Tuesday, January 30, 2007

FAA proposes to end the 'Age 60 Rule'

Today marks the beginning of the end of the debate about the 'Age 60 Rule' in the United States.

The New York Times and other news outlets are reporting that Marion Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will address the issue in a speech she is scheduled to give today. She is expected to announce that the FAA will review its rule requiring airline pilots to retire at age 60, now that the International Civil Aviation Organization has raised the age to 65.

The so-called Age 60 Rule has been in force for well over 40 years in the United States. Under the current rule [Title 14 CFR, Chapter I, Part 121.383(c)], individuals who have reached their 60th birthday are prohibited from from piloting commercial aircraft operating under FAR Part 121 -- that is, commercial airliners.

Last year, a panel was formed to investigate and debate the issue of whether to change the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots in the United States to 65 instead of 60. At the end of November, 2006, the committee was disbanded after its members announced that they had failed to reach a consensus on the issue. The New York Times summarizes:
... [The committee's] members, including airlines, pilots’ unions and other specialists, simply laid out the pros and cons. But the group did recommend that if a change was made, it should be prospective, meaning that pilots who had already been forced to retire would not be allowed back.

Committee members who favored the change argued that there was no medical rationale for setting the retirement age at 60, and that a pilot shortage was coming and could be alleviated by letting pilots work longer. Those opposed said that setting a new age would replace one arbitrary limit with another and that no changes had been offered that would maintain current safety levels.
Some have cited safety reasons for keeping the mandatory retirement age at 60. However a number of health and safety experts have noted that age, in and of itself, is not a good predictor of whether a pilot can still safely fly an airplane. For example, the Aerospace Medical Association published a position paper on the Age 60 Rule, concluding that "there is insufficient medical evidence to support restriction of pilot certification based on age alone."

In fact, citing safety as the primary issue in this debate is a smokescreen. The real issues for those who argue both for and against rescinding the Age 60 Rule are economic. Junior pilots want the 'old guys' to retire so that the younger ones can move on up in the seniority system and earn more money. Older pilots want to continue earning a paycheck until they're eligible to collect their pensions -- what pensions they have left to look forward to after so many cuts at so many carriers. Older, more senior pilots earn higher salaries than their more junior counterparts, so they are more expensive for airlines to retain.

A turning point in the debate came last year when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) amended its rule, raising the mandatory retirement age for commercial air transport pilots in multi-pilot crews to 65, with the provision that one of the pilots is less than 60 years of age. That rule took effect on November 23, 2006.
As of that date, foreign airline pilots older than 60 are allowed to fly into and out of the U.S. under the ICAO mandate, although U.S. pilots cannot. Since 1959 the FAA has required that all U.S. pilots stop flying Part 121 airliners at age 60. Most other nations eventually adopted the same age for mandatory retirement.

As a member of ICAO, the FAA must allow foreign pilots past age 60 to continue to work and fly in U.S. airspace. Twelve senators sent a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey urging her agency to adopt the ICAO standard.

"We hope you appreciate that a finding [by the ARC] that leads to a rule allowing foreign pilots to work and fly in the U.S. to age 65 without affording U.S. pilots the same privilege will not sit well with the American people and most members of Congress," the senators wrote. [Aviation International News, Dec. 2006]
Since the new ICAO rule went into effect, we have had a situation in which pilots over the age of 60 flying aircraft operated by international carriers were allowed to fly in U.S. airspace, while their counterparts flying for U.S. carriers could not. Clearly, the time has come for the FAA to adopt the new ICAO standard.


How's this for timing: I was just about to publish the above post when the FAA's press release, titled FAA to Propose Pilot Retirement Age Change, appeared in my email. For the record, here's the text:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion C. Blakey today announced that the FAA will propose to raise the mandatory retirement age for U.S. commercial pilots from 60 to 65. Speaking before pilots and aviation experts at the National Press Club, Blakey said that the agency plans to propose adopting the new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard that allows one pilot to be up to age 65 provided the other pilot is under age 60.

The FAA plans to issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) later this year and will publish a final rule after careful consideration of all public comments, as required by law.

“A pilot’s experience counts — it’s an added margin of safety,” said Blakey. “Foreign airlines have demonstrated that experienced pilots in good health can fly beyond age 60 without compromising safety.”

On September 27, 2006, Administrator Blakey established a group of airline, labor and medical experts to recommend whether the United States should adopt the new ICAO standard and determine what actions would be necessary if the FAA were to change its rule. The Age 60 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) did not reach a consensus recommendation but did provide detailed insight and analysis that will be helpful as the FAA develops a rule.

Since 1959, the FAA has required that all U.S. pilots stop flying commercial airplanes at age 60. In November 2006, ICAO, the United Nations’ aviation organization, increased the upper age limit for pilots to age 65, provided that the other pilot is under age 60.

The November 29, 2006 Age 60 ARC report, appendices, and public comments are available online at http://dms.dot.gov, docket number 26139.

UPDATE: If you'd like to read exactly what Marion Blakey said about the Age 60 Rule today, here's the link to the text of her speech to the National Press Club: Experience Counts - Marion Blakey, FAA

Monday, January 29, 2007

Stowaways in the gear bay

Not what you want to find on your pre-flight walk-around: A frozen body in a landing gear bay.

Yesterday a pilot did make such a discovery while making a pre-departure check of a British Airways B747-400 at LAX. The frozen corpse of an apparent stowaway was found in the front right gear bay of the aircraft, according to BBC News.

The aircraft had arrived at LAX from London's Heathrow Airport, and was being prepared for a return trip to LHR at the time the frozen body of the unfortunate young man was discovered. A UPI news report claimed that the body of the victim "had documents identifying him as a South African national born in 1989."

Earlier this month there was a similar incident at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. A dead body was discovered in the gear bay of a Delta Air Lines B767 upon its arrival at ATL from Johannesburg, South Africa via Dakar, Senegal.

An Associated Press article about that incident on the CBS News website suggested that the crew on the Delta flight may have been alerted to the possibility of a stowaway while they were airborne en route from Dakar to Atlanta: "The FAA says Delta was notified that the stowaway might be inside the plane after the Boeing 767 was already well into its flight. Delta apparently made a decision that it was too late for the plane to turn around."

The unanswered question is, when and how did these stowaways manage to secrete themselves aboard these aircraft without being detected before departure?

Mesa CRJ200 loses turbine blade during cruise

This past Thursday, a CRJ200 aircraft operated by Mesa Airlines experienced an uncontained engine failure during a flight between Denver and Phoenix. According to media reports, the number one engine, a GE CF34-3B1, threw a fan blade during cruise. The failed blade took out the engine's forward cowling as it departed the aircraft.

The aircraft, which was said to be about 50 nm out from Denver when the incident happened, returned to DIA where it made an emergency landing. There were 50 pax and 3 crew aboard the flight. No evacuation was necessary, and no one was injured.

For more info, check out the article about the incident posted on the Aero-News Network, and another article with a photo of the aircraft showing the damaged engine on the FlightGlobal.com website.

The NTSB is investigating the incident, and FlightGlobal.com says that "engine manufacturer GE has sent three representatives to support the NTSB in its investigation." According to the Aero-News Network, "GE says there hasn't been a failure such as this in any of the more than 2000 CF34-3B1 engines placed in service since 1992."

UPDATE Jan. 31, 2007: The NTSB issued a press release today about this investigation. Among other things, it mentions that they have notified local law enforcement agencies on the ground near the area where the incident occurred "that there could be engine debris on the ground in their jurisdictions," and asking that the NTSB be notified if any such debris is found. Here is the link to that press release: NTSB Investigating Uncontained Engine Failure in Colorado, Seeking Lost Engine Components

UPDATE Feb. 5, 2007: The Aero-News Network is reporting that NTSB searchers have found the debris from the jet engine that failed over Colorado last week. According to the article, "Using trajectory analysis, NTSB crews pinpointed an area in Teller County where they searched for and found most of the engine debris. The debris will be studied to determine the cause of the failure and if the problem affects similar jet engines."

Friday, January 26, 2007

New ASDE-X system at MDW to prevent runway incursions

An article from the Chicago Sun-Times, republished on Airport Business, says that an Airport Surface Detection Equipment-X (ASDE-X) system may be installed by 2010 at Chicago's Midway Airport. ASDE-X systems are radars aimed at preventing runway incursions "by immediately notifying pilots and air traffic controllers of potential collisions with other aircraft and vehicles on runways and taxiways."

In 2006, there was one runway incursion at Midway, compared to 10 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It was announced earlier that the ASDE-X system will be installed at O'Hare this summer.

In addition to ASDE-X, Midway will get arrestor beds -- crushable concrete at the ends of four runways to slow planes that overshoot their landings -- installed later this year.

Freight Runners collision at Milwaukee

Earlier this week, two cargo aircraft operated by Freight Runners Express collided on a taxiway at Milwaukee's General Mitchel International Airport. Both aircraft caught fire, but the pilots were reported to have escaped without serious injuries.

It was not immediately clear what caused the collision between the Beech 99 and the Cessna 402. An Associated Press article about the accident quoted airport director Barry Bateman who said, "I'm told that one (plane) had just landed and was taxiing into the cargo area. A significant fireball occurred."

Today Airport Business published an update on the accident from the Associated Press. The article says that Freight Runners Express is blaming air traffic control at Milwaukee for the accident.
"Both aircraft were operating in controlled areas under explicit instructions of air traffic control," according to a statement by Freight Runners Express Inc. of Milwaukee.
An investigation is underway.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Adam Air flight 574 flight data recorder found?

The major news services are reporting today that the flight data recorder from Adam Air Flight 574 may have been located. The aircraft, a Boeing 737-400, disappeared on New Year's Day during a domestic flight in Indonesia. It is believed to have crashed, although only small pieces of wreckage have been found so far. The flight had 102 souls on board, and while no bodies have been found, all are presumed to have perished.

A Reuters article on Airwise.com says that signals believed to be coming from the downed jetliner's flight data recorder have been detected by an American ship that has been assisting with the search. The USNS Mary Sears, an oceanographic survey ship with specialized equipment, found heavy debris scattered over a wide area and was analyzing the data.
"During the search of the projected crash site of Adam Air Flight 574, the Mary Sears, using a Towed Pinger Locator, detected pingers on the same frequency of the black box associated with the missing airplane," the US embassy said in a statement.
An Associated Press article, published on the CBS News website and elsewhere, elaborates:
The hull of the aircraft has not yet been recovered, but the statement said the Mary Sears "detected heavy debris scattered over a wide area" close to where the signals were coming from.

Eddy Suyanto, the Indonesian air force commander in charge of the search and rescue mission, said he had not been formally told of the ship's findings.

"One thing is for sure, up until this second, I have not received any report from the (Indonesian) liaison officers who were on board the ship," he said.
The device may indeed have been located, but retrieving it from the depths of the sea may be another thing entirely. According to an an article on the BBC News website:
Officials said the government would now have to decide whether to try and retrieve the boxes from the ocean bed.

"We do not have the technology to retrieve the black boxes," Setio Rahardjo, chairman of the National Commission on Transport Safety told AFP news agency.

"Assuming we have the funds, then we have to ask for a country who has sophisticated technology, such as the US," he added.
I will continue to post key developments in the story of Adam Air flight 574 as they occur.

UPDATE Jan. 26, 2007: The Associated Press is reporting that Indonesia will attempt to retrieve the flight data recorder from Adam Air flight 574 from the sea floor. Since the water at the site where signals from the device were detected is so deep, the operation might turn out to be prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, Adam Air spokesman Ali Leonardi said, "If the signals really were from the black boxes and the technology is available to retrieve them, we will keep on trying. It does not matter what the cost."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NTSB: 2005 crash of Cessna Citation 560 in Pueblo, Colorado

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a report on the February 2005 crash of a Cessna Citation 560 (similar to the one in the photo) in Pueblo, Colorado. The twin engine business jet was operated by Martinair, Inc. for Circuit City Stores, Inc.

At the time of the accident, the aircraft was operating under 14 CFR Part 91 on an IFR flight plan. The aircraft crashed about 4 nautical miles east of Pueblo Memorial Airport on February 16, 2005, while on an ILS approach to runway 26R. The two pilots and six passengers aboard were killed and the aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and post-crash fire.

In a press release that accompanied the report, the NTSB summarizes the cause of the accident as "the flight crew's failure to effectively monitor and maintain airspeed and comply with procedures for deice boot activation on their approach to Pueblo, Colorado, which led to an aerodynamic stall. Contributing to the accident was the FAA's failure to establish adequate certification requirements for flight into icing conditions, which led to the inadequate stall warning margin provided by the airplane's stall warning system."
The Board's investigation determined that the aircraft encountered icing conditions during the flight resulting in an accumulation of thin, rough ice on the wing leading edges that degraded the aircraft's performance. According to the Cessna 560 airplane flight manual (AFM), pilots are trained to increase the landing reference airspeed whenever any residual ice is present or can be expected during approach and landing. An examination of the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) did not record either pilot mention increasing the airspeed during the approach.

Additionally, company and AFM procedures for approach and landing in icing conditions required pilots to activate the deice system when any ice accumulation, regardless of thickness, was visible and to continue to monitor the wing leading edges for ice. Despite this guidance, there is no evidence that the accident flight crew activated the deice boots during the approach. The flight crew of the trailing Circuit City "sister ship" did cycle the deice boots numerous times and maintained increased airspeed during the approach and subsequently landed safely.

As a result, the Board recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration require that operational training for the Cessna 560 (Citation) aircraft emphasize the AFM requirements to increase airspeed and operate the deice boots during approaches when ice is present on the wings. The Board also recommended that the FAA require that all airplanes equipped with pneumatic deice boots have a mode that will automatically continue to cycle the deice boots once the system has been activated.

The investigation also determined that the airplane's stall warning system did not activate until after the aerodynamic stall occurred. The warning system is intended to provide flight crews with adequate warning of an impending stall in time to take preventative action. Because of the higher stall speeds that occur in icing conditions, the margin between the warning and the stall occurrence can be diminished. The Board recommended that the FAA require modification of the Cessna 560's stall warning system to provide an adequate warning margin in icing conditions that existed on this approach.

The Board further concluded that ice bridging does not occur on modern airplanes; therefore, there is no reason for flight crews to delay activation of the deice boots. The Board recommended that the FAA require that guidance for aircraft with pneumatic deice boots be revised to indicate that the leading edge deice boots should be activated as soon as the aircraft enters icing conditions.

The Board also called on the FAA to develop pilot training programs to emphasize monitoring skills and workload management.

Additionally, the Board reiterated two recommendations issued in 1996 and 1998 to the FAA calling for revised certification standards for aircraft operating in icing conditions. The Board has classified the FAA's response to these recommendations as unacceptable.
Here is the link to the synopsis of the NTSB report: NTSB Synopsis AAR-07/02

The press release notes that the NTSB's full report will be available in several weeks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NTSB: New safety recommendations for RJ ops

NTSB logoThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued some safety recommendations as a result of its investigation into the cause of an aircraft accident that occurred in October of 2004. The accident involved a Pinnacle Airlines Canadair CL-600-2B19 Regional Jet.

The ferry flight, operating as Pinnacle Airlines flight 3701 en route from Little Rock to Minneapolis-St. Paul, crashed at Jefferson City, Missouri, killing both pilots. There were no passengers or other crew aboard the plane.

Here is a synopsis of NTSB Safety Recommendations A-07-1-11, published on January 23, 2007.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration:

Work with members of the aviation industry to enhance the training syllabuses for pilots conducting high altitude operations in regional jet airplanes. The syllabuses should include methods to ensure that these pilots possess a thorough understanding of the airplanes' performance capabilities, limitations, and high altitude aerodynamics. (A-07-1)

Determine whether the changes to be made to the high altitude training syllabuses for regional jet airplanes, as requested in Safety Recommendation A-07-1, would also
enhance the high altitude training syllabuses for all other transport-category jet airplanes and, if so, require that these changes be incorporated into the syllabuses for those airplanes. (A-07-2)

Require that air carriers provide their pilots with opportunities to practice high altitude stall recovery techniques in the simulator during which time the pilots
demonstrate their ability to identify and execute the appropriate recovery technique. (A-07-3)

Convene a multidisciplinary panel of operational, training, and human factors specialists to study and submit a report on methods to improve flight crew familiarity with and response to stick pusher systems and, if warranted, establish training requirements for stick pusher-equipped airplanes based on the findings of this panel. (A-07-4)

Verify that all Canadair regional jet operators incorporate guidance in their double engine failure checklist that clearly states the airspeeds required during the procedure and require the operators to provide pilots with simulator training on executing this checklist. (A-07-5)

Require regional air carriers operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 to provide specific guidance on expectations for professional conduct to pilots who operate nonrevenue flights. (A-07-6)

For those regional air carriers operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 that have the capability to review flight data recorder (FDR) data, require that the air carriers review FDR data from nonrevenue flights to verify that the flights are being conducted according to standard operating procedures. (A-07-7)

Work with pilot associations to develop a specific program of education for air carrier pilots that addresses professional standards and their role in ensuring safety of flight. The program should include associated guidance information and references to recent accidents involving pilots acting unprofessionally or not following standard
operating procedures. (A-07-8)

Require that all 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 operators incorporate into their oversight programs periodic Line Operations Safety Audit observations and methods to address and correct findings resulting from these observations. A-07-9)

Require that all 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 operators establish Safety Management System programs. (A- 07-10)

Strongly encourage and assist all regional air carriers operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 to implement an approved Aviation Safety Action Program and an approved Flight Operational Quality Assurance program. (A-07-11)
Here is the link to the full document: NTSB: Safety Recommendations A-07-1-11 [17 page 'pdf' file]

Continental pilot dies in-flight

Continental Airlines logoThis past Sunday, a Continental Airlines Boeing 757 aircraft on a flight between Houston and Puerto Vallarta was diverted after a pilot collapsed. The other pilot on board the aircraft made an uneventful emergency landing at McAllen, Texas. Here's what a Houston Chronicle article has to say about the event:
Continental Flight 1838, a Boeing 757, departed George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 11:30 a.m. with 210 passengers. It landed in McAllen about 1:30 p.m. A replacement crew flew from Houston to McAllen and the flight took off again about 6 p.m. and landed in Puerto Vallarta at 7:17 p.m.

Lt. Scott Luke of the McAllen Police Department, who responded to the airport, said the flight's captain collapsed at the controls while the plane was about 200 miles south of the Texas border.

The McAllen Fire Department was notified at 1:21 p.m. about "an inflight medical emergency," Herrera said.

"They told us it was for a full arrest," he said.

"We waited for the plane to taxi to the jetway, and then we went onboard the plane," Herrera said. "The pilot was on the floor by the door. They had done compressions, CPR on him onboard the aircraft."

The pilot was transported to McAllen Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at 1:50 p.m., Luke said.
The pilot who passed away has been identified as Captain Zia Sheikh.

As if the loss of Captain Sheikh were not sad and shocking enough for his family and colleagues, I've also been told that the flight on which he died was his IOE for becoming a B757 captain -- his lifelong dream. I heard that, during the pre-flight crew briefing, he told the flight attendants that this was the happiest day of his life. He then died on his first and only flight as a captain.

Condolences to Captain Sheikh's wife and children on their tragic loss. They should know that he will be missed by his friends and colleagues at Continental, who all speak well of him.

Monday, January 22, 2007

ATC partly to blame for September mid-air collision in Brazil

Speaking of air traffic control (as I did in the previous post), an Associated Press article on the Airport Business website is reporting that "Air traffic controllers share some of the blame for the midair collision over the Amazon in September that killed 154 people in Brazil's worst air disaster, a spokeswoman for the chief investigator said Monday." In that accident, a GOL Airlines B737 aircraft collided with an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet. The Legacy made a safe emergency landing, while the airliner and all those aboard were lost.
The pilots of the Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet, who survived the collision with a Gol airlines Boeing 737, as well as the air traffic controllers, will likely be held responsible when the official investigation is concluded in just over a month, said the spokeswoman, Tamares Carvalho.

Carvalho confirmed statements by lead investigator Renato Sayao to local media Sunday. It was the first time Brazilian authorities have said that anyone other than the two U.S. pilots of the executive jet could be held responsible for the Sept. 29 crash.


Because air traffic controllers are military personnel, federal police can only submit their findings to military justice officials, who would then decide whether to prosecute them, Carvalho said.

The air traffic controllers could face up to 12 years in prison on homicide charges and exposing an aircraft to danger because they failed to divert the Boeing after the Legacy disappeared from their radar, Carvalho said.

Carvalho said she did not know if authorities would pursue criminal charges against the American pilots - Joseph Lepore, 42, of Bay Shore, New York, and Jan Paladino, 34, of Westhampton Beach, New York - who have been formally accused by police with exposing an aircraft to danger.
In case you have not been following this story, here is a brief review of 'the story so far.'

After the accident in late September, the Legacy pilots' passports were confiscated to prevent them from leaving Brazil while authorities investigated the cause of the collision. In November, it was announced that warning systems failed in both aircraft before they collided.
Authorities claim the pilots should have noticed that the jet's transponder, which transmits the plane's altitude and operates its automatic anti-collision system, was not working at least 50 minutes before the collision. Investigators, however, have not been able to determine whether the transponder was turned off by the pilots or was shut off by a malfunction.

Ronkonkoma, New York-based ExcelAire, the operator of Legacy, said in a statement Monday the "pilots did not intentionally or inadvertently disengage the Legacy's transponder or TCAS (anti-collision) system and that there was no indication in the cockpit at any time during the flight that the transponder or TCAS system were not operational."

The Legacy was heading northwest on its maiden voyage from the southern city of Sao Jose dos Campos to the United States when the accident occurred at 37,000 feet, an altitude usually reserved for flights headed in the opposite direction.

Transcripts suggest the Legacy had been authorized by the tower in Sao Jose dos Campos to fly at 37,000 feet to Manaus, although that contradicted the plane's original flight plan.

Air traffic controllers said they believed the Legacy was flying at 36,000 feet at the time it collided with the Gol jet.
It wasn't until shortly before Christmas that the Legacy pilots were allowed to return to the United States. Before they left Brazil, they were charged with endangering air safety, and they were allowed to leave only after agreeing to return to Brazil "at any time during the investigation if authorities request it."

If there are more developments in this story, I'll be posting them here.

Comair 5191 CVR transcript released

NTSB logoThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released the Cockpit Voice Recorder(CVR) transcript from the Comair Flight 5191 accident that occurred on August 27, 2006.

Comair Flight 5191, a CRJ-100, crashed on takeoff from Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky. Forty-nine passengers and two crew members were lost. The only survivor was the first officer, who was critically injured.

Click the link below to download the official transcript of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) for that flight. [43 page 'PDF' file]

Related: Click here to view all posts on this blog about Comair Flt 5191.

Really dumb: No weather radios allowed in ATC towers

NATCABy current regulation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the presence of all radios and other personal electronic devices in the cabs of air traffic control towers. The purpose of this regulation is to eliminate potential sources of distraction for controllers while they work. But this is one of those well-intentioned regulations that needs to be amended with at least one exception.

True, we don't want controllers to be yakking on their cell phones, or listening to the Top 40 tunes or the latest talk-radio banter when they should be focused on guiding air traffic. But why does the FAA include dedicated weather radios in that ban?

Late last month the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) issued a press release following a very serious weather incident in Daytona Beach on Christmas Day. At least two tornadoes touched down in the area, one of which caused massive damage to aircraft parked at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. NATCA claims that even though a tornado "roared within 150 yards of the facility," no warning was given to the controllers on duty in the control tower cab and radar room at Daytona Beach International Airport. That press release, dated Dec. 28, 2006, says:
Ironically, just last week, FAA officials briefed Daytona Beach controllers on a security order detailing what to do during hazardous weather conditions. One of the requirements listed was, "Keep a watch on the skies and watch/listen to local weather." The order also states that the responsibility to evacuate the tower rests with the manager/supervisor on duty. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association believes the FAA, in disobeying its own orders for monitoring local weather conditions by banning all methods in which to do so, constitutes negligence on the part of the agency.

"This is a situation that defies all measure of common sense and responsibility," said NATCA Executive Vice President Paul Rinaldi. "The FAA removed the radios as part of its imposed work rules in an effort to punish controllers. But it’s turning out to be a fateful decision that has serious, life or death consequences that clearly the agency foolishly overlooked. We call upon the FAA to immediately put back all radios and life-saving communications equipment."


"Without access to critical severe weather information, the FAA is not only showing a blatant disregard for its employees but also for the flying public," said Kelly Raulerson, NATCA’s Daytona Beach facility representative. "Before this ban went into effect, we used to hear frequent tests of the Emergency Broadcast System on the radio in the tower that we kept on. We certainly needed to hear that familiar alert on Monday. Instead, we were cut off from the world and left in a very vulnerable position."
The point is that the kind of weather radios we are talking about are not for entertainment. They only operate on frequencies that broadcast emergency announcements and serious weather alerts.

Apparently such radios were brought back into the control tower at Daytona two days after the Christmas Day incident, but according to the Aero-News Network (in turn quoting a report in the Orlando Sentinel), the FAA "yanked the radios Friday... leaving controllers wondering just what, exactly, the agency thinks about their safety."
The Sentinel reports a local agency manager put two weather radios in the tower cab December 27, saying the policy banning all radios from work areas was not meant to prohibit weather radios... but the FAA reiterated last week that, yes, weather radios are banned as well, part of a blanket ban on all audio devices that could cause distractions to controllers on duty.

That doesn't make sense to several people who went through the tornado scare in Daytona Beach.

"Anything that provides a source of important information like weather should be made available to controllers," said Marvin Smith, founder of the air-traffic-management degree program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University -- which saw its Daytona Beach campus ripped to shreds by the twister. "I don't care if it is an Ouija board or carrier pigeons. You need to have vital information."

FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere maintains controllers at Daytona Beach International Airport had all the information they needed.

"Controllers have a large amount of weather information available to them in the tower, so the weather radios are not really necessary," Spitaliere said. "They will continue to be banned from the facility."

The agency did acknowledge a regional weather facility in North Florida should have warned controllers of the tornado, but it did not. As for the weather radar system now in place in the Daytona Beach tower, it only shows rain levels... not wind shear activity, or other indicators of a tornadic storm.

Spitaliere said controllers are welcome to have a weather radio... in the break room. "It's not like these controllers are blocked off from the outside world," she said.
Doug Church, national spokesman for NATCA said, "So they don't want controllers to know there's a tornado outside the window? That's absurd."

I agree. The FAA should review the regulation and make an exception for dedicated weather radios that only broadcast safety-critical information from the National Weather Service and the Emergency Alert System.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

NFL quarterback's fake water bottle intercepted at MIA

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick didn't really think he could pass through security screening at Miami International Airport with a fake water bottle, did he? Didn't he know that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now prohibits passengers from carrying water bottles aboard aircraft, unless they're obtained from a vendor inside the secure area of an airport?

Guess not.

A few days ago, in preparation for boarding an AirTran flight to Atlanta, Mike Vick arrived at the security screening point at MIA carrying a 20 0z. Aquafina water bottle. TSA screeners reportedly told him he would have to surrender the bottle. They noted that Vick seemed unusually hesitant to hand over the bottle, and that made them suspicious.

A screener later retrieved the bottle from the trash receptacle, examined it, and discovered that it was not an authentic Aquafina water bottle at all. Instead it turned out to be a fake water bottle with a hidden compartment inside. Florida news website Sun-Sentinel.com reports:
The bottle was found to have a compartment that contained "a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana,'' the police report said. The compartment was hidden by the bottle's label so that it appeared to be a full bottle of water when held upright, police said.
Police in Miami said it will be weeks before they decide whether to file charges.

FYI, the bottle was like the one pictured above. It's a gadget (called a 'diversion safe') that sells for for $19.99 on the website of a company called Metro Spy Supply in Atlanta. The product blurb on the site says:
The aquafina diversion safe looks like the real thing using real water, but this aquafina water has a twist. It has room for more than just water. Twist and pull the bottle in half to reveal a hidden compartment and push and twist to lock it in place. Hand made for a precision fit to keep you secret safe.
Ah, but the secret is safe no more!

UPDATE Jan. 22, 2007: An article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, republished on the Airport Business website, says that tests by a Miami police lab indicated that a substance in a water bottle he tried to get through airport security last week was not illegal, so no charges will be filed against Mike Vick.

Singapore Girl ads on the way out?

We've all seen the ads -- "Singapore Girl — You're a great way to fly" -- but according to a Reuters article published in USA Today and elsewhere, those ads may be discontinued soon. The article says that "Despite her success, critics complain the Singapore Girl concept is sexist, outmoded and largely intended to serve male passengers' fantasies of desirable, subservient Oriental women."

Gee, ya think??

Apparently looking for a change, Singapore Airlines is asking advertising agencies other than Batey Ads, which has handled the account since 1972, to submit bids for a new campaign. The outcome could change things for the Singapore Girl ads.

Here's an excerpt from the Reuters article:
Recent adverts for Singapore Air feature the airline's ultra-modern aircraft, updated seats or inflight food. But the perfectly groomed Singapore Girl still features prominently, gently covering a sleeping passenger or offering meals.

Former flight attendants reject the sexism charge and many take pride in a profession that lost much of its glamour since air travel became an everyday phenomenon.

An ex-Singapore Girl who asked to be identified only as Nancy said the airline should hold on to the campaign and not "put their crew into dull business suits".

"When I put on the uniform, I represented Singapore, not just the airline. It made me so proud and we would get a lot of positive feedback," she said.

Nine out of ten of the female cabin crew are Singaporean or Malaysian, while the remainder are hired from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan for language skills.

They follow strict rules, down to the way they wear long hair — never loose — and the colour of nail varnish or lipstick.

Ironically, the Southeast Asian airline relied on white European men — advertising mastermind Ian Batey and French designer Pierre Balmain — to come up with the idea of the graceful Asian girl in a batik uniform, known as sarong kebaya.
Hmm, that doesn't strike me as ironic at all!

The Reuters article quoted a spokesman for the airline who denied that the review of its ad agency could necessarily put an end to the Singapore Girl. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Boeing's B747-8 Intercontinental features dramatic new interior

Lots of airliner news from Boeing this week: Yesterday I posted about the luxurious new B777-300ER passenger cabin designed for Singapore Airlines. Today the news is about the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental.

Boeing just unveiled its new interior for the B747-8 Intercontinental this week.
The 747-8 applies interior features from the 787 Dreamliner that includes a new curved, upswept architecture giving passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, while adding more room for personal belongings. The interior architecture is accentuated by new lighting technology that creates a perception of airy brightness and provides smooth lighting transitions to offer a more restful environment.

In addition, the 747-8 integrates features from the 777, including windows that equal those on the 777 (15.3 inches/38.8 centimeters tall and 10.76 inches/27.3 centimeters wide), and are larger than those on the 747-400.
A press release about the new interior says that the most noticeable change in this model, compared to the B747-400, is in the area near door two, where passengers normally enter a 747: The welcoming entryway features a dramatic sweeping staircase leading to the upper deck (see photo above).

Flight attendants will like this part:
"The new entryway will greatly enhance the passenger appeal and create a strong first impression," said Doug Ackerman, engineering interior team leader for the 747-8. "However, the entryway provides more than just aesthetic appeal. It also was designed to facilitate improved passenger flow during boarding and deplaning."
The aircraft, which is 5.6 meters longer than a B747-400, will enter service in 2010. Lufthansa is the first passenger carrier to order the new B747-8. They have ordered an initial 20 aircraft, plus purchase rights for 20 more.

The first 747-8 Freighter will be delivered to Cargolux in late 2009 -- without the luxurious interior, of course.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Singapore's luxurious new Boeing 777-300ER

Singapore Airlines logoThis week marked Singapore Airlines' inaugural Boeing 777-300ER service from San Francisco to Seoul, and then on to Singapore. But the aircraft was not just any old Boeing 777-300ER. This one was a new version ordered by Singapore that features a specially designed, ultra-luxurious passenger cabin.

A news article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that the interior features in the snazzy new cabin originally were intended for the Airbus A380 aircraft, but since Singapore won't be able to take delivery of its first A380 until October, the new 'cabin products' are being introduced on the Boeing 777-300ER instead.
Although the Boeing 777- 300ER has been in airline service since 2004, the version ordered by Singapore Airlines has a number of interior "firsts" for Boeing.

It's the first 777 with no overhead luggage storage bins along the center of the cabin in business class, and no overhead bins at all in first class, giving the cabin a roomier feel.

Also a first is a space-saving lift system that allows the crew to store their luggage and other personal things above the cabin. This was one of the new features that [Ken Davis, an interiors engineer with Boeing Commercial Airplanes] worried might be troublesome since the crew was not familiar with its operation.
Mr. Davis went along on the inaugural flight to assist the cabin crew if needed.
Until they showed up at the San Francisco airport, most of the passengers who took the first flight were not aware they would be flying on the new plane. But they realized the flight was special when they arrived at gate 99 in the international terminal and saw the balloons, free food and beverages -- and the media. Three newspaper reporters went on the flight, as well as the travel editor and a cameraman from a San Francisco TV station.

"We thought maybe someone was having a wedding," Jan Bruneau said when she saw the balloons. She and her husband, Dave, from Alberta, were flying to Singapore and then on to Sydney, Australia, to visit their daughter.

They had seats in the economy class. At 19 inches wide, that's about 2 inches more than passengers have in economy class on Singapore Airlines' other 777 models, and its 747-400s.

Each economy seat also has a 10.6-inch monitor for in-flight entertainment, considerably bigger than the monitors in economy class of Singapore's other jets.
Seats in the first class section are 35 inches wide, and there is an air bag incorporated into the seat belts. The air bag would automatically inflate "to help protect the passenger in a crash or violent event." First class also features bedding by Givenchy.

Business class passengers sit in 30-inch seats that turn into beds.

Singapore Airlines already operates 60 'Triple-7' aircraft. It has ordered 19 of the new 777- 300ERs.
Singapore Airlines is likely to have the same seats in economy and business on the A380 that are on its 777-300ERs. And the Airbus plane will have the same in-flight entertainment system. But the airline is keeping mum about first class on the A380 -- for those who can afford a flying hotel.
Sounds like a game of 'can you top this?' Someone please tel Singapore Airlines I'd be happy to try out the new service and write an official review!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Operational test of anti-missile system for commercial aircraft

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I have posted several articles about missile defense for commercial planes -- or rather plans for such systems. One of those systems, Northrop Grumman's Guardian, is now in the operational testing phase.

According to news reports, a FedEx MD-10 cargo jet equipped with the Guardian anti-missile system left from LAX yesterday on a regular commercial flight. An Associated Press article on the Airport Business website says:
The FedEx flight marked the start of operational testing and evaluation of the laser system designed to defend against shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles during takeoffs and landings.

Adapted from military technology, Guardian is designed to detect a missile launch and then direct a laser to the seeker system on the head of the missile and disrupt its guidance signals. The laser is not visible and is eye-safe, the company said.

"For the first time, we will be able to collect valuable logistics data while operating Guardian on aircraft in routine commercial service," said Robert L. DelBoca, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division.
Another article about this topic, on the Aero-News Network website quoted Mr. DelBoca further:
"This milestone marks an important event for Northrop Grumman and the aviation industry. For the first time, we will be able to collect valuable logistics data while operating Guardian on aircraft in routine commercial service," said Robert L. DelBoca, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Defensive Systems Division. "We stand ready to protect America's flying public with the proven technology that we supply to our warfighters worldwide in operational theater."
The test of the Guardian system is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiative to protect commercial aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles. The Reuters article notes that "no passenger plane has ever been downed by a shoulder-fired missile outside of a combat zone. But terrorists linked with al-Qaida are believed to have fired two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002."

New ID system for pilots flying to Israel

Israel is preparing to introduce a new pilot identification system in order to enhance aviation security for that country. According to Danny Shenar, head of security at Israel's Transportation Ministry, the new system will feature "a credit card-size device that is personally and exclusively assigned to each pilot, and carried aboard their flights."

Under the program, called Code Positive, the cards will be distributed free of charge to pilots of all commercial airlines that fly to Israel. A Reuters article on Airwise.com about the Code Positive system quotes Mr. Shenar:
"Using this card, it will be possible to verify that the person flying the aircraft is indeed the person qualified to fly it," Shenar told Israel's Army Radio.

"This system was developed to prevent aviation mega-terror over Israel, in the form of a plane coming through one of the borders and crashing into a target in Israel," he said. "The system should be operational by the end of the year."

Code Positive was developed by Israeli firm Elbit Systems. Shenar declined to elaborate on the specific technology involved for security reasons.

But he said it would be impossible for a hijacker to force a pilot to hand over identifying details, or otherwise pose as a legitimate member of the flight crew.

"You can't bluff this system," Shenar said.
Planes without the Code Positive system will be turned back from Israeli airspace on pain of being shot down, an official said. The Israelis will begin distributing the cards in May.

VNY Citation accident pilots named

The two pilots who were flying the Cessna Citation that crashed last week shortly after takeoff from Van Nuys have been identified. According to an Associated Press article on the KABC TV website, the men's names were Frank Kratzer, 72, and Fernando Fernandez, 49. Both pilots perished in the accident.

No one else was aboard the aircraft at the time of the accident. Media reports have said that the aircraft was being repositioned from Van Nuys to Long Beach where it was to pick up charter passengers for a flight to Prescott, AZ.

The aircraft was owned by Sun Quest Executive Air Charter. Frank Kratzer was the founder and owner of that company. A former airline pilot for both Western Airlines and Delta Air Lines, he had logged over 37,000 flying hours. According to an article on the website of the Press Telegram in Long Beach:
In the early 1980s, he launched Mobile Flight Training at Whiteman Airport, which later become Sun Quest Flight School. In 1992, he founded a Sun Quest charter service company in Van Nuys.

An excellent instructor, he had trained an entire generation of pilots, friends say.
The same article says Fernando Fernandez had been one of those students.
"Chris" Fernandez, as he was also known, was a self-employed Hollywood studios electrician before pursuing a career as a pilot, associates said.

A student of Sun Quest, he had logged several thousand flight hours and had flown for the company since August. He had been active in the Latin American Pilots Association and regularly flew his Beechcraft Baron to Mexico.

"He was one of those really easy-going guys who always had something positive to say," Watts said.
Regarding the accident, the NTSB said that soon after takeoff, the pilot radioed the tower with a request to return, and the aircraft was cleared to land. They didn't make it.

At least one witness said he noticed that a nose compartment door was open as the plane took off, but no cause has yet been determined for the crash. Sun Quest has grounded at least two other Citations while the accident investigation continues.

Condolences to the family and friends of the two pilots who were lost.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New book says Airbus ex-CEO dropped his trousers to close a deal

How's this for a 'hook to sell a book': Publicity for a new book by New Yorker magazine writer John Newhouse mentions a spicy anecdote about Airbus ex-CEO Jean Pierson, and the story is spreading around the news media today like wildfire!

Here's an excerpt from a Reuters article, published on Airwise.com:
Jean Pierson, the colorful Frenchman who built Airbus into Boeing's biggest competitor, dropped his trousers to seal a key US plane order in 1997, according to a book to be published on Tuesday.

The bizarre tactic worked, and the resulting order helped Airbus take on Boeing in its own backyard, setting up the biggest rivalry in global business, according to "Boeing versus Airbus", by former New Yorker magazine writer John Newhouse.

Pierson, who ran Airbus from 1985 to 1998, was at US Airways' headquarters for what he thought would be a short meeting to tie up a 400 plane deal, the anecdote runs.

At the last minute, US Airways' then-chairman Stephen Wolf started arguing for a 5 percent discount on the selling price.

"Pierson began slowly lowering his trousers and saying 'I have nothing more to give.' He then allowed the trousers to fall around his ankles," says Newhouse in his book.

Wolf replied: "Pull up your pants. I don't need any more money," and the deal was signed, according to the book. The author says he got the story from Pierson himself, and it was confirmed by another person present.

Shortly afterward, US Airways announced the purchase of 124 single-aisle Airbus A320 family jets with options for 276 more, a stab into the heart of Boeing's competing 737 program. It put the European company on track to overtake Boeing in global orders only two years later.
You have to admit, that's pretty catchy copy!

You can read the whole article here: Airbus CEO Dropped Trousers For Plane Deal - Book

Newhouse's new book, Boeing Versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business, went on sale this week.

NetJets orders another 48 Hawkers

NetJetsHawker pilots take note: Fractional operator NetJets, Inc. has just ordered 30 Hawker 750, and 18 Hawker 900XP jets from the Raytheon Aircraft Co. This is in addition to the 48 Hawkers ordered by NetJets in October. From an article about the transaction on the Business First of Columbus website:
"This order for 48 additional Hawker aircraft will help NetJets meet its increased demand for private aviation solutions in Europe and the U.S.," said Richard Santulli, NetJets chairman, in a news release.
The article goes on to say:
Deliveries on the Hawker 900XPs will start this year and continue through 2012, Raytheon said. Deliveries on the Hawker 750s will start in 2008 and continue through 2009 on the initial order and start in 2010 and continue through 2011 on the follow-up order.
Keep those delivery dates in mind if you're looking for a job flying a Hawker.

Here's the Pilot Careers page on the NetJets website, just for reference. Tip: It says on the website that they're accepting pilot applications for Citation, Hawker, Falcon, Gulfstream, and Boeing aircraft.

Monday, January 15, 2007

State-owned airlines in India to merge

The BBC is reporting that India's two main state-owned airlines will soon merge. The two carriers, Air India and Indian Airlines, will become one by April of this year. From the BBC article:
The Indian government hopes that the combined firm will become one of the world's top 20 airlines.

"Everybody feels the process of merger is appropriate," said Praful Patel, India's civil aviation minister.

Set up in 1932, Air India is the country's flagship airline, serving more than 40 destinations worldwide.

Indian Airlines is focused on the domestic market.

Air travel has been growing rapidly in India as income levels rise and long-established players such as Air India and Indian Airlines have been challenged by more recent entrants.

There are now four budget airlines operating in India.
Speaking of India, the aviation industry in that country is booming. This is not just my opinion. An article on the DNA India website also quotes India's civil aviation minister Prafel Patel, who said that aviation is going to be "the next big thing" in India.
With the boom in the aviation industry and increasing number of private airlines, this is going to be the industry which will be a big draw for the youth.
For a glimpse of the kinds of aviation jobs that Air India is seeking to fill, have a look at the Present Vacancies page on the Air India website. Looks like they're aggressively hiring pilots, as well as technical personnel.

No more Love for AA mainline crews

An article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, republished on the Airport Business website, says that beginning April 10, American Airlines will replace the remaining MD-80 aircraft flying from Dallas Love Field with smaller regional jets operated by regional affiliate American Eagle.
"At that point it's going to be an all-Eagle base," spokesman Roger Frizzell said. "But we're committed to serving our passengers who prefer to fly from Love Field and giving them that option."

He said the airline is "absolutely committed" to maintaining its presence at the Dallas airport.
American will continue to operate the same number of flights from Love Field, but with the smaller aircraft.

Delta pilots oppose US Airways takeover

Just before the weekend, pilots at Delta Airlines reiterated their opposition to a takeover of their airline by US Airways. The Delta pilots have been opposed to the takeover from the outset, and since the pilots' union has a place on Delta's official committee of unsecured creditors, they may indeed have some clout in making sure that the US Airways bid fails.

A Reuters article on Airwise.com says:
The bid has been opposed by most Delta employees. The pilots' unions at America West and US Airways -- the two airlines that merged to form US Airways Group -- have also expressed reservations. But earlier this week the chief of the America West pilots' union said he was "neutral" to the bid and focused on protecting the interests of its members.

The Delta chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association said the new offer did not address issues it had raised earlier, including antitrust concerns, route overlaps, job losses and provisions of its contract with Delta.

It also said the increased offer would raise the debt load of the combined company by USD$1 billion.

"Delta pilots will not change any provision of our contract in order to facilitate the hostile takeover of our company," Lee Moak, chairman of the union's master executive council, wrote in a memo to pilots.

"As such, the MEC remains totally committed and one hundred percent focused on one thing -- the death of the US Airways' merger attempt," he added.
US Airways has said that any job cuts under its plan would be carried out through voluntary leaves of absence and attrition.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Good landing, wrong airport

This is NOT how you want to make the papers!

The Guardian in the UK tells the story this way:
As radio talk between pilots and air traffic controllers goes, it is not what passengers want to hear. Crew: "We've just touched down." Air traffic control: "It's the wrong airport." Crew: "I know."

An accident report yesterday revealed that a Dublin-based Eirjet plane, operated on behalf of Ryanair and carrying 39 passengers, had departed from Liverpool for Derry but landed five miles short at Ballykelly, a former RAF base used by the army.

An inquiry by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that the crew of the Airbus A320 had landed at Ballykelly after requesting permission to make a visual landing. Its automatic landing system was faulty, the report said. Once the 59-year-old captain saw Ballykelly, and not knowing there was another airfield in the vicinity, "his mind-set was this must be his destination airfield".

The co-pilot, it seems, was similarly minded. Part of the confusion was put down to the fact that the captain had not seen the Londonderry airfield map.
Don't they have Jepps over there on the other side of the pond??

The article says that the pax and their baggage were taken the remaining few miles to their final destination by road, and that another crew flew the aircraft out of Ballykenny.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Do locked cockpit doors impede communication?

There's an interesting article on the Airport Business website about an incident that happened aboard a British Airways aircraft last year that has prompted some re-thinking about locked cockpit doors.

The article, which was first published by The Scotsman, describes the incident that sparked the debate:
Cabin crew were unable to contact pilots during the evacuation of a British Airways aircraft at Edinburgh airport last January after flames were seen shooting from an engine, investigators have reported.

The staff wrongly thought the plane's communication system had been knocked out, and could not reach the pilots because the cockpit door was locked. They decided to evacuate the 98 London bound passengers after seeing a 6ft flame coming from the rear of one of the plane's four engines.

One of the three cabin crew said a passenger had a "horrified look" on his face, while others had already left their seats and were moving to the front of the Avro 146-RJ100 aircraft.

The report said some passengers and a member of the cabin crew at the rear of the aircraft were not aware an emergency evacuation was in progress until they reached the front of the cabin.
As a result of that incident, BA crews are now being specifically trained on as how to operate the communications system in reduced power. In addition, the UK government also has agreed that doors between the passenger cabin and the flight deck should remain unlocked until after an aircraft's engines are started to enable access in case there is a power failure.

Read the whole article here: Engine Fire Spurs Britain to Change Rules on a Locked Cockpit - Airport Business.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

AA begins to recall furloughed pilots

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that American Airlines has recalled 11 furloughed pilots, the first to be invited back since layoffs began more than five years ago.

According to the article:
American spokeswoman Sue Gordon said the first group began training last week. Five were from the last group of pilots furloughed in April 2005, and six are more senior pilots who had volunteered to be furloughed.

To get the initial 11 pilots, American extended recall offers to about 80 furloughed pilots, Ms. Gordon said, with the others declining recall or deferring a decision.

Fort Worth-based American, the world's largest carrier, has told its pilots that it expects to recall about 10 pilots a month.

Ms. Gordon said the actual rate will depend on how many pilots leave.
Since October 2001, American Airlines furloughed more than 2,800 pilots.

AAIB: Cabin crew caused incident on turboprop

by B. N. Sullivan

A report from the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) on its investigation of a 2005 incident on an Emerald Airways flight says that the action of the cabin crew nearly caused the aircraft to crash. The incident, during which the aircraft's center of gravity was dangerously altered, happened aboard a British Aerospace ATP turboprop aircraft, and caused minor injuries to thirty-three passengers and four crew members.

According to a news article about the AAIB report, published on the Airport Business website, here is what happened:
The drama on board the Emerald Airways flight began soon after it took off from the Isle of Man's Ronaldsway airport on the evening of May 23, 2005, en route to Liverpool.

A broken seal caused a fine mist of hydraulic fluid, which staff confused for smoke, to fill the front of the 64-seat plane.

The investigation said cabin crew failed to follow standard emergency procedures and rushed the 33 passengers, many struggling to breathe, towards the rear of the plane.

This caused the aircraft to dip dangerously to the rear as the centre of gravity shifted backwards under the weight of people moving to the back.


Air accident investigators said the cabin crew, who declared an emergency, did not establish whether the hydraulic system problem and the onset of "smoke" were related.

They also did not follow the prescribed actions with regard to smoke on board, did not inform the flight crew they had moved the passengers to the back, and prior to landing back at Ronaldsway airport were not aware the nose wheel steering system was inoperative.
An emergency was declared to ATC and the aircraft returned to Ronaldsway where it managed to make a safe landing.

As a result of this incident, the AAIB made the following safety recommendation to the British Civil Air Authority (CAA):
Safety Recommendation 2006-069

It is recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority advises all operators of Commercial Air Transport aircraft in the UK register of the need to ensure that the training of cabin crew members includes an awareness that handling problems may result from the movement of the aircraft's CG position, should a significant redistribution of passengers be required in flight. This awareness training should include the necessity to both inform and seek the approval of the flight crew prior to such a redistribution taking place and should be reflected in the appropriate Cabin Crew Safety Manuals.
In May of 2006, the CAA suspended Emerald Air's operator certificate, although it's not clear if this incident had anything to do with the suspension. The airline has ceased operation.

Here's the link to the AAIB Air Accident Report for this incident: Aircraft Accident Report No 1/2007 (4-page 'PDF' file)

Debris from Adam Air jet found

Adam Air logoThe BBC is reporting that debris from the Adam Air B737-400 that went missing on New Year's Day has been found by fishermen just off the western coast of Sulawesi island. The BBC article says that a piece of the aircraft's tail was identified as belonging to the missing jet by a serial number.
"This morning I announced that there has been a finding of a part of Adam Air. What was found was the right tail's stabiliser, number 65C25746-76," the head of the search and rescue mission, Eddy Suyanto, told reporters.

Mr Suyanto said the fragment of the plane was found by a fisherman at 0300 local time on Thursday (2000 GMT Wednesday).

The section was found some 300m (985 ft) from the shore, near Parepare, a seaside town north of Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi province, Mr Suyanto said.

Later reports said a life vest and parts of airline seats had also been found.
It is still unclear whether the plane crashed into the sea, or if it exploded in mid-air.

Still no word on what a US Navy oceanographic vessel deployed to the search area may have found.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

ESCAT: New ATC emergency response plan

The Aero-News Network (ANN) reported today on a new ATC emergency response plan that is due to go into effect next week. The article says that the Departments of Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security have collaborated on the new plan which would put air traffic control into the hands of the military, should there be a major terrorist attack in the United States.

Says ANN:
Naturally, it has its own acronym -- ESCAT, for Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic. ESCAT pretty much eliminates any civilian role in determining response to a covered emergency, or even in deciding that there is an emergency.

On the other hand, it does acknowledge the economic component of such an attack, and offers options other than shutting down the skies over the entire nation, as happened after 9/11.

"The commerce of the U.S. could not stand another complete shut-down of the nation’s air traffic," said Ray Lewis, coordinator of the DoD Policy Board on Federal Aviation, to Government Security News. "Aviation represents over nine percent of the nation’s GNP."

Civilian observers are split. Some decry the lack of public input in drafting the plan, which military leaders say contains sensitive information. Some point to the track record of the Feds in administering so-called temporary flight restrictions, with little regard to economic damage. A big concern is a lack of a definition for victory, or any provision for termination of temporary powers.

But others say ESCATS allows regional isolation of a response, and poses lower risks to the economy than the old cold-war-era system. That system, which dates from 1980, was called SCATANA, for Security Control Air Traffic And Navigational Aids.
There. Don't you feel safe now??

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Monday, January 08, 2007

What happened to Adam Air flight 574?

Adam Air logoWhat an aviation story to begin the new year. On New Year's Day, an aircraft belonging to Indonesian carrier Adam Air disappeared on a domestic flight between Surabaya, on the island of Java, and Manado on Sulawesi island. The plane, a Boeing 737-400, had 102 souls aboard -- 96 passengers and 6 crew.

Not long after the plane went missing, there were reports that the wreckage had been spotted, and that there might be some survivors. One of those reports was an Associated Press story, appearing on the CNN website and elsewhere, that said:
Rescuers found the smoldering wreckage Tuesday of an Indonesian jetliner that went missing during a storm. Officials said 90 people were killed but 12 survived in the country's second disaster in days.


The Boeing 737 operated by local carrier Adam Air crashed in a mountainous region of Sulawesi island in the northeast of the sprawling archipelagic nation, said local police Chief Col. Genot Hariyanto.

"The plane is destroyed and many bodies are around there," he said.

Adam Air spokesman Hartonom, who goes by just one name, said 90 people were killed and that there were 12 survivors.

Officials said rescuers were trying to evacuate survivors, but there was no immediate word on their conditions.
News about an aircraft accident is always sad, but hearing that there are some survivors does make the bad news a little easier to take.

But the next day the story about finding the wreckage and some survivors turned out to be false -- direct quotes and all! An article in the International Herald Tribune reported the following:
Officials said they had been misled by incorrect reports from villagers and local officials in the remote area where the wreckage was alleged to have been found. They plan to resume looking for the aircraft on Wednesday.

"We apologize for the news that we released earlier," said an Air Force official, Eddy Suyanto, the Associated Press reported. "It was not true."
I beg your pardon??

Meanwhile, the NTSB issued a press release announcing that they were sending a team to Indonesia to assist with the investigation, and the names of the crew who were aboard the missing plane were posted on Indonesian blogger Ikatan Remaja PLN's Site.

CNN did a story about the renewed search for wreckage or any other sign of the aircraft.
Three teams of searchers -- 750-800 people in all -- began fanning out Wednesday in Sulawesi in central Indonesia, journalist John Aglionby told CNN.

Meanwhile, three navy ships and five air force craft were deployed soon after sunrise over a large section of south and western Sulawesi and nearby waters, Bambang Karnoyudho, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, told the Associated Press.

The effort to locate locate the wreckage of the missing passenger jet intensified after reports from aviation and transport officials came out that the crash site -- and survivors -- had been found.

"The search and rescue team is still looking for the location," Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa told El-Shinta radio, according to The Associated Press. He blamed villagers for spreading rumors that the wreckage had been located. "It has not yet been found."
By then, according to Reuters, the relatives of the missing passengers and crew were in an uproar -- rightly so -- and officials of the airline and the Indonesian government began pointing fingers at one another. About the only facts that could be independently verified were that there was bad weather along the route of Flight 574 that day, and that it disappeared about an hour before it was due to land in Manado.

So, did it crash into the sea? Would wreckage be found in a jungle, or on a mountainside? The Indonesian Air Force and Navy searched a wide area over Sulawesi's western coast and the Java Sea, according to an Associated Press article published on January 3 on Airport Business.

On January 4, Reuters reported that aircraft from Singapore were now assisting with the search. (We also learned that day that three of the passengers aboard the missing plane were Americans, a fact confirmed to reporters by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.)

Early on, Indonesian officials had said that the pilots of Flight 574 had sent at least one distress signal before the plane disappeared, but on January 5, an Associated Press article reported:
An Indonesian jetliner that vanished with 102 people aboard did not issue distress signals or report any mechanical problems, a top aviation official said Thursday, contradicting earlier reports.
"Contradicting earlier reports"...? Where have we heard that before?
Iksan Tatang, the director general of air transportation, said the missing plane reported high winds before losing contact with the ground on Monday midway through its flight from Indonesia's main island of Java to Manado on Sulawesi Island.

"The plane did not report any complaints about the navigation, the condition of the plane or other technical problems," he said, adding that two signals from its emergency beacon - which is activated on impact - were picked up by a plane in the vicinity and a satellite.

That appeared to contradict earlier reports from officials that the pilot sent out two distress signals before the plane went down.
On January 5, there was still no sign of the missing plane, but that day stories in the news media revealed that the aircraft had changed course a couple of times before disappearing. An Associated Press article appearing in the Boston Globe and elsewhere said:
The plane left Indonesia's main island of Java for Manado on Sulawesi but altered course and turned westward halfway into the two-hour trip after being warned of rough weather near the city of Makassar, said Eddy Suyanto, head of the search and rescue mission.

But when it ran into winds of more than 80 mph over the Makassar Strait, it changed course again, bringing the plane eastward toward land, then disappeared from the radar, he said.

It is not clear why there have been no transmissions from the plane's emergency locator.
By yesterday, more helicopters and a U.S.Navy ship had joined in the search. Fox News also reported that the NTSB team had arrived in Indonesia from the U.S., as well as representatives from Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and General Electric.

This morning, January 8, a Reuters story said that an Indonesian navy ship had detected a large object under the sea off the west coast of Sulawesi. Whether the 'object' will turn out to be a Boeing 737 is anyone's guess. Reuters also said that a U.S. ship with sonar capability and the ability to detect underwater metal, the USNS Mary Sears, is due to arrive tomorrow to join the search.

We can only hope that -- for the sake of the families of the crew and passengers, at least -- the plane, or some concrete sign of it, will be found. For now, after all of the conflicting reports and contradictions, all we can say with certainty is that Adam Air flight 574 vanished on New Year's Day.

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