well: it's mutating!

Here's an example from The Sunday Times in London:
When Jennifer Lopez allegedly made a rude remark to an airline flight attendant, the stewardess posted an account at, a website that encourages professional flight crews to let off steam about passengers behaving badly.
Encourages flight crews to let off steam about passengers behaving badly? No, that's not the philosophy of the forum, nor the spirit of the Celebrity Sightings thread.

The Times article was mild, compared to several others that have surfaced. Running the story under the eye-popping headline, 'J.Lo throws hissy fit on plane,' a South African publication called Tonight said:
Jennifer Lopez allegedly insulted an airhostess - because she couldn't make her a speciality coffee mid-flight. The Latin diva is said to have flown into a rage after she asked for a double espresso and was told that they couldn't make her one.

J.Lo, famed for her outrageous demands, took out her frustration on the
stunned stewardess, hurling a torrent of hurtful insults at her.

The unnamed hostess is quoted on website as saying: "She yelled at me because I could not make her a double espresso and then she told me my shoes looked cheap."
The identical story appeared on eCanada Now, but running a more subdued title, 'Jennifer Lopez Insulted an Air Hostess.' The Daily Telegraph in Australia published an abridged version under the title, 'Vile High Club - J.Lo's air rage.' The Aussie version added this lead sentence: "YOU best better be able to make Jennifer Lopez a double espresso or be prepared for a spray."

All Headline News reporter Maira Oliveira editorialized a bit in her version of the story:
Jennifer Lopez may have the booty shakin' part down but that doesn't mean she can stick her nose up in the air.

We already have one "STFU" Mariah Carey - we don't need two of them. The Latina actress recently had a titter-tatter scrawl on flight with a stewardess after she didn't get her daily shot of espresso.

Jennifer Lopez reportedly lost her diva-like composure when she requested a double expresso and was flat-out rejected.

J.Lo was left shocked in disbelief that one would dare deprive her of her caffeine rush and began insulting the defenseless stewardess.

The stewardess said, "She yelled at me because I could not make her a double espresso and then she told me my shoes looked cheap."

Real classy move there, J.Lo.
She said it. I didn't.

Had enough yet? How about just one more? This one is my favorite mutation. It appears on a website called The Conservative Voice under the title, 'J.Lo Not Charged Following Altercation with Flight Attendant.' I'm not making this up! Here's what it said:
Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez allegedly had an altercation with a flight attendant in mid-air when she was told she could not have a double-shot of expresso.

According to J.Lo's press agent, "She requires a daily shot of expresso."

Jennifer Lopez reportedly lost her diva-like composure when she requested a double expresso and was flat-out rejected, according to AP.

J.Lo was left shocked in disbelief that one would dare deprive her of her caffeine rush and began insulting the flight attendant.
(By now my friends at who are reading this are rolling on the floor!)

I hope I've illustrated something about viral journalism with this piece, for that is what I meant to do. There's one more thing I'd like to mention. Save for Jennifer Conlin, the writer of the initial story in the New York Times, it is very apparent that none of the others I've cited have visited to read the thread that was the source of the quote about Jennifer Lopez. If they had, they might have noticed a few things, starting with the fact that the post was made by a male flight attendant -- not a 'stewardess' or an 'air hostess.'

Moreover, that nugget was posted on the forum by a male flight attendant on March 5, 2003 -- three and a half years ago!!. Most versions of the story that have proliferated since the original one came out make it sound as though the exchange happened on a flight last week!

I know that the story isn't about anything that's going to alter the course of world history, but don't journalists make even cursory attempts to check facts these days? -- especially before they begin further embroidering their stories?

Maybe I'm telling on myself: I'm a sworn-to-check-my-facts-and-cite-my-sources scientist, not a journalist. We can only hope that journalists in 'serious' fields -- you know, science, economics, international relations, aviation!! -- practice a higher standard of reporting than those reporting on entertainers.

So often when we read stories about outrageous behavior, we look at one another and chuckle, "You can't make this stuff up!!" Then again, maybe 'they' do make it up!

Sources: A New Kind of Dish Is Served by Flight Crews - New York Times
Revenge of the tipless classes - The Sunday Times, UK
J.Lo throws hissy fit on plane - Tonight, South Africa
Vile High Club - J.Lo's air rage The Daily Telegraph, Australia
J.Lo Attacks Stewardess For Not Getting Her Espresso - All Headline News
J.Lo Not Charged Following Altercation with Flight Attendant - The Conservative Voice

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

TSA directives: Differences between theory and application

There is an interesting article on the Airport Business website about how security directives issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sometimes create new and unanticipated problems when they are implented in the field.

The writer notes that problems arise because, by their very nature, security directives frequently are issued on very short notice -- sometimes within a matter of hours. Not all commercial airports have the immediate resources available -- including funding and needed personnel -- to fully comply. As a result, implementation of security directives is not always uniform, especially in the initial hours and days after they are issued.

Here are some examples:
A recent directive deals with the escort privileges that go with your airport ID badge, and now restricts the conditions under which you may bring an unbadged person into certain areas when necessary. It's not going over very well. Many airlines have reduced their leased space to a minimum (major money problems for the airport) and are also reducing their staff. Thus, they have a pool of fewer and fewer employees to pull from, most of whom must now perform multiple tasks. Another major impact is with contractors. Some now badge only the supervisors and allow them to escort the workers, but this causes real problems at a construction site with trucks and people in constant motion and crossing boundaries every moment of the day.

Another example is the occasional security directives requirement to "increase law enforcement presence and patrols" in response to some threat. Sounds reasonable at the bureaucrat's desk, but no airport, including the largest, has policemen sitting on the back bench with nothing to do. The lead-time for recruiting, hiring, vetting and training a new law enforcement officer, including both state and federal mandatory training and certification requirements, can easily be six months or more.
The writer, who is an aviation security consultant, suggests that the TSA needs to share more information about the 'why' of security directives with the people who are in charge of security at individual airports.
Airports need to understand the threat, not just be told to perform a laundry list of responses without knowing the reasons why. Then, the airports can also bring local resources to bear that TSA didn't even think of. People will always want to kill folks and cause damage. There will always be a threat. TSA needs to be smart and fire only shots that need to be fired.
Read the whole article here: Some TSA Security Directives Imposed with Little Forethought - Airport Business

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

EU and US reach deal on passenger data

Last month we reported on a looming crisis over a disagreement between the European Union (EU) and the U.S. regarding the sharing of passenger data for security purposes. According to an Associated Press article published on the Airport Business website and elsewhere, the two sides now have reached an agreement on this issue.
The agreement is valid until July 2007, after which the EU and the U.S. plan to have a permanent accord.

The 25 EU governments are expected to give final approval to the interim deal next week.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini welcomed it, saying the United States and the EU will employ "comparable standards of data protection."

He said the deal defuses fears in the European Parliament of a loss of privacy for Europeans flying to the United States.

Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security no longer will have an automatic right to pull data from European airlines' computer systems, but must ask for such information.

Its U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency may disclose passenger data to other American law enforcement agencies only if "they have comparable standards of data protection," Frattini told reporters. He said it cannot give them direct electronic access to the data and limits the duration of its storage.

EU negotiator Jonathan Faull said the EU and the U.S. aim for a "broader" data-sharing deal after July 2007 that would provide for sharing of more data than the 34 details listed under the deal reached Friday.

British Home Secretary John Reid called the interim agreement "another major step in the fight against terrorism (showing that) the common alliance against terrorism is, on both sides of the Atlantic, very strong."

French Justice Minister Pascal Clement said the Europeans '"got concrete guarantees with respect to" privacy protection for EU nationals.


The new agreement lets airlines continue to legally submit 34 pieces of data - such as passenger names, addresses, seat number, credit card and travel details as well as their no-show records - for transfer to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the United States.
Source: EU, U.S. Reach Deal on Sharing Passenger Data - Airport Business

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LAX runway incursion: Close call!

Imagine this: You're in a regional jet cleared for takeoff from LAX, but about the time your aircraft reaches a speed of 100 knots you see a Gulfstream taxiing across the runway in front of you.

That's what happened last week to a crew operating a SkyWest jet bound for San Antonio. Fortunately, the pilots were able to abort takeoff, coming to a stop less than 100 ft from the business jet!

Here is an account of this near-collision from the Aero-News Network:
The near-accident occurred around 6:00 pm, when the UK-registered Gulfstream taxied from a hangar on the south side of the field and was given instructions to cross the outer runway but hold short of the inner runway, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The pilot read back the instructions, but missed his assigned taxiway... and had to make a U-turn to get back to it. After repeating his initial instructions, the Gulfstream pilot took the correct taxiway, but did not stop short of the inner runway as instructed. As the Gulfstream crossed the active runway, the departing Skywest aircraft, carrying 39 passengers and crew, had to slam on its brakes to avoid the collision.

The Gulfstream pilot told officials he was certain the controller had cleared him to cross both runways, even though he twice read back the "hold short" instructions correctly, Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman, told the Times.

FAA officials said the SkyWest pilot, the tower controller and the ground radar that alerts controllers to impending collisions all noticed -- at the same time -- the Gulfstream crossing the runway.

"We had three layers of redundancy," continued Gregor, "This is just a clear and clean pilot mistake."

According to tapes released to the LA Times, the shaken controller called out, "SkyWest 6430, I apologize. We never talked to the Gulfstream. He crossed without a clearance. I apologize. If you could make a right turn, please, and exit the runway."
The SkyWest pilot is heard responding, "Exiting right," exhaling heavily. The controller was so traumatized by the near-collision that she left her post seconds later.
The FAA says that controller workload and controller staffing had nothing to do with this incident.

Source: Gulfstream, RJ Involved In LAX Runway Incursion Incident -

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Midair collision said to cause Brazil crash

Several days ago, a Boeing 737-800 aircraft operated by Brazilian airline GOL, crashed into a remote area of Brazil's Mato Grosso state. The plane was on a scheduled flight from Manaus to Brasilia. All 149 passengers and six crew perished in the accident.

It is believed that the airliner was involved in a midair collision with an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet, resulting in the crash. The Legacy was damaged in the collision, but was able to make an emergency landing.

According to a Reuters report:
The crash appeared to have been caused by a collision between the Boeing and a small executive jet, the aviation authority ANAC said in a statement.

The executive jet, a Legacy 600 made by Embraer and owned by Excel Airways (sic), made an emergency landing at Cachimbo airforce base on Friday with five passengers on board, none of whom was hurt.

Its black box was being examined at Embraer's headquarters at Sao Jose dos Campos in Sao Paulo state. The Gol plane's black box has not yet been found.
Another article, on, elaborates further:
A Legacy jet that was flying in the area at the time of the crash made an emergency landing after the passengers and crew felt a jolt, said Leonardo Mota Neto, a spokesman for Brazil's airport authority. A photo of the Legacy posted on Brazil's civil aviation agency's Web site shows the tip of one wing missing.

"The commission's initial conclusion is that there was a collision between the Legacy jet and the Boeing plane," Denise Abreu, director of the civil aviation agency, which set up a commission to investigate the crash, told reporters in Brasilia last night. "It's not yet possible to say if the collision was because of equipment failures or pilot error."

Data from the black box of the Legacy, which was made by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA, helped investigators reach their conclusion, Abreu said.
CNN is reporting that all seven passengers and crew aboard the Legacy were Americans.
Police questioned the seven passengers and crew aboard the executive jet, which had been headed to the United States. The passengers, all Americans, included Joe Sharkey, a journalist for The New York Times.

The seven said they felt a bump, the plane shook and the pilot took manual control for the landing, Globo reported.

The New York Times reported that Sharkey sent an e-mail to his wife saying: "Neither of the pilots can understand how a 737 could have hit us without them seeing it."

Authorities have not given a definitive cause for the crash, and the investigation was continuing. Officials have said the investigation could take at least three months.
Sources: First bodies recovered from Brazil plane crash - Reuters AlertNet
Brazil Inspectors Say Boeing Had Midair Collision -
Recorders support midair collision -

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