Friday, October 31, 2008

Air Europa Boeing 737 runway overrun at Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Air Europa B737-800A Boeing 737-800 aircraft operated by Spanish airline Air Europa overran a runway at Lanzarote Airport (Arrecife) in the Canary Islands. The incident occurred early this morning, October 31, 2008. No one was injured, and there were no immediate reports of significant damage to the aircraft.

The aircraft, operating as Flight UX196 (a charter for Thomas Cook), was arriving at Lanzarote after a flight from Glasgow, Scotland, with 74 passengers and six crew members on board. Several news reports quoted an Air Europa spokesperson who said that the incident was the result of a "destabilized approach." No further details were given, and there have been no official statements by Spanish aviation officials about the incident.

News photos on the Spanish website 20minutos.es and a video of the scene on BBC News show that the aircraft traveled beyond the end of the runway on which it had just landed, but came to a stop inside the airport perimeter fence. There was no emergency evacuation. Passengers left the aircraft via stairs and were transferred to the terminal by bus.

The incident caused the Lanzarote Airport to be closed for several hours, and several arriving aircraft were diverted to other airports in the Canary islands. According to news reports, the incident aircraft was towed away, and the airport has reopened.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Preflight Take-off Warning System check ordered for MD-80 and DC-9 series aircraft

The European Aviation Safety Association (EASA) has issued an Airworthiness Directive ordering a mandatory check of the Take-off Warning System (TOWS) on MD-80 series aircraft and related types before every flight. This action was taken following the crash of a Spanair MD-82 aircraft at Madrid this past August. A preliminary report about the Spanair accident issued earlier this month by Spain's Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC) noted that the flaps/slats were not set for takeoff, but the Take-Off Warning did not sound.

EASA AD No.: 2008- 0197, issued today, October 29, 2008, applies to "All McDonnell Douglas Model DC-9-10, DC-9-20, DC-9-30, DC-9-40, and DC-9-50 airplanes; Model DC-9-81 (MD-81), DC-9-82 (MD-82), DC-9-83 (MD-83), and DC-9-87 (MD-87) airplanes; Model MD-88 airplanes; Model MD-90-30 airplanes and Model 717-200 airplanes."

The AD states, in part:
...A defective TOW system could let an improper take-off configuration undetected to the flight crew and result in loss of control during the initial climb. As a consequence, to ensure that all operators of MD-80 series airplanes perform the TOW system check before every flight, this Airworthiness Directive requires an update of the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) to make the frequency mandatory.

The AD also extends to the DC-9 and 717-200 aircraft as the design of the TOW system is common to all three types.
The AD requires amendment of the PROCEDURES section of the applicable Airplane Flight Manual to incorporate the following check:
TAKEOFF WARNING SYSTEM

Note: This check is mandatory and must be carried out before the first engine start before every flight.

Before engine start, and with power on the aircraft:

Takeoff Warning/Throttles……..………………………..CHECK/IDLE

Move both throttles toward full forward position and observe takeoff warning sounds. Move throttles to idle and observe warning is silenced.

NOTE: If takeoff warning does not sound, maintenance action is required prior to takeoff. Confirmation of takeoff warning system operation does not ensure that correct takeoff values for stabilizer trim, centre of gravity, or flap/slats position have been set.
Here is the link to the complete AD: AD No.: 2008- 0197 - EASA Airworthiness Directive, Oct. 29, 2008 (2 page 'pdf' file)

...or visit the EASA Airworthiness Directives page.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sterling Airlines declares bankruptcy and ceases operations

Sterling Airlines B737Copenhagen-based low-fare carrier Sterling Airlines declared bankruptcy this morning, October 29, 2008. The carrier grounded its entire fleet of 24 Danish-registered aircraft, and ceased operations.

A multi-lingual message posted on Sterling's website said that a "battle to keep the company alive" had failed in the face of significant increases in fuel prices over the past year, and the global financial recession. A restructuring plan was initiated over the summer, however the meltdown of the financial market in Iceland several weeks ago became the last straw. It prevented Sterling's Icelandic owner from coming through with the financing that would have allowed the airline's operations to continue. In short, the airline ran out of money, with no time left to raise more.

Here is an excerpt from the Sterling Airlines bankruptcy announcement:
With the global financial recession that started in the autumn of 2007, Sterling by winter 2007 – 2008 was seeing signs of stagnation in the market. Significant fuel cost increases, and at the same time a planned heavy expansion of our activities, made us more exposed than we would have been otherwise.

By spring 2008, the airline industry was hit by decreasing demand and rapidly increasing fuel prices. That led to Sterling accumulating large losses. During summer and autumn the management of Sterling implemented a restructuring plan of the company resulting in a reduction in fleet and manpower, and a pull-out of a lot of loss-making activities, without compromising our services. The full effect of these actions were planned to have impact start of 2009.

To get the company restructured, the shareholder of Sterling gave financial support from the end of July 2008 to the end of September 2008 transferring 444.5 million DKK to the company. The plan was to continue financial support into 2009. On the 29th September 2008, the Icelandic financial environment started to collapse. Over a 3 to 4 weeks period, the whole financial system melted down, and that resulted in our shareholder being unable to continue his support to the company. Negotiations have been conducted with several potential investors, but it was impossible to make ends meet. The inevitable result is that Sterling Airlines A/S has no option but to file for bankruptcy.
Buzz on the grapevine is that Sterling's more than 1,000 employees were given no advance warning of the shutdown of the airline. Instead, many employees heard about the bankruptcy from news reports -- unfortunately not an unusual situation in the case of airline bankruptcies. Worse still, employees were not paid for September, and rumor has it that crews who were away from base are now stranded at their layover hotels.

As usual in these situations, the press is full of stories about thousands of stranded passengers who now have to find alternative transportation, and pay additional fares in order to return home. This is very unfortunate, of course, but presumably those passengers at least have jobs to come home to.

Another sad day in what has to be one of the saddest years for commercial aviation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gulfstream G550 business jet sets two new city-pair speed records

Gulfstream G550Gulfstream Aerospace has announced two new city-pair speed records for its Gulfstream G550 ultra-long-range, large-cabin aircraft. Both flights were between locations in the United States and Mongolia, and both have been certified by the National Aeronautic Association as U.S. records. The documentation has been forwarded to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale for approval as world records.

Details, provided by Gulfstream:
The business jet flew 3,813 nautical miles from Anchorage, Alaska, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in 7 hours and 57 minutes at an average cruise speed of 0.85 Mach into headwinds of 14 knots. The G550 then flew 5,868 nautical miles from Ulaanbaatar to San Diego averaging a speed of 0.82 Mach with an average headwind of 5 knots. The flight lasted 12 hours and 34 minutes.

The pilot for the flight from Anchorage was Karen F. Tribbett, demonstration captain, Gulfstream. The copilot was Raymond A. Wellington, senior international captain, Gulfstream. For the flight to San Diego, Wellington was the pilot and Tribbett the copilot. Gulfstream flight attendant Emily Ann Caldwell and eight passengers were onboard both flights.

Because of the Russian air system’s structure, the flights were approximately 500 nautical miles longer than the great circle route. In addition, the aircraft flew at a less-than-optimum flight level (FL) of 39,700 feet for the first seven hours of the flight from UIaanbaatar to San Diego.
The G550 entered service in September 2003. Since then it has set nearly 40 city-pair records.

[Photo Source]

Monday, October 27, 2008

United Airlines begins daily non-stop Washington-Dubai service

United Airlines Boeing 777United Airlines has begun daily non-stop service between Washington, DC and Dubai. The inaugural flight, which departed Washington's Dulles International Airport last evening, October, 26, 2008, marks the first-ever non-stop service between the two cities.

United will operate Boeing 777 aircraft on the route, offering combined passenger and cargo service. The passenger features four different seating selections: United First, United Business, Economy Plus and Economy. In addition, the B777 aircraft has the capability to carry about 15 tons of cargo from Washington Dulles to Dubai and about 7 tons of cargo from Dubai to Washington Dulles, according to United.

In a press release about the new service, Kevin Knight, United's senior vice president-Planning, said, "Dubai is one of the fastest growing tourist and commercial centers in the Middle East. This route answers customer demand for more convenient, nonstop service to the Middle East and strengthens our international network by connecting these important cities like never before."

Dubai is the second Middle East destination served by United from Washington, DC. The airline also offers non-stop service between Washington and Kuwait.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Re-elects President to Second Term

SWAPAPilots at Southwest Airlines have re-elected their current union president, Capt. Carl Kuwitzky, to a second term. According to the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), which represents some 6,000 Southwest pilots, Capt. Kuwitzky received 82% of the votes.

"I am excited and honored the pilots of Southwest Airlines have chosen to re-elect me as president for the next two years," said Capt. Kuwitzky. "Many of the initiatives that began during my first term, especially as we continue to negotiate a new contract with Southwest Airlines and work to address national safety and security issues, are not complete and I am looking forward to seeing these projects to their conclusion. Serving the most experienced pilot group at the nation’s number one carrier of domestic passengers is an honor and a privilege that I do not take lightly."

Capt. Kuwitzky, a native of Oklahoma, has been a pilot at Southwest Airlines since July 1983 and is currently based at Dallas Love Field. Prior to his election as president of SWAPA, he served as vice-president in 2006, as a member of the Board of Directors representing Phoenix and Houston Hobby and also as chairman of both the Scheduling and Air Safety committees. He also served as a member of the Negotiating Committee and merger committee during the Southwest Airlines acquisition of Muse Air in 1986.

Capt. Kuwitzky and SWAPA leaders are continuing work on national issues such as cabotage/foreign ownership by participating in an advisory role in U.S./EU “Open Skies” treaty negotiations. Capt. Kuwitzky’s leadership was instrumental in helping to obtain the nation’s first biometric crew identification demonstration project now underway at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

American Eagle pilots ratify labor contract

American Eagle CRJ-700The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing more than 2,800 pilots at American Eagle Airlines, announced in mid-September that its negotiators had reached a tentative agreement with management to amend the pilots' labor contract. Several days ago, ALPA announced ratification of that collective bargaining agreement. According to ALPA, the newly ratified agreement contains improvements to work rules and quality of life provisions for American Eagle pilots while avoiding contractual concessions.

"With our industry confronting pilot furloughs, capacity reductions, consolidation and liquidations, our negotiators did a remarkable job in achieving the best possible solution for the Eagle pilot group," said Captain Herb Mark, chairman of the American Eagle pilots’ unit of ALPA. "Our negotiators were asked to bring us an agreement that increases quality of life wherever possible but includes no concessions. The ratified collective bargaining agreement accomplishes our mission, while providing many improvements in ways that add real dollars to pilots’ pockets."

The agreement was presented for ratification to the American Eagle Master Executive Council, the governing body of the American Eagle pilot unit within ALPA, at ALPA’s 42nd Board of Directors meeting. When the contract becomes amendable at the end of 2012, the pilots will return to the traditional method of contract negotiations governed by Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act.

Friday, October 24, 2008

NTSB Preliminary Report on American Airlines Boeing 757 incident at O'Hare

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a preliminary report regarding the American Airlines Boeing 757 runway excursion incident at Chicago-O'Hare International Airport (ORD) last month. Readers will recall that on September 22, 2008, American Airlines Flight AAL 268 was en route from Seattle to New York when previously unspecified 'electrical problems' developed. The aircraft diverted to ORD where the crew performed a safe VFR landing. Unfortunately the aircraft departed the runway pavement before coming to a stop, causing 'minor damage' to the landing gear. There were no injuries reported among the seven crew members and 185 passengers on board.

The NTSB's Preliminary Report [NTSB ID: CHI08IA292] about the incident, posted earlier today on the Board's website, makes for some very interesting reading. Rather than try to paraphrase or summarize the report, here is an excerpt from the report describing the sequence of events:
While en route the flightcrew received an AIR/GRD SYS message, an illumination of the standby power bus OFF light, and several advisory and status messages on the engine indicating and crew alert system (EICAS). The flight crew then referenced the quick reference handbook (QRH) regarding the AIR/GND SYS message. The flight crew then followed the procedure referenced in the QRH for STANDBY BUS OFF by turning the standby power selector to the BAT position. The QRH procedure also referenced that, "The battery will provide bus power for approximately 30 minutes." The airplane systems stabilized with several items inoperative and the captain contacted maintenance technical support and subsequently elected to continue the flight on battery power. The flightcrew then reviewed the MAIN BATTERY CHARGER procedure referenced in the QRH.

Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes later, while in cruise flight, the battery power was depleted at which time several cockpit electrical systems began to fail. The airplane was over western Michigan and the captain elected to turn around and divert to ORD. Also, the flight attendants discovered that public address (PA) and the cabin/cockpit interphone systems were inoperative. A flight attendant wrote a note and slipped it under the cockpit door to inform the flight crew of their communication problems. A short time later, the cabin crew was informed that they were diverting to ORD. One of the flight attendants then walked through the aisle informing the passengers of the unscheduled landing at Chicago.

While aligned with the runway to land, the flightcrew declared an emergency with the control tower as a precaution. As the airplane neared the runway on final approach, the flightcrew discovered that the elevator and standby elevator trim systems were inoperative. The captain then assisted the first officer on the flight controls and the approach to land was continued. The systems required to slow the airplane on the runway appeared to indicate normal, and with the elevator control issues the flightcrew did not want to perform a go-around to land on a longer runway. Pitch control of the airplane was difficult so the flightcrew elected to stop the flap extension at 20 degrees. The touchdown was smooth despite the control issues, however, the thrust reversers and spoilers did not deploy. The captain attempted to manually deploy the thrust reversers, but still was not sure if they deployed. The captain was concerned about the brake functionality and accumulator pressure so he made one smooth application of the brakes, which did not “perform well.” Due to obstructions off the end of the runway, the captain elected to veer the airplane off the left side of the runway into the grass.

As the airplane touched down approximately 2,500 feet down the runway witnesses heard loud pops. Skid marks from the left main gear were evident near the point of touchdown and 165 feet further down the runway skid marks from the right main gear were present. These skid marks were visible for the entire length of the runway up until the airplane departed the pavement. The airplane came to rest with all three main landing gear off the left side of the pavement and the nose of the airplane came to rest approximately 100 feet prior to the end of the blast pad pavement which extended 397 feet past the departure end of the runway.

After coming to a stop, the flightcrew was not able to shut the engines down with either the fuel cutoff valves or by extending the fire handles. The engines were subsequently shutdown by depressing the fire handles. The passengers were then deplaned through the L1 and R4 doors using portable stairs.

Post incident investigation revealed a failure of the B1/B2 contacts in the K106 electrical relay. With the standby power selector in the AUTO position, this failure would have resulted in a loss of power to the battery bus and the DC standby bus, which would have resulted in the AIR/GND SYS message and illumination of the standby power bus OFF light which the flight crew received.

With the standby power selector in the BAT position, as selected by the flight crew, the main battery provided power to the hot battery bus, the battery bus, the AC standby bus, and the DC standby bus. In addition, the main battery charger was not receiving power, and thus the battery was not being recharged. When main battery power was depleted, all 4 of the aforementioned buses became unpowered.
Hmmm, let's see: cruising on battery, then battery power depleted; multiple systems failure; communications between flight deck and cabin in-op; no ILS; no elevator control; no thrust reversers; inadequate braking; unavoidable runway excursion (requiring a split second decision to go straight, left, or right); inability to shut down engines... Good grief! Sounds like the entire crew really had their hands full on that flight!

We can anticipate that the final report from the NTSB will surely include a thorough review of the in-flight procedures entailed in this event; nevertheless, the crew avoided what could have been a catastrophic ending to the flight. I hope that the passengers who may have been 'inconvenienced' by the diversion appreciate this fact.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

JetBlue Opens New Terminal 5 At JFK Airport

JetBlue T5 at JFKTerminal 5, JetBlue's new home at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), officially opened yesterday. According to the airline, all JetBlue departures from JFK will now operate from "T5," as will all domestic arrivals and international arrivals that pre-clear U.S. customs prior to arriving in New York.

A press release about T5 issued by JetBlue says, in part:
One of the first terminals in the U.S. to be completely designed and built post 9/11, T5 focuses on efficiency and customer comfort. The 635,000-square-foot terminal boasts 26 gates distributed throughout three concourses and includes a 55,000-square-foot central retail and concession Marketplace. T5 is designed to accommodate up to 20 million annual customers with up to 250 daily departures.

"From day one Terminal 5 will welcome more than 30 percent of JFK's annual customer traffic," said Dave Barger, CEO of JetBlue Airways. "The terminal is designed specifically with our customers in mind, and we have created a new standard in both comfort and service that everyone can enjoy. Its unique amenities will create a stress free on-the-ground experience for JetBlue customers that will match the innovative and award-winning experience JetBlue is known for in the air."
Some of T5's features:
  • two check-in areas with a total of 65 e-ticket kiosks and 40 traditional check-in counters
  • a large central security checkpoint capable of accommodating 20 screening lanes
  • an automated "in-line" baggage system to move bags from the check-in lobby through screening and to the ramp
  • free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal
  • grandstand seating under a 40-foot-diameter digital ring of LCD monitors
  • spacious gate areas with ample seating
  • a children's play space
  • twenty-two concessions
  • 25 specialty retail stores
  • nine full-serve restaurants, bars and cafes
  • eight quick-serve eateries
  • grab-and-go gourmet markets
  • three coffee bars, and six bars/lounges
Also included: an innovative gate area program called re:vive that allows customers to use touch-screen monitors to order meals for delivery to the gate areas.

According to information provided by JetBlue, T5 was designed by Gensler and created in collaboration with Turner Construction Company, Arup, AECOM (as DMJM Harris) and Rockwell Group. The terminal was majority funded by and built in collaboration with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Kennedy Airport's operator. The design of JetBlue's new T5 began in March 2004 with groundbreaking occurring in December 2005.

T5 is located behind the well-known Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal, which remains under the control of the Port Authority. The Port Authority is rehabilitating and restoring the landmark structure and plans to reopen it to the public at a later date.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More details about the Global Exec Aviation Learjet 60 crash in South Carolina

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has updated and expanded information in its preliminary report regarding the fatal Learjet 60 accident at Columbia, SC on September 19, 2008. The accident aircraft was operating as a Part 135 charter by Global Exec Aviation of Long Beach, CA.

The aircraft was departing Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) en route to Van Nuys, CA, when the crew attempted to reject take-off at about 136 knots. The the aircraft subsequently overran the runway, left the airfield, and crossed a highway before coming to rest on an embankment. The accident claimed the lives of the two crew members and two passengers, and seriously injured two other passengers. The aircraft was destroyed by a post-crash fire.

Earlier this month, the NTSB released preliminary findings about the accident. Today a revised Preliminary Report was posted to the NTSB website, providing more detailed information about the accident. Quoting from today's report [NTSB ID DCA08MA098]:
The airplane came to rest along a southeasterly orientation, nose-up on the side of a hill of approximately 25-30 degree slope. With the exception of all three landing gear, right delta fin, and right wing flap, all major airplane assemblies were found in the expected orientations. The top and right side of the fuselage had burned away to about the level of the cabin floor. The aft fuselage was mostly consumed by fire as far aft as the localizer antenna on the vertical stabilizer.

The first piece of tire debris was observed about 2300 feet from the departure end of runway 11. Numerous other piece of tire debris were located along the runway. Prior to the first piece of tire, five small pieces of broken taxiway reflector adhesive were found. Tire and skid marks could be followed on the runway and were spaced 100 inches apart (8’ 4”) consistent with the spacing between the centers of the inboard left and outboard right wheels. Before reaching about 3400 foot of remaining runway, the left and right main gear tire rims scarred the runway surface.

The marks led past the runway and through four rows of gravel at the bases of the instrument landing system antenna components. Approximately 150 feet past the end of the pavement, near the first set of lights, the main landing gear pistons and wheel sets with the brake assemblies were found. The right main landing gear (squat) micro-switch was found on the grass near the main landing gear with short pieces of wire remaining. The left squat switch was also found on the grass, but with no wires.

The wheel sets were found with very little rubber other than tire beads attached. Grinding and friction damage was evident on all wheel and brake assemblies, with the most severe damage on the right outboard, and diminishing somewhat across to the left outboard. The right outboard wheel halves had the edges of both bead flanges ground completely away. The tire beads were missing. The general bottom features of the brake assembly were ground flat and the bottom of the ground area of the assembly exhibited heat-bluing. The hydraulic lines had extensive damage.

Preliminary examination of the right PW305A engine revealed that the accident exposed inlet guide vanes (IGV) and reference to a manufacturer’s chart showed the orientations were consistent with high power. The thrust reversers were in the retracted/stowed orientations.

The main cabin door was found closed and latched. The aft exit and fuselage area was destroyed by fire, however, the exit handle and one pin-type latch were found in debris. Both were in the open or unlatched position. One of the surviving passengers reported no difficulty opening the exit.
The NTSB report also noted that both crew members held Air Transport Pilot certificates with Lear 60 type ratings. The captain had logged approximately 3,140 hours total flight time and approximately 35 hours in the Lear 60 type. The first officer had logged approximately 8,200 hours total flight time and approximately 300 hours in the Lear 60.

According to the NTSB, the aircraft (registration N999LJ) date of manufacture was January 30, 2007. It had logged less than 120 flight hours total.

The operator, Global Exec Aviation, had no prior accidents recorded in the NTSB database.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Qantas Airbus A380 inaugural commercial flight arrives at Los Angeles

Qantas A380Aviation history was made today as Qantas became the first airline to operate a commercial passenger flight on the Airbus A380 between Australia and the US West Coast. The new A380 'superjumbo' aircraft, operating as Qantas Flight QF 93 landed on Runway 25L at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) early this morning, October 20, 2008, after a scheduled flight from Melbourne, Australia. The flight was met at LAX by celebrities and government officials, including actor John Travolta, Australian singer Olivia Newton-John and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, among others.

Qantas took delivery of its first A380 (registration number VH-OQA) last month. The aircraft is powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, and is configured with 450 seats in four cabins. On the main deck are 14 first class suites, and 332 economy seats. The upper deck has 72 business class seats, plus 32 premium economy seats.

Today's flight was the Qantas A380's first scheduled passenger service. Later this week, on October 24, 2008, the new aircraft will be used for the first time on the Sydney-Los Angeles route.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, October 18, 2008

India's Jet Airways sacks, then reinstates, hundreds of flight attendants

Put this one in the "truth is stranger than fiction" file.

Jet AirwaysFirst, India's Jet Airways decided to lay off hundreds of flight attendants, beginning this week, in order to cut costs. The Times of India reported that as many as 850 Jet Airways cabin crew would receive termination letters this week in what would be the largest layoff in the history of Indian aviation. Most of those who were to be let go have been working for the airline for less than a year and a half. An article on another news website, IndianExpress.com, said that the number of layoffs would be 600.

In addition, it was rumored that the round of terminations might  not be the end of the crew cutbacks at Jet Airways. The Times of India quoted an unnamed airline official who said, "The rumour doing the rounds here is that more cabin crew lay-offs are on their way. Even the people who de-rostered the crew today fear that they may soon be at the receiving end themselves."

The layoffs were announced with little advance warning to the flight attendants. From The Times of India:
The retrenched crew are said to have taken it very hard, particularly since they were given a verbal job assurance as recently as two months ago by the top management. Chief commercial officer Sudhir Raghavan in one of his weekly Friday interactions with the cabin crew had said that their jobs were insulated. "Irrespective of whatever cost cuts we make, Mr Goyal has told me not to touch the cabin crew, he had said," a crew member recalled Raghavan saying. "So no one pressed the panic button when Goyal and Mallya made the tie-up announcement," he adds.
"It's not just the junior staff, even experienced personnel like the crew and ground staff at Jet's San Francisco base will be laid off once the airline calls off its flights in January," the source said.

Jet Airways announced in a press release earlier this month that the Mumbai-Shanghai-San Francisco route will be discontinued effective January 13, 2009.

But now, in what has been described as a stunning reversal, Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal has announced the reinstatement of all employees sacked earlier this week, and has asked them to return to work tomorrow. According to The Times of India, Goyal claimed the airline's management had taken the decision to lay off hundreds of employees on the basis of economic conditions in the industry. He claimed he didn’t even know the number of employees who had been sacked.

From an article in The Times of India:
Apologizing for "the agony" that the staffers must have undergone, [Goyal] said, "The management might not like my decision but sometimes there are disagreements within the family and as the head of the family, I am taking this decision."
I'm glad to learn that the cabin crew and other employees who were dismissed without warning may not have lost their jobs after all, but something tells me that this drama may have more chapters to follow.


[Photo Source]

Friday, October 17, 2008

Spain's LTE International Airways suspends operations

LTE International Airways A320LTE International Airways, a low-fare Spanish carrier, has suspended operations. According to a news article in Spain's El Mundo, the announcement cited financial reasons. LTE also notified crews that operations would be ceased "temporarily," mentioning banking problems.

A source quoted by El Mundo also said that the airline may be preparing to declare bankruptcy. Spain's Dirección General de Aviación Civil (DGAC) must now decide whether to withdraw LTE International's operator's certificate.

LTE International Airways is based in Palma de Mallorca. It operates both chartered and scheduled passenger flights, using a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft.


[Photo Source]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NTSB: Urgent Recommendation Regarding Pratt & Whitney 2037 Engines

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an urgent recommendation today to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding Pratt & Whitney PW2037 engine inspections. The recommendation arises out of an ongoing NTSB investigation of an uncontained engine failure incident in August of this year. The NTSB is recommending that the FAA "require all Pratt & Whitney PW2037 engines be removed from service for inspection of the second stage turbine hubs when they have accumulated significantly fewer hours (10,880) and/or cycles (4,392) than the incident engine."

Background information, provided by the NTSB:
On August 6, 2008, Delta Air Lines flight 624, a Boeing 757-232 equipped with PW2037 engines, experienced an uncontained failure of the right engine’s high pressure turbine second stage hub at McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada. According to the pilots, at the start of the takeoff roll they heard a loud bang and observed that the right engine had lost power. The pilots rejected the takeoff and the airplane returned to the gate. All 166 passengers and the crew of four deplaned. There was no fire or injuries.

Examination of the incident airplane’s right engine revealed a hole in the bottom of the core cowl that was in line with a hole through the engine’s high pressure turbine. The inspection also revealed missing lugs and cracks in the turbine hub. Additionally, the Safety Board learned that at least four other PW2037 second stage turbine hubs have had cracks in the blade retaining lugs. And, NTSB has also learned that, during a routine overhaul, an American Airlines PW2037 second stage turbine hub with cracks in two adjacent blade retaining lugs was reported. The Safety Board has requested information on all of these hubs.
The NTSB is still investigating this incident.

"These discoveries raise serious concerns and warrant immediate action by the FAA," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "A string of consecutively fractured blade retaining lugs could result in the simultaneous release of multiple blades, which would exceed the design capacity of the engine’s cases and result in an uncontainment. Preventive safety measures must be taken."

The NTSB issued a second recommendation today that would require a continuing inspection schedule for the hubs until the cause of previous instances of cracking is found and corrective action is identified.

Here is the link to the NTSB Safety Recommendation document: A-08-85 Urgent and -86, Oct. 16, 2008 (5-page 'pdf' file)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Four commercial passenger flights re-routed solely as test for ATC trainee

NATCAThe National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union for air traffic controllers in the United States, blew the whistle yesterday on an FAA Supervisor at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center who ordered several controllers to issue new routes to four flights "for the purpose of generating more traffic for a trainee undergoing a skills check." The incident occurred this past Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008. According to NATCA, the four re-routed commercial passenger flights included a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 and two Southwest Airlines Boeing 737s.

Say again??

NATCA says that the new routings issued to four flights around Wilmington, N.C. required the aircraft "to fly in excess of 100 miles further and took them from a routing that was clear of weather and forced them to fly through thunderstorms." According to NATCA, when the Virgin pilot asked for the reason for the re-route, the supervisor ordered the controller to advise the pilot that it was due to weather.

The FAA Supervisor was carrying out a skills check -- that is, observing a trainee to see if he or she is ready to be certified to work that sector without direct supervision by a certified air traffic controller. But NATCA's Jacksonville Center Facility Representative, Dave Cook, said, "While these skills checks are a normal part of the life of a trainee, forcing the airlines to fly further goes against the very grain of the service that air traffic control provides. Forcing air carriers full of passengers to fly through hazardous weather is needlessly endangering people’s lives – and the FAA Supervisor doing so to meet his training requirements is reckless."

The FAA is now looking into the matter, and released the following statement:
The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into whether training of a controller at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hilliard, FL, was conducted in accordance with the agency's strict training guidelines on Saturday afternoon, October. 11. The training involved a developmental controller who was handling flights in a high-altitude sector off the coast of Savannah, GA.

The FAA will determine whether experienced controllers were directed to re-route air carrier flights to generate additional traffic for the trainee, who was undergoing a skills check. The FAA has strict training guidelines which do not permit re-routing flights nor inconveniencing pilots or the flying public.

Our preliminary review indicates that four flights each were re-routed approximately 33 to 50 miles. The flights were not routed into thunderstorms.

The preliminary review also indicates the flights were at an altitude of about 30,000 feet. The re-routes did not result in a loss of separation. Passenger safety was not compromised by the re-routing."
An article published today on a Florida news website, firstcoastnews.com, notes that the FAA Supervisor blamed for the incident has been placed leave while investigators "piece together why four flights were re-routed to reportedly test the skills of a controller-trainee."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Systems fault identified in Qantas Flight QF72 in-flight upset accident

Qantas A330-300The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) held another media conference earlier today to provide new details in the progress of its investigation of the Qantas Flight QF72 in-flight upset. In today's media conference, the ATSB described the role a faulty Air Data Inertial Reference Unit played in the accident involving the Airbus A330-300 aircraft.

To review briefly, the accident occurred on October 7, 2008, while Qantas Flight QF72 was en route from Singapore to Perth, Australia with 303 passengers and 10 crew on board. While in cruise at 37,000 ft., the pilots received electronic centralized aircraft monitoring messages in the cockpit relating to some irregularity with the aircraft's elevator control system, and the aircraft departed level flight. According to the ATSB, "the aircraft climbed about 200 feet from its cruising level of 37,000 feet, the aircraft then pitched nose-down and descended about 650 feet in about 20 seconds, before returning to the cruising level. This was closely followed by a further nose-down pitch where the aircraft descended about 400 feet in about 16 seconds before returning once again to the cruising level."

The in-flight upset injured dozens of people in the aircraft's cabin. The crew ultimately declared a MAYDAY and diverted to Learmonth, Australia where they made an emergency landing.

Systems Fault Identified

Today the ATSB update reported a preliminary sequence of events based on further analysis of the accident aircraft's Flight Data Recorder data, Post Flight Report data and Built-in Test Equipment. Quoting from the ATSB's October 14, 2008 statement:
The aircraft was flying at FL 370 or 37, 000 feet with Autopilot and Auto-thrust system engaged, when an Inertial Reference System fault occurred within the Number-1 Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU 1), which resulted in the Autopilot automatically disconnecting. From this moment, the crew flew the aircraft manually to the end of the flight, except for a short duration of a few seconds, when the Autopilot was reengaged. However, it is important to note that in fly by wire aircraft such as the Airbus, even when being flown with the Autopilot off, in normal operation, the aircrafts flight control computers will still command control surfaces to protect the aircraft from unsafe conditions such as a stall.

The faulty Air Data Inertial Reference Unit continued to feed erroneous and spike values for various aircraft parameters to the aircrafts Flight Control Primary Computers which led to several consequences including:
  • false stall and overspeed warnings
  • loss of attitude information on the Captain's Primary Flight Display
  • several Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitoring system warnings.
About 2 minutes after the initial fault, ADIRU 1 generated very high, random and incorrect values for the aircrafts angle of attack.

These very high, random and incorrect values of the angle attack led to:
  • the flight control computers commanding a nose-down aircraft movement, which resulted in the aircraft pitching down to a maximum of about 8.5 degrees,
  • the triggering of a Flight Control Primary Computer pitch fault.
The crew's timely response led to the recovery of the aircraft trajectory within seconds. During the recovery the maximum altitude loss was 650 ft.

The Digital Flight Data Recorder data show that ADIRU 1 continued to generate random spikes and a second nose-down aircraft movement was encountered later on, but with less significant values in terms of aircraft's trajectory.

At this stage of the investigation, the analysis of available data indicates that the ADIRU 1 abnormal behaviour is likely as the origin of the event.
The ATSB officials went on to say that as far as they can understand, this appears to be a unique event and Airbus has advised that it is not aware of any similar event over the many years of operation of the Airbus.

Action by Airbus

Airbus has issued an Operators Information Telex reflecting the preliminary findings of the ATSB investigation of this accident. The ATSB anticipates that Airbus also will issue Operational Engineering Bulletins and provide "information relating to operational recommendations to operators of A330 and A340 aircraft fitted with the type of ADIRU fitted to the accident aircraft. Those recommended practices are aimed at minimising risk in the unlikely event of a similar occurrence. That includes guidance and checklists for crew response in the event of an Inertial Reference System failure."

ATSB Investigation Continues

The ATSB reported that its investigation is ongoing and will include:
  • Download of data from the aircraft's three ADIRUs and detailed examination and analysis of that data. Arrangements are currently being made for the units to be sent to the component manufacturer's facilities in the US as soon as possible and for ATSB investigators to attend and help with that testing, along with representatives from the US National Transportation Safety Board, The French Bureau d'Enquêtes et dAnalyses (BEA) and Airbus.
  • In addition, investigators have been conducting a detailed review of the aircraft's maintenance history, including checking on compliance with relevant Airworthiness Directives, although initial indications are that the aircraft met the relevant airworthiness requirements.
  • Work is also ongoing to progress interviews, which will include with injured passengers to understand what occurred in the aircraft cabin. The ATSB plans to distribute a survey to all passengers.
The ATSB expects to publish a Preliminary Factual report in about 30 days from the date of the accident.

[Photo Source]

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Qantas Flt QF 72 on Aircrew Buzz.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Video: Ilyushin IL-18 freighter rejected take-off and runway overrun in Angola

This video has been circulating around the web for a few days now, both as an email link and posted on several websites. It shows a lumbering Ilyushin IL-18 aircraft in a rejected take-off that ends with a runway overrun. The incident is said to have occurred in late September at Cabinda, Angola.

I've been trying to track down reliable information about the event since I first received the link to the video several days ago. Simon Hradecky, over at The Aviation Herald reports that the aircraft (registration D2-FFR) was operated by Alada Empresa De Transportes Aereos, an Angolan airline, on behalf of DHL. Simon's report says that the RTO at high speed was due to burst tires.

UPDATE Oct. 14, 2008: Kieran Daly includes some information about the Cabinda runway in his Unusual Attitude blog, on the Flight International website, and adds that "on this occasion everyone gets to walk away," -- always good to know!



If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on LiveLeak.com.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mesa Air Group Reaches Tentative Agreement with Pilots

Mesa Air GroupAfter 10 months of negotiation, Mesa Air Group and its pilots have reached a tentative contract agreement. The Mesa pilots’ contract became amendable in September 2007. The pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), says that this agreement, if ratified by pilots, will resolve many of the scheduling-related issues between Mesa and the pilot group, as well as provide tangible benefits to both parties and their codeshare partners, investors and passengers.

"Our employees are the cornerstone of our business," said Jonathan Ornstein, Mesa Air Group Chairman and CEO. "The pilots of Mesa are consummate professionals; they continue to go above and beyond to ensure that our operations run as smoothly as possible seven days a week, 365 days a year. We are proud to have come to a mutually-beneficial agreement with the pilot leadership that will help retain and attract the highest caliber of professional airline pilots for years to come. This tentative agreement represents a commitment by the company and the pilot group to work together and continue to get the job done for our partners, investors and passengers."

"This contract represents a new beginning for our pilots and our company," said Captain Kevin Wilson, chairman of the ALPA unit at Mesa. "To be a successful, viable company in today’s challenging marketplace, we recognized that we must put aside our differences and develop real-world solutions benefiting both the pilots and the company. We are pleased with management’s willingness to engage with us in earnest discussions throughout the negotiations process, and we hope that this spirit of cooperation continues so that we can focus on building a better airline together."

ALPA pilot leaders will soon begin a series of "roadshows" to inform the pilot group on details of the Tentative Agreement (TA) and address any pilot questions. It’s then up to the rank-and-file pilots to vote on whether or not this TA becomes the next collective bargaining agreement. The union plans to commence membership balloting mid-November with results expected by the end of that month.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Officials release preliminary report on the Spanair MD-82 crash at Madrid

SpanairSpain's Comisión de Investigación de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviación Civil (CIAIAC) has released a preliminary report concerning the crash of Spanair Flight JK5022 at Madrid on August 20, 2008. Readers will recall that the MD-82 aircraft (registration EC-HFP) crashed while attempting to take off from Madrid's Barajas International Airport. The aircraft was en route to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Only 19 of the 172 passengers and crew on board survived the accident. One of the survivors later died of injuries, bringing the total death toll to 154.

The CIAIAC preliminary report details the sequence of events leading up to the accident. Although no transcript of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) was provided, the report indicates that the crew performed normal checklists prior to leaving the gate and during taxi. During the takeoff roll, the crew call-outs were normal. V1 was reached at 37 seconds after the release of the brakes, with rotation two seconds later at a speed of 154 knots. Six seconds after rotation, the stick shaker activated, along with an audible stall warning. The aircraft reached a maximum height of only 40 feet before it hit the ground.

Perhaps the most significant findings were that data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) showed the flaps set at 0 degrees from the time the engines were started until the aircraft impacted the ground; and that throughout the take-off roll and until the end of the recording, neither the DFDR nor the CVR indicated that any warning was activated to alert the crew of an inappropriate takeoff configuration. In other words, the aircraft was not correctly configured for takeoff, but the crew seemed to be unaware that this was so.

Regarding the examination of the control surfaces and actuators retrieved from the wreckage, the report noted that five of the aircraft's six flap actuators had been found. Of those, four could extend and retract freely, having lost hydraulic pressure, while the fifth was severely damaged by the post-crash fire. The report also states that two control cylinders for the flaps were recovered and examined. Although they were damaged by fire, they found evidence was that "consistent with a condition of slats-retracted."

Please note that while this report presents factual findings, the report does not offer conclusions regarding probable cause for the accident.

Here is the link to the page on the CIAIAC website where the entire text of the report can be found (Spanish language): 20-08-2008. EC-HFP. McDonnell Douglas MD-82. Aeropuerto de Barajas (Madrid)

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

American Airlines flight attendants launch 'Peace for Passengers' campaign

American Airlines Flight AttendantFlight attendants at American Airlines, represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), have launched a campaign with the dual purpose of enlisting public support for their efforts to achieve a fair labor agreement with their airline; and highlighting what APFA cites as "the growing challenges facing air travel – such as the reduction in flight schedules, increasingly crowded planes, additional charges for food and beverages, and no blankets or pillows."

The campaign is dubbed PAX for PAX – PAX meaning both the Latin word for ‘peace’ and an airline abbreviation for ‘passengers’. American Airlines flight attendants see their PAX for PAX campaign as mutually benefiting themselves and their passengers, saying, "While we endeavor to bring peace to your time in our plane's cabins, we ask you to help us bring economic peace to our working lives."

As part of the campaign, flight attendants will demonstrate to protest chaotic air travel for passengers and highlight their own poor working conditions. Tomorrow, October 11, 2008, the flight attendants will hand out informational flyers and travel pillows at Dallas-Ft.Worth International, Miami International, New York-LaGuardia and Los Angeles International airports.

The travel pillows are imprinted with www.paxforpax.com – the website promoting the ‘Peace for Passengers’ campaign. The following message will be included with each pillow:
We hope this pillow brings you some peace during your flight. Please show your support as we seek economic peace with a new contract. APFA is in negotiations with American to fix some of the most pressing issues facing Flight Attendants, including improving working conditions, restoring pay, and overhauling the scheduling system. Despite making sacrifices to stave off bankruptcy in 2003, our pay and benefits have been reduced by 33% while workload has increased 47%, resulting in less time with their families. Meanwhile, American Airlines executives have rewarded themselves with $366 million in bonuses over the last three years.
The APFA, which represents the 18,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, notes that the campaign focuses on improving air travel for both passengers and flight attendants.

Click here for more information about the PAX for PAX campaign.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yeti Airlines Twin Otter crash in Nepal claims 18 lives

Yeti Airlines crash - ReutersA DHC-6 Twin Otter operated by Yeti Airlines has crashed at Lukla, Nepal. The accident destroyed the aircraft, and killed 16 passengers and two crew members. The captain was the only survivor.

According to news release issued by Yeti Airlines, the accident occurred on the morning of October 8, 2008 as the aircraft (registration 9N-AFE) was attempting to land at Tenzing Hillary Airport at Lukla, in eastern Nepal, after a scheduled passenger flight from Kathmandu. Although the cause of the crash is unknown at this time, the carrier's media release said that "the entire Airport region was suddenly covered with fog."

Yeti Airlines has identified the crew members on Yeti Flight 0Y-103 as "Capt. Surendra Kunwar, Co-pilot Bikash Pant and Air Hostess Sunita Shrestha." The captain, who was the only survivor, was rescued and admitted to the Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj. The airline reports that he is "out of danger."

The names of the passengers who perished on Yeti Flight 0Y-103 has been posted on the airline's website.

Condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who were lost in this accident. Best wishes to the Captain for a full and speedy recovery.

[Photo Source]

UPDATE Jan. 2, 2009: The Reuters news agency is reporting that the investigation of the Yeti Airlines accident in Nepal has cited pilot error as the cause.

"The crew made incorrect judgment of the deteriorating weather and flew into a patch of cloud causing the accident," the investigation report said.

NTSB Preliminary Report on the Learjet 60 Crash in South Carolina

NTSB logoThe NTSB has released a preliminary report on the Columbia, South Carolina Learjet 60 accident last month that claimed the lives of two pilots and two passengers, and injured two other passengers. The NTSB report briefly describes the accident, but does not suggest any cause:
On September 19, 2008, at about 11:53 p.m. EDT, a Learjet Model 60 (N999LJ) operated by Global Exec Aviation as an on-demand passenger flight under 14 CFR Part 135 overran runway 11 while departing Columbia, South Carolina, enroute to Van Nuys, California. The 2 crewmembers and 2 of the 4 passengers were fatally injured, the other 2 passengers suffered serious injuries. The aircraft was destroyed by extensive post-crash fire. Weather was reported as clear with light winds.

Tire debris and portions of airplane components were found along the 8,600 foot runway. According to witnesses and initial information, the beginning of the takeoff roll appeared normal, then sparks were observed as the airplane traveled along the runway. The airplane continued beyond the runway threshold, through the approximately 1,000 foot runway safety area and impacted airport lighting, navigation facilities, perimeter fence and concrete marker posts. The airplane then crossed a roadway, and came to rest on an embankment on the far side of the road. The fire began on the airport side of the roadway. [NTSB ID: DCA08MA098]
The report made no mention of a burst tire, although in a press conference just days after the accident, a spokeswoman for the NTSB said that, based on a preliminary review of the aircraft's Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), "The crew reacted to a sound that was consistent with a tire blowout," and apparently initiated a rejected takeoff. Tire debris was reported to have been found on the runway, about 2,800 ft. past the point where the aircraft had begun its takeoff roll.

The investigation is ongoing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Qantas Flight QF72 Emergency Landing at Learmonth, Australia

Qantas logoEarlier today, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) held a media conference regarding an in-flight incident on board a Qantas Airbus A330-300 aircraft that caused injuries to dozens of people. The incident occurred yesterday, October 7, 2008, as Qantas Flight QF72 was en route from Singapore to Perth with 303 passengers and 10 crew on board.

Here is what happened, according to the ATSB media statement about Qantas Flight QF72:
The aircraft, which had 303 passengers and 10 crew on board, was in normal level flight at 37,000 ft about 110 nautical miles north of Carnarvon and 80 nautical miles from Learmonth near Exmouth in north-western Australia, when the pilots received electronic centralised aircraft monitoring messages in the cockpit relating to some irregularity with the aircraft's elevator control system.

The aircraft is reported to have departed level flight and climbed approximately 300 ft, during which time the crew had initiated non-normal checklist/response actions. The aircraft is then reported to have abruptly pitched nose-down.

During this sudden and significant nose-down pitch, a number of passengers, cabin crew and loose objects were thrown about the aircraft cabin, primarily in the rear of the aircraft, resulting in a range of injuries to some cabin crew and passengers.

The crew made a PAN PAN emergency broadcast to air traffic control, advising that they had experienced flight control computer problems and that some people had been injured, and they requested a clearance to divert to and track direct to Learmonth.

A few minutes later the crew declared a MAYDAY and advised ATC of multiple injures including broken bones and lacerations. The aircraft landed at about 1530 local time, about 40 minutes after the start of the event.

The ATSB understand that there were 14 people with serious but not life threatening injuries, which included concussion and broken bones who were taken by air ambulance to Perth. In addition, up to 30 other people attended hospital with possible concussion, minor lacerations and fractures, with up to a further 30 or so people with minor bruises and stiff necks etc who did not need to attend hospital. However, these casualty figures are subject to further clarification and confirmation.

All passengers have been now been transported to Perth. Given the nature of injuries, the occurrence is defined as an accident in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization definition.
The aircraft's Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have been retrieved by investigators and sent to Canberra for examination. In addition, ATSB is carrying out an on-site investigation at Learmonth, where the aircraft remains.

Qantas also issued a statement today with similar information. The Chief Executive Officer of Qantas, Geoff Dixon, also said, "We commend the professionalism of our crew, who ensured the aircraft landed safely in Learmonth."

UPDATE Oct. 9, 2008: The ATSB has issued an update on the Qantas Flight QF72 accident. Today's ATSB media release says, in part:
The aircraft's Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) arrived in Canberra late on Wednesday evening. Downloading and preliminary analysis overnight has revealed good data from both recorders. Data from the FDR has been provided to Qantas, the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) and Airbus as parties to the investigation.

While the full interpretation and analysis of the recorded data will take some time, preliminary review of the data indicates that after the aircraft climbed about 200 feet from its cruising level of 37,000 feet, the aircraft then pitched nose-down and descended about 650 feet in about 20 seconds, before returning to the cruising level. This was closely followed by a further nose-down pitch where the aircraft descended about 400 feet in about 16 seconds before returning once again to the cruising level. Detailed review and analysis of FDR data is ongoing to assist in identifying the reasons for the events.
Click here to view the Oct. 9 ATSB media release.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Qantas Flt QF 72 on Aircrew Buzz.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dozens injured in Qantas Airbus A330 'sudden in-flight upset'

Qantas logoDozens of people were injured earlier today, October 7, 2008, when a Qantas A330-300 aircraft experienced what the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) referred to as a sudden in-flight upset. Qantas described the event as a sudden change of altitude. According to the ATSB, the crew declared a MAYDAY and diverted to Learmonth, near Exmouth, in Western Australia, where they made an emergency landing at about 13:45 local time.

The aircraft (registration VH-QPA), operating as Qantas Flight QF72, was cruising in level flight en route from Singapore to Perth with 303 passengers and 10 crew on board at the time of the incident. An ATSB media release said that the event resulted in injuries to a number of cabin crew and passengers, primarily in the rear of the aircraft. The ATSB said: "Early reports indicate that three cabin crew and approximately 30 passengers sustained injuries, including about 15 with serious injuries, namely broken bones and lacerations."

The injured were taken to Exmouth Hospital for treatment. Several news media reports said that some of the more seriously injured were later flown to Royal Perth Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Qantas sent two aircraft -- a Boeing 767 and a Boeing 717 -- to Learmonth from Perth to collect passengers and crew.

Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to all those who were injured.

UPDATE Oct. 8, 2008: Both the Qantas and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued statements today with a few more details about the events on Qantas Flight QF72, which the ATSB has now officially classified as an accident: ATSB statement; Qantas statement.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Honeywell Technology Helps Pilots Maintain Stable Approach

airport approachHoneywell has announced a software upgrade to its Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) that will alert pilots if their approach to an airport is not within a safe tolerance envelope of speed and glide path. Approaches outside this tolerance, usually too high or too fast, can result in hard landings, runway overruns, or other anomalies that damage the aircraft, cause passenger injury or even loss of life.

According to Honeywell, the system, designed to enhance flight crew situational awareness, is a software function that uses an aircraft's Global Positioning System (GPS) position, landing gear position, landing flaps position, aircraft speed, vertical speed, approach profile and Honeywell's runway database information to provide verbal announcements to the flight crew if the stable approach criteria are not met. Under normal landing conditions, no advisories would be heard.

"Runway excursions represent 96 percent of the total runway related accidents and have cost the industry millions of dollars over the last 10 years," said Bob Smith, Honeywell's Vice President of Advanced Technology. "This stabilized approach technology upgrade will be a quick and easy installation that will significantly lower the probability of runway excursions and is a cost-effective and near-term solution to a problem many in the industry see as one of the biggest remaining safety concerns: runway overruns and hard landings."

According to information provided by the company, Honeywell's stabilized approach technology capitalizes on the Honeywell worldwide terrain and runway database, which has proven itself for over 800 million flight hours, and will be available as a software upgrade in mid-2009. The system has been in simulator and flight testing and is expected to be certified by the FAA and EASA by the end of 2008.

Honeywell's RAAS was developed in 2004 as a software upgrade to the Honeywell worldwide terrain database. RAAS provides improved situational awareness to help break the chain of events that can lead to a runway incursion, by providing timely aural advisories to the flight crew during taxi, takeoff, final approach, landing and rollout on runways and taxiways. RAAS is installed on more than 1,600 business aviation and commercial transport aircraft.

[Photo Source]

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Video: Worldwide Air Traffic Patterns

Someone sent me the link to this cool video simulation of global air traffic patterns over a 24 hour period. I just had to share it.



If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sun Country Airlines cuts paychecks by 50% and issues WARN letter

Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800Things are in tumult at Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines. Like so many other carriers, Sun Country has been struggling financially for months in the face of huge increases in fuel prices, coupled with a general economic downturn. More recently, another significant problem arose when the CEO of the airline's parent, Petters Group Worldwide, was arrested on federal charges of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice. While the federal investigation that led to the arrest apparently pertained to a unit of the Petters Group separate from the airline, continued financing for the aviation unit has been jeopardized as a result.

Late last week, Sun Country CEO Stan Gadek met with the airline's pilot and flight attendant unions to explain that a planned-for loan from the parent company to cover expenses during the current quarter would not be possible, now that the airline needed to separate itself financially from the Petters Group. With such financing suddenly unavailable, Gadek told employees that in addition to rescheduling payments to vendors and generating other sources of cash, the airline would have to further reduce wages in order to stay in business. To that end, Gadek announced that all employees would have to take a 50% "pay deferral," beginning with their October 7, 2008 paychecks.

Under terms of the "pay deferral," communicated to employees in a letter from the Sun Country CEO, the "reduction in payroll will be recorded as back wages owing to employees and accruing interest at a nominal rate." In other words, the intention is to pay back the "deferred" wages to employees, with interest, when -- and if -- the company gets back on solid ground financially. The letter to employees also stated that Gadek himself will "work without pay until this crisis is resolved."

Everyone wants to believe that Sun Country will be able to make it through the cash crunch intact, but things are shaky enough that the airline issued a WARN letter to employees on October 1, notifying them of the possibility that they might be jobless by December 1, 2008. [Under the provisions of the federal Worker's Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN Act), employers are required to provide notice 60 days in advance of a shutdown or mass layoff.] The letter said, in part:
...[T]his is to notify you that should Sun Country not be able to obtain additional financing or obtain relief from our major creditors in the near future there is a distinct possibility that the airline will be shut down and/or you will be furloughed. While the timing of this action is not predictable at this time, you should prepare yourself for the possibility that such a shut down or furlough could impact your employment as early as December 1, 2008. Depending on what happens, such an employment loss could be temporary or permanent and could affect all Sun Country employees or a subset of employees that includes you.
Sun Country's pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), released a statement in response to the WARN letter, saying that they had made no commitments to management and no negotiations are scheduled at this time. The pilots' union states that they are leaving all options open "during this period of evolving circumstances."

Last spring, 45 Sun Country pilots were furloughed involuntarily in conjunction with a capacity reduction. At the time they were announced, those furloughs were expected to run from May 1, 2008, through October 31, 2008.

UPDATE Oct. 6, 2008: Local media in Minnesota are reporting this morning that Sun Country Airlines has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Airline officials announced that Sun Country intends to continue to fly its regular schedule.

[Photo Source]

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pilots frustrated by 'incomplete' US Airways/America West merger process

USAPA logoThree years after the merger between US Airways and America West, pilots are frustrated that the carrier's management seems incapable of getting the merger completed. The pilots are angry that they are still working under two separate Collective Bargaining Agreements left over from their former airlines. Not only does each pilot group have a different set of work rules and pay rates, they’re not permitted to fly each other’s aircraft or intermix crews.

The US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), the independent union formed earlier this year to represent the 5,000 pilots of US Airways, notes that instead of concluding the effective merger of the two units, the airline continues to be "entangled in labor disputes, law suits, and customer service issues."

"What the Delta and Northwest managements did in just a couple of months, US Airways Management hasn’t been able to do in over three years," said USAPA President Stephen Bradford. "Management’s inability to complete the merger of US Airways and America West, coupled with their apparent focus on short term, quick-return management philosophies, is costing our Company in a big way."

According to USAPA, the unresolved labor contract issues cause "confusion, inefficiencies and severe morale problems that carry over into the airline’s operation," noting that for the first six months of 2008, US Airways ranked "a dismal 18 out of 19" for consumer complaints.

USAPA believes that merging US Airways and America West into a single airline, with a single Pilot Collective Bargaining Agreement, would allow Management to capture synergies that would benefit US Airways’ passengers, investors and employees alike and go a long way towards positioning the airline for a secure future.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

NMB dismisses claims that Delta Air Lines interfered with union certification election

National Mediation Board sealThe flight attendant profession suffered an insulting blow this week when the U.S. National Mediation Board (NMB) dismissed charges by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) that Delta Air Lines management illegally interfered with a union certification election earlier this year. The NMB, which is the federal agency charged with protecting the rights of workers in the U.S. transportation industry, apparently has decided to turn a blind eye to alleged union busting activities instead of properly investigating the charges. In a 2-1 vote, the three-member Board "determined that the AFA failed to state a prima facie case of interference."

When the intended merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines was announced nearly six months ago, the collective bargaining rights of the "new" airline's flight attendants immediately became an issue of serious concern. Northwest Airlines flight attendants are represented by the AFA, while Delta's flight attendants have never been unionized. Once the merger is complete, Northwest's flight attendants risk losing their currently held right to participate, through collective bargaining, in decisions about issues and policies that affect them directly.

Delta's management team has been, and continues to be, openly opposed to unionization, instead pursuing a paternalistic policy of telling workers what is best for them. This stance was demonstrated during the recent election to certify the AFA as the collective bargaining unit for Delta's flight attendants. For example, during the voting period, signs were posted in flight attendants' crew lounges urging them to tear up their ballots and voting information before even bothering to read about their rights. It was tactics such as this that prompted the AFA to file election interference charges with the NMB. Now it appears that, instead of protecting workers' rights, the NMB has chosen to be complicit in suppressing them.

In a statement to the press regarding the NMB's refusal to investigate the charges presented to the Board by the AFA, the union's International President, Pat Friend, said, "In yet another failure of a government regulatory agency to hold a corporation accountable, the NMB refused to investigate any of the numerous allegations of misconduct by Delta management.

"Despite very specific and an overwhelming number of instances of management intimidation and interference with the right of employees to join a union, the majority of the NMB decided to accept Delta management’s denial of having done any of the things their flight attendants witnessed," Friend continued.

"This NMB has forgotten its stated mission: to promote and protect effective collective bargaining and representation; and has once again sided with corporate America to deny workers the right to a voice in their workplace. It is long past time to hold this agency accountable for their support of the corporate agenda," said Friend.

For the record, it should be noted that the dissenting member of the three-member NMB, Harry Hoglander stated that he "believes[s] [AFA] has established a prima facie case of election interference and that the [NMB] should conduct an investigation." Additionally Mr. Hoglander finds that "the dismissal by the Majority of the Board of the Association of Flight Attendants’ allegations of well over four score incidents of interference without an investigation sets the wrong precedent. The premise being that if these allegations were true they might reasonably have tainted the laboratory conditions necessary for an election."

Thank you Mr. Hoglander.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

GAO nixes FAA airport slot auction plans

GAORemember the flap about the FAA's plan to conduct an auction for takeoff and landing slots at airports in the New York City area? The plan did not sit well with many, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports, and the Air Transport Association, which filed suit against the FAA in August to challenge the legality of such an auction. Late yesterday, the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) issued a formal opinion on the case. In short, the GAO said that the FAA does not have legal authority to auction slots. The GAO also said it would block attempts by the FAA to carry out such an auction.

Response to the GAO opinion from opponents of the slot auction plan was immediate. In a press release, the Air Transport Association said that it "applauds the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that affirms the airlines’ position that the Department of Transportation (DOT) lacks legal authority to conduct auctions."

The word "applaud" also was used in the Port Authority's response to the GAO's ruling, which added that, "It’s wrong to raise prices for everyone by implementing an untested and unauthorized scheme, particularly in this economy."

Both ATA and the Port Authority's Task Force have been advocating for increasing capacity and "airspace redesign" to reduce delays and congestion at New York area airports.

For the record, here is the exact wording of the Summary of the GAO's opinion, issued on September 30, 2008:
This responds to a Congressional request for our legal opinion regarding the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to auction airport arrival and departure slots. As part of its efforts to reduce congestion in the national airspace, in April and May 2008, FAA issued proposed regulations to conduct such auctions at three New York-area airports--LaGuardia Airport (LaGuardia), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), and Newark Liberty International Airport (Newark)--at some time in the future. In August 2008, FAA announced that it was proceeding to auction two specific slots at Newark on September 3, an action that has since been administratively stayed. On September 16, 2008, FAA announced that "[i]n accordance with rulemaking activity that is not yet complete" and "if the rule is adopted," it may auction slots at Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK starting on January 12, 2009. As agreed with your staff, this opinion addresses whether FAA has authority to auction slots and if it does, whether it may retain and use funds obtained through such auctions.

We conclude that FAA currently lacks authority to auction arrival and departure slots, and thus also lacks authority to retain and use auction proceeds. For the first time since it began regulating U.S. navigable airspace nearly 40 years ago, FAA now asserts that it may assign the use of that airspace using its general property management authority. According to FAA, slots are intangible "property" that it "constructs," owns, and may "lease" for "adequate compensation" under 49 U.S.C. 106 (l)(6) and (n) and 40110(a)(2). An examination of those statutes read as a whole, however, makes clear that Congress was using the term "property" to refer to traditional forms of property. It was not referring to FAA's regulatory authority to assign airspace slots, no matter how valuable those slots may be in the hands of the regulated community. Related case law confirms our conclusion. The only other source of authority for FAA to raise funds in connection with its slot assignments is the Independent Offices Appropriations Act (IOAA), 31 U.S.C. 9701, commonly referred to as the "user fee statute," but that authority is currently unavailable. Since 1998, Congress has, through annual appropriations restrictions, specifically prohibited FAA from imposing "new aviation user fees," and we conclude that proceeds from FAA's proposed auctions would constitute such a fee. Accordingly, in our opinion, FAA lacks a legal basis to go forward with the Newark auction or any other auction, and if FAA were to go forward with auctioning slots without obtaining the necessary authority and retained and used the proceeds, GAO would raise exceptions under its account settlement authority for violations of the "purpose statute," 31 U.S.C. 1301(a), and the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341(a)(1)(A).
For those who may be interested in reading the full text of the GAO's decision, here is the link: B-316796, Federal Aviation Administration--Authority to Auction Airport Arrival and Departure Slots and to Retain and Use Auction Proceeds, September 30, 2008 - GAO (16-page 'pdf' file')