Sunday, August 31, 2008

Aircraft separation incident: Delta Boeing 737 and Transaero Boeing 747

Delta Air Lines B737 tailAn aircraft separation incident over the Atlantic Ocean involving two passenger aircraft is being investigated by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The two aircraft involved in the incident were a Boeing 737-800 operated by Delta Air Lines, and a Boeing 747-400 operated by Russian carrier Transaero. No one was injured.

According to information provided by the NTSB, on August 28, 2008, at approximately 18:37 Atlantic Standard Time, the two aircraft "came within zero feet vertical and 1 minute lateral separation at an altitude of 33,000 feet about 179 miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico." The incident occurred over the Atlantic Ocean in a non-radar environment where 15 minutes of lateral separation is required.

The NTSB says that the Transaero 747 "descended 200-300 feet after receiving an alert from its Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)." The NTSB statement did not mention what action was taken by the Delta aircraft.

The Transaero Boeing 747-400, operating as Flight TSO 554, was en route from Moscow Domodedovo International Airport to Punta Cana International Airport in the Dominican Republic. The Delta Air Lines Boeing 737-800, operating as Flight DAL 485, was en route from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New york to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad.

UPDATE Feb. 23, 2009: The NTSB reports probable cause for this incident as follows: "The San Juan CERAP controllers failure to ensure the two aircraft were properly separated using non-radar separation standards."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

NTSB investigating runway incursion at Fresno, CA

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the circumstances surrounding a runway incursion incident yesterday, Aug. 28, 2008, at Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT). The incident involved a SkyWest regional jet, which nearly collided with a smaller aircraft that had failed to vacate a runway on which the SkyWest flight was landing. No one was injured.

SkyWest Airlines Flight SKW69R, a Canadair CRJ-200 aircraft, was arriving on a scheduled flight from Salt Lake City when the incident occurred. According to information provided by the NTSB, at approximately 21:07 local time a Piper PA-46 landed at Fresno on runway 29R. Before the aircraft had exited the runway, the tower controller cleared the SkyWest CRJ to land on the same runway. The SkyWest crew saw the Piper and veered to the right side of the runway, missing the other aircraft by an estimated 15 feet, wingtip to wingtip.

The NTSB notes that the incident occurred at night with 10 miles visibility.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Preliminary factual report issued for Qantas Boeing 747 depressurization incident

Qantas logoThe Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a preliminary factual report regarding the in-flight decompression of a Qantas Boeing 747-400 last month. Readers will recall that on July 25, 2008, Qantas Flight QF30 experienced a rapid decompression while en route from Hong Kong to Melbourne. The aircraft (registration number VH-OJK) diverted to Manila, where it made a safe emergency landing. Once on the ground, a large hole in the fuselage was discovered. No one among the passengers and crew on board the flight were injured.

The preliminary factual report issued today by the ATSB reviews the course of events on Flight QF30 and confirms that "the fuselage rupture was aligned with the nominal position of the number-4 passenger emergency oxygen cylinder" in the aircraft's forward cargo hold, and that the oxygen cylinder - one of seven in the bank of cylinders that provided emergency oxygen to the passenger cabin - was missing.

Today's report made clear that one oxygen cylinder had ruptured, and was believed to have caused the breach in the aircraft's pressure hull. How or why the cylinder ruptured has not yet been determined.

The ATSB media release accompanying the report says:
On the basis of the physical damage to the aircraft's forward cargo hold and cabin, it was evident that the number-4 passenger oxygen cylinder sustained a failure that allowed a sudden and complete release of the pressurised contents. The rupture and damage to the aircraft's fuselage was consistent with being produced by the energy associated with that release of pressure. Furthermore, it was evident that as a result of the cylinder failure, the vessel was propelled upward, through the cabin floor and into the cabin space. Damage and impact witness marks found on the structure and fittings around the R2 cabin door showed the trajectory of the cylinder after the failure.
The report includes a number of graphics that illustrate the likely trajectory of the cylinder, based on the observed damage (links below).

The ATSB media release goes on to say:
The investigation to date has also identified other damage to the aircraft, including severing and damage to numerous electrical cables and cable bundles, routed through the lower aircraft fuselage near the point of rupture. In addition, both right side (first officer's) aileron control cables, routed along the right side of the fuselage above the passenger oxygen cylinders, were fractured during the rupture event. However, the aircraft control systems have a redundancy arrangement whereby the first officer's aileron control cables are duplicated by the captain's system, the cables from which were routed along the opposite (left) side of the forward cargo hold. Interlinks between the aileron systems provided the necessary redundancy in this instance, ensuring the continued safety of flight after the event.
Another aspect of the investigation entails cabin safety issues, especially the status of the passenger oxygen masks and equipment. The investigation found that 476 passenger oxygen masks had deployed, and 426 of those had been activated. (Days after the incident, the ATSB had reported that "In all, 484 masks had deployed. Of those, 418 had been activated by pulling on the mask to activate the flow of oxygen.") Of note, the report says that forward crew rest and customer support manager station masks had not deployed.

The investigation is ongoing. Still underway are an engineering investigation into the apparent oxygen cylinder failure; examination of cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder and quick access recorder information; and a survey of all passengers on the flight.

Links to information released today by the ATSB:
Previous articles on Aircrew Buzz about this incident and the investigation:
RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Qantas Flt 30 on Aircrew Buzz.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Insolvent transatlantic carrier Zoom Airlines ceases operations

Zoom Airlines B767-300ERLow fare transatlantic carrier Zoom Airlines suspended operations today due to insolvency. According to a message posted on the Zoom website, the airline suspended operations with as of 18:00 UTC on Aug. 28, 2008. All flights have been canceled and Zoom's aircraft have been grounded.

The message on the website explained, "Both Zoom Airlines Inc. and Zoom Airlines Ltd., the Canadian and UK airlines, will be filing for insolvency proceedings in their home countries today."

News reports, including a story published today by the UK's Times Online, say that two of Zoom's aircraft were refused permission to depart as creditors attempted to seize assets in the hours before the insolvency announcement. From the Times Online:
A Zoom flight from Glasgow to Halifax and Ottawa was grounded by BAA, the airports operator, this morning for non-payment of European and British air traffic control fees, stranding 205 passengers.

A further 156 passengers at Glasgow were also left without a flight when their plane was grounded in Canada for failure to pay aircraft leasing and airport fees.
The Times article went on to say that aviation regulators presumably refused to allow the airline to continue operating without the immediate payment of debts to air traffic controllers, and that suppliers were refusing to refuel Zoom's aircraft unless they were paid in cash, which would have cost about £30,000 per flight. In addition, Reuters reports, Zoom is said to owe Calgary's airport authority C$400,000 ($380,000) in landing fees.

Zoom founders Hugh and John Boyle said in a statement that the airline's demise was due to "the unprecedented increase in the price of aviation fuel and the economic climate." They said they had been trying to obtain re-financing for their financially troubled airline, but had failed to do so. As a result, the airline had to cease operations.

In its story about the demise of Zoom Airlines, the AFP news service quoted an Transport Canada official who said that the carrier had "voluntarily returned its operating license to Transport Canada."

No word yet on the fate of the airline's hundreds of employees. It is not clear if any arrangements were made to repatriate Zoom crews who were at out-stations at the time of the shut-down, or if they have been left stranded. Anyone who has such information is welcome to post it in the comments.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

United Airlines will furlough 1,550 flight attendants

United Airlines logoUnited Airlines has announced plans to reduce its flight attendant work force by 1,550, effective Oct. 31, 2008. The announcement came in a letter issued this morning to the the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing United Airlines cabin crew.

Today's announcement had been anticipated for many months. United Airlines had suspended recruitment of new flight attendants in March of this year. At that time, the flight attendants' union was notified that the airline was planning to downsize its fleet. In early June, United Airlines first made public its capacity reduction plans, and offered some of its senior flight attendants an 'Early Out' Program that provided incentives to voluntarily separate from the company. Weeks later, United announced that 950 of its pilots would be furloughed in the Fall of 2008.

In accordance with the provisions of the labor contract between United Airlines and the AFA, the airline must first offer voluntary furloughs to its flight attendants before imposing involuntary furloughs. According to the AFA, flight attendants who choose a voluntary furlough will continue to accrue seniority and receive many benefits, including retention of medical and dental benefits as well as travel benefits. Voluntary furloughs of durations ranging from six to 21 months are being offered.

Should fewer than the target number of 1,550 voluntary furloughs be awarded, a secondary method for reducing the number of involuntary furloughs, called the Partnership Flying Program, may be offered in bases with an overage of flight attendants. Partnership Flying, essentially a job-sharing scheme, will be offered only if an overage of flight attendants still exists after all voluntary furloughs have been awarded.

For more information about aspects of the United Airlines flight attendant furloughs, visit the website of AFA's United Master Executive Council.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New details about the Spanair MD-82 crash in Madrid

SpanairSpanish officials held a press conference earlier today regarding the fatal crash last week of a Spanair MD-82 aircraft at Madrid's Barajas International Airport. The investigation into the cause of the accident, which happened on August 20, 2008 as Spanair Flight JK5022 was departing Madrid for the Canary Islands, is ongoing. However Francisco Javier Soto of the Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC), the Spanish agency leading the accident investigation, provided some details about what is known so far.

According to an account of the press conference published by the Spanish news service El Mundo, the aircraft was airborne only briefly before hitting the ground tail first, and then bouncing three times across the area adjacent to runway 36 L at Barajas Airport. The aircraft's tailcone is believed to have separated first; subsequently the rest of the aircraft broke up progressively with each bounce and caught fire.

Soto stated that no skid marks or other signs of contact by the aircraft were found on the runway itself, but that the aircraft continued for about 1,200 meters after it left the runway, bouncing over the uneven terrain. Soto indicated that the uneven ground contributed to the destruction of the aircraft.

Both of the aircraft's engines have been recovered, and Soto said that their condition was good enough to expect them to yield important information. Both the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and the flight data recorder (FDR) have been recovered, and data from both devices is being evaluated. The FDR was damaged, but technicians in England are in the process of enhancing the data. Soto indicated that the data obtained from both devices was expected to provide valuable contributions to the investigation.

The Commission expects to issue a preliminary accident report within a month. That report will present factual information, but the investigation into the accident's cause will continue for some time.

The death toll from the Spanair accident has climbed to 154, as one of the initial survivors has succumbed to injuries. Two accident survivors, including a child, have been released from medical care to date.

Names of the crew members have not been officially released, however news reports have said that one flight attendant, identified as Antonia Martinez Jimenez, has survived. She was not working on the accident flight, but was on board as a (dead-heading) passenger.

An online Condolences Book has been established on the Spanair website.

UPDATE Sep. 17, 2008: Aviation news website Flight International published an article today with information from the draft report on the Spanair accident by Spain's Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC). The report includes a timeline of events leading to the crash. Here is the link to the article: Inquiry timeline details Spanair MD-82 crash sequence - Flight International, Sep. 17, 2008

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Spanair Flt 5022 on Aircrew Buzz.

Monday, August 25, 2008

With union support, Spirit Airlines pilots vow to 'force this company back on track'

Spirit Airlines A321The pilots at U.S. low fare carrier Spirit Airlines have been at odds with the airline's management for some time -- and that's putting it mildly. For more than a year, the pilots have been accusing the airline's management of contract violations. More recently, the situation deteriorated further when, among other things, pilots who legitimately called in sick or fatigued were being disciplined and threatened with job loss by Spirit Airlines management. Now the pilots' union is formally stepping in "to support the Spirit pilots and their efforts to fight against the irresponsible actions of Spirit management."

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has authorized a $2 million grant to the Spirit Airlines pilots. According to the union, the grant from ALPA's Major Contingency Fund will fund "training, education, and activities that will shine a spotlight on the activities of Spirit's increasingly out-of-touch management with its workforce, its customers, and its business model."

The pilots contend that, in the two years since Ben Baldanza and his management team took the helm at Spirit Airlines, they have repeatedly disregarded labor contracts and blamed the pilots for service, planning, and staffing failures for which management alone is responsible.

"From the often offensive advertising campaigns to the unethical treatment of their employees, management's actions have destroyed much of the reputation and customer base of Spirit Airlines," said Capt. Sean Creed, chair of the Spirit unit of ALPA. "With the backing of our national union, we will work to restore the proud tradition of Spirit airlines that we helped build and make it a great place to work and a great airline to fly.

"Baldanza appears to be intent on destroying Spirit Airlines," Capt. Creed continued. "Since the investors seem unwilling to rein him in, it's up to the employees to force this company back on track."

This is not the first time in recent months that ALPA's Executive Board has granted money from the union's Major Contingency Fund to one of its units for the purpose of responding to what the pilots see as threats to the pilot profession and to their careers. In May of this year, ALPA announced allocations of $5 million each to the ALPA units at United Airlines and Continental Airlines. At that time ALPA’s president, Capt. John Prater, warned airline managements to include pilots in their business planning, stating, "Those who try to exclude us will fail. We are airline pilots who are determined and committed to restoring our contracts as the foundation of our profession."

[Photo Source]

Many killed in Itek Air Boeing 737-200 crash in Kyrgyzstan

Itek AirOn Sunday, August 24, 2008, a Boeing 737-200 aircraft owned by Itek Air crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan. According to information on the airline's website (Russian language), the aircraft was operated by Iran Aseman Airlines as Flight 6895. News stories about the crash have varied in reporting the number of souls on board and the number of casualties, however the Itek Air website says that there were 84 passengers and six crew members on board the accident aircraft. Itek Air says that 68 of the passengers were killed, and that 16 passengers and all six crew members survived the crash, although not without injuries.

On the evening of the accident, the aircraft departed Manas International Airport at Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, bound for Tehran, Iran. Itek Air says that the aircraft departed Bishkek at 20:30 local time, and that the accident happened at 20:42. News reports have said that the aircraft was attempting to return to Bishkek, but crashed before reaching the airfield, and a fire ensued.

The Russian news service RIA Novosti reported that the registration number of the accident aircraft was EX-009, although this has not been independently confirmed.

If more factual information about this accident becomes available, I will report it here on Aircrew Buzz.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Labor federation says Mexicana cabin crew denied right to collective bargaining

ITFThe International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), a federation of unions representing workers in the transportation industry worldwide, claims that the Mexican government has breached its own labor laws after cabin crew working for Mexicana Airlines, the Mexican national carrier, were denied the right to collective bargaining.

A news item posted on the ITF website says:
Mexicana Airlines cabin crew, represented by the ITF-affiliated Asociación Sindical de Sobrecargos de Aviación (ASSA), were informed by the labour authorities that they could not review their collective bargaining agreement. The move follows a lawsuit by the airline against the workers, which argued that they should not be allowed to review their agreement as wages and benefits were the main reasons for the company’s lack of viability. The labour authority’s decision to back the company runs counter to Mexican labour law, which guarantees collective bargaining rights. It also breaches International Labour Organization Convention 98 on the right to collective bargaining, one of the eight core labour conventions.

Antonio Rodriguez Fritz, ITF Americas Regional Secretary, commented: "Once again the Mexican Labour Secretary is violating human and trade union rights to benefit the corporate sector. In theory, the labour authority is obliged to respect the law, not violate it and interpret it in a prejudicial way against workers’ rights. This attitude is an offence against the cabin crew, who play a key role as safety professionals, and their families. There could also be an impact on passengers if safety is compromised."
The ITF notes that the ASSA will lodge an appeal against the labor authority’s decision.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Airport service workers vote to authorize strike at LAX

AWU-SEIU Local 1877Service workers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. About 95% of the workers, represented by Airport Workers United, which is part of Service Employees International Union Local 1877, voted in favor of giving union negotiators the go-ahead to call a strike at any time.

The union has been seeking increases in pay and benefits for those employed as sky caps, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, airplane cabin cleaners and security personnel who monitor terminals and cargo areas. A Los Angeles Times article about the strike vote quotes union spokesman Mike Chavez who said that workers are paid an average of $10 an hour and 97% have no health care for their families. As a result, job turnover rate has gone up to 50% in some cases. The workers are asking for better job training, increased pay, improved medical coverage, equipment and staff support.

The airport service workers do not work directly for airlines. Rather, they work for several companies that provide services to the airlines under contract. The union is trying to negotiate contracts individually with each of the employers.

The union represents about 5,000 airport service workers, half of whom work at Los Angeles International Airport. The rest work at airports throughout California, including at San Jose International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport. If a strike is called, presumably it could affect those airports as well as LAX.

No date has been set for a strike. Union representatives said contract negotiations had stalled, but are scheduled to begin again next week. Should talks break down, a strike may be called.

UPDATE Aug. 29, 2008: About 1,500 workers at Los Angeles International Airport walked of the job yesterday after the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 called a strike. According to a press release issued by the union, they returned to work today, following a call by the Mayor of Los Angeles for all parties to go back to the negotiating table.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Delta and Northwest Airlines flight attendants campaign for joint union

Delta-NorthwestThe merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines is expected to go forward by the end of this year, or by early 2009 at latest. When that happens, the issue of union representation for the combined airline's flight attendants will have to be addressed.

Flight attendants at Delta Air Lines have never been represented by a collective bargaining unit. Northwest Airlines flight attendants currently are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).

Earlier this year, there was an unsuccessful attempt to have AFA certified as the official collective bargaining unit for Delta's flight attendants. At that time, only 40% of eligible Delta flight attendants voted in the certification election. Even though a majority of those who voted cast ballots in favor of joining AFA, the election could not be certified because the turnout was lower than required by law. The union subsequently filed charges against Delta, alleging that the airline's management illegally interfered with the union representation election.

In the run-up to the merger, Northwest AFA union leaders are working to ensure that their right to bargain collectively with Delta management is retained through the merger process. The union also is continuing its effort to bring the protections afforded by a union contract to Delta flight attendants. To this end, a committee comprised of flight attendants from both Northwest and Delta has been formed to campaign for and organize AFA representation for the Delta and Northwest combined flight attendant group, post-merger.

The flight attendants' committee has developed an informational website in support of their campaign. The Delta and Northwest Flight Attendants' website, Two Traditions, One Global Airline, is worth a visit. It offers Videos, Webcasts, and clear explanations of flight attendants' legal rights regarding union representation.

Should the flight attendants of the "New Delta" succeed in their bid for union representation, they would become the largest unionized group of flight attendants in the country.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fatal Spanair MD-82 crash at Madrid

Spanair MD-82A Spanair MD-82 aircraft crashed at Madrid's Barajas Airport earlier today. The accident happened at 14:45 local time as Spanair Flight JK5022 was taking off from Madrid bound for Gran Canaria Airport (Las Palmas) in the Canary Islands. Spanair has confirmed that "the aircraft was carrying a total of 172 people, of which 162 were passengers, 4 passive crew members and 6 flight crew." Multiple fatalities and injuries have been reported, however the exact number of fatalities and the extent of injuries to survivors is unclear at this time.

A press advisory issued by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is sending a team to Spain to assist with the investigation of the Spanair accident, identified the aircraft's (Spanish) registration number as EC-HFP. The NTSB advisory mentioned that the "The aircraft broke apart and a post-crash fire ensued."

Spanair Flight JK5022 is a code share flight with Lufthansa Flight LH 2554. Spanair, which is a unit of SAS Group (Scandinavian Airlines), is headquartered at Palma de Mallorca.

Updates will be posted here on Aircrew Buzz as soon as more factual information becomes available.

Condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who perished in today's accident.

UPDATE: Spanair has published the list of Flight JK 5022 passengers on the airline's website.

Link: http://www.spanair.com/web/en-gb/DSite/Listing-of-passengers/

UPDATE Aug. 21, 2008:
Aviation news website FlightGlobal.com is reporting that only 19 of the 172 people who were on board the Spanair Flight JK5022 survived the crash.

An article on Forbes.com, quoting Spanair's deputy managing director Javier Mendoza, says that the aircraft's 'Black Boxes' -- the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder -- have been recovered from the crash scene.

"One seems to be a bit damaged, but they are confident they can use the information. We must wait for the results of the analyses," said Mendoza.

UPDATE Aug. 26, 2008: More information about this accident can be found here: New details about the Spanair MD-82 crash in Madrid

UPDATE Oct. 10, 2008: Spain's Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC) has released a preliminary report about the Spanair MD-82 crash at Madrid.

UPDATE Aug. 18, 2009: Spanish investigators release interim report on 2008 Spanair MD-82 crash at Madrid - includes links to both the Spanish and English language versions of the report.

[Image Source]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Continental Airlines to furlough pilots in September

Continental Airlines logoThe bad news: Continental Airlines will begin to furlough pilots as of September 9, 2008. The good news: Fewer than 200 pilots will be laid off. In fact, although the airline reportedly sent furlough warning notices to about 500 pilots, word is that the number of expected pilot furloughs now is estimated to be between 140 and 180.

In early June, Continental Airlines announced its capacity reduction plans. Those plans included the elimination of 67 mainline aircraft, and about 3,000 jobs "through voluntary and involuntary separations." The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing some 5,000 pilots at Continental Airlines, has been working with the carrier to reduce the number of pilot furloughs.

A Bloomberg news article about the Continental pilot furloughs quoted an ALPA spokeswoman who said, "We're still in the process of determining the final impact of an incentive program for pilots to leave voluntarily. The union is doing everything it can to work with the company through Sept. 9 to reduce any need for furloughs."

UPDATE Sep. 9, 2008: The Continental Airlines Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced that furloughs are beginning for 148 Continental pilots today.
Captain Jay Pierce, chairman of the pilots’ union, said, “The pieces really came together for this effort. We were able to propose some very unique and forward thinking ideas to management that started the ball rolling. In a cooperative process, the union and Continental were able to reach agreement on ways to achieve reductions voluntarily rather than by the traditional cuts through furloughs. And of course, our pilots who chose to participate in the programs were the third key component. Putting it all together, I think it had benefit for Continental, but of greater concern, this helped our pilots and their families.”

Captain Pierce continued, saying “However, we firmly believe that furloughing 148 pilots, a relatively small number given the 500 pilots who were initially sent furlough notices, does not accomplish the strategic savings a typical furlough would net. It is our belief that the best interests of Continental would be better served by preserving these jobs in order to have the ability to rapidly respond to an ever changing industry.”

The agreement, designed to reduce or eliminate furloughs, included retirement incentives, leaves of absence and reductions in the number of hours flown. The majority of jobs were saved from pilots leaving due to retirement incentives, followed by an overall system-wide reduction in the average number of hours each pilot flies, pilots taking leaves of absence and last, a program where pilots could decide to voluntarily reduce their flying time.

American Eagle planes damaged by TSA inspection at Chicago's O'Hare Airport

American EagleABC News is reporting that a number of American Eagle aircraft, which were parked on the ramp at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, were damaged during an overnight spot check of aircraft security. The report says a TSA inspector, "as part of spot inspection of aircraft security, climbed onto the parked aircraft using control sensors mounted on the fuselage as handholds." Nine of the aircraft had to be grounded for repairs, according to ABC News.

Elio Montenegro, a TSA official in Chicago, is said to have confirmed that the incident(s) occurred. "Our inspector was following routine procedure for securing the aircraft that were on the tarmac," Montenegro told ABCNews.com.

Don't TSA inspectors who work around aircraft know the difference between a TAT probe and a handhold? Perhaps someone needs additional aircraft-specific training.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brazil's TAM Airlines takes delivery of first Boeing 777-300ER

TAM Boeing 777-300ERTAM Airlines, Brazil's largest airline, has taken delivery of its first Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft. According to Boeing, TAM is the first Latin American airline to operate the 777-300ER, "the world's largest, long-range, twin-engine jetliner." The delivery also marks TAM's first acquisition of a new Boeing airplane.

Boeing says that the new aircraft, which is powered by General Electric's GE-90 Series engines, also features the Boeing Class 3 Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), a hardware and electronic data package that replaces traditional flight manuals and provides operational and safety benefits. TAM is the first South American carrier to incorporate a Class 3 EFB, which is fully integrated into a commercial airplane's avionics. The EFB features an Onboard Performance Tool, using sophisticated calculations to help the airline optimize its payload for airport and weather conditions and applicable regulations and policies.

TAM has seven more B777-300ER aircraft on order from Boeing. TAM plans to operate its B777-300ERs on international flights within South America and connecting South America with Europe and North America.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Labor tensions grow between Spirit Airlines and its pilots

Spirit Airlines A319Spirit Airlines had to cancel a number of flights earlier this week. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale station CBS 4 reported that the airline attributed the cancellations to "a combination of bad weather, pilots not wanting to work overtime, and 'operation issues' that they say caused a domino effect of canceled flights."

Meanwhile, the pilots' union said it's not the pilots' fault. Here is what the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) had to say on August 12, 2008 about the situation:
"The situation at Spirit Airlines has been deteriorating, and today’s flight cancellations are just one more indication of management’s inability to manage its operations effectively during this turbulent time for the airline industry. Despite management’s attempt to pin the blame on pilots for recent flight cancellations, a more accurate explanation can be placed on management’s decision to downsize the pilot group by 30 percent without corresponding adjustments in its fleet and flight schedule.

"In mid-July, the company announced that it had furloughed 45 pilots with an additional 70-plus pilots to be furloughed in September. However, the company has yet to scale back its operations or number of flights to compensate for the loss of pilots. In order to cover the gap, Spirit management has chosen to violate its contract with the pilots by refusing to obey by staffing and scheduling provisions.

"Management’s new rules have left most Spirit pilots maxed-out on the number of flight hours they can fly under Federal law. It has also made it nearly impossible for pilots to take on additional flying that would satisfy the number of flights operated by Spirit Airlines."
Fast forward a couple of days to August 14. Now we learn from ALPA that Spirit Airlines is harassing any pilot who calls in sick or fatigued. ALPA says that Spirit pilots who call in sick are facing "invasive investigations and possible disciplinary actions."

The union cites an instance in which a pilot called in sick and was required to take an ambulance to a company-selected doctor for examination. The doctor confirmed that the pilot was indeed sick and gave the pilot a note declaring that he shouldn’t fly for five days because of his medical condition. Nonetheless, the company subsequently "issued a harassing notice of investigation to the pilot in reaction to his sick call," says ALPA.

ALPA says that Spirit Airlines pilots are not engaging in any kind of organized "sick-in." Capt. Sean Creed, MEC chair of the Spirit unit of ALPA, said, "As in any other profession, employees get sick, and are permitted to stay home to recover. Any reputable company respects the need for sick time—without making unwarranted and absurd accusations that the employees are conspiring against the company."

So let's see, we have an airline that reduced its pilot force, but not its flying schedule. That probably means the only way the schedule can be maintained is if no pilots are ever absent from their assigned trips for any reason -- including being genuinely sick, or just too tired to fly safely. Fewer pilots on the same number of trips also suggests that the airline is relying on pilots to volunteer frequently to pick up extra trips on what should be their days off. This sounds like poor manpower planning at the least, and pilot pushing at worst. Sooner or later some pilots are going to get sick, or burned out with exhaustion.

If this is beginning to sound familiar, it's because Spirit Airlines is hardly the only carrier to engage in this practice of pressuring crews to come to work, even if they are ill or fatigued. Let's hope that Spirit Airlines refrains from going the route of United Airlines, which recently filed suit against its pilots. In that case, United also crabbed about pilots working according to the terms of their valid contract, and refusing to pick up extra trips on their legal days off.

Earth to airline management: Pilots sometimes get sick. They very often get tired. They aren't required to fly on their days off -- that's why they're called days off. If you have fewer pilots than needed to fly the schedule, that's not the pilots' fault.

[Photo Source]

Friday, August 15, 2008

It's fine season at the FAA

FAA logoThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in a 'fine' mood. That is, they've got fines on their collective mind. Yesterday the FAA announced fines against American Airlines totaling $7.1 million. Then today, as reported by Reuters and others, the FAA said that a record $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines, which the airline had appealed, "is appropriate" and would remain at the proposed amount.

American Airlines

The FAA is proposing a $4.1 million civil penalty against American Airlines for violations involving MD-83 aircraft.
The FAA asserts that in December 2007, American used the wrong provisions of its Minimum Equipment List (MEL) to return two MD-83 aircraft to service after pilots had reported problems, and flew the planes 58 times in violation of FAA regulations. The MEL contains components and systems without which the aircraft may operate safely under specific limitations, as proven by the operator or manufacturer.

On December 11 and 12, American operated the first MD-83 on eight flights in airspace it should have been restricted from after maintenance on part of the autopilot system was improperly deferred. An FAA inspector discovered the improper deferral and informed the airline, however American flew the plane on 10 more revenue flights until the problem was fixed on December 17.

In another incident, the autopilot disconnected during a landing by the same aircraft on December 21. American technicians did not check for the actual problem, and instead deferred maintenance using an inappropriate MEL item. The plane flew another 36 passenger-carrying flights during December 21-31. Airline maintenance later discovered the fault was in a radio altimeter – not the autopilot.
The FAA is proposing a $325,000 civil penalty for a different instance in which an MD-83 experienced an autopilot disconnect. Although American mechanics correctly diagnosed the problem, they again deferred maintenance under the wrong item of the MEL. As a result, the aircraft operated on four revenue flights without a fully functioning autopilot.

Finally, in May of this year the FAA proposed $2.7 million in civil penalties against American for "alleged past deficiencies in its drug and alcohol testing programs and for allegedly operating aircraft in past years without timely inspections of emergency escape path lighting systems." The amount included $1.7 million civil penalty for the testing program violations and $1 million for the lighting inspection violations.

A statement issued by American Airlines says the carrier does not agree with the FAA's findings, and that the proposed penalties are excessive.


Southwest Airlines


In March of 2008, the FAA proposed a $10.2 million civil penalty from Southwest Airlines "for operating 46 airplanes without performing mandatory inspections for fuselage fatigue cracking." Subsequently, six of the 46 airplanes were found to have fatigue cracks.
From June 18, 2006 to March 14, 2007, the FAA alleges that Southwest Airlines operated 46 Boeing 737 airplanes on 59,791 flights while failing to comply with a September 8, 2004 FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD) that required repetitive inspections of certain fuselage areas to detect fatigue cracking.

The FAA alleges that after Southwest Airlines discovered that it had failed to accomplish the required repetitive inspections, between March 15, 2007 and March 23, 2007, it continued to operate those same 46 airplanes on an additional 1,451 flights. The amount of the civil penalty reflects the serious nature of those deliberate violations.

An AD is a legally enforceable rule issued by the FAA to correct an unsafe condition in an aviation product. In this case, the FAA’s AD mandated repetitive external detailed and eddy-current inspections at intervals of no more than 4,500 flight cycles to detect fatigue cracking in areas of the fuselage skin on some Boeing 737 models.
Southwest Airlines appealed the fine, but it has been upheld. The FAA now says it will turn the matter over to the Justice Department if payment is not received by August 29.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia applying for antitrust immunity

aircraft tailsToday American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia announced that they "have signed a joint business agreement on flights between Europe and North America and plan to expand their global cooperation." In similarly worded press releases issued by each of the carriers, the airlines said that they will file for worldwide antitrust immunity from the U.S. Department of Transportation and will notify the appropriate regulatory authorities in the European Union. Finnair and Royal Jordanian are included in the antitrust immunity application.

According to the news releases:
Under the joint business agreement, the three airlines will cooperate commercially on flights between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, and the European Union, Switzerland, and Norway while continuing to operate as separate legal entities. They will expand their codeshare arrangements on flights within and beyond the EU and U.S., significantly increasing the number of destination choices that the airlines can offer customers.
The airlines all are members of the oneworld® global airline alliance. A press release was issued by oneworld® in support of the application for anti-trust immunity.

Crew Response

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), the union representing the 12,000 pilots at American Airlines, issued a statement about the multi-airline business agreement, calling it "problematic on several fronts." In particular, the APA cites the "scope clause" of the contract between the APA and American Airlines, which "embodies management’s promise that if a flight generates revenue for AMR Corp., an American Airlines pilot must be at the flight controls."

The scope clause contains a variety of exceptions for code-sharing agreements, commuter affiliate operations and other situations where an American Airlines pilot is not in control of an aircraft that generates revenue for the corporation. However, APA President Capt. Lloyd Hill points out that the scope clause in the current collective bargaining agreement does not include an exception for a joint business agreement between American Airlines and another airline. "Management therefore needs APA’s consent before this joint business agreement can go forward," said Capt. Hill.

Hill noted that APA representatives met last week in Washington, D.C. with their counterparts from the British Airways and Iberia pilot unions to explore common interests and identify areas of concern. The meeting was prompted by the previously announced plans by American Airlines and the other two carriers to pursue antitrust immunity. He also noted that APA’s board of directors will convene next week to discuss the joint business agreement and antitrust immunity application.

"Make no mistake, we want American Airlines to succeed, but that success cannot come at the expense of the employees," Hill said. "We have serious job-security concerns that must be addressed as part of any revenue-producing agreement with another airline."

As of this writing, there has been no public comment from the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA), which represents British Airways pilots, regarding the joint business agreement announced today by American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia.

Separately, BALPA came out in favor of recent merger talks between British Airways and Iberia. A BALPA news release issued late last month states:
"We have been anticipating this for some time. We are already in discussions with the pilot association in Spain.. We support these merger talks. Consolidation within the airline industry is inevitable and a merger of BA with Iberia makes good sense.

"We trust the two companies will take their pilots fully into the process and consult with BALPA and the Spanish pilots' association very closely indeed. Pilots have a lot to offer in the planning stages and want to be full partners in this enterprise."
BALPA does not expect a merger between British Airways and Iberia to result in the loss of any pilot jobs.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

American Airlines praises crew for LAX emergency landing, evacuation

American Airlines B757On August 5, 2008, an American Airlines Boeing 757 aircraft, operating as Flight AAL31, returned to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) less than hour after its departure for Honolulu, due to smoke in the cabin. The aircraft made a safe emergency landing at LAX, followed by an emergency evacuation on the runway. No serious injuries were reported.

Today American Airlines released a statement about its review of the incident. The statement said that the odor of the oil and a smoky haze was taken into the cabin through the air conditioning system.

American Airlines also determined "that the flight crew acted appropriately in all instances onboard."
The captain appropriately decided to return and have the issue resolved on the ground. The flight landed safely after being airborne for a total of 57 minutes. The safe operation of this flight was never in jeopardy. Our pilots followed standard operating procedure by returning to Los Angeles.

American Airlines procedure allows for an evacuation when there is smoke in the cabin of an aircraft. Those procedures also allow for flight attendants to initiate an evacuation. The flight attendants acted appropriately to evacuate Flight 31, and in fact, the evacuation was accomplished quickly, exactly according to procedure, and with only very minor injuries – which are common in slide evacuations.

“We are proud of the way our entire flight crew handled Flight 31,” said Lauri Curtis, American’s Vice President – Onboard Service. “We support their action, commend their professionalism, and know that the training they participate in yearly plays a major role in handling scenarios like this.”
Certain news reports had suggested that both the emergency landing and the evacuation might have been unnecessary, or an overreaction on the part of the crew, and that the flight attendants on Flight 31 may have overstepped their authority in initiating the evacuation. Let's hope that the public statement made today by American Airlines puts such specious claims to rest.

[Photo Source]

Gemini Air Cargo shuts down operations

Gemini Air CargoWord on the street is that Gemini Air Cargo has ceased operations. Usually I try to stay away from posting rumors on Aircrew Buzz, but I've had an unusual number of inquiries over the past 24 hrs about whether Gemini was going out of business. This prompted me to make some inquiries of my own. There's no message or notice on the Gemini Air Cargo website stating that the carrier's operations have ceased, however several sources I tend to trust have said that the rumor about the shutdown of Gemini's operations is true.

Apparently I am not the only one trying to verify the rumors. An article today on FlightGlobal.com, which is known as a reliable source of aviation news, reports that "sources with knowledge of the situation" say that Gemini Air Cargo has indeed closed its doors.

Regular readers of Aircrew Buzz will recall that I reported in June that Gemini Air Cargo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At that time, 75 of Gemini's 225 pilots were either furloughed or terminated, however the air freight carrier continued to operate its DC-10-30F and MD-11F aircraft. The bankruptcy filing in June was the air cargo operator's second in two years.

I will add an update to this post as soon as any official information becomes available.

UPDATE Aug. 15, 2008: Air Cargo News reported this morning that Gemini Air Cargo has ceased operations and has entered Chapter 7 liquidation. The article said, "The bankruptcy court was due to rule on a successful bidder on 15 August, however, it is believed that negotiations with the final interested party, Bravia Capital, broke down on 12 August and the airline subsequently ceased flying operations."

According to Air Cargo News, Gemini's four MD-11Fs will now be returned to the lessors, two to GECAS and two to AerCap. Rumor has it that the two GECAS-owned aircraft are likely to be placed with World Airways, which has been looking to increase its MD-11 fleet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Air Transport Association sues FAA over airport slot lease auction

Air Transport Association logoThe Air Transport Association (ATA), the trade group for airlines in the U.S., has filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), challenging the legality of the FAA's planned auction of takeoff and landing slots at airports in the New York City area. In the suit, the ATA alleges that the FAA does not have authority to conduct such auctions. The suit, called a Petition for Review, was filed earlier today (Aug. 11, 2008) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced FAA plans to auction slots at Newark Liberty Airport. (The FAA is an agency of the DOT.) The auction is planned for September 3, 2008. The DOT said that the funds generated from the auction "will be used to reduce delays and enhance capacity at New York-area airports."

“This auction will allow us to implement market mechanisms on a small scale, gauge interest and determine a slot’s market value,” DOT Secretary Mary Peters said. “However, the real winners in this auction will be consumers, who stand to benefit from more reliable air service that costs less in terms of both time and money.”

The ATA contends that FAA does not have authority to conduct auctions, and also notes that carriers have given up slots to help reduce congestion, while auctioning these slots would only add to congestion.

From an ATA news release about the suit against the FAA:
“FAA’s claim that it can use its property management authority to auction slots is intellectually dishonest and a disturbing end run around Congress,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May. “Every transportation administration except this one has acknowledged that it does not have the authority to implement auctions and other so-called market mechanisms. Yet this administration believes it can ignore the statutory limits of its authority to remake the industry as it sees fit.

“We said that we would challenge the FAA decision in a court of law and we are doing just that. Today we have started the process to protect our members’ rights,” said May.

ATA’s lawsuit, a petition for review filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, states that the FAA slot auction is, in effect, a final rule that “should be held unlawful and set aside because these actions are in excess of the FAA’s statutory authority; constitute unauthorized regulatory action disguised as property management; are contrary to express statutory limitations imposed by Congress in the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act; are without observance of procedure required by law; and are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

“FAA’s plan is not only unlawful, it is both surprising and perplexing. It is surprising because the end result will be more flights during the busiest times of the day at Newark, even as we suffer through yet another delay-plagued summer, and it is perplexing because the announced slot auction precedes formal rules to auction slots at Newark and other airports,” said May. “Sadly, FAA believes that it has the right to make up the rules as it goes along. FAA should focus its efforts on fulfilling its responsibility to provide the infrastructure and air traffic resources necessary to meet the public’s demand for safe air transportation services, instead of finding new ways to inhibit economic growth and further tax an already overtaxed traveling public.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airports, also opposes the auction. The Port Authority issued a statement on August 5, 2008, which said, "As we've made clear numerous times, the solution to combating flight delays is increasing capacity, improving customer service and replacing a decades-old air traffic control system -- not auctions that will raise ticket prices for the exact same delays. We will continue to block any effort by the DOT and FAA to implement this auction system at our airports."

For more information:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

From Flight Attendants to the Flying Public: We're Sorry

I received this in an email from a flight attendant I know. She said she saw it posted on a frequent flier message board. After a quick Google search, I found it on airliners.net and also on DISboards.com, both of which attributed it to "author unknown." (When you have some time on your hands, you might want to follow those links and read the comments left by members of those boards.)

Gold StarsI have a feeling that this message will 'go viral' and will start showing up on cabin crew message boards any minute! Meanwhile, I'm awarding the unknown author a Gold Star for really complete coverage of the issues -- but if you have any items to add, you are welcome to post them in the comments section below this article.

Maybe flight attendants should print this and hand it out to passengers, or maybe paste it on the underside of tray tables -- you know, so it will be visible when the tray table is in its full upright and locked position!
  • We're sorry we have no pillows.
  • We're sorry we're out of blankets.
  • We're sorry the airplane is too cold.
  • We're sorry the airplane is too hot.
  • We're sorry the overhead bins are full.
  • We're sorry we have no closet space for your oversized bag.
  • We're sorry that’s not the seat you wanted.
  • We're sorry there’s a restless toddler/overweight/offensive smelling passenger seated next to you.
  • We're sorry the plane is full and there are no other seats available.
  • We're sorry you didn't get your upgrade.
  • We're sorry that guy makes you uncomfortable because he “looks like a terrorist”.
  • We're sorry there’s a thunderstorm and we can't take off.
  • We're sorry we don't know when it will stop.
  • We're sorry you're crammed into a space so small that if you were an animal PETA would protest.
  • We're sorry our plane has no music or video entertainment for your 3 hour flight.
  • We're sorry we ran out of your favorite soda.
  • We're sorry there are no more sandwiches.
  • We're sorry that Budweiser costs $6.
  • We're sorry we don't have diapers for your baby.
  • We're sorry we don't have milk for same baby.
  • We're sorry you can't hang out by the cockpit door waiting to use the bathroom.
  • We're sorry you can't hang out at the back of the airplane.
  • We're sorry you have to sit down and fasten your seatbelt.
  • We're sorry you have to put your seat up for landing.
  • We're sorry we don't know when we're going to land.
  • We're sorry we don't know whether your plane to (substitute any city in the world) will be waiting for you when we land.
  • We're sorry we've been diverted because we ran out of gas waiting to land.
  • We're sorry for these and so many other things that we have absolutely no control over but which we are held accountable for EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Please understand. Flight attendants are not the enemy. We share your space. More than anyone - we want to have a nice, pleasant travel experience.

There is a reason behind everything we ask you to do. It may be a FAA directive. It may be security related. It may be a company procedure.

We don't just make stuff up. We don't spend 8 weeks at the flight academy learning how to pour a Coke. There are many things that flight attendants are watching for constantly on every flight FOR YOUR SAFETY. It’s not because we're bored or so controlling that we just enjoy telling people what to do.

I, for one, would like to have one flight where I didn't have to repeatedly tell people to put their seats up for landing. Seriously. Can't you just do what we ask sometimes? Without the glares, eye rolling and disdain? For the record - putting your seat up for landing may not seem that important to your personal safety. However, it is very important for the person sitting BEHIND YOU. If you have ever tried to get out of a row where someone has their seat back you know it can be a challenge. Try grabbing your ankles (emergency brace position) or getting out of that row quickly with smoke in the cabin.

Understand a little better now?

Many of the things we ask passengers to comply with are FAA directives. Like carry-on bag stowage and exit row requirements. And like when we can serve drinks (in the air) and when we can't (after the aircraft door is closed or on an active taxiway). We are only allowed to move about the cabin during taxi out for safety related duties. We can't get you blankets, or hang coats, or get you drinks. It’s not because we don't want to. It’s because we are held personally responsible if we fail to comply with FAA directives. Meaning that the FAA can fine us personally up to $10,000 if we fail to comply with or enforce an FAA Directive.

Like no bags at the bulkhead. No children in the exit row. No one moving around the cabin during taxi. Perhaps now you know why flight attendants get a little testy when people move about the cabin when they're not supposed to. It’s not the company that gets in trouble for that. It’s us.

Personally, I wish the airlines would show worst case scenario safety videos. Like what happens if you walk through the cabin during turbulence. There could be a guy who has just fallen and smacked his face on the metal armrest and now has a bloody, gushing broken nose. Or an elderly lady who now has a broken arm because someone walking to the bathroom fell on her.

Maybe a passenger with a broken neck because somebody opened an overhead bin during turbulence and a suitcase fell out and onto the person sitting beneath it. These things can easily happen in a fast moving, unstable air environment.

Please just trust that we are looking out for your best interest and stop fighting with us about everything we ask you to do. It is exhausting.

Finally, please, please direct your hostility and frustrations in the direction where they will be most effective: The customer service department. They are the ones equipped to handle your complaint and implement procedures for CHANGE.

Think about it. Complaining to the flight crew about all your negative travel experiences is about the same as complaining to the office janitor because your computer isn't working. It may make you feel better to vent about it - but it really won't fix anything. More than anybody we are already aware of the lack of amenities, food, service and comfort on the aircraft. Please share your concerns with the people in the cubicles at corporate who need that information to make better decisions for the flying public.

It’s frustrating that so many people are in denial about what the travel industry is about now. The glory days of pillows, blankets, magazines and a hot meal for everyone are long gone. Our job is to get you from point A to point B safely and at the cheapest possible cost to you and the company. So be prepared. If you are hungry - get a sandwich before you get on the plane.

If it’s a 3 hour flight, anticipate that you may get hungry and bring some snacks. If you are cold natured - bring a wrap. Think for yourself and think ahead. Otherwise, don't complain when you have to pay $3 for a cookie and are left with a crusty blanket to keep you warm.

We hear often that the service just isn't what it used to be. Well, the SERVICE we get to provide now isn't what it used to be. When I was hired, my job was to serve drinks, meals, ensure that safety requirements were met and tend to in-flight medical issues.

Since 9/11 my primary job is to ensure that my airplane will not be compromised by a terrorist. 9/11 may be a distant memory now to many, but be assured that EVERY DAY a flight attendant reports to work he or she is constantly thinking about 9/11. We feel a personal responsibility to ensure that something like that never happens again. We can never relax. We can never not be suspicious about someone’s intentions.

It is difficult to be vigilant and gregarious at the same time. Especially when most of us are working 12 hour days after layovers that only allow 5-6 hours of sleep. Not because we were out partying and having a grand time on the layover - but because the delays that you experience as a passenger also affect us as a crew, so that what was a 10 hour layover is now 8 hours which doesn't leave a lot of time to recover from what has become an increasingly stressful occupation.

Despite everything, I still enjoy being a flight attendant.

I am writing this letter because I do still care about my profession and about the public perception of flight attendants. In the increasingly challenging travel world it is becoming more imperative than ever for people to just be decent to each other. I can go through an entire day without one person saying anything remotely civil. I will stand at the aircraft door and say hello to everyone who enters and maybe 50% will even look at me and even less will say hello back.

I will try to serve someone a meal who can't be bothered to take their headsets off long enough for me to ask them what they want. Most of the time the only conversation a passenger has with me is when they are complaining.

Is it any wonder why flight attendants have shut down a bit? After suffering the disdain of hundreds of passengers a day it’s difficult sometimes to even smile, much less interact. We are human. We appreciate the same respect and courtesy that passengers do.

The next time you fly, try treating the flight attendants the way you would like to be treated. You may be surprised how friendly your flight crew is when they are treated like people.
-----------------------------

Amen!

P.S. In a related vein, you might want to have a look at this recent article, too: Don't blame the flight attendants...

Friday, August 08, 2008

FAA issues flight restrictions for political conventions

FAA logoThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) in the Denver area during the Democratic Convention from August 25-28, and in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area for the Republican Convention from September 1-4. Before and during each convention, a number of leaders will arrive in the respective areas, thus, each event has been designated a National Special Security Event. The United States Secret Service is the lead agency in charge of security design, planning and implementation.

The FAA has classified the airspace in the areas of the national political conventions as "National Defense Airspace", and is issuing Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) with rules and restrictions in regard to flying in that airspace.

Here are the links to the relevant TFRs and NOTAMs for each area:

Democratic National Convention, Denver, Colorado, August 25-28, 2008

Republican National Convention, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, September 1-4, 2008
The FAA notes, "Any person who knowingly or willfully violates the rules concerning operations in this airspace may be subject to certain criminal penalties under 49 USC 46307. Pilots who do not adhere to the following procedures may be intercepted, detained and interviewed by Law Enforcement/USSS/Security Personnel. Be advised that noncompliance with the published NOTAM may result in the use of force."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 completes 1,000th commercial flight

Singapore Airlines A380Last October, Singapore Airlines made history by operating the first-ever Airbus A380 commercial flight. Now, just shy of 10 months later, Singapore Airlines has completed its 1,000th flight with the A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft.

Singapore Airlines' 1,000th commercial A380 flight was Flight SQ 322, which departed from Singapore Changi Airport at 23:30 local time on August 4, 2008. The non-stop scheduled flight arrived at London Heathrow Airport at 06:00 local time on August 5, 2008.

According to Singapore Airlines, their five A380 aircraft have accumulated 8,500 flying hours to date, and have carried nearly 400,000 customers. The carrier is expected to take delivery of its sixth A380 next month. That aircraft is one of 14 more A380s that Singapore Airlines has on order from Airbus, with options on another six.

Singapore Airlines says that they have stepped up training for crew, so that more are qualified to operate the A380 in the coming years. To date, 140 pilots and 2,000 cabin crew have been trained to fly and serve onboard the aircraft.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

U.S. Forest Service fire fighters feared killed in California helicopter crash

U.S. Forest ServiceA Sikorsky S-61N helicopter carrying U.S. Forest Service fire fighters has crashed in northern California. The accident occurred at about 7:30 p.m. PDT last night, August 5, 2008. According to an FAA preliminary report about the accident, the helo had two crew members and 11 passengers on board. A media advisory about the crash issued today by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says that of the 13 people believed to be on board, four suffered serious injuries, while nine are unaccounted for and are presumed to be fatally injured.

The NTSB says that the rotorcraft crashed during takeoff in a remote wooded area about 35 miles northwest of Redding, CA, and that a fire ensued. A U.S. Forest Service statement about the crash, issued last evening, noted that the helicopter was assigned to the Iron Complex on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It crashed on the north end of the Buckhorn Fire, approximately 15 miles northwest of Junction City, Calif.

A follow-up statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service a short time ago confirmed that the helo was shuttling fire crews, and said:
Four fire personnel were airlifted to Mercy Medical Center and arrived at approximately 9:30 p.m. Two fire personnel, one of which is the pilot of the helicopter, were air lifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. This morning at about 8 a.m. a third individual was air lifted to UC Davis Medical Center.
The Forest Service stated that the person identified as a pilot is in "serious condition."

The FAA and the NTSB reported the registration number of the rotorcraft as N612AZ. FAA records list the craft's registered owner as Carson Helicopters, Inc. of Grants Pass, OR. The U.S. Forest Service confirmed today that the helicopter was operating under contract, and was owned by Carson Helicopters.

The NTSB has dispatched a "Go Team" to investigate the accident.

UPDATE Aug. 15, 2008: The NTSB has issued an update on the progress of the investigation of this crash, saying the on-site phase of the investigation has ended, but the investigation is ongoing.

Excerpt from today's NTSB press advisory:
The helicopter had taken on fuel immediately before the sortie that included the accident flight. Fuel samples from the truck that serviced the aircraft have been obtained and will be tested.

Interviews with firefighters who witnessed the accident have concluded. They consistently reported that the helicopter lifted off slower than they would have expected before striking trees and crashing more than 100 yards from the lift off point.
The helo's cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was recovered but had sustained heat damage that prevented data extraction by the usual methods. It is being sent to the manufacturer in England for further analysis.

Nine of the 13 individuals who were aboard the accident aircraft were killed.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Don't blame the flight attendants...

...and don't tick them off, either!

flight attendantI don't know how many readers of Aircrew Buzz also are regular viewers of CNBC, the cable TV business news channel. Those who do not watch CNBC -- and in particular the morning show called Squawk on the Street -- might not be aware of the the small firestorm that erupted last Friday morning over some disparaging comments made on the air about flight attendants.

The commentators on Squawk on the Street were discussing the on-board 'a la carte' beverage sales program just launched by US Airways. Under the new plan, passengers must pay for all beverages served, including soft drinks, coffee and tea. Near the end of their discussion, CNBC's Mark Haines and David Faber engaged in what appeared to be unscripted banter that included condescending remarks about flight attendants.

Here is the link to the video clip of the offending broadcast on CNBC on Aug. 1, 2008.

Many flight attendants, including some from US Airways, did see and hear the broadcast. So did officials at the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union that represents them. As one person from AFA told me, "Feathers were ruffled." Trust me when I say, that is an understatement!

The leadership of AFA's US Airways Master Executive Council (MEC) promptly circulated the link to the video clip, along with the email addresses of the CNBC reporters whose off-the-cuff comments had drawn the flight attendants' ire, and posted the information on the MEC website as well. Apparently the response generated over the past several days was significant: the firestorm grew as large numbers of flight attendants, from US Airways as well as other airlines, sent emails to CNBC in protest.

This morning CNBC ran another segment about this issue. To his credit, CNBC's David Faber apologized on the air for his comments last Friday. He also gave Mike Flores, President of AFA's US Airways MEC, an opportunity to explain the flight attendants' point of view about the airline's a la carte on-board sale of beverages, which they oppose. Faber and Flores also discussed flight attendants' general frustration with the current state of the airline industry, and in particular, the difficulties entailed in their constantly having to apologize to passengers for the reduction in services they have available to offer (among other things).

Here is the link to the video clip of the follow-up broadcast on CNBC on Aug. 5, 2008.

For the record, flight attendants at US Airways and America West are not in favor of the new a la carte on-board sale of beverages, and they have made their reasons clear in a press release issued by AFA the day before the program was launched. In the union's press release, the flight attendants state that they are "adamantly opposed to this unprecedented decision due to lack of proper planning and poor notification to passengers."

P.S. to CNBC - I noticed that, although the story discussed on the air was about US Airways, the title on the web page for the Aug. 1, 2008 video clip reads, "Another Great Airline Idea - United Airlines will charge for in-flight beverages, with CNBC's Erin Burnett & David Faber" (emphasis added by me). Please -- let's not give any ideas to UAL.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Boeing delivers first 737-700 with carbon brakes to Delta

Delta Air Lines B737-700A Boeing Next-Generation 737-700 aircraft was delivered to Delta Air Lines last week -- the first of 10 aircraft of that type that Delta has on order from Boeing. The new aircraft is the first of its type to have carbon brakes, rather than the older style steel brakes. Boeing announced that it earned certification last week from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for the new carbon brakes designed for the Next-Generation 737. The brakes are supplied by Messier-Bugatti.

Carbon brakes weigh 700 pounds (320 kg) less than high-capacity steel brakes for Next-Generation 737-700, -800 and -900ER (Extended Range) airplanes; and 550 pounds (250 kg) less than standard-capacity steel brakes for Next-Generation 737-600s and -700s. According to Boeing, their reduced weight contributes to reductions in associated fuel burn and CO2 emissions, depending on airline operations. The combination of lighter-weight carbon brakes with drag- and emissions-reducing Blended Winglets on Next Generation 737s is expected to improve operating and fuel efficiency simultaneously.

[Photo Source]