Monday, April 30, 2007

Thomsonfly Boeing 757 double bird strike at Manchester

A Boeing 757-200 aircraft operated by British low fare carrier Thomsonfly made an emergency landing shortly after departure from Manchester (UK) airport yesterday morning after two large birds, described in news reports as herons, were ingested into the aircraft's number two engine. According to BBC News, the flight was carrying 221 passengers, and was en route from Manchester to Arrecife, Lazarote in the Canary Islands. No one was injured.

The bird strike occurred moments after rotation. Smoke and flames could be seen pulsing from the starboard engine during climb out. The engine was shut down, the crew declared a MAYDAY, and the aircraft returned to Manchester Airport where it made a safe emergency landing. Congratulations to the crew for that happy ending.

There are a couple of videos of this incident being circulated on the Web. Click here to view one of those, posted on the ITN website. Below is another video of the event that was posted on YouTube by headintheclouds46. Tip of the hat for posting that footage.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Iris Peterson, United Airlines No. 1 flight attendant retires

Iris PetersonIris Peterson, the number one flight attendant at United Airlines, has retired after 60 years of service.

Ms. Peterson began her career in 1946, when job restrictions included age, gender, ethnicity and weight. A tribute to Ms. Peterson by the United Airlines MEC of the Association of Flight Attendants notes that Ms. Peterson and her peers helped to destroy these discriminatory practices, advancing the rights of women and uprooting gender discrimination.
Active in her union throughout her career, Iris held various leadership positions and often represented her colleagues in grievances, safety issues and on Capitol Hill. AFA-CWA historian and retired flight attendant Georgia Nielsen tells us that Ms. Peterson was often an integral part of advancing her profession through activity in her union. In 1953, she was the first official lobbyist for the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association. In 1968, the same year that stewardesses won the right to hold the job if they were married, Ms. Peterson participated in safety plans for the first jumbo aircraft. She worked with aircraft engineers and was instrumental in gaining acceptance for 17 safety items, including the evacuation alarm, which is now a standard on equipment worldwide.

"Iris has been a mentor to all of us who've followed in her steps," [United AFA President] Davidowitch continued. "She has spent a lifetime committed to her airline and to improving the profession she has loved for six decades. As her fellow crewmembers, we have been lucky to receive her guidance for 60 years. Iris is an intensely private person, but Flight Attendants everywhere are the beneficiaries of her dedication and commitment to our profession. She is truly one in a million."
Flight attendants and members of the public are encouraged to send cards of appreciation and congratulations to:
ATTN: Iris Peterson
AFA-CWA
6250 N. River Road, Suite 4020
Chicago, IL 60656
Happy landings, Iris!

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Air Malta B737 has near collision with micro-light

Air Malta Boeing 737Several days ago, an Air Malta Boeing 737-300 narrowly avoided a mid-air collision with a micro-light aircraft near Malta International Airport. Air Malta Flight KM613, which had originated in Rome, was on approach to Malta early on the afternoon of April 21, 2007 when the incident occurred. The pilot of the Air Malta plane had to take evasive action to avoid colliding with the smaller aircraft. Fortunately no one was injured.

Air Malta published a brief news release about the incident on their website. It says:
On 21st April at approximately 1330 hours, Air Malta flight KM613 operated with a Boeing 737-300 was given clearance by the Maltese Air Traffic Control to land on Runway 14. At an altitude of 1300 feet, the aircraft made visual contact with the runway and shortly after the cockpit crew noticed a micro-light aircraft just ahead of them.

The captain decided to take avoidance action and to abort the approach. The Air Malta aircraft made a normal landing at Malta International Airport, with a five minute delay.

Air Malta has reported the incident to the Director of Civil Aviation, who we understand is conducting a technical investigation on the matter.
A news article about the incident in the Times of Malta filled in a few details, saying that the small aircraft "suddenly appeared out of nowhere."
The small aircraft was not equipped with a transponder and, consequently, the Air Malta pilots could not spot the impending danger on the traffic-collision avoidance system.

Passengers on the left side of the aircraft noticed the close proximity of the small plane but most of them remained oblivious to what was going on.

A 38-year old passenger who was on board the flight was shocked as he looked out of the window.

"I had just spotted the Mosta church from the window seat and suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw a small blue plane alarmingly close.

"Our pilot's manoeuvre was excellent and it probably saved the day," said the passenger, who preferred to remain unnamed.
The Times of Malta story also said that the light aircraft, which was registered in Italy, had departed from Gela, Sicily. It landed in Malta after the incident.
Though tragedy was avoided, many questions remain about the Italian aircraft's unwelcome presence. Probed by the local authorities, the pilot claimed he pertained to a humanitarian NGO and was on patrol near Lampedusa for illegal immigrants. However, observers in the aviation industry wondered whether such an operation could have really taken place in bad weather and visibility, as was the case last Saturday.

The pilot had permission only to use Malta as a secondary landing air ground and claimed he had landed here because the aircraft had run out of fuel.

When contacted, Joe Sultana, director of the Civil Aviation Department, confirmed that the Italian aircraft was flying at a very low altitude and, thus, could not be seen by radar.

Asked whether the aircraft had clearance to land in Malta, Mr Sultana replied:

"As such, it didn't have clearance since it didn't communicate with the air traffic control. The pilot didn't communicate because he didn't have the correct information. The aircraft was short of fuel and it had to proceed."
Another news story published by the Malta Independent quoted an airport official who explained that the pilot of the micro-light had made several attempts to establish contact with the Maltese air traffic authorities to request permission for an emergency landing, but to no avail. He did not have the correct radio frequencies with which to contact air traffic control in Malta.

The micro-light left Malta after several hours, presumably returning to Italy. Let's hope the owners install a transponder in that micro-light before it ventures aloft again.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NTSB update on Pinnacle CRJ runway overrun at Traverse City

airportToday the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an advisory regarding its investigation of a runway overrun earlier this month by a regional jet at Traverse City, Michigan (TVC). The Pinnacle Airlines CL-600 aircraft, operating as Northwest Airlink Flight 4712, slid off the runway after landing. No injuries were reported, but the FAA's preliminary report for the event listed damage to the aircraft as "substantial."

The accident occurred shortly after midnight on April 12, 2007. According to today's NTSB report, the aircraft had departed from Minneapolis and was cleared for an ILS approach to runway 28 at TVC. The NTSB report says:
Weather was reported as snowing. Automatic weather observation data indicated at 12:30 am, the visibility was one-half mile in snow, with indefinite ceiling and vertical visibility of 200 feet. Snow removal operations were in progress at the airport, and the flight crew communicated directly with airport operations regarding the runway conditions.

After landing, the airplane overran the departure end of runway 28, which is 6,501 feet long, with an additional 200 feet of pavement. Initial examination indicates that the airplane exited the paved surface onto a grassy snow- covered field, the nose gear separated from the fuselage, and the airplane came to rest about 100 feet beyond the pavement. The passengers and crew exited the airplane via the main cabin door.
There were 46 passengers -- including three lap-held infants -- and three crew on board.

The NTSB reports that the flight data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered from the airplane and read out at the NTSB laboratory in Washington, DC. Both were in good condition and include the accident flight. A CVR transcript is in preparation.

A news report about the accident on TV station WZZM-13 quotes an airline spokesperson who said the plane couldn't brake when it landed. At the time snow was falling heavily and the temperature was right at the freezing point. That news report includes a brief video clip shot at the scene of the accident.

Another news report, on the website of station TV7&4, has several photos of the aircraft which show it leaning on its nose in the snow. The airstairs at the 1L door appear to be almost horizontal.

The NTSB report mentioned that the nose gear separated from the fuselage. The TV7&4 news report quoted a passenger from the flight who claimed to have seen "the landing gear rolling down the runway beside the plane as it swerved off to the side."

According to the NTSB, the aircraft was piloted by the captain, a company check airman who had a total time of about 5,600 hours, with 4,390 flight hours in the CRJ-200. The F/O was a new-hire who had been working for Pinnacle since January of this year. The F/O had 2,500 total flight hours, with 15 flight hours in the CRJ-200. But get this: One news report about the accident in the Traverse City Record-Eagle mentioned that the flight was part of the F/O's IOE. You have to feel particularly sorry for that poor guy!

[Photo Source]

Monday, April 23, 2007

Remembering the British Airways Concorde

ConcordeDuring a recent event at the U.K.'s Imperial War Museum Duxford, several former British Airways Concorde 101 crew members shared their memories of working aboard that historic aircraft. The museum is the new home of the now retired Concorde 101. The aircraft will be housed permanently in a new £25 million AirSpace Exhibition hangar.

Maggie Sinclair, who had worked aboard the Concorde as cabin crew, was among those who shared their recollections. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Ms. Sinclair, published in the Cambridge Evening News:
"It was a very different, a very nice service and very personal," she said. "You had 100 passengers, but you had to give as much attention to them as you could. If they wanted something you got it straight away.

"Concorde was not actually first class, but a mixture. It was a prestigious plane to be on - I loved the ambience of it. I enjoyed the speed, although you didn't sense it. I was brought up in a garage so I was always keen on speed!

"People were always interesting and there were lots of wonderful passengers. Andy Warhol did not speak to us - he had his own man with him - but he wanted to see the flight deck. We had Eartha Kitt and Peter O'Toole. Quite a few who had been to LA together - Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Joan Collins was a regular. David Frost would always sit in one row at the back of the plane and stretch himself out.

"We had Christopher Reeve once. It was always lovely to be able to look after these people.

"I was in the crew that took the Queen once, on a State Visit to Ottawa for the 125th anniversary of the opening of parliament."
Ms. Sinclair noted that she and her colleagues on the Concorde had the same uniforms as the rest of British Airways cabin crew, but "we had to wear our hats whereas other crews didn't and we had special silver name badges."

Cabin crew had new uniforms issued to them for the Royal flight.

The Cambridge Evening News article that features the interview with Maggie Sinclair also includes interviews with three former Concorde pilots. Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

ExcelAire blames ATC for mid-air collision in Brazil last year

damageIt's official: ExcelAire, the company that owned the Embraer Legacy 600 involved in a mid-air collision over Brazil last year, puts the blame for the accident on Brazilian air traffic controllers.

An  article published on AMTonline.com says:
The U.S. company that owned the executive jet involved in a mid-air collision with a commercial airliner blamed faulty Brazilian air traffic control for the accident that killed 154 people, according to a report obtained by the Associated Press on Saturday.

The Sept. 29 accident was Brazil's deadliest air disaster. A Gol airlines Boeing 737 and an ExcelAire Legacy 600 jet clipped each other, causing the jetliner to plunge into the Amazon rain forest and killing everyone aboard. No one was injured in the smaller plane.

In a 154-page report to Brazilian federal police this month, New York-based ExcelAire said an analysis of air traffic control transmissions and flight recorders in the Legacy "confirmed that both planes were freed by Air Traffic Control to fly at the same altitude and the same path, in opposite directions."
ExcelAire reportedly passed a copy of the report to the journalist several days ago.

For more details about the accident and the ensuing investigation, I'd like to direct you to Joe Sharkey at Large, the personal blog of the journalist who was a passenger aboard the Legacy at the time of the collision last September. Mr. Sharkey has written compellingly of his experiences that day, and has done a commendable job of reporting on the aftermath.

This past Saturday, Sharkey posted a retrospective view of the accident and the investigation. He summarizes ExcelAire's report "that details step-by-step the chain of on-ground mishaps and failures that put the two planes on a collision course, and also charges that important avionics equipment installed in the $24.7 million business jet, including the transponder unit, had a history of defects and were essentially used parts installed on a new jet."

Embedded in Mr. Sharkey's detailed post are links to 1) a four-page report about the accident by the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations (IFATCA); 2) a factual account from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on the progress of its investigation of the accident; and 3) an FAA airworthiness directive citing a problem with the type of Honeywell transponder that was installed on the Legacy, which also may have figured as a contributing factor in the accident. Also provided is an English translation of an article about the ExcelAire report that appeared in the Brazilian newspaper Folha.

Yesterday, April 22, Mr. Sharkey posted Part II of his review, in which he presents "highlights of documentation ExcelAire can cite and charges it will make in its own defense as Brazilian authorities continue their campaign to scapegoat the Americans." I recommend this as required reading for anyone who has been following this accident.

Mr. Sharkey has provided a link to the 134-page document, in Portuguese, and says he is trying to obtain the full English language version of the ExcelAire document as well. Or, as he says in his own words:
...I'm still hoping to post an English link soon to the whole 20,000-word text for those of you, including so many pilots who have remained in touch with me over this sad event, who want to know just precisely how one sorry mistake after another on the ground added up to cause the worst aviation disaster in Brazil's history.
When he posts a link to an English language version of the report, I'll post it, too.

Kudos to Joe Sharkey, first for championing the cause of the ExcelAire pilots -- who were criminally charged while the investigation had barely begun and held in Brazil for several months -- and for continuing to focus attention on the process of the accident investigation.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hangar fire in Abu Dhabi destroys aircraft

hangar fireA fire in a maintenance hangar at Abu Dhabi destroyed a Qatar Airways Airbus A300-600 aircraft last week. The hangar belongs to the Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO).

Details about the fire and its consequences were slow to emerge. An early report in the Khaleej Times said that the fire was brought quickly under control, the hangar was evacuated, and that no one was injured. An article on FlightGlobal.com added that the fire had started on board an aircraft that was parked at the maintenance facility.

On April 20, the day after the fire, FlightGlobal.com reported that the fire had started on an Airbus A300 belonging to Qatar Airways, and that at least two other aircraft had been damaged as well. One was an Air Mauritius A319 that had been parked in the hangar next to the Qatar Airways A300; the other was an A320 leased by India's Kingfisher Airlines.

UPDATE April 23, 2007:  Today FlightGlobal.com published a follow-up story that includes several pictures from the scene, one of which is displayed above. It is obvious from the photos that the A300 was completely destroyed by the fire. Here is some of what FlightGlobal.com has to say:
Information emerging from Abu Dhabi shows that the fire, initially claimed to have been brief and contained, was far worse than authorities had been prepared to admit.

Almost the entire upper fuselage, from just behind the wing box to a point aft of the flight deck, has been burned through to the crown. Structural failure has resulted in the empennage of the A300 dropping to the hangar floor.

A Gamco source says the whole cabin has been gutted by the blaze and claims that the fire took between one and two hours to extinguish – adding that, although there were no fatalities, an engineer was seriously hurt after jumping from the A300.

Images obtained by FlightGlobal show that authorities have attempted to de-identify the jet by painting over the Qatar Airways logo on the tail fin.

The source says: "They didn't have to bother with the name on the fuselage as it had been completely burned away."
FlightGlobal.com's source confirmed damage to the Kingfisher and Air Mauritius jets, and mentioned that at least three more aircraft in the hangar at the time of the fire were not damaged.

The hangar itself reportedly was not damaged as the fire was confined to the aircraft. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

[Photo Source]

Friday, April 20, 2007

Video: Crosswind landings from around the world

Got a spare four minutes? Have a look at this YouTube video, aptly titled Blowing in the Wind.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

New ATC tower at Heathrow to begin service

LHR towerThe new air traffic control tower at London's Heathrow International Airport (LHR) will go into service this weekend. The switchover will take place on Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 02:00 local time -- a time when the airport is at its quietest.

The new tower is 87 meters high, which is more than twice as high as the existing tower. The older tower has been in service since 1955.

The new landmark tower, operated by NATS, is seen as key to the successful introduction of Heathrow's Terminal 5 next year. According to NATS, the new tower will ensure that LHR's 60 air traffic controllers "remain at the geographic heart of the airfield with an unrivalled 360˚ view."
It also means re-orienting themselves to a different perspective of the airfield, and having time to reinforce their familiarity with the geography. This means that for the first few days, operations will be slowed slightly to maintain safety, and there may be some delays as a result.

Martyn Jeffery, General Manager NATS Heathrow, said: "We are reducing the number of landings while our controllers familiarise themselves with the new tower, so that they have less traffic to deal with than is normally the case.

"I'm confident they will quickly build familiarity. Nonetheless, at an airport used as intensively as Heathrow, this means it is possible there will be some delays to flights although we are working very closely with BAA, and with British Airways, BMI and other airlines, to make sure any delay is minimal."
The older tower is at the geographic center of LHR's current operations, but would be too far off-center to provide optimum service once Terminal 5 opens. The new terminal is scheduled to open in March of 2008.

An article about the new tower on aviation news website FlightGlobal.com has two more photos, including an interior shot of the ATC cab.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

IATA: 2006 safest year on record -- with exceptions

IATAThe International Air Transport Association (IATA) released its annual Safety Report this week, declaring that 2006 was the safest year on record. However not all regions of the world were equally safe. IATA cited Russia and Africa as the two regions in need of significant improvement.

The IATA Safety Report indicates that the 2006 industry hull loss rate was 0.65 accidents per million flights for Western-built jets, which is equivalent to one accident for every 1.5 million flights -— a 14% improvement over 2005. There were 77 accidents in 2006, compared to 111 in 2005. Of these 77 accidents, 46 involved jet aircraft and 31 involved turbo-props.

Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had the highest accident rate of all the regions in 2006. In that region, there were 8.6 Western-built hull losses per million flights -- 13 times the global average. In Africa, there were 4.31 accidents per million flights, the second highest in the world.

Globally, 43% of accidents occurred during operations in adverse weather. IATA says:
Training is a key issue, particularly with respect to the decision to abort landing in bad weather conditions. IATA is working to improve flight crew standards with enhanced training. This focuses on the process leading to the decision to "go-around" (abort landing) as well as the proper execution of the "go-around" once the decision has been taken.
Communication was another important factor contributing to accidents. IATA reports that 38% of accidents involved flight crew communication issues, either between pilots or between pilots and air traffic controllers.

Another contributing factor cited by IATA was flight crew training. Training issues of some kind were involved in 33% of accidents.

Going forward, IATA intends to focus on three other issues as well: 1) Runway safety issues, such as runway incursions or runway misidentification; 2) Ground damage, noting that 10% of accidents in 2006 happened on the ground; and 3) Cargo operations. Approximately 76% of all accidents involved passenger aircraft, compared to 24% for cargo aircraft. IATA notes that this is disproportionate with cargo's 4% of global operations.

"Air transport remains the safest form of travel. But we must do even better. With demand for air travel increasing at 5-6% per year, the accident rate must decrease just to keep the actual number of accidents in check. The goal will always be zero accidents," said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

FAA: Indonesia not in compliance with safety standards

FAAYesterday the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that "Indonesia does not comply with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), following a consultation with the Indonesian civil aviation authority on March 6, 2007." This strongly worded statement came in a press release, which is now posted on the FAA website.

Through its International Aviation Safety Assessments (IASA) program, the FAA rates countries -- not individual carriers -- for compliance with international safety standards and practices for aircraft operations and maintenance, as established by the ICAO. The IASA program defines just two categories: Category 1, in compliance; and Category 2, not in compliance. The FAA has lowered Indonesia's rating from Category 1 to Category2.

In applying a Category 2 rating to a country, the FAA states that the country's civil aviation authority (CAA) has one or more of the following deficiencies:
  • the country lacks laws or regulations necessary to support the certification and oversight of air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards
  • the CAA lacks the technical expertise, resources, and organization to license or oversee air carrier operations
  • the CAA does not have adequately trained and qualified technical personnel
  • the CAA does not provide adequate inspector guidance to ensure enforcement of, and compliance with, minimum international standards
AND:
  • the CAA has insufficient documentation and records of certification and inadequate continuing oversight and surveillance of air carrier operations
In the present case, the FAA says the agency will remain engaged with Indonesia's civil aviation authority "and will periodically review the situation with the intention of encouraging improvements that will qualify Indonesia for a Category 1 rating."

One immediate result of this concern is reflected in the final paragraph of an article published today on the Voice of America website, which says that, "the U.S. embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday warned its citizens not to fly on Indonesian airlines, saying that recent air disasters raise questions about the safety practices of Indonesia air carriers."

Attention has been focused on air safety issues in Indonesia following a series of accidents and safety incidents involving aircraft operated by the country's national flag carrier Garuda, and privately owned Adam Air.

Monday, April 16, 2007

El Al accident on Paris airport taxiway

damageA few days ago, a Boeing 747-400 aircraft operated by El Al had a run-in -- literally! -- with a tug on a taxiway at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) in Paris. The accident did substantial damage to the aircraft, and presumably to the tug. Fortunately no people were injured, but according to the buzz on several message boards and forums, the rampers operating the tug had a very close call.

El Al Flight 324 was preparing to depart from from CDG for a scheduled flight to Tel Aviv. An early report about the accident on the Israeli website YnetNews.com quoted an El Al official who said, "While the plane was being towed ahead of take off, the plane's engine was hit by the towing vehicle. We are now trying to evaluate the damage caused to the engine." However most other reports, including one on the aviation news website FlightGlobal.com, say it was the aircraft that hit the tug, not the other way around.

The article on FlightGlobal.com, which includes two photos, reports:
A spokesman for airports operator Aeroports de Paris says the pushback tractor had been disconnected from the aircraft but was still under the 747 when it started to taxi.

"During the departure the tractor had pushed back the aircraft," he says. "It was still under the aircraft and the pilot decided to go without authorisation from the ground staff. Normally the pilot has to wait for ground staff authorisation before moving."
One of the photos on FlightGlobal.com clearly shows the tug jammed underneath the number three engine. For more photos (and some discussion, for those who can read French) visit this thread on Avia Passion, a French language aviation forum.

[Photo Source]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What happens to an overheated window at FL390

cracked windshieldTake one burned out heating element, apply it to the windshield of a Boeing 757 and what do you get? Have a look at the photo for the answer.

I snagged the photo from the Captain's Log, a blog by an airline captain who writes under the name of FlyGuy. He writes:
There we were minding our own business at Fl 390 when we heard a loud bang, the copilot jumped, and his outside window screen shattered into numerous pieces. This all happened at once and in the blink of an eye. BANG! Then a seriously damaged window.
His blog post, titled Pop Goes the Window (of course!), has more photos -- including one of the burned out heating element that caused the damage -- and tells the rest of the story about this incident.

FlyGuy also reminisces about a particular bird strike experience from his military flying days. The only thing that cracked that time was the poor duck that slammed into that military air transport hardware.

For a good read and interesting photos, click on over to Pop Goes The Window in the Captain's Log.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, April 14, 2007

FAA proposes extending duration of pilot medical certificates

FAAEarlier this week the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in regard to the duration of first-class and third-class medical certificates. The agency is proposing to extend the duration of both first- and third-class medicals for individuals under the age of 40.

Currently, the maximum validity of the first-class medical certificate is six months, regardless of age. The FAA is proposing to extend the duration of first-class medical certificates to one year, for pilots under the age of 40. First-class medical certificates are required for airmen exercising airline transport pilot privileges.

Third-class medical certificates currently are valid for a period of 36 months, for pilots under age 40. The FAA is proposing to extend the duration of third-class medical certificates to five years. Private pilots, recreational pilots, and student pilots must be in possession of at least a third-class medical certificate.

The NPRM document says:
Decreasing the frequency of medical examinations by increasing the duration of validity from 6 months to 1 year on first-class medical certificates for individuals under age 40 and from 36 months to 60 months on third-class medical certificates for individuals under age 40 would reflect the FAA's assessment of the current, appropriate interval for younger airmen.

It also would decrease routine workflow thereby allowing the FAA to focus on the most safety-critical certification cases and provide more efficient service to other applicants waiting to be processed.
The FAA developed this new proposal through a review of relevant medical literature, its own aeromedical certification data, and accident data.

Also taken into consideration was the fact that the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) requires only annual medical certification for airline transport and commercial pilots in multi-crew settings.

No change is proposed for the duration of second-class medical certificates, which is the minimum required for a commercial pilot certificate or an air traffic control tower operator certificate.

Comments on the proposal are due by June 11.

Click here to read the entire Notice of proposed rulemaking: [Docket No. FAA-2007-27812; Notice No. 07-08]

The document includes instructions for submitting comments.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The trouble with cabin crew smoke hoods

FlybeCabin crew everywhere will be interested to read a report just issued by Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) about an in-flight emergency due to smoke inside the aircraft. The cabin crew had to wear smoke hoods during the emergency, but the smoke hoods impaired their ability to communicate with their passengers.

According to the AAIB report, on August 4, 2005, a DHC-8-400 aircraft operated by Flybe was en route from Birmingham to Edinburgh with four crew and 56 passengers on board. Smoke developed inside the flight deck and the cabin. The flight diverted to Leeds Bradford International Airport (LBA) where it made a safe emergency landing.

Here is an account of what happened, with excerpts from the AAIB report.

The incident began when the pilots detected an "oily smell" on the flight deck.
They asked the cabin crew, via the interphone, whether the smell was evident in the passenger cabin and, almost immediately, noticed a white/blue haze appearing on the flight deck, accompanied simultaneously by the toilet smoke alarm.
The pilots donned their smoke masks and began a smoke checklist.
While the pilots were actioning the checklist the two cabin crew members heard the smoke alarm in the forward toilet sound and then found that the toilet was full of whitish coloured smoke. The senior cabin crew member informed the flight crew using the interphone. The pilots' response was delayed because they were occupied with the checklist actions. The cabin crew then donned smoke hoods.
At this point, the captain declared a 'MAYDAY' and descended for an approach to LBA.
...The cabin crew were briefed to prepare the cabin for an emergency landing in 10 minutes and a passenger evacuation on the runway.

The cabin crew found the smoke in the cabin getting thicker, until they could no longer see the length of the cabin. The senior cabin crew member played an emergency announcement tape and made a public address to the passengers, briefing them that there would be an emergency landing, for which they should adopt the brace position.

The cabin crew then checked the passengers and secured cabin baggage. Some passengers enquired about breathing protection for themselves, but smoke protection for passengers is not a requirement on public transport aircraft.
The report goes on to note that as power was increased during the approach there was a significant increase in the smoke inside the aircraft. Hearing difficulties caused by the smoke hoods prevented the cabin crew from hearing the landing calls from the flight deck.

The aircraft landed safely at LBA and the passenger evacuation "proceeded in an orderly fashion." There were no injuries.

The AAIB report includes this note about crew communication during the incident:
In their reports on the incident the flight crew noted that, after the emergency had been declared, a high workload had prevented them from communicating with the cabin crew for some time. The cabin crew commented that delays in obtaining a response from the flight deck to cabin emergency calls at times had caused concern as to the state of the flight crew.

It was suggested that consideration should be given to introducing a standard method by which the flight crew could confirm to the cabin crew that they were not incapacitated but were temporarily too busy to reply, such as a triple activation of the seat belt audio alert in the cabin.

The cabin crew also reported that the smoke hoods had severely hindered ommunications with the passengers, impeding both hearing and being heard. Because of this, one of the cabin crew had removed her hood shortly before landing.
Regarding the smoke hoods, the report concluded that verbal communication while wearing the hood was difficult for the cabin crew due to "a reduction in speech and hearing volume due to the hood and to interference from relatively loud sounds perceived by the hood wearer, caused by rustling of the hood, the sound of the wearer’s breathing and the sound of the wearer's voice."

The report includes several safety recommendations for improved means of emergency communication between the flight deck and the cabin crew, and for a review of cabin crew training in the use of smoke hoods aimed at the ability to communicate while wearing the hoods.

Click here to view AAIB Bulletin: 4/2007 - Bombardier DHC-8-400, G-JECE (10-page 'pdf' file).

[Photo Source]

AirTran supports change of Age 60 rule for pilots

AirTranLow-fare carrier AirTran Airways has announced that the company supports the FAA's proposal to change the mandatory retirement age of commercial airline pilots from 60 to 65. Recently the National Pilots Association (NPA), the union representing AirTran's pilots, endorsed the proposed change in the law.

Here is an excerpt from a news release about AirTran's support of the mandatory retirement rule change:
"AirTran Airways understands that raising the mandatory retirement age for pilots is a positive decision that makes sense for the industry," said Bob Fornaro, president and chief operating officer of AirTran Airways. "Our airline employs well-trained and seasoned professional pilots, and we believe in the great benefits that years of hands-on experience can bring to the job at AirTran Airways."

"The NPA Board of Directors also supports raising the retirement age for pilots to 65, and we are excited that AirTran Airways agrees with the decision," said Capt. Allen Philpot, president of the National Pilots Association. "Provisions need to be put in place now to keep those pilots who satisfy FAA medical standards on the job beyond age 60. It is crucial to keep our most experienced pilots in place just like our international counterparts."
AirTran currently employs about 1,400 pilots. According to the NPA, AirTran is projecting that it will hire its 2,000th pilot in 2008.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fatigue in air traffic controllers: NTSB recommendations

ATCEarlier this week, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), issued several formal Safety Recommendations to address the issue of fatigue in air traffic controllers.

In the first recommendation (A-07-30), the NTSB asks the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union representing the controllers, "to reduce the potential for controller fatigue by revising controller work-scheduling policies and practices to provide rest periods that are long enough for controllers to obtain sufficient restorative sleep and by modifying shift rotations to minimize disrupted sleep patterns, accumulation of sleep debt, and decreased cognitive performance. "

The second recommendation (A-07-31), also directed at the FAA, asks the agency to develop a fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program for controllers, and for those involved in the scheduling of controllers for operational duty, that will address "the incidence of fatigue in the controller workforce, causes of fatigue, effects of fatigue on controller performance and safety, and the importance of using personal strategies to minimize fatigue."

The NTSB recommends that this training be provided in a format that promotes retention, and
that recurrent training should be provided at regular intervals.

The third recommendation (A-07-32) is directed to NATCA. It asks that the union work with the FAA to reduce the potential for controller fatigue "by revising controller work-scheduling policies and practices to provide rest periods that are long enough for controllers to obtain
sufficient restorative sleep and by modifying shift rotations to minimize disrupted sleep patterns, accumulation of sleep debt, and decreased cognitive performance. "

Click here for a printable ('pdf') copy of NTSB Safety Recommendations A-07-30 thru 32, mentioned above. The document is 11 pages long, but definitely is worth reading. As background, it reviews four runway incursions that the NTSB says highlight the impact fatigue can have on controller performance.

The document then goes on to review controller scheduling policies and practices; recent FAA research on controller shiftwork and fatigue; and findings regarding the awareness of fatigue-related issues in the air traffic organization.

This is such an important issue. Now it is up to the FAA and NATCA to cooperate in implementing these recommendations.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Israeli fighter jets intercept Continental flight near Tel Aviv

Continental B777Israeli Air Force warplanes intercepted a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 as it approached Israeli airspace today, after communication between the airliner and Israeli ground control was temporarily lost. Continental Flight 90, a scheduled flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, had nearly 300 people on board.

Israel National News described the incident this way:
Israeli fighter jets came close to shooting down a Continental Airlines plane that lost contact with Ben Gurion Airport’s air traffic control as it approached Israeli airspace.

The IAF jets were scrambled when a Boeing 777, Flight 90 from Newark, New Jersey, failed to make radio contact with the requisite security codes prior to approaching the airport. The fighter jets forced the plane to change its course, at which point the pilot renewed contact.

When it was ascertained that no foul play was involved, the plane, escorted by two F-15s and two F-16s, was allowed to land. All 273 passengers disembarked safely.

Israel Radio quoted an unnamed IAF officer who said the pilots treated the incident as a terror attack in progress and came the closest they ever had to shooting down a civilian airliner.
Israel's daily news magazine Israel Insider adds some details:
Following established anti-terror procedures, two Israel Air Force F-16s above and two F-15s below intercepted Flight 90 from Newark and forced it back over the Mediterranean until communications were restored.

The Transportation Ministry said it was checking whether there was a technical reason for the initial lack of communication between the plane and Israeli ground control. It was suspected that the pilot did not switch to the correct frequency.

A senior Air Force officer said that the IAF went on high alert due to the suspicious incoming aircraft, the Jerusalem Post reported. He said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz were updated about the event and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as well as IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy were placed "online" in case an interception order was needed. "This was the closest we ever came to intercepting a civilian airplane," the officer said. The implication of an interception was that the plane would have been forced down, or shot down.

According to the officer, the pilot contacted Ben-Gurion Air Traffic Control from a distance of 200 miles from Israel but then contact was lost. After the plane reached a 40-mile distance from Israel -- five-minutes to Tel Aviv -- the IAF dispatched its fighter jets.
Back in January of this year I posted a story about a new Israeli security program called Code Positive. The system, intended to prevent 9/11-style terrorist acts using aircraft, might have obviated the need for an interception such as the one today. As far as I know, the Code Positive system is still in preparation, but is not yet operational.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pegasus Airlines B737 hijacked in Turkey

Pegasus AirlinesEarlier today, a man hijacked a Boeing 737-800 aircraft operated by Turkish carrier Pegasus Airlines, threatening to blow up the plane. The aircraft, which was on a domestic flight between Diyarbakir and Istanbul, diverted to Ankara. News reports about the incident say that none of the 174 passengers and six crew on board the plane were injured.

The alleged hijacker was identified by Turkey's Anatolian News Agency as Mehmet Gökşin Göl'ün. He was taken into custody at Ankara's Esenboga Airport after having been "rendered ineffective" by officers of the Ankara Police Anti-Terror Division.

An item about the hijacking on the CNN International website quoted a passenger from the flight who said that the alleged hijacker "did not look suspicious" and did not appear to be threatening anyone, but that he tried to approach the cockpit, and told the flight crew he had "something in his belt" and wanted to fly to Iran.

A Reuters report, citing the Anatolian News Agency as its source, described the alleged hijacker as an unemployed man from Diyarbakir with a drug-related criminal record. According to Reuters, Turkish officials denied an earlier media report that a woman had also been arrested in connection with the incident.

[Photo Source]

Monday, April 09, 2007

Air India: Two emergency landings at Delhi in one day

Air IndiaAir traffic at Indira Ghandi International Airport in Delhi was disrupted earlier today in the wake of two emergency landings by Air India planes. Both aircraft landed safely and no one was injured in either incident, however one of the aircraft became disabled at the end of a runway. The runway had to be closed until the aircraft was removed using heavy equipment. Another runway remained open.

Air India Flight AI 349 developed "landing gear problems," according to a number of press reports. The Airbus A310, which was arriving from Bangkok, made a safe landing, but its nose gear apparently collapsed as the plane was being towed from the runway "leaving the aircraft's tail jutting out onto the runway near one end," according to a Reuters article. Passengers were deplaned on the runway and taken to the terminal by bus.

Hours later a second aircraft, Air India Flight AI 736 arriving from Dubai, declared an emergency after developing what news reports called "a hydraulic problem." The Boeing 767 aircraft landed safely, too, and later was towed to a hangar.

News reports say that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Air India are investigating both incidents.

Click here to view a five-minute CNN-IBN video about these incidents.

[Photo Source]

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Aspen Airport (ASE) closed until June for repairs

ASEAspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) -- AKA 'Sardy Field' -- will close on April 9, at 11:00 local time, and will remain closed for the next 60 days. During the closure, crews will remove and replace the airport’s deteriorating runway and perform interior and exterior airport terminal maintenance, according to information posted on the airport's Runway Rehabilitation Project website. The 7,000-foot runway at ASE has not been overhauled since 1983.

While ASE is closed, other airports in the area will be taking up the slack. An article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel says:
Because Aspen's airport will be closed, United Express doubled its daily flights to six between Eagle County Airport in Gypsum and Denver International Airport. Eagle County Airport is 63 miles from Aspen, and ground transportation to Aspen is available.

Walker Field Airport in Grand Junction doesn't expect any noticeable increase in takeoffs and landings because of Aspen's closure, Walker Field Manger Rex Tippetts said. Most private pilots likely will use the Garfield County Regional Airport outside Rifle, he said.

Garfield County Airport Manager Brian Condie agrees, but said he doesn't know what to expect. April is the slowest month for the Garfield County facility, with about 200 landings, he said.

"We're prepared to handle as many as 2,000 a month," Condie said. "I don't think anybody knows how many we'll see. But we're ready."

If business exceeds the airport’s ability to handle the extra traffic, Condie said he arranged with DIA to locate a temporary control tower at the airport. Garfield County has no manned control tower or commercial flights. Private and corporate jet pilots use sight and instruments, along with radio contact at the airport's flight-based operator.

Hangar space is already at a premium, Condie said, and five new hangars are planned or under construction. Twenty private aircraft owners have contacted him about temporarily relocating to the Rifle airport while Aspen is closed, he said.
The runway will not be extended or widened during this phase of the project, and none of the planned improvements will allow larger planes to fly into Aspen. The Aspen runway project is expected to cost about $12 million.

If you are interested in this airport, you might like to have a look at this Information and Myths document, posted on the Runway Rehabilitation Project website.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Crash pad crackdown near Chicago Midway

by B. N. Sullivan

signAirline commuters take note: Chicago is cracking down on crash pads in the area around Midway Airport.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a Southwest Side resident anonymously tipped off authorities about the location of nearly two dozen crash pads in the area.
Forty inspections were conducted over the last three months, resulting in 31 violations for illegally operating as "transitional shelters."

Four openly acknowledged the violations and shut the crash pads down. Twelve offered no response. Their cases will be forwarded to the city's Law Department for prosecution in Circuit Court -- with fines as high as $1,000 a day.

Five others were snared for illegal conversions -- residential units illegally carved into the attic or basement of single family homes. All of the crash pads were located within a mile of Midway Airport.

"Flights are arriving at all hours. You have people coming and going at all hours. It could be a fire risk," said Zoning Administrator Patty Scudiero. "In one case, we saw four sets of bunk beds. That's eight people, in addition to the owner. The next night, it was another eight."
Ah yes, the glamorous life of pilots and flight attendants -- sleeping in bunk beds, eight to a room! Scandalous! (You'll pardon my sarcasm.)

From a quick scan of the news headlines, it looks like a Sun-Times reporter broke this story. The Associated Press picked it up, and now other newspapers and TV stations in Illinois are churning out their versions.

The Chicago Tribune focused on the safety issue, which apparently is at the heart of the Zoning Authority's concern:
Bunk beds in basements with one exit. Twenty people living in one residence. Attics illegally converted into living space.

These are the part-time living conditions of some pilots and flight attendants based out of Midway Airport.
The Chicago Tribune article also quotes Patty Scudiero, the Zoning Administrator. "They could be legalized and they could be safe," she said. "It is tricky, but it is a safety issue for us."

The Chicago Tribune said that most of the inspected homes were on South Kolmar and Kilbourn Avenues and 55th Street, and that the city doesn't plan to target the neighborhoods around O'Hare International Airport unless it receive complaints.

Don't hold your breath: Now that there's all of this hubbub about crash pads around Midway, something tells me it's only a matter of time before some "anonymous tipster" near O'Hare squawks about all of the crash pads there, too.

[Photo Source]

New labor pact for Brussels Airlines cabin crew

A Collective Labour Agreement between Brussels Airlines and its cabin crew union was reached this week.

An article about the new agreement on Expatica said:
The reduction of the rotation period from 40 to 30 minutes on certain routes was a particular bone of contention. This new rotation time will stay in force, but in return for certain benefits, such as guarantees on income, the promise of a new assessment system and food-vouchers on European flights, emphasised Anita Van Hoof, the union representative.
The article goes on to say that Brussels Airlines cabin crew had been opposing the reduction since the airline's launch. It is not yet clear whether these actions will now be abandoned.

[Photo Source]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin for CRJ aircraft

FAAThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a 'Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin' (SAIB) for Bombardier Model CL 600-2B19 aircraft (CRJ 100/200/440).

The SAIB says that operators have reported numerous incidents of flap failures during cold weather operations, and that "water ingress into flap system components with subsequent freezing appears to be a significant factor."

Excerpt:
As previously reported in AOM 1020, a recent flaps failure occurrence resulted in a fuel shortage on landing. The crew executed a missed approach due to weather conditions at the destination airport. During the missed approach, the flaps could not be retracted from the 45-degree position.

The crew began a diversion to their alternate airport, and declared a fuel emergency due to fuel consumption calculations. An airport slightly closer than the alternate was selected, and the aircraft landed safely with approximately 500 lbs of fuel remaining.

There have also been a number of reported cases of flap system malfunctions where
the flaps either do not extend at all or fail to extend significantly out of the 0 degree position. Fleet data shows that the rate of occurrence of these events increases during operation in cold temperatures. The increased frequency of these events is the subject of a detailed Bombardier and system supplier investigation. In the interim, flight crews should be aware of the possibility of these kinds of events.

Operations to remote or runway limited airfields, or operations involving wet or
contaminated runways may have to be reviewed and guidance provided to the crews to ensure that the risks of flap failures have been mitigated.

Operators should verify that their flight crew members are provided with the appropriate information, such as that found in the Performance section of QRH Vol. 1 and associated training, with emphasis on decision-making and performance considerations for these situations. Issues such as night operations and/or early closure of some airports, due to reduced business volume, may reduce the availability of some potential diversion airports. [SAIB: NM-07-26]
In addition to fuel shortage and landing distance issues, there could potentially be obstacle clearance and climb performance issues.

Click here for a printable ('pdf') version of SAIB: NM-07-26.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What caused the crash of Comair Flight 5191?

ComairAn interesting article in today's Lexington Herald-Leader summarizes the points raised by various groups about what caused the crash of Comair Flight 5191 on August 27, 2006. The views were included in documents submitted to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as contributions to its investigation of the accident at Lexington, Kentucky in which 49 of the 50 souls on board perished.

While the Herald-Leader article provides a good quick reference, using bullet points, here's some expansion on the newspaper summary, based on a reading of the actual documents.

The document submitted by Comair, Inc., the company operating the accident aircraft, acknowledges that the conduct of its flight crew contributed to the accident, but states that "it would be simple but inaccurate to conclude that the only cause of this tragic accident was a mistake by Comair's well-trained and experienced flight crew." In support of that argument, the document comments at length on the airline's internal safety management process.

The Comair document cites inadequate runway surveillance by the air traffic controller on duty at the time of the accident as a contributing factor. In addition, Comair notes that the Jeppesen and NACO (National Aeronautic Charting Office) charts used by its pilots had incorrect information, and that a NOTAM about the taxiway used that morning also was inaccurate.

A document submitted by NATCA (the National Air Traffic Controllers Association), states flatly, "The probable cause of the accident was Comair 5191 crew's failure to maintain situational awareness while taxiing for departure as well as failure of the crew to ascertain that the runway they were taking off from was the assigned departure runway." In support of their view, they include in their document excerpts of the pre-departure conversation between the two pilots, and between the flight crew and the air traffic controller, as transcribed from the aircraft's Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). The conversations, NATCA contends, show that the crew did not maintain the 'sterile cockpit' requirement while they were taxiing, and that this probably compromised their situational awareness.

NATCA cites the FAA's failure "to properly staff the Air Traffic Control tower" as a contributing factor. NATCA notes that there was only one controller on duty in the tower at Lexington at the time of the accident, while FAA directives actually required that there be two controllers on duty on that shift -- one for tower functions, and one for radar functions. NATCA's document cites a list of 31 discrete activities carried out by the lone controller in the tower in the 23 minutes immediately preceding the accident. They use this list to illustrate the task load placed on this single individual, noting that 14 of the 31 activities should have been carried out by a radar controller.

A third document was that submitted by the the Director of Operations of Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, the site of the accident. This document also cites the CVR transcript as evidence for the "loss of situational and location awareness by the flight crew" and violation of sterile cockpit procedures. This led to "the positioning of the airplane incorrectly on Runway 26." The airport management's document goes on to cite "at least eight examples of inattention and lack of focus by the flight crew, especially the First Officer, all of which illustrated the lack of professionalism by the pilots."

In their own defense, the airport management's document states that the airport taxiways, markings, lights and signage all complied with safety standards and certification requirements of the FAA. They point a finger of blame at the FAA and Jeppesen for publishing and distributing inaccurate charts and diagrams of the airport runways and taxiways, while mentioning that a NOTAM issued by the airport did provide "correct information to supplement the existing charts and diagrams."

The fourth document in this set was submitted by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing the flight crew of Comair Flight 5191. At 127 pages in length, ALPA's submission is the lengthiest. Here is the Overview from that document (reparagraphed for easier reading).
As a party to this investigation, the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) has identified numerous safety concerns which will be addressed in this document.

Some of the areas of concern are as follows: First, numerous changes to the airport’s layout were not accurately presented to the crew.

Second, some of the Notices to Airman (NOTAM) reflecting the changes to the airport were not made known to the accident crew.

Third, ALPA has identified several human factor concerns relating to situational awareness including fatigue and workload management.

Fourth, our investigation has identified areas of concern regarding air traffic control policy and procedures which led to inadequate staffing, fatigue, and lack of controller vigilance.

Finally, poor coordination between the air traffic controller and the airport crash and rescue personnel delayed the first responders. Additionally, lack of proper emergency locator equipment caused further delay when personnel were not immediately able to accurately locate the wreckage location.
The document goes on to present an extensive analysis, with numerous illustrations, and ALPA's recommendations regarding each of the points. In all, the ALPA document's findings detail 35 discrete items that they found contributed to the accident.

The ALPA document concludes that the flight crew were given misleading information from taxiway signage and lighting cues, which led them to believe that their aircraft was in the correct position for takeoff on Runway 22, when in fact they had entered Runway 26. In addition, ALPA cites a "deficiency in the FAA/NFDC/Jeppesen chart revision process," such that the charts available to the crew "did not accurately reflect what they would be encountering that morning during taxi operations."

The ALPA document also cites understaffing at the Lexington air traffic control tower on the morning of the accident, and acknowledges that the controller "was operating in a fatigued state." But unlike the other documents, which focus on the FAA's failure to ensure that the tower was adequately staffed, the ALPA document focuses on the actions of the controller himself, stating:
Available evidence indicates the controller did not maintain vigilance ensuring the correct taxi route and runway were used. After the controller cleared the aircraft for takeoff, he almost immediately turned his back to address administrative duties. Had he maintained an increased level of vigilance related to controlling this aircraft, he may have noticed that the aircraft had entered the incorrect runway. As part of his duties, the controller was responsible for issuing ATIS broadcasts at LEX. Critical NOTAM information which would have enhanced the situational awareness of the crew was omitted from the ATIS broadcasts.
This is an unusually long post for this blog, I know. If you have read this far, you must have a keen interest either in this specific accident, or in the aviation accident investigation process. In either case, I encourage you to read all of the documents mentioned in this post.

Many thanks to the Herald-Leader for publishing the links to the documents.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

John Travolta's Boeing 707 makes emergency landing at Shannon

Boeing 707A Boeing 707 aircraft owned by actor John Travolta made an emergency landing at Shannon, Ireland due to a "technical problem." The aircraft, which had been en route from Germany to New York, landed safely and no one was injured. Travolta and his party later completed their journey on a different private jet.

An article about the incident on FlightGlobal.com notes that the 53 year old actor is the only private individual to own a Boeing 707. That's it in the photo, wearing the distinctive Qantas V-jet livery. Travolta, known as an avid aviation enthusiast, was reportedly piloting the aircraft at the time.

Of course, the non-aviation news media -- and especially those specializing in celebrity gossip -- are having a field day dramatizing this event. For example, British celebrity news website Fametastic quoted an 'inside source' who said, "If he hadn't made it to Shannon, it could have been the end of him. You could tell that he was very relieved."

Gee, ya think?

[Photo Source]

Pinnacle misses crucial pilot contract deadline

Pinncale AirlinesRegional carrier Pinnacle Airlines missed a March 31, 2007 deadline for completing a contract agreement with its pilots. While the company says that it plans to continue negotiating with the pilots, the missed deadline has potential consequences beyond the labor contract -- specifically, the loss of 17 of its aircraft.

According to a news release on MarketWire, Pinnacle was awarded 17 CRJ 200 aircraft in December 2006 by Northwest, its former parent. As a part of a service agreement with Northwest, Pinnacle was required to have reached an agreement with its pilots by March 31, 2007, else these aircraft could revert to Northwest. Fifteen of those17 aircraft were added into service during first quarter 2007.

The news release goes on to explain that, as a result of Northwest obtaining the right to remove the 17 aircraft, the size of Pinnacle's unsecured claim against Northwest will increase by $42.5 million. Receipt of this claim partially off-sets the loss of income associated with these 17 aircraft.

"Although I am extremely disappointed we have not reached an agreement, tremendous progress has been made and I appreciate the hard work of the Pilot's negotiating committee to move these discussions forward," said Philip H. Trenary, Pinnacle's President and Chief Executive Officer. "Reaching an agreement is important to all our stakeholders -- Pilots, other employee groups, investors -- and we will continue to work diligently to reach an agreement."

Pinnacle's flight attendants ratified a four-year contract with the airline in early March of this year.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

FAA Airworthiness Directive for Boeing 777 aircraft

FAAThe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a new Airworthiness Directive (AD) for Boeing Model 777 aircraft. This is not an emergency AD.

This new AD requires a one-time inspection to determine the part number of the left and right air supply and cabin pressure controllers (ASCPCs) and installation of new ASCPC software if necessary.

This AD results from a report of an ASCPC failure during flight. The FAA says that this unsafe condition is likely to exist or develop on other airplanes of the same type design.

The intention of this AD is to prevent an ASCPC failure that could stop airflow into the airplane, inhibit the cabin altitude warning message, and cause an incorrect display of cabin altitude. These failures could result in depressurization of the airplane without warning.

Here are some of the details from the document, designated AD 2007-07-05:
We have received a report indicating that the left air supply and cabin pressure controller (ASCPC) incorrectly shut off the right air conditioning pack and the left bleed, and erratically opened and closed the isolation valves, on a Model 777 airplane during flight.

This resulted in periods of loss of conditioned inflow to the cabin and flight deck. The flightcrew descended the airplane to 10,000 feet and returned to the airport.

Investigation into this event revealed that the actions of the ASCPC resulted from a solder defect in the Aeronautical Radio, Inc. (ARINC) 629 hardware that occurred during manufacturing.

The manufacturing error was determined to be an isolated event. However, subsequent analysis revealed a software deficiency within the ASCPC that would not detect this single point failure.

This defect caused an intermittent open to ARINC 629 built-in-test (BIT) 13 for all input words. This, in turn, caused the ASCPC to enter the auxiliary power unit-to-pack takeoff (APT) mode above 30,000 feet.

The ASCPC internal BIT did not detect the defect and allowed the ASCPC to continue to operate. This condition, if not corrected, could stop airflow into the airplane, inhibit the cabin altitude warning message, and cause an incorrect display of cabin altitude. These failures could result in depressurization of the airplane without warning.
Click here to read the entire FAA Emergency Airworthiness Directive, AD 2007-07-05.

Click here for a printable ('pdf') version of AD 2007-07-05.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...

This past September United Airlines introduced a clever piece of equipment to some of its gates at Denver International Airport. It's called the Dewbridge DoubleDocker jet bridge, and it allows passengers to board or deplane simultaneously from two doors on the aircraft into one gate area (see photo).

The DoubleDocker is intended to save both time and money. First, of course, since it allows passengers to board and deplane more quickly, faster aircraft turn-around times are possible.

The DoubleDocker also saves more time and money because it is fully automated. According to the manufacturer, DEW Engineering and Development Ltd., it provides apron scanning and parking instructions for the arriving aircraft -- faster and more accurate aircraft parking, with no need to wait for a marshal.

This kind of automation, says the manufacturer, also means that no ramper or customer service agent is required to drive the jet bridge. Rampers can focus on other tasks, like aircraft servicing and baggage handling. Customer service agents can concentrate on ticketing, seat assignments, and related tasks. Passenger processing at the gate happens much more quickly -- and think of all the time and money saved by not having to cross-train those people to park aircraft and drive the jet bridge.

Have a look at the second photo at right and you can see an example of how the rear section of the DoubleDocker goes right over the wing of an aircraft to meet with an aft door. Pretty spiffy.

But, like all things automated, sooner or later something goes haywire, and when it does it can be potentially very costly.

Last week, a United Airlines B757 aircraft had a run-in -- literally -- with a DoubleDocker jet bridge at Denver. United Flight 965 had just arrived from Boston on March 30, 2007 when, as the FAA's preliminary report about the incident says, "while positioning at the gate, the rear part of the jetway collapsed onto the left wing." Oopsie.

The FAA report said that the extent of the damage to the aircraft (and presumably to the jet bridge) was "unknown." The aircraft did not continue on its next scheduled leg. Fortunately, no one one was injured.

An item about the incident in the Denver Post said that the 176 passengers and 8 crew exited the plane through the functioning front door and bridge. More details from the Denver Post article:

In September, United said it was leading the airline industry in introducing fully automated dual-end jet bridges at DIA, which allow the boarding and de-planing of passengers from front and rear doors simultaneously.

United has five of the dual-end jet bridges at DIA, [United spokeswoman Megan] McCarthy said. They are computer-guided and driven, and use a combination of artificial vision and sensors to locate the plane's doors and drive the front and rear bridges to their docking positions, according to information United released last year.

The unit's rear bridge, the one that malfunctioned, is supposed to travel over the wing to dock with the plane's rear door. The devices are made by Dewbridge Airport Systems and carry the trade name DoubleDocker.

United owns the jet bridges, but DIA maintains them, McCarthy said. "We're doing a complete investigation with the airport and the manufacturer" to find out why the bridge hit the wing.

"We're still trying to figure out exactly what happened," DIA spokesman Steve Snyder said.
An  article, published on Forbes.com  quoted Dewbridge Vice President Neil Hutton who said that the company is investigating, and had no idea what caused the collapse.

It's fully automated. Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...

[Photo Source]

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy Birthday, NTSB - 40 years today

NTSBThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) opened its doors 40 years ago today: April 1, 1967. Since then, the NTSB has investigated about 130,000 aviation accidents and thousands of accidents in the other modes of transportation: highway, rail, marine and pipeline. Its major product is the safety recommendation, each of which represents a potential safety improvement. In its 40 years, the NTSB has issued some 12,600 safety recommendations, with an average acceptance rate of 82 percent.

Although the NTSB deals with every mode of transportation in the U.S., much of its work is devoted to aviation. The agency is charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States.
Aviation safety has improved, in part, because investigations now feature digital flight recorders with many hundreds of parameters, where foil recorders 40 years ago provided only 5 parameters and had to be read out by hand. Equipment or operational problems can now be more readily and confidently identified.

Turbine engines are so reliable that twin-engine aircraft are now allowed to fly for thousands of miles over open water.

Computers have led to the development of extremely realistic flight simulators, allowing pilots to be trained to handle virtually any conceivable flight condition.

Systems developed and installed on airliners - resulting at least in part from NTSB recommendations - have virtually eliminated mid-air collisions and controlled flight into terrain crashes in this country for aircraft so equipped.

If the air carrier accident rate were the same today as it was in 1965, the United States would average a fatal airliner accident every 10 days. Except for the terrorist attacks of 2001 - which were deliberate criminal acts - no year since 1990 has seen more than 4 fatal scheduled air carrier accidents in the United States. The annual number of general aviation crashes has dropped by two thirds in the last 40 years. [NTSB News].
On the occasion of the agency's 40th anniversary, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said, "I am confident that in the years to come the National Transportation Safety Board will continue to be at the forefront of identifying safety problems in the transportation system and recommending changes to eliminate them. I think our nation has been well-served by the career professionals who comprise the dedicated workforce of the NTSB. I congratulate them and all who have come before them over the last 40 years."

Happy Birthday, NTSB. Onward and upward!