Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Coyote ugly' incident at DEN

We've all heard of 'bird strikes' -- birds being ingested into jet engines -- but this time it was a coyote that suffered that fate.

The incident happened at Denver International Airport on Sunday, November 26, 2006. A coyote crossed paths with a United Airlines B737 that was taking off, and the poor critter was sucked into the aircraft's number two engine.

The pilots were able to complete the takeoff and then returned to the airport for a "successful emergency landing," according to a story posted on the Aero-News Network. Save for the unfortunate coyote, no one was injured.

Aero-News Network says, "We do not envy the mechanics who now have to return the engine to service. And no word if any roadrunners were involved."

Source: Coyote Ingested Into 737 Engine During Takeoff At DEN - Aero-News.net

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Investigation: Airline caterer security

A Dallas-Ft. Worth television station has carried out a 'hidden camera' investigation of airline catering company Sky Chefs. A brief report has been posted to the CBS 11 TV website. Here are some excerpts:
Armed with a hidden camera, CBS 11 investigative producer Brent Flynn walked into the building where Sky Chefs prepares the passengers' meals.
Flynn roamed around food carts and encountered two workers on the loading dock who never gave him a second look.
After a second trip inside, a chef — not a security guard — finally asked Flynn for identification. "You can’t just walk in here," the employee told the CBS 11 producer.


CBS 11's hidden camera walk through of the facility follows a similar investigation by our sister station, WCBS-TV, in New York earlier this month. That report also found gaping holes in security at the Sky Chefs' plant at JFK International Airport.

In response to that report, Nancy DuLaney, Sky Chefs' human resources director at its Dallas headquarters, sent an email out to all of the managers at the facility reminding them of the "importance of security at the Dallas facility."
CBS 11 reports that Sky Chefs declined their request for an on-camera interview but issued this written statement:
"We are in the process of conducting large-scale security audits, and have a plan in place to inspect each facility around the country. In the specific case of our DFW Airport facility, we were already in the process of reviewing and implementing a plan to secure all dock areas prior to the CBS 11 report, and will complete this process within days."
Read the whole article here: CBS 11 Investigation: Airline Caterer Security - CBS11tv.com

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

NBAA to Brazilian President: Release pilots

Mr. Ed Bolen, President of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has sent a letter to the President of Brazil asking for the release of the two American pilots who were flying the business jet involved in the mid-air accident in late September that resulted in the loss of a Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 and all aboard. The pilots of the Embraer Legacy 600, and their passengers, survived the accident. The pilots have been prohibited from leaving Brazil while the accident investigation is underway.

The Aero-News Network published this text of Bolen's letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva:
This letter requests your immediate action to secure the return to the United States of two American pilots being detained in your country in conjunction with the tragic accident between a business aircraft and a Gol Airlines aircraft on September 29th.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) supports a thorough, fair, accurate and transparent investigation into the accident. We expect nothing less.

It is our understanding that the pilots and their attorneys have fully cooperated with investigators from your government. Yet, despite their cooperation, the pilots are being held in contravention of internationally recognized practices and with no date certain for their release. This is an unacceptable situation that must not continue.

Based on the public reports of the accident, it is clear there was no intentional wrongdoing in this case. Preventing the pilots from returning to the United States is neither appropriate nor beneficial to the investigation.

NBAA urges your prompt intervention in this matter so that the pilots can be returned home in time for the holidays.

Thank you for your time and assistance with this critically important issue.
Source: NBAA's Bolen Calls On Brazilian President To Release Pilots - Aero-News.net

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

O'Hare runway incursion animation

Here's a link to the NTSB's three dimensional animated reconstruction that shows the runway incursion incident between an Atlas Air B747 and a United Airlines B737 at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on July 23, 2006.

NTSB Animation

The video includes a soundtrack with ATC communication. One can only imagine what was heard when they played back the tape from the CVRs on those aircraft. I'm sure the language was not polite!

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Brazil: Warning systems failed in midair accident

The two American pilots involved in Brazil's worst air disaster are still stuck in Rio, but now an Associated Press article posted on the Airport Business website says that "Warning systems failed on both an executive jet and a commercial airliner before the two planes collided..."

Brazil's Col. Rufino Antonio da Silva Ferreira, President of the Commission of Investigation of the Air Force, is quoted in the article. He said that neither crew saw the other plane coming. "No one saw anyone," he said. "No one tried evasive action."
Ferreira said he had not interviewed the air traffic controllers and was waiting for a technical report on the condition of the transponders, devices that signal a plane's presence and altitude.

The two American pilots were interviewed and were "cooperative," Ferreira said. The U.S. pilots

The U.S. pilots union and their international umbrella federation released a statement calling for the release of the two.

"Thus far, only contradictory facts, rumor and unsupported allegations have been forthcoming from Brazilian government officials," the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, which represents more than 100,000 airline pilots in more than 95 countries, said in a statement.

The federation "calls on the Brazilian authorities to expedite the conclusion of an independent technical investigation into (the crash) ... and that these pilots be allowed to return to their homes forthwith."
Ferreira also noted that the investigation could take 10 months to conclude.

Source: Brazil Probe Says Warning Systems Failed in Midair Crash - Airport Business

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Runway incidents on the rise at U.S. airports

While near collisions on airport runways are very rare -— about one for every 2 million takeoffs and landings -- the number of high-risk runway incidents rose to 31 in fiscal 2006, up from 29 in 2005 and 28 in 2004.

A USA Today article, commenting on this year's NTSB Most Wanted List of aviation safety enhancements, quotes National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Mark Rosenker on the issue of runway close-calls: "It's unacceptable. We've been running on luck for far too long." As an example, Rosenker cites an incident in Chicago on July 23, 2006 when two jets missed each other by 35 feet.

For its part, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it is pursuing new technologies that will help reduce the danger. According to FAA Deputy Administrator Bobby Sturgell:
The agency is testing lights embedded in runways that flash red to warn pilots when another plane gets too close. A navigation system expected in planes by 2014 will allow pilots to track other planes on the ground, Sturgell said.

"All of this demonstrates that the FAA is aggressively attacking the problem," he said.

Sturgell cautioned that the solutions are costly and the agency needs time to fully test them before they are put into the field.
Source: Runway incidents rise for 2nd year - USA Today

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

NTSB 'Most Wanted' List for aviation

Each year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issues its Most Wanted List of safety improvements, "a list that calls for action by federal agencies on the most critical transportation safety issues."

The NTSB is concerned with safety for all modes of transportation in the United States, but for our purposes, let's have a look at the issues raised for aviation.

The NTSB says that, in addition to pinpointing important safety issues, the Most Wanted List also rates agencies by the timeliness with which they act to implement the recommendations. The Federal Aviation Administration received five unacceptable timeliness ratings.

Here are the issues on the Most Wanted List for Aviation:
Runway Incursions -- This issue has been on the Board's list since it's inception in 1990. The FAA completed action on a number of objectives to make ground operation of aircraft safer. However, these incidents continue to occur with alarming frequency. The FAA indicates that during fiscal year 2005 there were 327 incursions, and during 2006 there were 330. A system introduced by the FAA provides warning to air traffic controllers, but not to the flight crews, a fact that severely reduces the amount of time that pilots have to react to an impending incursion. Recommendation: Implement a safety system for ground movement that will ensure the safe movement of airplanes on the ground and provide direct warning capability to the flight crews. Timeliness Classification: Unacceptable.

Fuel/Air Vapors -- Operating transport-category airplanes with flammable fuel/air vapors in fuel tanks presents a risk of explosion that is avoidable. Center wing fuel tank explosions have resulted in 346 fatalities in four accidents since 1989. There also have been several non-fatal fuel tank explosions, the latest of which occurred earlier this year in India. After the TWA 800 accident in 1996, the Board issued both short and long term recommendations to reduce the potential for flammable fuel/air vapors in aircraft fuel tanks. The short-term recommendation was closed in an unacceptable status because the FAA took no action. The FAA has committed to action on the long term recommendation by Fall 2007. Recommendation: Complete rulemaking efforts to preclude the operation of transport-category airplanes with flammable fuel/air vapors in the fuel tank on all aircraft. Timeliness Classification: Acceptable (progressing slowly).

Aircraft Icing -- The consequences of operating an airplane in icing conditions without first having thoroughly demonstrated adequate handling/controllability in those conditions are sufficiently severe that they warrant a thorough certification test program. The FAA has not adopted a systematic and proactive approach to the certification and operational issues of airplane icing. Recommendation: Complete research on aircraft structural icing and continue efforts to revise icing certification criteria, testing requirements, and restrictions on operationsin icing conditions. Evaluate all aircraft certified for flight in icing conditions using the new criteria and standards. Timeliness Classification: Unacceptable.

Audio, Data and Video Recorders -- Investigators must have information rapidly, effectively and efficiently in order to determine the factors related to an accident. Automatic information recording devices, such as Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVRs) and Flight Data Recorders (FDRs) have proven to be very useful in gathering pure factual information. This information results in the development of timely, more precise safety recommendations that are likely to reduce future similar accidents. Recommendation: In addition to adopting a 2-hour CVR requirement, require the retrofit of existing CVR's with an independent power supply, and require that existing FDRs and CVRs be on separate generator busses, with the highest reliable power so that any single electrical failure does not disable both. Require the installation of video recording systems in small and large aircraft. Require the recording of additional needed FDR data for Boeing 737s. Timeliness Classification: Unacceptable.

Crew Resource Management (CRM) Training for Part 135 Flights -- Part 121 and scheduled Part 135 operators are required to provide pilots with CRM training in which accidents are reviewed and skills and techniques for effective crew coordination are presented. The Safety Board has investigated several fatal aviation accidents involving Part 135 on-demand operators (air taxis such as that involved in the crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002) where the carrier either did not have a CRM program, or the CRM program was much less comprehensive than would be required for a Part 121 carrier. Although the FAA has agreed in principal with the recommendation, no discernible progress has been made. Recommendation: Require that Part 135 on-demand charter operators that conduct dual-pilot operations establish and implement an FAA-approved CRM training program for pilots in accordance with Part 121. Timeliness Classification: Unacceptable.
"Our Most Wanted List puts extra pressure on our nation's transportation safety regulators to act more quickly on our recommendations," said NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker. "We've made progress, but this year's list again shows that there are numerous areas that need improvement and they need improvement now. The Board will continue to push aggressively for implementation of the measures needed to make our safe transportation system even safer."

Let's get busy, FAA!


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Sunday, November 12, 2006

DHS: Airport anti-missile program

An item from Airport Security Report, republished by Airport Business, says:
With shoulder-fired missiles having already killed more than 640 people in 35 attacks on civilian jets, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is launching an 18-month program evaluating technologies to protect commercial fleets. It awarded $7.5 million contracts to Raytheon, Northrop Grumman Space Technology and L-3 Communications AVISYS.

DHS will also work with the U.S. Department of Defense to assess the "maturity and effectiveness of relevant technologies, application of resources to determine potential system approaches and suitability in the civilian aviation environment."


Raytheon plans on using Vigilant Eagle Airport Protection System. Deployed around an airport, the system uses passive infrared trackers scanning for missile exhaust. It steers a beam of electromagnetic energy to divert the threat from the aircraft, although it is unclear if this will impact aircraft systems as well. It is ground-based and thus does not have to be fitted to the aircraft. Northrop Grumman is using an infrared anti-missile system designed to divert missiles that is being put on FAA aircraft.
Over 20 terrorist groups are believed to possess shoulder-launched missiles, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Source: Homeland Security Launches Airport Anti-Missile Program - Airport Business

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Digital age NOTAMs

Eurocontrol and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are working together on a new system that will produce standardized, computerized NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) by 2010.

From FlightGlobal.com:
NOTAMs are issued to disseminate safety-critical, recently generated aeronautical information about runway closures, danger areas, taxiway closures, and so on. About 18,000 NOTAMs are typically in force worldwide, and 25 an hour are issued, replaced or cancelled.

The current system was designed 50 years ago and is intended to be used and understood solely by humans, typically pilots, air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers. NOTAMs require the user to read the information direct in loosely structured, free-text form, usually via a website.

Making NOTAMs readable by computers would enable last-minute updates to be placed on automated data processing systems for instant distribution to all concerned, including pilots. Preliminary trials of computer-readable danger area NOTAMs in the USA have already shown that their use can improve safety, for example in warning of forest fires, or security zones.

Now Eurocontrol has come up with a system called xNotam and has run the first trials with Darmstadt university. Project initiator Eduard Porosnicu says that although its introduction is several years away, there will be a "clear benefit of worldwide implementation" of the system, but only for users who have the capacity to download the information.

Next year the FAA plans to encode airport surface and global navigation system data using the AIXM aeronautical information exchange model developed by Eurocontrol for xNotam. The resulting information will then be distributed and used to create visualisation systems to filter, highlight, map and read NOTAM information.
Porosnicu also said that "in time, computer-interpretable aeronautical data will become the norm and the NOTAM as we know it today may cease to exist."

Are we heading toward aviation's version of Web 2.0? Let's hope so -- and the sooner the better!

Source: Notams poised to enter digital age, with FAA and Eurocontrol set to modernise 50-year-old syst - FlightGlobal.com

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

EU cabin baggage rules changed

Air passengers across Europe now must cope with restrictions similar to those in the U.S. regarding the types and amounts of liquids they may bring aboard airliners in their hand luggage.

The BBC reports:
Liquids are limited to 100ml per container and no more containers than would fit in a one-litre plastic bag.

The new EU-wide rules represent a relaxation of the anti-terror measures in the UK, but will represent a clampdown for many European countries.

The UK imposed curbs in August after police said they had foiled a plot to bring down as many as 10 planes.

The measures were not adopted uniformly elsewhere in the EU, with many travellers previously facing much stricter restrictions on carrying liquids out of the UK than they did on their return from an EU country.

Now passengers across the EU and in Switzerland, Norway and Iceland will be able to carry drinks and toiletries through airport security, but only in small amounts.


The new rules require the liquid containers containing items such as toothpaste, cosmetics and shaving foam be carried in a clear plastic, re-sealable bag that does not exceed 20cm x 20cm (8in x 8in).

At the airport security search, the plastic bag will need to be removed from the hand luggage and X-rayed separately.
Liquids such as perfumes, cosmetics and drinks that are bought in the departure areas of airports will be allowed on board.

Source: Rules on flight liquids changed - BBC News

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

'Silent jet' in development

Okay, not completely silent, but one that "from outside an airport would sound about as noisy as a washing machine or other household appliance," according to a Reuters article about it on the MSNBC news website.

The article says that a team of 40 researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge University spent three years working on the wide, streamlined jet. The aircraft would carry 215 passengers and could be in the air by 2030.

You just have to click on the link to the article at the end of this post so that you can have a look at a photo of this extremely streamlined aircraft of the 'flying wing' variety.
It lacks the central vertical stabilizer common at the tail of current passenger jets, instead using a pair of stabilizers at the wingtips.

The proposed plane has a 222-foot (68-meter) wingspan and is 144 feet (44 meters) long from nose to tail, comparable in size to a Boeing 767.

"You take the fuselage and you squish it, and you spread it out, and it's an all-lifting body," said Zoltan Spakovsky, an associate professor at MIT who worked on the project.

The design allows the plane to remain in the air at slower speeds, which would allow it to cruise in for a landing more quietly. The plane does not use wing flaps, which are common on today's passenger jets and create much of the landing noise.

The MIT-Cambridge team also designed what they said could be a quieter and more fuel efficient engine system. Rather than placing the jets in pods suspended under the wings, the silent jet uses three engines built into the middle of the plane, at the rear. They take in air from above the wing, which helps to insulate people on the ground from jet noise at takeoff.
Now click on this link and have a look at this concept aircraft: 'Silent Jet' Could Ease Airport Noise - MSNBC News

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

American pilots still stuck in Brazil after mid-air

An Associated Press article on the Airport Business website reminds us that the two American pilots who were involved in a mid-air collision in Brazilian airspace in September are still being prevented from leaving Brazil.

The accident, which happened on September 29, resulted in the crash of a GOL Airlines Boeing 737-800 and killed 154 people. The American pilots were flying an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet. The Legacy was damaged in the collision, but the pilots managed to land the aircraft safely, and all seven aboard the smaller aircraft survived.

The American pilots' passports have been confiscated by Brazilian officials while the accident investigation continues. The AP article says this about the investigation:
Early speculation in Brazil pointed to errors by the U.S. pilots, but the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported this week that air traffic controllers were recorded putting them on a collision course with the bigger jet according to a leaked flight recorder transcript.

Brazil's Defense Minister Waldir Pires earlier labeled "irresponsible" the pilots' statements to investigators that they had been flying at the correct altitude.

Brazilians speculated in the media that the pilots had ignored their flight plan and even switched off the new jet's transponder to avoid being tracked as they tested its performance - allegations denied by the pilots.

Now, the probe into the accident has stalled.

The Brazilian Air Force, citing international conventions, has not turned over control tower transcripts to federal police, nor let criminal investigators interview the 10 air traffic controllers working that day. All 10 controllers have been put on paid leave and offered psychological care.
The article goes on to say that the American pilots "have tried to cooperate, and initially did not contest the seizure of their passports, which their Brazilian lawyer said was illegal. Now they are considering legal action to retrieve their passports and leave Brazil."

Their lawyer says that the pilots will not speak publicly about the accident until they have returned to the U.S. Meanwhile, they continue to languish as 'virtual prisoners' in Rio.

Source: U.S. Pilots Involved in Deadly Brazil Air Collision Stuck in Legal, Emotional Limbo - Airport Business

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Miss Universe grounded by Air Deccan

Every now and then I like to stray from posts about serious topics and insert something a bit more light-hearted. How about this story from the Aero-News Network:
In one of those stories that makes you realize that sometimes even supermodels can't get everything they want, Miss Universe Zulenka Rivera -- along with a baker's dozen of the most beautiful women in the world -- was denied an airline boarding pass in India this Saturday.

Rivera... along with 13 other super-duper fashion models, an Indian-born American fashion designer, and other members of the entourage including bodyguards and stylists, were all denied passage on a Air Deccan flight scheduled to fly from Goa to Bangalore, India. The reason -- too much luggage.

Evidently, the captain of the flight also refused to fly with the excess designer suitcases.

The 27 member fashion group simply had way too many suitcases and they and the airline couldn't agree on how much it would cost to take all the high-fashion couture.
And you thought that Miss Universe never wore anything but bathing suits!

But don't worry. The article also says:
The entire entourage was forced to stay another night and were able to fly out on different airlines the next day. This time, they were allowed to bring all their luggage.
No mention of which other airline...

Source: Miss Universe Not Allowed On Plane - Aero-News.net

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Contaminants in passenger aircraft cabins

Here's another article on Airport Business that has some attention-grabbing lines:
What if a terrorist released an invisible poison or disease-causing agent such as anthrax inside a commercial airliner?

Researchers at the [Kansas State] university are under contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to study how to detect, contain and remove contaminants on planes.
Oh, good. I'm glad to hear that! The article goes on:
While the airplane research covers accidental contamination and the natural spread of viruses such as flu or chickenpox, the deliberate spread of toxins is a key concern, said project supervisors.

"If we had been doing this research 10 years ago, we probably wouldn't be looking at intentional contamination of the cabin," said Byron Jones, project director and a professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering. "We'd be looking at normal, everyday contaminants."

While someone could release toxins in other crowded environments - such as theaters, stadiums or buses - airplanes are historically terrorist targets and have especially captive occupants. Such an incident would have a "huge negative impact" on the airline industry, Jones said.
Gee, ya think??

Okay, okay. I was being sarcastic there. But seriously, folks, aren't you glad that someone actually is looking into this issue?

Aircraft cabin air quality is indeed a very serious issue, whether we're talking about the spread of infectious diseases by coughing, sneezing passengers, or issues like the spraying of pesticides inside airliner cabins (required by some governments for arriving international flights).

And if you're interested in reading more about the Kansas State University research on aircraft cabin contaminants, you can read the whole article here: Study Seeks Way to Remove Poisons from Airplanes - Airport Business

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ocean Tailored Approaches: Quiet landings

From time to time I come across news articles about noise near airports, and about noise abatement programs of one sort or another. Usually those articles are pretty dry stuff. Yawn.

But a recent article on the Airport Business website caught my attention. In the first place, it had a very catchy opening. I quote:
Imagine a 400,000-pound, wide-bodied Boeing 777 gliding over the Peninsula into San Francisco International Airport.

On a recent overnight flight from Honolulu, United Airlines Flight 76 did just that, sailing overhead from the coast to the Dumbarton Bridge at idle thrust using mostly gravity, not mechanical brakes, to cut speed for landing.

For everyone snug in their beds in Woodside, Portola Valley and Atherton, it meant no noise complaints that August morning.

For researchers at SFO, NASA Ames Research Center, Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, it means the wave of the future in air traffic control: an aircraft descent pattern generated by computer and flown on autopilot. Researchers say the technology is cleaner, quieter and more fuel efficient than traditional manual landings.
So I read on...

The article is about a test program called Ocean Tailored Approaches that uses computer software to determine the smoothest landing path -- 'smooth' meaning the one that allows the aircraft to "descend with minimal engine thrust and more glide."
Commercial airliners currently fly autopilot at cruising altitude and have auto-landing features. But the vast majority of flights are landed manually by pilots and controllers in heavy traffic to avoid collisions. With tailored approaches, the software determines the path of all planes simultaneously to keep them from colliding, while minimizing the amount of braking and leveling off they normally do to land safely in heavy traffic.
The article says that, in the initial tests, both the pilots and the controllers liked the system.

Another benefit: the method actually saves fuel, too.

More tests of this system are scheduled to begin soon. Read the whole article about Oceanic Tailored Approaches here: Technology Helps Create Quiet Landing - Airport Business

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

NATA: New guidelines for charters

The Aero-News Network is reporting on some new guidelines for air charter operators offered by the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

The first is NATA’s Guide for International Transportation of Minors. Aimed at on-demand charter, Part 91 aircraft management, and Part 91(K) fractional operators, the guidelines address issues concerning the transportation of minors outside the United States.
The publication addresses several scenarios, including transporting minors with only one parent or legal guardian, minors alone or with neither parent or legal guardian, minors with a different last name, and minors with one deceased parent. The association explains that, although some nations do not require documentary evidence of the accompanying adults’ relationship to the minor and/or notarized letters of permission from the parent(s) or legal guardian for entry, and they are not necessarily required for departures from the United States, these guidelines are recommended for all international travel with minors to guard against legal action resulting from the transportation of minors.

"The airline industry has long been following similar guidelines, and on-demand charter operators have indicated a strong desire for industry guidance. Many operators are afraid to ask prominent clients for sensitive information, such as birth certificates or notarized letters. This publication gives companies guidance for establishing their own policy, and can serve as an educational tool when provided to customers," said NATA President James K. Coyne.
The second set of guidelines, Risks of Illegal Charters, is intended to "help legitimate charter operators educate their clients."
[The document] describes the training, oversight, drug and alcohol testing, and other significant differences between legal charter operators certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and illegal operators. It also advises consumers how to determine if a charter operator is properly certified by the FAA.
For more information, visit that NATA website at http://www.nata.aero/.

Source: NATA Offers Guidelines For Air Charter Operators - Aero-News.net

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Business Jet Charter Safety: Cabin crew issues

by B. N. Sullivan

Back in early 2005, I wrote a piece [published elsewhere] titled 'When is a Flight Attendant Not a Flight Attendant?'  The short answer to that question is "when he or she is a 'cabin server' on a business aircraft." The article addressed the issue of 'cabin servers' who work on privately owned or chartered business jets. It happens that, in the United States, individuals may work as servers in the cabin of such aircraft without having been formally trained in safety procedures, including aircraft evacuation.

Legally, cabin servers may  be on board business jets to serve passengers, but , in contrast to Flight Attendants, they have no mandated safety function, and may not legally be listed as crew on the manifest.  In fact, they must be listed as passengers.

As I wrote in 2005, this practice can be dangerous:
[The title] "Flight Attendant" a has come to be used generically to refer to a person who works in the cabin of an aircraft.  Some aircraft owners and charter operators therefore often refer to any cabin personnel as "Flight Attendants."  The trouble arises in the admittedly rare instance of an emergency aboard the aircraft.  The passenger -- naive to the difference between a fully qualified Flight Attendant and a cabin server -- may logically assume that the person working in the cabin is indeed trained to take charge in an emergency.  That passenger, conditioned by the reality of airline experience, where all Flight Attendants are in fact "real" Flight Attendants by law, will look to the cabin server for leadership, and will have an expectation of skills and competencies that the cabin server may not, in fact have.

A clear illustration comes to us in a February 2005 accident in which a chartered executive jet crashed on takeoff from Teterboro, New Jersey.  Eleven people were aboard the aircraft: eight passengers, two pilots, and a young woman who was working as a cabin server.  No lives were lost in that accident, but several people were seriously injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just released its report on that accident.  They concluded that the primary cause of the accident was improper loading of the aircraft -- violations of what pilots refer to as 'weight and balance.' The NTSB report cited numerous other factors that contributed to the accident, and to injuries suffered by those on the aircraft.

Some of the injuries to the passengers were caused because very basic safety issues in the cabin were overlooked by the crew. An article about the report on the Airport Business website says:
The NTSB also found the cabin hostess did not follow FAA procedures, which caused glassware to injure passengers during the accident, and the plane's seatbelts were tucked under its seats, so passengers could not strap themselves in. Two passengers were thrown into the aisle during the accident.
A properly trained Flight Attendant would have provided the passengers with a safety briefing, for openers.  Passengers on this aircraft had not received such a briefing.

A Flight Attendant would have insured that the passengers were wearing their seatbelts for takeoff.  Some of the passengers on this flight were not properly restrained, and were injured as a result.

A Flight Attendant would have cleared the cabin of breakable glassware and china before the aircraft got underway.  Two passengers were cut by broken glass in the cabin.

Properly trained Flight Attendants insure that paths to exits on aircraft are kept clear, and they know how to quickly open doors and any other escape hatches on an aircraft.  They know how to evacuate an aircraft quickly and safely.

As a part of their pre-flight checks, Flight Attendants make sure that emergency equipment in the cabin is in place and operating properly.  They know how to fight fires aboard an aircraft, and how to tend to injuries and medical emergencies.

This ill-fated flight did not have a Flight Attendant aboard.   The young woman working as a server in the cabin was untrained in safety procedures.  She unwittingly (we assume) contributed to the passengers' injuries because of her lack of knowledge about very basic safety issues.

I'm not pointing a blameful finger at the cabin server.  I'm not even saying that there should be no cabin servers who are not trained in safety procedures (although I would prefer that all personnel working aboard any aircraft receive such training).

What I'm trying to point out is that if a cabin server looks like a Flight Attendant -- and is perceived by the passengers as a Flight Attendant, then either she or he should be a fully trained Flight Attendant -- or else the passengers should be made aware of the fact that the server is not trained in safety procedures.  Then, at least, the passengers would know that they were essentially on their own in an emergency, with no expectation that the cabin server would direct them or look out for their safety.

A sore point with a lot of  real Flight Attendants -- including those who work on executive jets -- is that they are perceived only as flying waiters and waitresses, when in fact they see safety assurance as their most crucial role on board an aircraft.  Yes, they serve meals and attend to passenger comfort -- on commercial airline flights as well as on corporate jets.  But should an in-flight emergency arise, service is the least of anyone's worries, and the safety skills of the Flight Attendant are what will count to prevent injuries and save lives.

Apparently this notion is not lost on the NTSB.  As a result of their investigation of the Teterboro accident, the NTSB made several recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Among those was this item:
  • Requiring that any cabin personnel on board Part 135 flights who could be perceived by passengers as equivalent to a qualified flight attendant receive basic FAA-approved safety training in a least the following areas (incomplete safety briefing was giving on accident flight): preflight briefing and safety checks; emergency exit operation; and emergency equipment usage. This training should be documented and recorded by the Part 135 certificate holder.
[For those not fluent in aviation lingo, 'Part 135' refers to the section of the Federal aviation regulations under which executive jet charters operate.]

In sum, just like the folks at the NTSB, I'd love to see all cabin personnel receive basic FAA-approved safety training before they are allowed to work aboard an aircraft.

Who knows? One of these days, perhaps  the FAA will do the right thing on this issue.

Sources: Improper Loading Caused Crash of Corporate Jet in Teterboro, New Jersey, NTSB Finds - NTSB News
NTSB Finds Lax Oversight in Teterboro Charter Crash - Airport Business