Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The age of the glamorous stewardess

If the photo at right catches your eye, you might want to have a look at The Glamour of Flight, a post in blog called Dark Roasted Blend. Blogger Avi Abrams has put together a collection of old photos of cabin crew from the days when everyone everywhere called them 'stewardesses.'

Most of the photos are familiar promotional photos from the likes of PSA and Braniff: mini-skirted and Pucci-clad women posing on or near the aircraft they worked on. A few were new to me. All are a significant part of commercial aviation history -- for better or worse!

Avi says, "There was something in the air in the early years of commercial aviation. Perhaps more excitement, perhaps more glamorous stewardesses... in any case, it's worth savoring once again."

Click here to view The Glamour of Flight.

[Photo Source]

Indonesia wants to ban older airliners

Following a recent string of aviation accidents -- most notably the New Year's Day loss of Adam Air Flight 574, and the more recent damage to another Adam Air plane after a hard landing -- Indonesia is planning to ban local carriers from flying passenger planes that are more than 10 years old. The age limit is intended to improve commercial aviation safety in Indonesia, according to the Indonesian national news agency, Antara.

A Reuters article about this move quotes Indonesia's Transport Minister, Hatta Rajasa, who said, "Our commercial aircraft are 20 years old. We will modernize, rejuvenate our aircraft by enacting an age limit on aircraft of 10 years old." Hatta said that currently the age limit was 35 years or 70,000 landings, Antara reported.

Interestingly, an article published in the International Herald Tribune, and elsewhere, says that the current age limit for planes in Indonesia is 20 years.

It's a little unclear how the new limit on aircraft age would be applied, since Hatta also said that at the time of leasing the plane should be no more than 10 years old, according to Antara. Does that mean that a plane that is, say, 8 years old at the time of leasing will only be allowed to fly for two years? If so, Indonesian carriers will have to start spending a lot more money to acquire much newer planes.

In any case, it's odd that the age of the plane, per se, is being emphasized, rather than the number of cycles (takeoffs and landings) -- usually considered to be a better measure of aircraft 'age.' Perhaps something was 'lost in translation' here between what was first published by Antara and what was published in the English language press?

Perhaps an even more important issue than aircraft age is the quality and frequency of the maintenance performed on airliners. In the end, modernizing and improving maintenance facilities and practices in Indonesia may be a better solution for improving safety than merely modernizing country's commercial airliner fleet.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pakistani Supreme Court backs older cabin crew

Earlier this month, the Pakistani Supreme Court told Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to recall 73 women cabin crew who had been suspended "on the grounds that they needed to lose weight and improve their English language skills."

According to an article in the Pakistani publication The Daily Times, six women cabin crew had asked the Court to intervene after PIA management forced them to retire because of their “dull and poor appearance, scars on the face, gap in front teeth and the age factor affecting their looks.” The women asked the chief justice to direct the airlines to renounce the “insulting remarks” and recall them to their duties.

Apparently Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry agreed with the women that their dismissal constituted discrimination. He said that their services should not be terminated for the reasons mentioned in the notices. Chief Justice Chaudhry directed PIA Chairman Tariq Kirmani to explain the “derogatory and insulting” treatment of the women staff by the corporation.

This case exemplifies the kind of age discrimination faced by cabin crew in many places, when airline managements seek to actively recruit younger (and thinner) flight attendants while looking for ways to nudge out older crew. But let's not forget that age and appearance are not the only reasons why this happens. There also is an important economic factor for the airlines. Simply put, the younger, less experienced crew can be paid less.

This surely was an underlying factor in the PIA case. The women's suit noted that PIA was hiring women from Japan, Thailand, Kenya, Russia and Greece in their place, and paying them a fraction of the salary the older crew earned before they were forced to retire.

Lesson: One way or another, it's always about money!

Monday, February 26, 2007

ALPA's 'Blue Ribbon Panel on Pilot Retirement'

Last month, the FAA proposed to change the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots in the U.S. from 60 to 65. As a next step in the legal process, the FAA will publish a 'notice of proposed rulemaking' (NPRM) later this year to amend the so-called  Age60 Rule.

In early February, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced that they would form a 'Blue Ribbon Panel' to study the issue and formulate a response to the FAA proposal. A news release on the ALPA website names Capt. Chris Beebe as chairman of the ALPA Blue Ribbon Panel on Pilot Retirement. Six other pilots were named to serve as members of the panel.

The ALPA news release states that the mission of the ALPA Blue Ribbon Panel on Pilot Retirement is to study the long-range effects of potential changes to the FAA Age 60 Rule and to identify issues connected to possible changes to pilot mandatory retirement age. In particular, they will focus on:
  • ensuring that ALPA plays a strong role in shaping the future of pilot retirement
  • preserving the credibility and effectiveness of ALPA as a public advocate
  • building consensus on the issues connected to possible changes to the mandatory retirement age among members of ALPA to the greatest degree possible
"This topic has the keen interest of every airline pilot in the United States," said ALPA's president, Capt. John Prater. "While ALPA's official policy supports the current rule, the fact that the FAA is proposing rulemaking requires serious deliberation.

"Because the rule is likely to change with or without ALPA involvement, our union must use its considerable influence to help shape the final rule to protect our members' interests," Prater continued. "To influence the rule, we need to gather all of the facts about the subject, educate pilot leaders and members about the implications of the pending FAA NPRM, and receive direction from ALPA's governing bodies on how the union should proceed on this important issue."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Great biz-jet video

Someone did a good job of putting together this video on YouTube. Can anyone confirm that all of the aircraft types shown here are actually flown by NetJets?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Three-plane incident at MEM

A report from Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, republished on Airport Business, tells of a series of errors that caused three planes to land too close together in rapid succession last Tuesday. The separation rules that air-traffic controllers are charged with maintaining apparently were compromised.

According to the news article, this is what happened:
The string of events started shortly after noon when FedEx flight 881 approached for a landing on the center runway.

While still in the air, the pilot reported an auto throttle problem to the tower, which required the plane to slow faster than usual.

When that happened, the plane coming in behind it, a regional jet operated by Pinnacle Airlines, broke the 5 miles of separation the FAA mandates between heavy and small jets.

The FedEx pilot aborted the landing and flew around to try again. As it approached the runway for the second time, the separation between it and another FedEx plane at an adjacent runway was compromised.

"The diagonal separation between those planes should have been 1.5 miles. But because flight 881 again reduced its speed, the separation was reduced to 1.38 miles," [FAA spokeswoman Kathleen] Bergen said.

As both FedEx planes were preparing to land, another regional jet operated by Pinnacle was approaching for landing.

Its 5-mile separation was reduced to 4.86 miles.
"In all three of the operational errors, we had more than 95 percent of the required separation. But our job is not to have loss of any," said Peter Suflaw, head of the air-traffic control union at the tower.

Friday, February 23, 2007

'Backscatter X-ray' test begins at Sky Harbor

Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix is the first to install a new kind of X-ray scanner for passenger screening. The new machine, marketed by American Science and Engineering, Inc. (AS & E), uses a technique called 'Backscatter X-ray' to detect explosives and other weapons hidden on passengers. The device began operating today at one security screening station in Terminal 4, an area of Sky Harbor International Airport used primarily by passengers of US Airways.

The Backscatter X-ray scanner is intended to supplement traditional screening, according to an Associated Press article in the Arizona Daily Star. It will be used only for passengers who do not pass traditional screening, thus requiring secondary screening. Those passengers will be allowed to opt for a pat-down search instead of passing through the new scanner, at their request.

The Associated Press article about the new scanner says:
The X-ray technology, which was developed for prisons, was expected to start screening Sky Harbor passengers in December but the launch was postponed while the Transportation Security Administration worked out glitches and installed some new software.
In fact, the new scanner has been controversial because it reportedly produces high-resolution images that some say are too invasive of personal privacy. Some even refer to the technology as a "virtual strip search," however a TSA spokesman says that while the machine visually strips off clothing, the image it projects looks more like a chalk drawing than a real person

Another article about the new scanner, published on the website of Tucson TV station KVOA, pointed out that the security officer who works with the passenger going through the Backscatter X-ray will never see the image the machine produces. The images will be viewed by another officer who will be about 50 feet away and won't see the actual passenger. Images from the machine cannot be stored or transmitted.

Placement of the new machine at Sky Harbor is part of a field test of the device. A Backscatter X-ray scanner costs approximately $100,000. The scanner being used in Phoenix is on loan to from AS & E, the manufacturer.

TSA says that a person passing through the scanner will receive about the same amount of radiation as a person flying for two minutes at an altitude of 30,000 feet.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Comair sues FAA over crash of flight 5191

Today it was announced that Comair has filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The regional airline contends that the FAA was negligent in having only one air traffic controller on duty in the tower at Lexington, Kentucky's Bluegrass Airport on the morning last August 27 when Comair Flight 5191 crashed after attempting to take off from the wrong runway.

An article about the lawsuit, published on  reports:
Comair claims the FAA should have staffed the control tower with two controllers. The lone controller on duty that morning had turned away to do some administrative tasks before Comair Flight 5191 tried to take off.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said if a second controller had been on duty, that person would have been staffing the aiport's radar, watching flights in the air from the tower or a windowless room at the base of the tower.

"The FAA disagrees there was any negligence on its part," she said.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, follows a previous suit in which Comair that the FAA failed to inspect and approve construction along the taxiway that led to the runway that Flight 5191 should have taken. The FAA was dismissed from that lawsuit earlier this week, although the airport is still a defendant.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adam Air B737-300 fleet grounded

Indonesian carrier Adam Air is in the news again, after all seven of its B737-300 aircraft were grounded by the country's aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Air Communications (DGAC), pending airworthiness inspections. The action came after one of the aircraft was damaged when it made a hard landing in Surabaya yesterday.

'Hard landings' are not uncommon, but this one caused cracking and buckling of the aircraft's fuselage. Flight International published a photo of the damaged aircraft, captured from an Indonesian television broadcast, that shows the aircraft with a buckled mid-fuselage, and its rear section tilted a few degrees lower towards the ground.

An article published in the International Herald Tribune reports that although there were no serious injuries, passengers said the plane came down with such force that baggage compartments burst open, sending luggage flying through the cabin.

A Reuters India report also said that all 148 passengers aboard the aircraft were safe, but that the accident prompted the temporary closure of Juanda Airport in Surabaya, which is Indonesia's second-largest city and the capital of East Java province.

Last week, a press release posted on the Adam Air website announced that carrier was recognized as the Low Cost Carrier Airline of the Year for 2006, at the 3rd Annual Asia, Pacific & Middle East Aviation Outlook Summit. In marked contrast, 2007 has so far been a very bad year for Adam Air, beginning on New Year's Day when one of its B737-400 aircraft vanished during a flight between Surabaya and Manado. Although some debris from the aircraft has been found, and there were reports that the flight data recorder may have been located, there has been no sign of the 96 passengers and 6 crew who were aboard Adam Air flight 574.

Nevertheless, the airline's management has tried to maintain a positive outlook. An article published earlier this month in the International Herald Tribune reported that Adam Air was going forward with plans for expansion. Those plans include acquisition of 10 more B737 aircraft this year, through leasing arrangements. Earlier reports also mentioned possible new routes for the airline. It is still unclear what effect this latest setback will have on those plans.

UPDATE Feb. 26, 2007: Three of Adam Air's grounded 737-300 aircraft have been released to fly again, according to an article from Antara, published on Airport Business. The article reports that "three aircraft met the standard of airworthiness and the three other will also be allowed to resume operation if they are also found to be fit."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doug Parker pleads guilty to DUI charge

US Airways Chairman and CEO Doug Parker, who was arrested in Arizona several weeks ago for speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol, entered a guilty plea this morning to one of the DUI charges. Prosecutors asked that a second DUI charge and the speeding charge be dismissed.

CNN is reporting that Parker entered the guilty plea against the advice of his attorney.

Parker, who appeared at the Scottsdale Municipal Court this morning, was sentenced to one day in jail, according to an Associated Press article, published in USA Today and elsewhere:
Municipal Court Judge Joseph Olcavage ordered Parker to spend 24 hours in jail on March 15. Olcavage also fined Parker $1,646.25 and ordered him to be screened by a doctor to determine if he has a problem with alcohol addiction.
At the time of his arrest, the 45 year old airline executive's blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.096, according to a police report. The legal limit in Arizona is 0.08.

A Reuters article about today's court appearance adds that Parker admitted earlier this month to three other alcohol- related incidents when he was in his twenties. He has said, however, that the most recent incident was "a mistake, not a trend."

Reuters also notes that the CEO's day in jail starts one day after US Airways annual Media Day, during which journalists visit the carrier's headquarters to meet with airline officials.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New aviation security legislation

Last week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation reported on a new piece of legislation known as the Aviation Security Improvement Act (S. 509).

The legislation, which addresses air cargo as well as passenger aviation security, includes a measure sponsored by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to provide the long-term funding to U.S. airports and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in order to "significantly improve and expedite the installation of baggage screening and explosive detection systems at the nation's airports."

According to a Commerce Committee press release about the legislation:
The Aviation Security Improvement Act (S. 509) would require the screening of all cargo on passenger airplanes within three years. The cargo screening program strikes a balance between ensuring all cargo on passenger aircraft is secure and ensuring the movement of commerce.

The bill also addresses passenger prescreening, a primary concern of air travelers and Congress, where passengers are mistakenly identified as a potential threat. This bill would ensure a system is in place to redress mistaken identity issues and requires the TSA to move rapidly to develop a strategic plan to test and implement an advanced passenger prescreening system.
A welcome part of the Aviation Security Improvement Act for crews is a a provision that requires the TSA -- after consultation with airline, airport and flight crew unions -- to report to Congress within 180 days of enactment on the status of establishing a process that would give flight deck and cabin crew members expedited access through screening checkpoints. A news release on the website of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) says that ALPA staff worked closely with the Committee to draft this language.

Other provisions include lifting the 45,000 cap on the allowed number of TSA screeners, enhancing TSO screener training, and allowing TSA to purchase and distribute blast-resistant containers to carriers. The legislation also authorizes grant programs for piloting explosive detection technologies, and addresses general aviation security.

The legislation was introduced by Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Vice Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Senators Jay Rockefeller, (D-WV), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) cosponsored the Aviation Security Improvement Act.

The Aviation Safety Improvement Act now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Click here to read the full text of Senate Bill S. 509.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Finding faults in aircraft wiring

An electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Utah, and her students, have been working to develop a new type of fault location system for aircraft wiring.

Most planes have over 15 miles of wiring, so it's impractical to thoroughly inspect wires for tiny faults. But faults in wiring cause short circuits, which in turn can cause fires. "Faults in airplane wires is one of the main reasons planes crash," says Professor Cynthia Furse.

The insulation on wiring can crack as it ages. Moisture from condensation can then enter the cracks and causes short circuits. The problem is that the short circuits only occur when the plane is in flight.
"By the time the plane has landed, the problem is gone and it is impossible to find the fault and fix it," Furse said.

"Currently, there is no system that can detect wire faults without interfering with the signals the wires are trying to send," said Alyssa Magleby, an electrical engineering graduate student.

Furse and her students have been working on developing a system that locates the fault when it short circuits and then records it so the problem can be located when the plane lands.

"We are working on developing an intermittent, live wire fault location system that can locate the fault within one foot," Furse said.

"The system we design has to be able to function while the plane is in the air without messing up signals that are already there," Magleby said.[The Daily Utah Chronicle]
The systems under development by the Utah team are not yet ready for installation, but are expected to be widely deployed by between 2010 and 2012.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cracked windshields at DIA: How cold was it??

Denver International AirportAbout a dozen aircraft at or near Denver International Airport (DIA) have sustained cracked windshields, presumably from the intense cold.

One  article about the cold weather in Denver, published on CBS News and elsewhere, says that SkyWest Airlines reported cracked windshields on eight planes that were taking off or landing yesterday as wind gusted up to 50 mph. One plane's windshield cracked while it was airborne.

Frontier Airlines also reported cracked windshields on several of its planes. An airline spokesman said that two windshields cracked in flight, and two more cracked on aircraft that were parked at DIA gates.

So how cold was Denver yesterday? It was mostly in the 30s (Fahrenheit), but there were strong winds. In fact, a Denver Post article about yesterday's weather said that "extremely high winds" had been recorded in the area by the National Weather Service:
The foothills and plains can expect winds between 80 and 100 mph for the rest of the day. Denver will experience gusts between 50 and 65 mph today.

The high winds are affecting the areas north of Denver and east of the mountains, all the way to Wyoming and out to Nebraska and Kansas.
The Denver Post article quoted Mike Baker of the National Weather Service, who explained that a jet stream at an altitude of about 30,000 ft had moved directly over Denver, with winds out of the northwest at around 185 mph. A high-pressure system had developed west of the mountains and a low pressure system had developed east of the mountains, causing the air to flow from high to low, like water, creating strong winds near the surface.

Wind-chill aside, DIA officials say they are "baffled" by all those cracked windshields.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Air Mauritania hijacking: The rest of the story

You'd think that a hijacker demanding to be taken to France so that he could seek political asylum there might know how to speak French. This one didn't, and that turned out to be his undoing.

More details have emerged about the Air Mauritania flight that was hijacked yesterday. As I mentioned in my previous post, an early Reuters report about the hijacking said that the hijacker was overpowered after he was thrown off balance during the aircraft's landing at Gando Airport on Gran Canaria. Today the rest of the story was told.

When the Air Mauritania pilot in command of the aircraft spoke with the gunman during the hijacking, he realized that the man did not understand French. The pilot cleverly used this to his advantage.

A plan was hatched on the flight deck to intentionally slam on the brakes when the aircraft touched down, and then accelerate abruptly to throw the hijacker off balance. The pilot, identified as Ahmedou Mohamed Lemine, used the plane's PA system to communicate his plan to the passengers and cabin crew so that they could prepare.

Here's how an Associated Press item in the UK newspaper, The Independent, told the tale:
The idea was to catch the hijacker off balance, and have crew members and men sitting in the front rows of the plane jump on him, the Spanish official said.

The pilot warned women and children to move to the back rows of the plane in preparation for the subterfuge, the official said.

It worked. As the plane landed on Gran Canaria, the man was standing in the middle aisle when the pilot carried out his maneuver, and he fell to the floor, dropping one of his two 7mm pistols. Flight attendants then threw boiling water in his face and at his chest, and some 10 people jumped on the man and beat him, the Spanish official said.
Another version of the story, published by the Times Online, says that the boiling water was thrown on the hijacker's chest and groin, rather than his face, and that six men, including a Mauritanian mayor, jumped the gunman.

Let's not quibble over fine details. Congratulations to Captain Lemine for coming up with a brilliant plan, and to the crew and passengers for carrying it out so well.

But I still want to know how Mohamed Abderraman, the hijacker, managed to board that flight in Nouakchott with two handguns.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hijacking drama: Air Mauritania

There was high drama today in the skies over northwest Africa. An Air Mauritania B737 aircraft was commandeered by a pistol-packing hijacker while on a domestic flight between the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott and the northern port town of Nouadhibou. [Click here for Yahoo! Travel map of Mauritania.]

The hijacker demanded to be taken to France. Instead, the crew flew the aircraft to the Canary Islands.

The aircraft, which was said to be carrying 71 passengers and a crew of eight, touched down at Gando Airport on the island of Gran Canaria. According to a Reuters article about the hijacking, "When the pilot landed he deliberately braked very hard. The man fell to the ground and was jumped on by passengers. He fired two bullets but there are no serious injuries."

The hijacker then gave himself up and was arrested by police.

Another report about the hijacking, published on and elsewhere, mentioned that the hijacker was believed to be Moroccan, and that he acted alone.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moscow crash: Aircraft and crew identified

As promised, here is an update on yesterday's crash at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport.

Russia's daily online news service Kommersant published a few Reuters photos of the crash scene and reported the following:
The plane was a Challenger 850 made by Canada’s Bombardier Aerospace. Moscow-based Fort-Aero had rented the aircraft from a Swiss company.

The Challenger was bound for Berlin. At 4.40 the chief pilot, a U.S. citizen Ashish Gasvami, received a takeoff permission. The jet caught fire as it was speeding down the runway in heavy snowfall. The preliminary investigation showed that after it had caught fire, the plane turned on its side, landing on its right wing.

Mr. Gasvami, his co-pilot Konstantin Sannikov and technical engineer Vyacheslav Lazarevich were taken to hospital with insignificant injuries.

The party which caused the crash is most likely to pay damages to the airlines which suffered a 3-hour standstill of the airport following the crash.
If you thought that last line sounded ominous, so did I.

Sure enough, an article in the Moscow Times says that a criminal inquiry was opened in regard to the Vnukovo crash. And while the Kommersant article above referred to the crew's injuries as "insignificant," the Moscow Times article said that two of the crew were comatose:
Officials on Wednesday opened a criminal investigation into the crash of a jet at Vnukovo International Airport, which left two of the plane's three crew members in comas.

The Canadair Special Edition crashed at around 4:50 p.m. Tuesday after an engine caught fire as it took off in a snowstorm en route to Berlin.

The Prosecutor General's Office said a criminal investigation had been opened into the crash, a routine practice after such accidents.
The Moscow Times article gave the same names and nationalities for the crew as Kommersant.

It's still unclear just whose airplane this was. In their article about the Vnukovo crash (with photo), published the aircraft's tail number -- an American 'N' registration number, which I looked up in the FAA database. The FAA record lists the owner as Wells Fargo Bank Northwest in Salt Lake City. and others have reported that a Moscow-based company, Fort Aero, said it owned the plane. Yesterday there were some reports that the aircraft was operated by TAG, in Switzerland, but TAG denied that it was one of theirs.

As to what happened, presented the clearest report in their article:
Having left the Vnukovo-3 general aviation terminal the jet was departing from runway 06 in poor weather. Meteorological data indicates snow, showers and a crosswind at the time. The jet was bound for Berlin at around 16:36, says Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), the authority overseeing the investigation.

Russia's emergency ministry says that the aircraft suffered a sudden engine fire during the take-off roll, adding: "The aircraft travelled beyond the limits of the runway, overturned and was destroyed."
It's been somewhat difficult to find reliable information about this accident. There's been very little about it on the websites in the North America and Europe where I usually look for news. I can't help thinking that this might have been taken as a more newsworthy story if there had been passengers on board the aircraft. Sadly, since 'only the crew' were aboard, I guess it's just not big news outside the aviation community.

Update Feb. 20, 2007: Here is a link to a Russian website that has some rather startling photos of the overturned aircraft: Click here. Since I cannot read Russian, I don't know whose website it is or what it says. (Thanks to the reader who sent the link to me.)

I'm sorry to say that I have been unable to find any updates on the condition of the crew who were injured in the accident.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Aircraft down in Moscow

An aircraft has crashed at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport, but the media reports about the accident are somewhat confusing. I've waited all day to post, hoping that the details of this story would clear up. So far the picture is still quite muddy.

The earliest reports today said that the aircraft was an Airbus. Later reports said it was a Challenger 850. At least one report described it as a Canadair Special Edition. Several reports concurred that the flight was en route to Berlin from Moscow.

Some reports said that there were three crew aboard the aircraft. Other reports said that there were four crew. Apparently there were no passengers.

Several reports mentioned injuries, but it's unclear how many people were injured or how serious their injuries might be.

Here are a few samples of the various stories about this accident.

First we have an early story from the Russian news website, Interfax - A310 crashes at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport...:
An Airbus A310 reportedly crashed during takeoff at Moscow's Vnukovo airport.

The plane was on regular flight No. 8991 from Moscow to Berlin, but there were no passengers on board, Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov told Interfax. also ran an Associated Press story early this morning that said it was an Airbus that had crashed.

A little later we started hearing that it was a Challenger, not an Airbus. For example, this Associated Press story on CNN - Jet Flips in Snowstorm, None Dead:
A corporate jet carrying only its crew crashed at a Moscow airport on Tuesday while taking off during a snowstorm, officials said. Everyone on board survived.

Before the twin-engine Challenger 850 crashed, a fire broke out on board as it took off from Vnukovo airport on a flight to Berlin, Transport Ministry spokesman Timur Khikmatov said.

Khikmatov said four crew members were on board and two were injured. Emergency and aviation officials initially said there were three crew members, and some had identified the plane as an Airbus A-310.

Air traffic controller Konstantin Fyodorov told state-run television that the plane caught fire and overturned while taking off.
The German publication Der Spiegel ran a story titled Small Jet Crashes at Moscow Airport:
A small private plane carrying three pilots has crashed at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, an airport spokewoman said, denying initial reports that it was a passenger jet operated by German airline Germanwings.

The "Challenger" aircraft owned by a Swiss company was taking off from Moscow and was bound for Berlin, the spokeswoman said.
Then Reuters got into the act. The Reuters report also said that the aircraft was a Challenger 850, but contradicted the "Swiss-owned" part of Der Spiegel 's story.
An airport spokeswoman said: "A Challenger 850 operated by a Swiss company caught fire on take-off. There were three crew on board with no passengers. One crew member was injured but all three have been hospitalized."

Geneva-based TAG-Aviation refuted claims by the airport spokeswoman that it owned the jet, made by Canada's Bombardier. A marketing manager for the company said it had previously managed the aircraft which was now in the hands of another firm.
By late this afternoon, everyone finally seemed to concur that it was not an Airbus and that the crew all had survived. (Still unclear if there were three or four and exactly how many were injured!)

Next, the Canadian press took an interest, since the accident involved a Canadian-made aircraft. Here's an excerpt from an article on
Russian news agencies say all three were Americans and that all survived, although two were injured.

Russian officials say the plane, a twin-engine Canadair Special Edition, crashed after it caught fire while taking off in a snowstorm on a flight to Berlin.

The plane’s operator, Moscow-based Fort Aero, said there were three crew members on board, and that two were hospitalized.

A Fort Aero spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, would not disclose the nationality of the crew members.

Airport spokesman Konstantin Konanykhin said one crew member was Russian and the other two were foreigners.

Emergency officials initially said the plane was a larger Airbus A-310. However, officials later said it was a Challenger 850, made by Quebec-based Bombardier.

Bombardier spokeswoman Sylvie Gauthier said the manufacturer has had no problems with the aircraft, which she said was a Canadair Special Edition put into service in 1997. One of eight such aircraft in the world, it is a corporate variance of the CRJ100-200 series regional planes and a predecessor to the Challenger 850.
Note the contradictory crew info: One paragraph says all three were Americans and two were injured. In a later paragraph in the same article they say two crew were 'foreigners' and the other was Russian.

I'll keep trying to get the straight information, and when I do, I'll post it. Meanwhile, if any readers learn anything about this accident from a reliable source, feel free to post it in the 'comments.'

Monday, February 12, 2007

Say good-bye to Berlin's historic Tempelhof Airport

The International Herald Tribune reports that Berlin's historic Tempelhof Airport will close to passengers next year. Earlier today, a German court threw out a bid that would have prevented the airport's closure.

Here's an excerpt from that article:
Thirteen companies that use the inner-city airport have sought to block its closure as part of plans to build a new hub on the edge of the capital.

However, the Berlin-Brandenburg administrative court rejected their complaints, arguing that acceptable alternatives were available and the companies' rights were not infringed upon.

During lengthy legal proceedings, the city government already has agreed to give the loss-making Tempelhof a one-year reprieve. It is now scheduled to shut on Oct. 31, 2008.
Too small for many modern jets, Tempelhof is only used at present for short-haul flights with small aircraft. Carriers operating from Tempelhof will now have to move to former East Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, just outside the city, or to the busy Tegel airport in the former west. According to the AP article, Tegel is slated to close as well, and Schoenefeld will be expanded into the capital's new hub, Berlin-Brandenburg International, by 2011.

Tempelhof, which opened in 1923, was famous as the hub for the historic Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. Visit The Berlin Airlift on the Truman Presidential Museum and Library website, for background, and a lot of wonderful photos.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

US Airways CEO arrested for DUI

Late last week it was revealed that US Airways CEO Doug Parker had been arrested in Arizona for speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol.

According to the police report about the incident, obtained and posted on the Web by CNBC, Parker was stopped in Scottsdale late on the evening of January 31, 2007. Police radar showed Parker's speed as 65 mph; the speed limit is 45 mph in the area where he was stopped.

The arresting officer's statement says that he detected the odor of alcohol on Parker's breath. The cop noted that Parker's eyes were bloodshot and his speech was slurred. When the officer asked Parker how much alcohol he had consumed, the reply was three beers in the last two hours.

The police report says that Parker refused a portable breath test for alcohol. The officer then placed Parker under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, and he was taken to a police station for processing. Upon arrival at the police station, Parker was asked to submit to a blood test. He did so, after first speaking on the phone with an attorney.

After the blood test, Parker was sent home in a taxi. He was directed to appear at the Scottsdale Municipal Court on February 21, 2007 for a hearing.

These are not good times for Doug Parker. The DUI arrest came on the very day that US Airways withdrew its offer to buy Delta Airlines after Delta's creditors announced their support for that airline's plan for reorganization as a stand-alone airline.

Another issue waiting to be resolved: The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union that represents US Airways pilots, has been pressing management to agree to a single, fair contract for all of the pilots they employ. The pilots, frustrated with contract negotiations that have been underway for the past year and a half, have been picketing at airports and company offices demanding that management make good on their promise of a unified contract. The pilot contract issue has been simmering ever since America West and US Airways merged in 2005.

A statement to US Airways employees by Doug Parker, in a news release issued by US Airways on February 9, 2007, ends with these words:
As I stated earlier in my letter to you, I will accept the consequences of my actions and I will ensure that it doesn't happen again.

Again, I apologize to you and appreciate the hundreds of notes of encouragement that I have received from you already. We have a great airline with great employees and I'm committed to not letting you down in the future. Thanks again.
It's time to get your house in order, Mr. Parker.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

NTSB update on Mesa CRJ engine failure

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued an update on the Mesa CRJ200 that experienced an uncontained engine failure over Colorado while en route between Denver and Phoenix on January 25. After the incident, the aircraft returned to DIA, where it made an uneventful emergency landing. The aircraft had 55 people on board, but no one was injured.

The photo at right, distributed with the latest NTSB press release [Feb. 9, 2007] about the incident, shows engine debris recovered by the NTSB and local law enforcement agents in Colorado.

Here's an excerpt from that press release:
The engine was a General Electric CF34-3B1. Preliminary examination of the number 1 engine revealed that the inlet, fan rotor assembly, fan containment case, and thrust reverser were missing. Examination of the airplane revealed impact damage to the fuselage, in-line with the plane of rotation of the engine fan rotor, as well as impact marks on the vertical and horizontal stabilizers.

Using a combination of information from the plane's flight data recorder, and radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration and the military, NTSB investigators were able to determine when and where the event occurred. Vehicle performance engineers in the NTSB's laboratory in Washington, D.C. received the FDR and radar data on Monday, January 29. Within 24 hours, after identifying primary targets presumably from the aircraft, they were able to produce trajectory calculations and identify a 1-square-mile search area for the engine components.

With the cooperation of the Teller County Sheriff's Department and local residents, a search was conducted on Wednesday, January 31. In addition to five NTSB investigators, the team consisted of representatives from the FAA, General Electric Engines, an aircraft recovery company and officials from the county. The team searched the mountainous terrain all day in blowing snow and found about half of the fan disk, fan blades, parts of the engine cowling and thrust reverser, the engine spinner, and pieces of the fan containment case.

The wreckage arrived at the NTSB's materials laboratory on Friday, February 2 and was immediately examined by materials specialists. The point of origin of the fracture was identified. Investigators are currently examining the manufacturing and maintenance records of the engine to determine if existing fan disk inspections are appropriate and effective and whether further corrective action is warranted.
Any new developments will be posted on this blog.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Alaska Airlines pilots at the bargaining table

Alaska AirlinesAlaska Airlines pilots are at the bargaining table in Seattle with company officials, trying to reach a new agreement about pay and working conditions. Alaska Airlines employs more than 1400 pilots.

An article about the negotiations on the website of Alaska's CBS TV station, KTVA reports:
The pilots say Alaska Airlines needs to hire more of them to spread out the flights and give them some time to sleep.

"Don't push us. Staff us properly so that you are not putting people from the front side to the back side of the clock and back again. That's not safe; that's not smart," said Alaska Airlines pilot, Captain John Sluys.
For their part, airline officials point out that the amount of rest time each pilot receives is more than adequate under federal regulations.
"Our pilots are required to work fewer hours per each shift, and get even more rest between shifts than they are required to under FAA regulations," said Amanda Tobin Bielawski of Alaska Airlines.
Airline officials say they hope to have an agreement -- and a strike avoided -- by May.

North Carolina to get HondaJet plant

The Honda Aircraft Company has announced that it will build a manufacturing facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina. The plant will be used to manufacture the lightweight business aircraft known as the HondaJet.

According to a Reuters article:
North Carolina agreed to give Honda Aircraft up to $6.68 million in tax benefits over the next 12 years. The company employs 50 workers at its Greensboro headquarters and plans to add 283 more to design and build the plane, at an average annual salary of around $70,000 a year, which is almost double the local average.
Honda plans to begin delivery of the HondaJet in 2010.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Passengers fail to don oxygen masks in cabin emergency

When flight attendants do their pre-flight safety briefings, they often see a number of passengers chatting, reading their newspapers, dozing -- just generally not paying attention. You have to wonder if they'd know what to do if an emergency arose -- and if they'd do it.

A crew on a B737 fight over New South Wales in Australia found out this past November that more than half the passengers on their airplane did nothing when their oxygen masks deployed mid-flight, after a potentially dangerous drop in cabin pressure. According to an article in the Australian publication, The Age, fewer than half the passengers donned their masks right away. The rest only did so when instructed through an announcement over the aircraft public address system.

Here's what the article said about the incident:
The report, released today by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), blamed the problem on a pair of incorrectly adjusted valves which control cabin air pressure.

There was no immediate reason why they were wrongly adjusted.

The ATSB concluded the emergency response of flight and cabin crew was reasonable, considering there was no obvious cause of the problem.

But the response of passengers - all of whom had sat through the safety briefing not much than an hour earlier - fell short of expectations.

"This occurrence highlights the need for all passengers, regardless of how familiar they are with air travel, or how often they travel, to be attentive during the pre-takeoff safety briefing," ATSB said.

"For over half of the passengers to be prompted to put their masks on following the depressurisation, indicated that they may have been unprepared to deal with the emergency.

"A pre-takeoff safety briefing was mandated and served to prepare passengers for situations such as the one experienced in this occurrence."

ATSB policy is not to identify the particular airline.

The incident occurred on November 9 as the aircraft, a Boeing 737 aircraft, flew from Sydney to Melbourne.

Flying at an altitude of 12,000 metres above Jindabyne, instruments alerted the crew to reduced cabin air pressure. The pilot immediately disengaged the autopilot and conducted an emergency descent to 3,000 metres.
Fortunately, there were no reported injuries to passengers or crew during this incident.

Comair pilots blocked from striking

An article published on and elsewhere, says that Judge Adlai Hardin of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York granted a request by Comair to block a strike and any other job actions that would disrupt Comair's operations.

In December of 2006, the pilots had authorized their union leaders to call a strike if the airline throws out their contract and imposes concessions, but the judge ruled that a strike would violate a federal law that says employees of common carriers such as an airline have a legal duty "to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier."

Comair's pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots association (ALPA). The union had argued in court that the pilots had a legal right to strike if concessions are imposed, and the plan to appeal this most recent ruling.

For more on ALPA's point of view, visit

UPDATE Feb. 9, 2007: Comair says it's prepared to impose concessions on its pilots tonight, when a deadline between the two sides passes. The airline says the salary of the average pilot will be cut by eleven percent. No talks are scheduled, so it doesn't appear likely that Comair and its pilots will reach a negotiated agreement ahead of the deadline. []

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Growing pains for fractionals

A Business Week article, republished on the Business Travel section of the MSNBC website, suggests that fractional jet operators may be experiencing substantial 'growing pains' due to unforeseen costs arising out of rapid expansion.

Apparently the costs of acquiring and operating so many aircraft have resulted in driving expenses up so high that, despite brisk demand, "the companies operating these services, including NetJets, Bombardier Flexjet, and Flight Options, have collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years." As a result, the 'frax' have had to resort to tactics such as discounting their rates in order to attract new customers, and offering their existing customers incentives to travel at off-peak times.

The article, titled "One jet, 16 owners, big problems," notes that the fractional jet business is a $6 billion industry, and that more than 5,000 individuals and businesses now own fractional interests in private jets, compared to 730 in 1997. So why can't they turn a profit?

Here's an excerpt from the article that explains some of the problems:
...For one thing, providing a ready, waiting jet for a multitude of customers--many jets are now sold in increments as small as 1/16th--is more complicated than it may appear. Experts estimate that more than 25% of an average plane's air time is spent flying empty to pick up the customer. And because many people travel at the same peak times--the day before major holidays, or Monday mornings--operators have too often been forced to turn to the costly charter market just to meet their contractual demands. NetJets Inc., for instance, estimates it spent $200 million chartering extra jets in 2005, though it says it cut its charter outlays to less than $100 million last year.

Analysts add that a good portion of the existing stock of business jets, such as the Hawker 1000 and Cessna Citation Ultra, were built for corporate users who flew them less than 300 hours a year, not for the roughly 1,100 hours that most fractional operators wring out of an average plane. The unfortunate result: chronic maintenance and excessive downtime. "A lot of these light business jets were not designed to be flown like a commercial airplane," says Mike Riegel, a former Flexjet executive who now advises fliers purchasing fractional stakes. And experts say that private jet operators, in their quest to gain market share, were way too aggressive with their own jet acquisitions, which in turn forced them to discount their rates to lure customers. "The fractional players have been just like the commercial airlines--they've been pricing just to fill seats," says Richard L. Aboulafia, vice-president at Teal Group Corp., an aerospace consulting firm based in Fairfax, Va.
Some of the frax are now looking to acquire more fuel-efficient aircraft in order to cut operating costs in the long run.

The article saves the best quote for last: "The best thing that could happen to this industry is consolidation--taking out a couple of the lesser players who just hold down prices," says David Strauss, an aerospace analyst with UBS.

That statement has such a familiar ring... Where have we heard that before? Are the frax just like the airlines after all?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pilot poaching in the Pacific

It's the cover story in a publication you probably never heard of, from a place you seldom -- if ever -- think of. But it's reflective of a trend that has implications for professional pilots everywhere.

The publication is Islands Business. As its title suggests, it covers business news in the South Pacific. The cover story in the current issue is about 'pilot poaching' in the region. Small local carriers in developing countries spend a lot of money to train young pilots, only to see them jump ship for more lucrative jobs abroad at bigger, wealthier airlines.

The issue was raised last year at annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The article says that IATA’s communication manager for the Asia Pacific, Albert Tjoeng told Islands Business that pilot poaching was a global issue, but it was outside of IATA's scope.
In India last year, pilot poaching was so serious that it led to cancellation of flights by some airlines.

For the Philippines, local airline operators Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Asian Spirit and Air Philippines warn that by 2010, the country may find itself without a single pilot or a maintenance crew because of the phenomenon. So serious was pilot poaching that the Philippino Government had to intervene with its own pilot retention programme.
A different point of view was expressed by Joseph Anea, chief executive of Solomon Airlines:
Anea believes that while losing pilots to bigger airlines may affect some airlines, the benefit would come their way in the long-term as these pilots tend to return home more experienced.

"For the pilots, they have to think of career progression, an improvement to their standard of living and a chance to have a wider experience," he says.

"And in the future, these pilots will return and would be more experienced."
Solomon Airlines employs mostly expatriate pilots, and Mr. Anea acknowledged that he has had only seven local pilots in the last 20 years, of which only three are now employed by them.

Of all the airlines in the Pacific region, Air Pacific -- Fiji's international airline -- seems to have been affected the most by pilot poaching. They report the loss of 21 pilots in the last three years, 16 of whom left for more lucrative flying jobs in the Middle East. The other 5 found jobs in Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Islands Business article quotes John Campbell, CEO of Air Pacific:
"A new airline, Etihad, has aggressive growth plans for flights from Abu Dhabi and we expect they will soon initiate a recruitment drive worldwide to fill the jobs to be delivered by their new aircraft orders.

"Airlines in the Middle East have ordered or taken delivery of around 400 aircraft in the past. Each aircraft requires seven sets of pilots with up to three crews in each set so the total recruitment drive by Middle East carriers is around 6500 pilots.

"The aggressive growth plans mean that they do not have the time or resources to train their own staff so they poach experienced, competent pilots worldwide," Campbell says.
Campbell says he is resigned to the fact that his airline will continue to be a supplier of pilots for Middle Eastern airlines.

Like Solomon Airlines, Air Pacific also recruits expat pilots to fill its vacancies, mostly through crew-leasing agencies in Australia and New Zealand.

Campbell says:
"Salaries and work conditions for Air Pacific pilots are very generous and competitive within the region. But we simply cannot match those that are being paid in the Middle East.

"We are advised that pilots in the Middle East receive a salary in the order of US$18,000 tax free per month, plus free medical and hospital treatment, free schooling, free housing and free travel to their country of origin twice per annum.

"In some ways, the Middle East airlines can afford this because they do not pay the initial costs of training and type rating for crews—these costs are being paid by Air Pacific and other airlines."
For their part, the Middle Eastern carriers claim not to be poaching at all. Instead, they say that pilots approach them looking for higher paying jobs. They say it's a simple question of supply and demand.

No pilots were quoted in the article, but we can guess what their point of view would be: something along the lines of 'follow the money.'

Monday, February 05, 2007

Close calls at Denver International Airport

What's up with these close calls at DIA?

A month ago we had this tale of a runway incursion at DIA:
Frontier Airlines flight 297, an Airbus A-319, broke out of low clouds as it was about to land on runway 35 left. The Frontier flight crew saw a Swearingen Metroliner, Key Lime Air flight 4216, which had inadvertently entered the runway. The Frontier flight immediately executed a missed approach. It is estimated that the aircraft came within 50 feet of each other.

The Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS) alerted the control tower personnel of the situation at the same time the Frontier crew saw the Metroliner on the runway. Weather at the time of the incident was one-half mile visibility, ceiling 600 feet overcast, snow and mist.[NTSB News, Jan. 5, 2007]
Then last Friday -- same airport, different month -- it was a case of "déjà vu all over again:"
A United Airlines Boeing 737, operating as flight 1193 from Billings, Montana, landed on runway 26 at Denver International Airport (DEN). One of the pilots noticed a snowplow on the runway and the crew used maximum braking power and full use of the thrust reversers to bring the aircraft to a complete stop. The plane missed the snowplow by about 200 feet. There were no injuries to the 101 persons aboard or the operator of the snowplow.

The plow was being escorted by an airport operations vehicle that was in radio communications with the air traffic control tower, but the vehicles had become separated, with the escort vehicle already having cleared the runway. It is unclear if the snowplow was in radio communications with either the escort vehicle or the tower. Visibility at the time of the incident was about 10 miles. [NTSB News, Feb. 5, 2007]
It's been a trying season for DIA -- blizzards, runway incursions, what next? I know, don't ask!

An article about the snowplow incident that appeared on Colorado's Summit Daily News website quoted Turner West, aviation manager at Denver International, who said that the airport is working with the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration to determine what happened. West said the airport is also conducting its own investigation and has put more training in place for plow drivers.

Should we view that as a step in the right direction, or as a case of closing the barn door after the horse got out?

In any case, kudos to those Frontier and United pilots who so skillfully avoided having these incidents end up as accidents!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Being a flight attendant is sexy

The Business Review, reporting on the results of a survey carried out by the online job search website, says that 'flight attendant' is one of the 10 sexiest jobs in the U.S. The survey was sent to 1,500 job seekers, employees and employers, with 1,075 responding. "Flight attendant' came out as the fifth-sexiest job on the list.

Here's the whole list:
  1. fireman
  2. chief executive
  3. interior designer
  4. doctor
  5. flight attendant
  6. police officer
  7. nurse
  8. teacher
  9. lawyer
  10. bartender & lawyer (tie)
What? Pilots didn't make the top ten list? What could it mean?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Senate: Screen all cargo on passenger flights

In early January, I posted a story in this blog about a plan by the Democrats -- who now control the U.S. Congress -- to beef up homeland security. Central to their security agenda is the implementation of recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Earlier this week, members of the U.S. Senate pressed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to screen all cargo carried on passenger airplanes. According to an article from Congressional Quarterly Today, republished on the Airport Business website:
At a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing Wednesday on aviation security, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., urged TSA chief Kip Hawley to come up with technological innovations that would help secure air cargo, such as blast-proof cargo containers.

"Congress is going to be pushing on this subject: You need to get ahead of the curve to come up with some improvements there," Lott said. "You need to move more aggressively."

Hawley said the TSA is moving as quickly as possible given cost and privacy considerations inherent in some new technologies, such as "backscatter" scanners that are both expensive and physically revealing.

Hawley appealed to lawmakers not to mandate screening of all air cargo on passenger planes, urging instead a risk-based approach to deciding which cargo should be screened and which should not.

"For a very small incremental benefit of security it would take away resources that we could more productively apply elsewhere," Hawley said.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed legislation that incorporates many of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including a requirement that all air cargo on passenger planes be screened.

Friday, February 02, 2007

ALPA forms panel to address 'Age 60 Rule' change

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest airline pilot union in the world, has issued a statement in response to the announcement by FAA administrator Marion Blakey that the agency will will propose to raise the mandatory retirement age for U.S. commercial pilots from 60 to 65. ALPA's statement says that the union will form a 'Blue Ribbon Panel on Pilot Retirement' to study the issue and develop a response to the FAA administrator's announcement. ALPA had opposed changing the so-called 'Age 60 Rule'.

Here's an excerpt from ALPA's news release on this topic:
"The fact that the FAA is set to put the Age 60 regulation into the rulemaking process is very significant," explained ALPA president, Capt. John Prater, after Administrator Marion Blakey’s announcement at a National Press Club luncheon today. "The FAA is careful to propose rulemaking only when it is convinced that a rule will need to change."

"ALPA policy is to support the rule as it is," Prater said, adding that since 1980 the union has opposed and continues to oppose legislation that would overturn the rule. "However, despite that policy, we cannot afford to ignore the significance of the FAA's announcement. That is why I have decided to form an ALPA Blue Ribbon Panel on Pilot Retirement, composed of representatives from the four of the association's standing committees most logically connected with the Age 60 Issue: Air Safety, Retirement and Insurance, Collective Bargaining, and Aeromedical."

The mission of the panel will be to study the effects of potential changes to the FAA Age 60 Rule and to develop recommendations on how ALPA can address the issue of pilot retirement with the goal of having a positive effect for ALPA members. The committee will uphold ALPA's 75 year-long commitment to ensuring the highest level of aviation safety. The FAA announcement and the formation of the ALPA Blue Ribbon Panel come in the wake of five years of tumult for the airline pilot profession. Furloughs, pay and benefit cuts, and a lack of job growth have put severe economic pressure on airline pilots of all ages and experience levels. The panel will present its recommendations to the ALPA Executive Board, composed of the leaders of ALPA's 40 pilot groups, at its May 2007 meeting.

"While it is impossible to predict what the final FAA rule will look like," Prater said, "ALPA will use its credibility and influence to protect pilot interests throughout the process."
ALPA represents some 60,000 pilots who fly for 40 U.S. and Canadian airlines.