Tuesday, December 22, 2009

American Airlines Boeing 737 crash in Jamaica

by B. N. Sullivan

American AirlinesA Boeing 737-800 aircraft (registration N977AN) operated by American Airlines has crashed in Jamaica. According to a statement from the airline, Flight AA 331 overran the runway on landing at Kingston, Jamaica's Norman Manley International Airport late on the evening of Tuesday, December 22, 2009. The flight had originated at Reagan/National Airport in Washington, DC, operating first to Miami International Airport, and then continuing on to Jamaica from Miami. On board were six crew members and 148 passengers.

News reports from Jamaica say that as many as 40 people may have been injured in the accident. A local official told the Jamaica Observer that the injured had been transported to Kingston Public Hospital.

Jamaican media are reporting that it was raining at the time of the accident.

More details to follow as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: News articles on several Web sites are quoting an American Airlines spokesman who says that the aircraft's fuselage was cracked, its number two engine separated from the wing, and the left main landing gear collapsed. It is unclear whether this damage occurred before or after the aircraft left the runway. Jamaican news sources report that the aircraft came to a rest against the airport perimeter fence.

UPDATE Dec. 23, 2009: In a statement issued early this morning, American Airlines confirmed that two passengers had been hospitalized for observation and treatment, while all other passengers that had been taken to local hospitals were treated and released. The statement did not mention any injuries to crew members.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has dispatched a team to assist the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority with the investigation of this accident. The NTSB team includes technical advisors from the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines, Boeing, GE Aircraft Engines, in addition to the NYSB's own aviation specialists.

A collection of still photos from the scene of the AA331 accident has been posted on CNN's iReport.

The video below, with raw footage of the accident scene last night, was posted on the Associated Press (AP) channel on YouTube.

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

French investigators release second interim report on the Air France Flight 447 accident

by B. N. Sullivan

Air FranceA second interim report about Air France Flight 447 has been released by the French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA). Flight 447 was the Airbus A330-200 that was lost over the Atlantic on June 1 of this year while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The BEA had released its first interim report in July.

This most recent report describes the ongoing work of the investigators, focusing on:
  • the pieces of recovered wreckage
  • meteorological conditions at the time of the accident
  • maintenance messages transmitted by ACARS
  • the certification and the continuing airworthiness of the Pitot probes
  • speed inconsistencies during cruise
By its very nature as an 'interim' report, the document presents no conclusions about the cause of the accident, saying "At this stage, in the absence of any data from the flight recorders, the main parts of the airplane and any witness testimony on the flight, the precise circumstances of the accident, and therefore its causes, have still not been determined. The investigative work is continuing with this objective."

The new report (links below) includes many photographs of pieces of debris recovered from the ocean, with explanations, as well as a number of explanatory diagrams.

Regarding physical evidence from the aircraft passenger cabin, the report says, "The cabin crew’s seatbelts that were found (three out of eleven) were not in use at the moment of impact."

The report notes that recovered life jackets were still in their packages, and that examination of several of the recovered passenger oxygen containers "showed that they were in the closed position," i.e., had not deployed. "There had been no cabin depressurisation," says the report.

Regarding pieces of wing and control surface that had been recovered, the report notes deformations that "were the result of the bottom-upwards loads." Evidence such as this has led investigators to the belief that the aircraft hit the water largely intact and on its belly.

Several parts of the aircraft's flap extension mechanism fairing were found. Analysis and comparison with an identical aircraft "made it possible to determine that the flaps were in the 'retracted' position at the time of impact with the water."

The vertical stabilizer was recovered largely intact and "in generally good condition." According to the report, "The damage due to separation from the fuselage was essentially located at the root of the vertical stabiliser."
The vertical stabiliser’s side panels did not show signs of compression damage. The breaks seen at the level of the lateral load pick-up rods were the result of the backwards movement of the attachments and centre and aft frames. The
observations made on the vertical stabiliser are not consistent with a failure due to lateral loads in flight.
In regard to fuselage parts (remains of the skin, frames and web frames), the report says, "The fuselage was sheared along the frames and centre and aft attachment lugs by loads applied bottom-upwards."
The observations made on the debris (toilet doors, partitions, galleys, cabin crew rest module, spoiler, aileron, vertical stabiliser) evidenced high rates of compression resulting from a high rate of descent at the time of impact with the water.

This high rate of compression can be seen all over the aircraft and symmetrically on the right- and left-hand sides.

High levels of loading would be required to cause the damage observed forward of the vertical stabiliser (compression failure of the forward attachment).

These observations are not compatible with a separation of the aft part of the fuselage in flight.
The patterns of deformation also led the investigators to conclude that "the aircraft had low bank and little sideslip on impact," and that the deformations "were not consistent with an aircraft nose-down attitude at the moment of impact.'

Commentary on the autopsies performed on human remains recovered also is included in this report.
The autopsies performed made it possible to identify fifty persons: forty-five passengers, four flight attendants, including an in-charge flight attendant, and the Captain.
Many of the observed injuries, including fractures to the pelvis, spine and thorax, were said to be "compatible with the effect, on a seated person, of high acceleration whose component in the axis of the spinal column is oriented upwards through the pelvis."

The report notes that "information from the autopsies does not make it possible to reach a conclusion as to the location of the Captain at the time of the accident."

To read the report for yourself, follow either of these links to the BEA's second interim report on the Air France Flight 447 accident investigation:
Note: If the BEA web site is busy or the documents fail to load, here is an alternative source for the English version of the second BEA Interim report.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Air France Flt 447 on Aircrew Buzz.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tis the season... for de-icing

by B. N. Sullivan

A wicked snowstorm in the eastern United States caused the cancellation of many hundreds of flights today. Several airports closed while snow removal got underway, and at others, air traffic was greatly reduced.

'Tis the season for snow in the northern hemisphere. We all can bet that there's a lot more snow to follow before Spring returns.

Earlier this month I left Denver International Airport (DIA) in the middle of a snowstorm. The accumulation was not enough to cripple the airport, but early morning departures required de-icing. Fortunately DIA is used to snow, and well equipped to handle it. Here are a couple of photos I shot on the de-icing pad at DIA on the morning of December 8, 2009. I had a pretty good view from my exit row window seat on a United Airlines Boeing 767. [Click on the photos for a larger view.]

The first photo shows a United Airlines Boeing 757 being sprayed with de-icing fluid.


And then it was our turn.

De-icing at Denver International Airport

I wish all the readers of Aircrew Buzz a safe winter flying season. Stay warm!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The test pilots who flew Boeing's 787 Dreamliner on her maiden flight

by B.N. Sullivan

Mike CarrikerWhen the Boeing 787 Dreamliner made its long-awaited first flight earlier this week, Capt. Mike Carriker, pictured at right, was commanding the aircraft. Capt. Carriker is Boeing's chief pilot for the 787 program. In the Dreamliner cockpit's right hand seat was Capt. Randy Neville, pictured below.

An article about the 787's first flight on Wired.com's Autopia blog profiles the two pilots this way:
Boeing brought in two of its best for the 787’s first flight. Carriker is chief pilot on the 787 program and was a Navy pilot before joining Boeing in 1990. He’s made more than 300 carrier landings flying the A-7E Corsair and F/A-18 Hornet. In addition to flying the 787, Carriker was a chief test pilot on the 737 program and the assistant project pilot on the X-32 Joint Strike Fighter program when Boeing was competing for the contract. He also is checked out in the 1933 Boeing 247D, the company’s first all-metal airliner.

Air Force veteran Randy Neville flew in right seat for the first flight. Neville spent 20 years flying F-106 Delta Darts and F-16 Fighting Falcons. He is a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot school and went on to weapons testing in the F-4 and F-16. Neville also flew the F-22 Raptor while at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
About the flight

On December 15, 2009 at 10:27 local time, the new aircraft departed Paine Field in Everett, WA on its maiden flight. Carriker and Neville kept the aircraft aloft for about three hours, testing some of the Dreamliner's systems and structures, while on-board equipment recorded and transmitted real-time data to a flight-test team at Boeing Field. They took the aircraft to an altitude of 13,200 feet (4,023 meters) and an air speed of 180 knots, or about 207 miles (333 kilometers) per hour -- which Boeing says is customary on a first flight. At about 13:33 local time, the 787 landed for the time at Seattle's Boeing Field.

Randy NevilleUpon landing, the pair of pilots participated in a news conference about the first 787 flight. Both seemed enthusiastic about the aircraft and the experience of flying it (and who wouldn't?!).

Carriker, replying to a question, said, "Is it a relief? Yes. Would I like to go get another 20,000 pounds of gas and good weather and go again? You bet I would. Make that about 80,000 pounds of gas."

Neville said, "The airplane flew great. There were no surprises and the airplane did exactly as we were expecting -- and that's goodness from the pilot viewpoint."

Neville talked about the progression of the flight: "We took off with flaps 20, the normal take off setting and we stayed there for quite a ways. We were at flaps 20 for the bulk of the mission, that was with the gear down. We ultimately got to flaps 30, we cycled the landing gear, that was a big point we wanted to do. We brought the gear up then we both breathed a big sigh of relief when we put it back down and it came down properly."

In addition to the aircraft itself, a highlight for Carriker turned out to be the scenery from his 'office window': "We popped out of the top of the clouds at about 7,000 feet and there was the snow-capped Olympics, the Straits of San Juan, all framed in the front left window of a 787 at 10,000 feet. That image will be in my mind for the rest of my life."

By the way, they greased the landing at Boeing field, and rolled out straight down the runway's center line.

According to Boeing, the 787's first flight marks the beginning of a flight-test program that will see six airplanes "flying nearly around the clock and around the globe," with the first 787 scheduled for delivery in the fourth-quarter 2010. Like the first aircraft, three more of the 787s in the test program will be powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines,while two will be powered by General Electric GEnx engines.

Congratulations to Mike Carriker, Randy Neville, and all the folks at Boeing for the successful first flight of the beautiful new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

UPDATE Jan. 4, 2010: Michael Carriker, the pilot in command of the first flight of the Boeing 787, was interviewed recently for EAA Radio. He talked about "the 787, test flying, belonging to EAA, and if it's possible to put a Hatz biplane on floats." In case you missed it on the EAA Web site, here is the link to the MP3 audio file of the EAA interview with Michael Carriker.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scotland's FlyGlobespan goes bust, strands crews and passengers

by B. N. Sullivan

Flyglobespan B737-800Scottish low-fare and charter airline Flyglobespan has ceased operations, leaving some 800 staff suddenly jobless, and reportedly stranding at least 5,000 passengers abroad. An article about the debacle on the Scottish news Web site The Sun mentioned that flight crews were "understood to be stranded" as well.

The carrier's parent, Globespan Group, entered administration after "having suffered liquidity issues," according to a terse message posted on the Flyglobespan.com Web site. That message went on to say, "Unfortunately, the Joint Administrators have been unable to continue trading the companies and therefore all flights operated by The Globespan Group plc or Globespan Airlines Ltd have been cancelled and the aircraft grounded."

According to several news articles, the majority of Flyglobespan's staff, including crew members, will lose their jobs immediately. A small number of employees will be retained temporarily to help wind down the company's operations.

The Sun reported:
Last month the company staved off collapsed with a last-ditch cash injection. And only a day before going bust, Flyglobespan had been talking about a bright future. On Monday, founder Tom Dalrymple predicted "good news" over a funding deal.
Apparently Mr. Dalrymple was overly optimistic?

Many crew members and other Flyglobespan staff said that they received no official notification of the airline's demise from the company. Sadly, they learned they had lost their jobs when they read news stories or heard about the company's collapse on television.

Rumor has it that crew members down route were told to find their own way home. This wouldn't be the first time the failure of an airline has left crew stranded all over the map and having to pay their own way home, but it is despicable just the same. Talk about adding insult to injury!

And I suppose if there is no money available to buy tickets home for crews it is too much to hope that the crews and ground staff might (eventually) receive their final paychecks.

An article about the company's collapse on the BBC news Web site quoted the Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy, who said, "The news that Flyglobespan has gone into administration is a real blow for Scotland and first and foremost for the hundreds of employees who now face redundancy a week before Christmas."

Another unnamed Scottish government spokesman said, "We recognise that this will be an anxious time for employees and their families, particularly at this time of year."


[Photo Source]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Big day for Boeing: The B787 Dreamliner flies!

by B. N. Sullivan

Today, December 15, 2009, was historic. I don't know about you, but I spent hours watching TV and live webcasts earlier today as the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner took off for the very first time. While the world watched, the Dreamliner began its takeoff roll at Paine Field in Everett, WA. I have to admit that I got a bit choked up as Boeing's newest commercial aircraft rotated and lifted off the runway for the first time. The time was 10:27 AM local time.

The weather was not the best -- drizzly and overcast -- but the graceful looking aircraft climbed out as if it were a sunny day, carried out its long-anticipated maiden flight, and returned to earth for a picture perfect landing at Seattle's Boeing Field at 13:33 local time.

From the Boeing press release about the event:
787 Chief Pilot Mike Carriker and Capt. Randy Neville tested some of the airplane's systems and structures, as on-board equipment recorded and transmitted real-time data to a flight-test team at Boeing Field.

After takeoff from Everett, the airplane followed a route over the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Capts. Carriker and Neville took the airplane to an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and an air speed of 180 knots, or about 207 miles (333 kilometers) per hour, customary on a first flight.
According to Boeing, the first Boeing 787, which is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, will be joined in the flight test program in the coming weeks and months by five other 787s, including two that will be powered by General Electric GEnx engines.

Congratulations to Boeing and all those involved with the 787 Dreamliner program on the successful first flight of this beautiful new airplane.

In case you missed the live event, here is a video of the Boeing 787's first takeoff from Paine Field (video provided by AirlineReporter):

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


Friday, December 11, 2009

Pilots at North American Airlines join ALPA

by B.N. Sullivan

North American AirlinesThe pilots at North American Airlines (NAA) have chosen the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) to be their collective bargaining representative. The U.S. National Mediation Board (NMB) recently announced that ALPA received an "overwhelming majority" of the votes in a recent union election. The NAA pilots formerly were represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT.

“NAA pilots chose ALPA because of the many benefits such as aeromedical services and the access to worldwide support through ALPA and its affiliation with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA),” said Capt. Al Gallo, Temporary Master Executive Council chairman of the NAA unit of ALPA. “Those benefits extend to the ALPA staff whose vast experience and expertise will be invaluable in our efforts to protect our rights and advance our careers under our collective bargaining agreement. We did not have the resources under the IBT that we have now with ALPA, and we plan to take full advantage of this opportunity.”

Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president, said that the union was “extremely pleased that the NAA pilots have joined the ALPA family.”

The pilots of NAA fly Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft for passenger, military, and cargo operations around the world.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Northwest Flight 188 incident: Pilots' appeal documents

by B. N. Sullivan

FAA logoAre you ready for another update on the Northwest Flight 188 incident? Readers will recall that shortly after the incident (in which the pilots of the Airbus A320 were out of radio contact with air traffic control for an extended period of time and overflew their destination while working on their laptop computers) the FAA revoked the licenses of both pilots. The pilots have since filed appeals seeking to have the license revocations rescinded.

Today a reader forwarded to me an email pass-around that included facsimile copies of the appeal documents as an attachment. Given that I have not seen the original documents, and considering that I received the copies via an email pass-around, I cannot guarantee that the copies are authentic, however they appear to be credible. I have uploaded them to my Web site, and anyone who is interested in having a look at them can access them there: NW Flight 188 Pilot Appeals (13-page 'pdf' file)

Highlights: The pilots deny that they "intentionally or willfully" violated any federal aviation regulations.

They appear to assign blame for the incident to air traffic control, stating:
The air traffic controller(s) did not comply with the requirements of the air traffic control manual and other relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices with respect to Northwest Flight 188, nor coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatch, and such failure was a causal or contributing factor in the incident referenced in the Administrator's Complaint. Respondent asserts that he had a right to rely, and did rely, that the controllers would comply with all relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices. Such reliance justifies a reduction, mitigation, or waiver of sanction.
The appeal goes on to claim that the sanction against them is "not in compliance with Board precedent and policy."

The pilots also claim that there were "mitigating facts and circumstances that caused or contributed to the incident, including but not limited to aircraft systems design and human factors, justifying a reduction, mitigation, or waiver of sanction."

Presumably both pilots will be able to present their case(s) in person at a hearing before the NTSB in the near future.

Monday, December 07, 2009

South African Airlink regional jet runway overrun on landing at George, South Africa

by B. N. Sullivan

SA Airlink ERJ-135An Embraer ERJ-135 aircraft operated by South African Airlink overran a runway at George (South Africa) this morning. The accident happened as the aircraft, operating as Flight SA8625, was arriving at George Airport after a scheduled flight from Capetown. No injuries were reported among the three crew members and 30 passengers on board, however a statement issued by the South African Civil Aviation (SACAA) said that "two crew members and three passengers have been sent to hospital for observation." The aircraft suffered substantial damage.

In a statement to the press, SA Airlink said that the aircraft (registration ZS SJX) "aquaplaned off the end of the wet runway. The incident occurred at 11h06 local time" on December 7, 2009. The company statement also said, "Weather at the time is reported as being overcast with rain. The aircraft appears to be damaged the extent of which is unknown at this stage."

News reports say that after leaving the runway, the aircraft crashed through the airport perimeter fence and came to rest on a nearby roadway. Several photos of the accident scene have been posted to the South Africa's Eyewitness News Web site.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Wiggins Airways Cessna Caravan pilot praised after forced landing near Rome, NY

by B.N. Sullivan

Wiggins AirwaysThe pilot of a Cessna 208 Caravan escaped injury yesterday when he made a forced landing in a field outside Rome, NY, following an engine failure. The aircraft, operating as Wiggins Airways flight WIG 8409 on behalf of FedEx, was on a scheduled air cargo flight between Syracuse Hancock International Airport and Plattsburgh International Airport (New York) when it lost power. According to preliminary data posted on the Web site of the FAA, the pilot, who was the sole occupant of the aircraft, was uninjured; the airplane was not damaged.

A news report about the incident on Syracuse.com quoted an Oneida County official who said the aircraft lost power at about 7:45 a.m. December 3, 2009, at an altitude of about 7,500 feet. The aircraft was about 15 miles away from the airport at the former Griffiss Air Force Base. The pilot radioed a MAYDAY to air traffic control and attempted to divert to Griffiss (KRME), but the aircraft "rapidly lost altitude and air speed."

The pilot was identified by the company and the news media as Captain Peter May, who has more than 8,000 flight hours in this aircraft type. He has flown for Wiggins Airways since 1994.

From Syracuse.com:
Upon dropping out of the clouds at about 1,000 feet, May decided to either crash land in Lake Delta just north of Rome or a less populated area west of the lake. May chose to land in the hayfield of the Von Matt farm.

"He had the good wisdom to drop the flaps,which gave him lift," said Vernon May, commissioner of aviation in Oneida County. "He did everything right."
The Utica Observer-Dispatch quoted Wiggins Senior Vice President Andy Day, who said, “We’re very lucky to have Peter. When things like this happen, you hope to have people like Captain May at the controls. He did a very good job and did exactly what we train to do in the circumstance.”

The article about the incident on the Observer-Dispatch Web site includes a photo of the aircraft in the field where it landed.

According to Syracuse.com, "The aircraft will be partially disassembled and trucked to Griffiss, where the FAA will attempt to determine the cause of the engine failure."

Monday, November 30, 2009

New FAA rule prohibits takeoffs with 'polished frost'

by B.N. Sullivan

FAA logoThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a new rule that prohibits takeoffs with “polished frost” — frost buffed to make it smooth — on the wings, stabilizers and control surfaces of several classes of aircraft. The new rule applies to aircraft operated under 14 CFR Part 91 subpart F, and Parts 125 and 135, and makes those operations consistent with Part 121 with respect to its prohibition on operations with polished frost.

The FAA summarizes the new Final Rule this way:
This final rule removes language from part 91 subpart F, and parts 125 and 135, which permits aircraft to takeoff with frost that has been polished to make it smooth (“polished frost”) on critical surfaces. Under the final rule, operators will be required to remove any frost adhering to critical surfaces prior to takeoff.
Additionally, the rule restructures language in parts 91, 125, and 135 to clarify that aircraft must have functioning deicing or anti-icing equipment to fly under IFR into known or forecast light or moderate icing conditions, or under VFR into known light or moderate icing conditions.
The new rules become effective on January 30, 2010. According to the FAA, there are 57 operators flying 188 aircraft affected by the rule changes.

Today the FAA issued a press release in conjunction with announcement of the new rule, which said, in part:
Frost can affect the aerodynamics of wings and control surfaces, and the safest action is to completely remove it. Previous FAA guidance recommended removing all wing frost prior to takeoff, but allowed it to be polished smooth if the aircraft manufacturer’s recommended procedures were followed. But manufacturers never published standards of acceptable smoothness for polished frost, and the FAA has no data to determine exactly how to polish frost to satisfactory smoothness.
“The FAA has advised pilots not to take off with frost or ice contaminating their wings for years because it made good sense,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “Now, it’s the law.”

Here is the link to the full text of the new rule: Removal of Regulations Allowing for Polished Frost - 27-page 'PDF' file

UPDATE Dec. 3, 2009: A reader alerted me to the fact that the link to the new rule, displayed above, no longer works. Here is the link the FAA Press release about the new rule banning takeoffs with polished frost; the press release contains a brief summary of the rule. The link at the bottom of that press release is the same as the one I have posted above, and it does appear to be broken at this time. I'm hoping that is a temporary situation.

Meanwhile, here is a link to an alternate source for the new FAA rule. The text of the rule begins about halfway down the left hand column of this 7-page 'pdf' document.

Taxiway collision at Salt Lake City: Southwest Airlines B737 and FedEx DC-10

by B. N. Sullivan

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 (registration N925WN) and a FedEx DC-10 (registration N318FE) were involved in a taxiway collision at Salt Lake City International Airport yesterday afternoon, November 29, 2009. The Southwest plane was pushing back from a gate in preparation for departure to Albuquerque when its wingtip was struck by that of the FedEx aircraft, which was taxiing. Passengers were evacuated from the Southwest aircraft. There were no injuries.

According to preliminary reports posted to the FAA Web site this morning, both aircraft sustained what the agency described as "minor" damage. Photos taken at the scene show the Southwest aircraft's right wing missing its winglet. (See this article and video clip from KOB.com in Albuquerque, and the one below, from KSL.com in Salt Lake City.)

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

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

Hat tip to the reader who alerted me to this accident.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Avient Aviation MD-11 freighter accident at Shanghai

by B.N. Sullivan

AvientAn MD-11 freighter operated by Avient Aviation crashed and burned at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport (PVG) this morning, November 28, 2009. At the time of the accident, the aircraft (registration Z-BAV) was departing Shanghai for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, as Flight Z3-324. A statement on the Avient Aviation Web site confirms that there were seven crew members on board the flight. News reports say that three crew members perished as a result of the accident, and the remaining four are hospitalized with various injuries.

According to news media, the aircraft overran Pudong's runway 35R during its takeoff roll. It is unclear at this time whether the aircraft had rotated before crashing, or if the accident resulted from a rejected takeoff.

The accident MD-11F was said to have been recently acquired by Avient.

Condolences to the families and friends of the crew members who lost their lives in this accident. Best wishes to the injured crew members for complete and speedy recovery.

UPDATE Nov. 29, 2009: The Aviation Herald reports:  "A Shanghai based pilot witnessing the crash said, that the main gear left the ground just before the end of the runway, the airplane however did not climb more than 10 feet, impacted approach lights and antennas and fell back onto the ground."

The 'black boxes' have been recovered from the wreckage.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Northwest Flight 188 incident: ATC audio and transcripts released by FAA

by B. N. Sullivan

FAA logoYou may have read some news reports today about the FAA's release of air traffic control audio and transcripts related to the incident in October in which Northwest Airlines Flight 188 was NORDO for over an hour and overflew Minneapolis, its destination -- also known as the 'laptop pilots' incident. I'm on vacation this week, but thought I'd pop in to post the link to the FAA page where readers of Aircrew Buzz can find those audio files and the transcripts: FAA: Northwest Airlines Flight 188.

For a quick summary of the information contained in the recordings and transcripts, check out this article on FlightGlobal.com.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gulfstream's new G650 business jet completes maiden flight

by B.N. Sullivan

Gulfstream Aerospace G650 maiden flightIt was an exciting day in Savannah: The new Gulfstream G650 completed its first flight. The the ultra-large-cabin, ultra-long-range Gulfstream G650, the newest and fastest business jet produced by Gulfstream Aerospace, took off from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport at 1:41 p.m. local time today, and landed 12 minutes later.

At the controls of the aircraft (N650GA) were Gulfstream experimental test pilot Jake Howard and senior experimental test pilot Tom Horne. Also on board was flight engineer Bill Osborne.

“We are pleased to announce that the G650 successfully completed its first flight today,” Pres Henne said in a statement to the press. Mr. Henne is senior vice president, Programs, Engineering and Test, at Gulfstream.

“Systems were fully operational. The aircraft achieved an altitude of 6,600 feet and a speed of 170 knots. Flight controls and characteristics performed as expected. We consider this flight a success and look forward to pursuing our full flight-test plan,” Henne said.

The crew reported "a slight vibration in a landing-gear door," so they cut the flight short from the original plan as a precautionary measure.

The Gulfstream G650 was formally rolled out of the hangar under its own power for the first time on September 29, 2009. (Here is a link to the video of the G650 rollout.)

According to information provided by Gulfstream:
The G650 offers the longest range at the fastest speed in its class. Powered by best-in-class Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, the business jet is capable of traveling 7,000 nautical miles at 0.85 Mach and has a maximum operating speed of 0.925 Mach.
Its 7,000-nautical-mile range means the G650 can fly nonstop from Dubai to Chicago.
With an initial cruise altitude of 41,000 feet at 0.85 Mach, the G650 can climb to a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet and avoid traffic and inclement weather.

With its all-new aerodynamically optimized wing, the G650 can meet the latest takeoff certification requirements. At maximum takeoff weight, the aircraft can depart from a 6,000-foot runway.
Additionally, notes Gulfstream, the G650 features the PlaneView™ II cockpit, the most advanced flight deck in business aviation, and an Advanced Health and Trend Monitoring System (AHTMS) to support aircraft maintenance planning and enhance availability.

Sounds like quite a cool airplane!

Here is a link to Gulfstream's G650 Web page where you can find several photos of the aircraft, and a video of its first flight.

[Photo Source]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Australian Transport Safety Bureau issues interim reports on two Qantas accidents

by B. N. Sullivan

Qantas logoDuring the past week, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released interim updates on the investigations of two separate accidents involving aircraft operated by Qantas.

QF 30 depressurization, January 25, 2008

The ATSB issued an interim factual report on the investigation into the depressurization of a Qantas Boeing 747-400 aircraft, registration VH-OJK, on July 25, 2008. That aircraft, operating as Qantas Flight QF30, was en-route from Hong Kong to Melbourne; it diverted to Manila where it made a safe emergency landing. Once on the ground, a large hole in the fuselage was discovered. The ATSB concluded that the failure of an oxygen cylinder damaged the pressure hull and led the depressurization.

The newest report focused on a series of tests carried out on several oxygen cylinders from the same manufacturing lot as the failed cylinder, intended to replicate the failure. The ATSB reports that the "various tests have not been able to replicate the cylinder failure that initiated the accident." The ATSB says:
To date, all pressure tests of the cylinders met or exceeded the relevant safety specifications, with recorded rupture pressures being over twice the maximum working pressure of the cylinders.
The investigation continues, and a final report is expected in early 2010.

QF 72 in-flight upset, October 7, 2008

The ATSB also issued a second interim factual report on its investigation into an in-flight upset involving a Qantas Airbus A330-303, registration VH-QPA, on October 7, 2008. The aircraft, operating as Qantas Flight QF 72, was en route from Singapore to Perth when it experienced two uncommanded pitch-down events. The flight diverted to Learmonth, Western Australia, where it landed safely.

The new report describes tests carried out in an attempt to discover what caused anomalous behavior of the aircraft's No. 1 Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU), which led to the upset. The tests were inconclusive. The ATSB says:
Despite extensive testing and analysis, the reason why the ADIRU started providing erroneous data (spikes) during the 7 October 2008 flight (or the 27 December 2008 flight) has not been identified to date. Nevertheless, the crew operational procedures that were provided by Airbus in October 2008 (and modified in December 2008 and January 2009) significantly reduced the chance of another in-flight upset by limiting the time that a faulty ADIRU could output angle of attack spikes. Airbus is also modifying the FCPC software used in the A330/A340 fleets to prevent angle of attack spikes leading to an in-flight upset.
The ATSB expects to release a final report into this accident in the second quarter of 2010.

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

ALPA to Congress: Tighter restrictions on lithium batteries, please

by B. N. Sullivan

Mark RogersEarlier this week, a representative of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials regarding the union's position on the shipment of lithium batteries aboard commercial aircraft. Mark Rogers, who is the director of ALPA’s Dangerous Goods Program, gave testimony in support of the Hazardous Material Transportation Act of 2009 (H.R. 4016), proposed legislation that would place tighter restrictions on the shipment of lithium batteries.

Rogers, who is a First Officer with United Airlines, told subcommittee members, “If lithium batteries shipped aboard airliners are damaged, defective, or improperly packaged, a fire may occur, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences. To mitigate this risk, it is necessary to remove the exceptions in place today and (fully) regulate lithium batteries as a hazardous material, including provisions for enhanced marking, labeling, testing, and packaging requirements.”

Rogers stressed that notification to the pilot in command also is essential. Responding to a question from a subcommittee member, Rogers described a scenario in which a shipment of lithium batteries could be placed next to flammable paint, which is fully regulated and classified as a dangerous good. The crew in this example would be notified about the location and quantity of the paint, but not the potential incendiary device sitting next to it.

“At least six additional fires involving lithium batteries aboard aircraft or in packages prepared for air transport have been documented since I testified before this subcommittee in May,” said Rogers. He also noted that nearly two years have passed since the NTSB issued recommendations to subcommittee to remove regulatory exceptions for lithium batteries.

Here are the links to the text of the oral testimony and written submission presented to Congress by Mark Rogers, on behalf of ALPA.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Court orders Cathay Pacific Airways to pay millions to wrongfully dismissed pilots

by B. N. Sullivan

Cathay Pacific AirwaysA Hong Kong High Court judge has ruled that Cathay Pacific Airways, Ltd. unfairly fired and defamed 18 pilots in 2001, and has ordered the carrier to pay the pilots HK$58.7 million -- an amount equivalent to nearly US$8 million. The pilots were among 49 who were fired by Cathay during a labor dispute. The fired pilots became known as the 49ers.

According to an article about the court ruling on BBC News, the pilots were fired when they started a work-to-rule campaign. The pilots told the court they were often made to fly longer than agreed hours, with not enough breaks between flights.

Although the airline claimed that the pilots were dismissed due to frequent sick days and a negative attitude toward management, the judge ruled that "the predominant reason for the plaintiffs' termination by Cathay was their perceived participation in union activities."

Hong Kong news Web site The Standard reported that Court of First Instance Judge Anselmo Reyes said:
"What I derive is that the 49ers were principally dismissed because management was unable to make headway in last-minute negotiations with the union.

"Cathay's intention was to show union members that management was prepared to take tough action against pilots who participated in MSS [Maximum Safety Strategy, a form of limited industrial action].

"The 49ers were singled out by the review panel as persons who by reason of their sickness records and ostensibly argumentative character were probably the most active supporters of the union cause.

"By dismissing them, Cathay hoped to send a strong signal to other union members to comply with management's line or else face a similar fate as the 49ers."
Bloomberg.com reports that, of the 18 plaintiff pilots, 16 were awarded HK$3.3 million in damages for defamation and HK$150,000 for wrongful dismissal each. One pilot didn’t get awarded damages for defamation and one didn’t get damages for wrongful dismissal. The pilots also were awarded their legal costs.

One of the 18 plaintiff pilots died in 2002. The Standard says that the deceased pilot's family "will not be compensated for defamation, but like the others will receive HK$150,000 for wrongful dismissal in addition to a month's pay."

The other 31 pilots who were fired at the same time also sued, but according to BBC News, they settled with the carrier at an earlier date.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kingfisher Airlines ATR-72 runway overrun at Mumbai

by B. N. Sullivan

An ATR-72 aircraft (registration VT-KAC) operated by India's Kingfisher Airlines appears to have been substantially damaged when it overran a runway while landing at Mumbai. The accident happened on November 10, 2009 at about 16:40 local time in Mumbai. No one among the four crew and 42 passengers on board was injured. The aircraft's nose gear, left main gear, left wing and left propeller are said to have been damaged as a result of the excursion.

According to various news reports, the aircraft, operating as Kingfisher Flight IT 4124, was arriving at Mumbai after a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Bhavnagar. The aircraft apparently landed long on runway 27A and was unable to come to a halt before overrunning the end of the runway and becoming mired in mud. It should be noted that runway 27A is temporarily shortened due to displacement of the threshold while repairs are underway. At the time of the accident, the weather was said to have been cloudy with light rain and reduced visibility.

India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has opened an investigation of the accident. The two pilots have been stood down pending the outcome of the investigation.

Here is a video clip of Times Now television news coverage of the accident:

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

UPDATE Nov. 12, 2009: FlightGlobal.com reports today that as a result of the Kingfisher ATR runway overrun, India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued new guidelines for airlines operating at Mumbai airport. Specifically, the DGCA says "no operations will be allowed on the runway if the surface is wet, and assisted take-offs and landings are not allowed."

The news DGCA guidelines also require that one of the two pilots operating aircraft on the runway must be a training captain and the other must have a minimum of 300 hours' flying experience, it adds. A de-briefing report must be filed after each flight.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

NetJets to lay off 495 pilots in the U.S.

by B.N. Sullivan

NetJetsFractional jet operator NetJets, Inc. has announced plans to cut 495 pilot jobs in the U.S. The layoffs will become effective on January 15, 2010.

Earlier this year NetJets had offered pilots early retirements and voluntary unpaid leaves of absence in an effort to downsize without having to resort to involuntary furloughs. Apparently those measures were not sufficient to relieve overstaffing.

NetJets pilots are represented by the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (NJASAP), an independent union. Today NJASAP President Capt. Mark Luthi said, "After several months of continuous efforts to mitigate a pilot furlough, we have reached a point at which the economic realities that challenge our employer can no longer be offset by the ground-breaking initiatives implemented earlier this year."

From a news release issued by the NJASP Executive Board:
Recognizing the seriousness of the economic crisis early on, Association leaders sought to supplement its furlough mitigation efforts by forming the NJASAP Furlough Working Group, which was tasked with preparing a robust pilot assistance initiative should a reduction in force take place.

"Hoping a working group's efforts prove unnecessary is hardly an appropriate mindset for a responsible leadership group; however, I freely admit the Board and I would have preferred the group's year-long preparations been for naught," Luthi said.

Almost one year of planning has positioned the Association to offer immediate access to information and resources designed to assist each furloughed crewmember and his or her family. In addition to a series of informational teleconferences, the Union has launched a web-based Furloughed Pilot Resource Center and has prepared a comprehensive resource guide that outlines financial, unemployment, and worker retraining benefits as well as alternate insurance options and various assistance grants.

The Executive Board has also approved a seven-month dues refund and the immediate cessation of dues collected from affected pilots and has purchased a year-long subscription to two aviation job sites for each pilot. Additionally, the FWG is finalizing an outreach program that will keep furloughed pilots in touch with their peers by paring them with active pilots.
In a statement to the press, NetJets CEO David Sokol said, "This difficult decision resulted from a comprehensive analysis of current and projected flight demand. As we move forward, we will continue to adjust our operations to meet customers’ needs and act in a fiscally responsible manner."

Union leader Capt. Luthi says that the NJASP "remains willing to engage in mutually beneficial talks intended to hasten our pilots' return to the flight line."

Job cuts in the works for bmibaby pilots and cabin crew

by B. N. Sullivan

bmibaby.comBMI Group, which operates the UK-based low fare airline bmibaby, is planning a restructuring that will cut flights on certain bmibaby routes, and reduce the carrier's fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft by five in 2010. In conjunction with the downsizing, 54 pilots and 82 cabin crew stand to lose their jobs. BMI managing director Crawford Rix indicated that 22 management and support positions are "at risk for redundancy" as well.

Crew members at risk for losing their jobs are currently based at Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff. At the same time, though, another ten pilots and 15 cabin crew will be needed at East Midlands due to the restructuring. At this point, it is unclear if some of the crew members at risk for redundancy would be repositioned to East Midlands.

Reuters, quoting a statement from the Unite union, says that Unite "would be working to stop compulsory redundancies at the airline." BBC News also reported that "discussions had been started with staff and union representatives with a view to minimising job losses where possible."

The BBC quoted Brian Boyd, Unite's national officer for aviation, who said: "Today's announcement casts further doubt over the whole bmi group as its new owners Lufthansa search for cost savings.

"Unite members are once again caught at the sharp end of business restructuring," Boyd commented.

BMI Group, the parent of bmibaby, is in turn owned by Lufthansa.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Video: US Airways Flight 1549 flight attendants recall Hudson River ditching

by B .N. Sullivan

Donna Dent and Sheila Dail -- two of the three flight attendants who evacuated US Airways Flight 1549 after it was ditched in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 -- were interviewed recently by David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International. The occasion was the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators annual awards banquet on October 29, 2009, which took place in England at the Guildhall in the City of London. (The third flight attendant from Flight 1549, Doreen Welsh, was unable to attend the banquet.)

In the interview, the flight attendants recount their impressions of the water landing and the subsequent evacuation of the aircraft. Here is a video clip of that interview, first posted on Mr. Learmount's blog, Operationally Speaking.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about US Airways Flt 1549 on Aircrew Buzz.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Final flight for Midwest Airlines Boeing 717 aircraft and crews

by B. N. Sullivan

Midwest Airlines Boeing 717The arrival of a Midwest Airlines Boeing 717-200 aircraft at Milwaukee last evening, November 2, 2009, marked what Midwest employees are calling the end of an era. Midwest flight MEP210, from Boston's Logan International Airport to Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport was the final flight for the aircraft and its crew, and the final flight of Midwest Airlines as an independent entity. [Click here to listen to a podcast of an interview with Capt. Dan Norden, commander of the final Midwest flight, on 620 WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News"]

Republic Airways Holdings announced plans to acquire Midwest in June of this year, and closed the deal the following month. Beginning today, November 3, Republic will operate all flights on Midwest's routes, using crews and aircraft from its other subsidiaries. Midwest's Boeing 717 aircraft are reportedly scheduled to be returned to the manufacturer, and the remaining Midwest pilots will no longer fly any Midwest aircraft.

Capt. Anthony Freitas, chairman of the Midwest Airlines group of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), said in a statement:
"While there will still be airplanes flying with ‘Midwest’ written on them, there will no longer be any of the pilots who truly provided ‘The Best Care in the Air’ operating them. All of the original Midwest flight crews are being outsourced in the final phase of dismantling our airline.

"Midwest’s new owner hopes that if they keep the same paint scheme and cookies, no one will notice that the crews who helped build our airline’s well-deserved reputation for award-winning customer service are gone. Clearly, the replacement of highly experienced Midwest pilots with lower-cost labor will be devastating for our pilots and their families. But the traveling public will also be affected because they will lose the high experience levels and the extraordinary dedication to service that the real Midwest pilots have always taken great pride in providing."
Over the past year, more than 400 flight attendants also have lost their jobs due to outsourcing of flight attendant positions to another carrier, and the eventual sale of Midwest to Republic Holdings, according to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents Midwest's flight attendants.

Toni Higgins, president of AFA's Midwest unit, points out that following yesterday's final Boeing 717 flight,Midwest Airlines "will exist in name only."
"Management has succeeded in creating a virtual airline that no longer employs Midwest flight attendants or pilots. Over 400 flight attendants, many of whom have dedicated over 20 years to our hometown airline, find themselves jobless, facing the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. However, management continues to benefit from destroying our once great airline under the protections of their golden parachutes," said Higgins.
Both ALPA and AFA are currently engaged in negotiations aimed at integrating the seniority lists of Midwest Airlines with those of Republic's other subsidiaries in the hope of restoring the jobs of as many Midwest crew members as possible.

AFA also has a pending grievance against Republic Airlines for violating the Midwest collective bargaining agreement. In this grievance, the flight attendants' union "is challenging Republic's right to replace Midwest flight attendants with Republic flight attendants and, in doing so, furlough Midwest flight attendants."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cessna's Citation Sovereign qualifies for operations between Los Angeles and Honolulu

by B. N. Sullivan

Cessna Citation SovereignThe Cessna Aircraft Company recently announced that Citation Sovereign Part 135 operators will now be able to conduct certain over-water flights, specifically Los Angeles to Hawaii, without requiring FAA Extended Operations (ETOPS) approval.

According to Cessna, analysis proves the aircraft can fly 1,022 nautical miles -- just over halfway between Hawaii and Los Angeles -- in less than 180 minutes at the engine-out flight profile. To qualify for the ETOPS exemption, a passenger aircraft flying with an engine out must never be more than 180 minutes from a suitable airport.

Technical details, provided by Cessna:
Cessna Engineering conducted an analysis using worst case weight and determined the Model 680 Sovereign is capable of traveling a distance of 1,022 nm in 180 minutes (under standard conditions in still air) after an engine failure. This analysis is based on a sea level takeoff at maximum takeoff weight (30,300 lbs), a direct climb to 43,000 feet using the Operating Manual multi-engine climb profile, followed by cruise at maximum cruise thrust.

At the engine failure point (1022 nm into the trip and weight of 26,209 pounds) the airplane drifts down using the Operating Manual drift down procedures to the drift down altitude. Upon reaching the drift down altitude, the airplane then descends at a rate of 3,000 fpm at a speed of VMO/MMO – 10 knots to 25,000 feet.

At 25,000 feet, the aircraft levels and cruises using maximum continuous thrust until starting the final descent to the diversion airport. The final descent is flown at a rate of 3,000 fpm and VMO -10 knots from 25,000 feet to 10,000 feet and then at 250 KIAS at idle thrust until reducing speed for landing.

This profile will support several of the over-water missions Sovereign operators desire to fly. The key in planning missions of this type is to maintain a maximum 1,022 nm or smaller radius from a suitable landing airport.

The operational guidance for this procedure will be included in the next revision (Revision 8) of the 680 Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) due out in early 2010.
“This is a response to customer requests for help in meeting this profile as L.A. to Honolulu is sure to be a popular route with Cessna’s charter operators,” said Roger Whyte, senior vice president, Sales & Marketing.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

US Airways plans to scale back, close some crew bases, reduce work force by 1,000

by B. N. Sullivan

US Airways A320US Airways has announced plans to reduce its work force by about 1,000 in early 2010. Among the jobs cuts: about 200 pilots and 150 flight attendants. Roughly 600 ground workers also will be laid off.

Crew bases at Las Vegas and New York/La Guardia will be closed as of January 31, 2010; the Boston crew base will be eliminated in early May. Crew bases in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. will be retained.

Following what the carrier calls a 'realignment strategy', US Airways plans to consolidate its operations around its three hub cities -- Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix -- plus Washington, DC. Shuttle service between New York/LaGuardia Airport, Boston and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will continue.

Among the changes: reduction of the number of Las Vegas flights; closure of stations at Colorado Springs and Wichita; redeployment of 15 E-190 aircraft to the shuttle service; and suspension of five European destinations currently served from Philadelphia. The airline plans to return its Philadelphia-Beijing flight authority to the Department of Transportation (DOT) "until economic conditions improve, while retaining the option to reapply for this authority in the future."

US Airways CEO Doug Parker said, "By concentrating on our strengths we will be better positioned to return US Airways to profitability, which will result in a more consistent experience for our customers, better returns for our shareholders and greater job stability and career opportunities for our employees."

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FAA revokes licenses of Northwest Airlines 'laptop pilots'

by B. N. Sullivan

FAA logoThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revoked the licenses of the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew Minneapolis in an Airbus A320 after having been out of radio contact with the ground for a period of time. The incident happened on October 21, 2009 during a flight from San Diego to Minneapolis.

In a brief press release issued this morning, the FAA said, in part:
The pilots were out of contact with air traffic controllers for an extended period of time and told federal investigators that they were distracted by a conversation. Air traffic controllers and airline officials repeatedly tried to reach them through radio and data contact, without success.

The emergency revocations cite violations of a number of Federal Aviation Regulations. Those include failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

The revocations are effective immediately. The pilots have 10 days to appeal the emergency revocations to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Yesterday the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that the pilots said in interviews that, during the flight, they had been using their personal laptop computers while discussing airline crew flight scheduling procedures, and that this had caused them to be distracted.

Delta Air Lines, which owns Northwest Airlines, indicated yesterday that "Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots' command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination."

UPDATE Nov. 5, 2009: The two pilots involved in the Northwestern Flight 188 incident have filed appeals with the NTSB regarding the revocation of their licenses. They now face a hearing before a judge within the next 120 days.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Northwest pilots who overflew Minneapolis tell NTSB they were engrossed, using laptops

by B. N. Sullivan

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has just released a statement regarding its continuing investigation of the Northwest Airlines flight that overflew its destination last week after being out of radio contact with air traffic control for a period of time. The incident occurred on October 21, 2009. Northwest Airlines Flight 188, an Airbus A320, eventually resumed radio contact, turned around and landed safely -- albeit late -- at Minneapolis, its intended destination. The incident has garnered enormous media attention, so today's factual update from the NTSB is welcome.

Here is the actual text of today's NTSB advisory about Northwest Flight 188:
In its continuing investigation of an Airbus A320 that overflew the Minneapolis-St Paul International/Wold-Chamberlain Airport (MSP), the National Transportation Safety Board has developed the following factual information:

On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at 5:56 pm mountain daylight time, an Airbus A320, operating as Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight 188, became a NORDO (no radio communications) flight at 37,000 feet. The flight was operating as a Part 121 flight from San Diego International Airport, San Diego, California (SAN) to MSP with 144 passengers, 2 pilots and 3 flight attendants.

Both pilots were interviewed separately by NTSB investigators yesterday in Minnesota. The following is an overview of the interviews:
  • The first officer and the captain were interviewed for over 5 hours combined.
  • The Captain, 53 years old, was hired in 1985. His total flight time is about 20,000 hours, about 10,000 hours of A-320 time of which about 7,000 was as pilot in command.
  • The First Officer, 54 years old, was hired in 1997. His total flight time is about 11,000 hours, and has about 5,000 hours on the A-320.
  • Both pilots said they had never had an accident, incident or violation.
  • Neither pilot reported any ongoing medical conditions.
  • Both pilots stated that they were not fatigued. They were both commuters, but they had a 19-hour layover in San Diego just prior to the incident flight. Both said they did not fall asleep or doze during the flight.
  • Both said there was no heated argument.
  • Both stated there was a distraction in the cockpit. The pilots said there was a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls from ATC even though both stated they heard conversation on the radio. Also, neither pilot noticed
    messages that were sent by company dispatchers. They were discussing the new monthly crew flight scheduling system that was now in place as a result of the merger. The discussion began at cruise altitude.
  • Both said they lost track of time.
  • Each pilot accessed and used his personal laptop computer while they discussed the airline crew flight scheduling procedure. The first officer, who was more familiar with the procedure was providing instruction to the captain. The use of personal computers on the flight deck is prohibited by company policy.
  • Neither pilot was aware of the airplane's position until a flight attendant called about 5 minutes before they were scheduled to land and asked what was their estimated time of arrival (ETA). The captain said, at that point, he looked at his primary flight display for an ETA and realized that they had passed MSP. They made contact with ATC and were given vectors back to MSP.
  • At cruise altitude - the pilots stated they were using cockpit speakers to listen to radio communications, not their headsets.
  • When asked by ATC what the problem was, they replied "just cockpit distraction" and "dealing with company issues".
  • Both pilots said there are no procedures for the flight attendants to check on the pilots during flight.
The Safety Board is interviewing the flight attendants and other company personnel today. Air traffic control communications have been obtained and are being analyzed.

Preliminary data from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) revealed the following:
  • The CVR recording was 1/2 hour in length.
  • The cockpit area microphone channel was not working during this recording. However, the crew's headset microphones recorded their conversations.
  • The CVR recording began during final approach, and continued while the aircraft was at the gate.
  • During the hours immediately following the incident flight, routine aircraft maintenance provided power to the CVR for a few minutes on several occasions, likely recording over several minutes of the flight.
The FDR captured the entire flight which contained several hundred aircraft parameters including the portion of flight where there was no radio communication from the flight crew. Investigators are examining the recorded parameters to see if any information regarding crew activity during the portion of flight where radio contact was lost can be obtained.

The Safety Board's investigation continues.
So, no sleeping, napping or nodding off; no claim of fatigue; no 'heated discussion' or argument -- just two well-rested, very experienced pilots losing situational awareness for an extended period of time because of crew scheduling issues? (Makes you wonder: Just how complex is that bidding system, anyway?)

This story just gets 'curioser and curioser' and leaves so many questions still unanswered. How did they miss the handoff from Denver Center to Minneapolis Center? How could they not have noticed any ACARS messages or SELCAL communications? And so on...

In any case, that's all of the official information for now, folks! Stay tuned for future developments.

UPDATE: Delta Air Lines (which now owns Northwest Airlines) made a public statement about the incident, saying that the two pilots "remain suspended until the conclusion of the investigations into this incident." Then came this elaboration:
Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots' command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination.
Probable translation: "Those two pilots are SO fired..."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Divi Divi Air Britten-Norman Islander accident near Bonaire takes pilot's life

by B.N. Sullivan

Divi Divi AirOn October 22, 2009, a Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander (registration PJ-SUN)ditched in the Caribbean Sea after losing power in the number two engine. The aircraft, operated by Divi Divi Air, was en route from Curaçao to Bonaire at the time of the accident. All nine passengers on the flight survived the impact and were able to exit the aircraft; they were rescued. The pilot did not survive.

The pilot has been identified as Robert Mansell, originally from England. News reports say that he was knocked unconscious in the crash, and passengers were unable to get him out of the aircraft before it sank.

Several news stories about the accident quoted a Divi Divi Air spokesman who called Mansell a "hero" saying, "All the passengers survived and he is the only one missing. If he wasn't a good pilot, he couldn't have ditched it so everyone could be saved."

Condolences to the family and friends of Captain Mansell.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Northwest pilots lose situational awareness, overfly destination

by B. N. Sullivan

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating an incident in which a Northwest Airlines A320 aircraft overflew its destination by approximately 150 miles. The two pilots attributed the incident to a loss of situational awareness due to engaging in a 'heated discussion', according to a press release issued by The NTSB.

From the NTSB:
On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at 5:56 pm mountain daylight time, an Airbus A320, N03274, operating as Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight 188, became a NORDO (no radio communications) flight at 37,000 feet.

The flight was operating as a Part 121 flight from San Diego International Airport, San Diego, California (SAN) to MSP with 147 passengers and unknown number of crew.

At 7:58 pm central daylight time (CDT), the aircraft flew over the destination airport and continued northeast for approximately 150 miles. The MSP center controller reestablished communications with the crew at 8:14 pm and reportedly stated that the crew had become distracted and had overflown MSP, and requested to return to MSP.

According to the Federal Administration (FAA) the crew was interviewed by the FBI and airport police. The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness. The Safety Board is scheduling an interview with the crew.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) have been secured and are being sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, DC.
An article about the incident on the Wall Street Journal Web site suggested that the incident was "a possible case of pilots nodding off at the controls." Presumably an analysis of the CVR contents will clear up whether the pilots were indeed arguing, or whether the cockpit was silent during the period of no radio contact.

UPDATE: The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has issued a statement about actions they took regarding the "unresponsive aircraft".
Fighters from two North American Aerospace Defense Command sites were put on alert yesterday for a Northwest Airlines commercial airliner that was not responding to radio calls from the Federal Aviation Administration. Before the fighters could get airborne, FAA re-established communications with the pilots of the Northwest Airlines commercial airliner and subsequently, the NORAD fighters were ordered to stand down. NORAD does not discuss locations of alerts sites.

UPDATE Oct. 23, 2009: This could be bad news for the investigation of this incident: A new NTSB press release mentions, "The 30 minute solid-state Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) captured a portion of the flight that is being analyzed." If the portion of the flight that the CVR captured is the final 30 minutes, it may not be able to resolve what was happening on the flight deck (and what was not) during the period of radio silence.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sudanese Boeing 707 freighter crash at Sharjah claims six lives

by B.N. Sullivan

A Sudanese-registered Boeing 707-300C freighter has crashed in Sharjah, UAE, claiming the lives of all six crew members on board. The aircraft (registration ST-AKW) was completely destroyed by the crash and the fire that ensued. No one on the ground was injured.

According to news reports, the accident occurred at about 15:30 local time on October 21, 2009, shortly after the aircraft departed from Sharjah International Airport, en route to Khartoum. The aircraft was operating as Flight SD 2241.

A Gulf News article about the accident quoted eyewitnesses who said that after taking off, the aircraft veered sharply to the right, flipped, and burst into flames as it impacted the ground.

Arabian Business reports: "The plane came down near the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club off Emirates Road at around 3.30pm. Officials said the black box had been found and that a full investigation would be carried out by the General Civil Aviation Authority."

News reports say that the remains of all six crew members have been recovered from the accident scene. All were Sudanese nationals. The aircraft was owned by Azza Air Transport and was leased by Sudan Airways.

Condolences to the families and colleagues of those who lost their lives.