Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aviation Industry Cutbacks and Air Safety

airlinerIs air safety being threatened by cutbacks in the aviation industry?  Respondents to a recent survey seem to think so.

Ascend, an aerospace information consultancy, just released a summary of the results of a very recent  survey.  Respondents to the survey, who  were described as nearly 200 'aviation insiders' in over 40 countries, were asked to rank a list of safety threats in order of importance, from 1 (least important) to 10 (most important).  According to Ascend, these  insiders rated the top five threats this way:
  • Airline management experience/attitudes/culture +8
  • Shortage of experienced personnel +7
  • Airline financial health +7
  • Fatigue/difficult work practices +7
  • Complacency +6
A press release about the Ascend survey results notes:
The results come shortly after Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s comments that cost cutting practices, putting pressure on airline staff, are threatening safety. Speaking about his successful landing of US Airways flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson river, he said, “One way of looking at this might be that, for 42 years, I’ve been making regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15th the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” Sullenberger is alarmed at practices, which he fears threaten that bank.

Ascend Safety director Paul Hayes agrees with the sentiment. “Industry cutbacks are causing concerns. Aviation personnel are aware that they are working harder for less money, and they link this with increased risks to safety,” he says.
At the same time, however, the majority of those who responded to the Ascend survey also said that aviation safety has improved over the past five years (52%), and that it will continue to improve over the next five years (58%).

And what will drive that improvement?

More than half of respondents to the Ascend air safety survey listed "Increased adoption of available safety equipment" (52%), and "New technology (Ground/ATC)" (51%) as among the top three drivers of continued improvements to air safety. Nearly as many chose "New technology (aircraft)" and "Management accountable for safety" (47% for each).

Hayes points out that "respondents overwhelmingly placed responsibility for continued improvement with management. They feared that inexperience, fatigue and complacency threaten the value of safety improvements."

"It’s important for aviation management to take these views onboard and respond accordingly, seeking to balance economic challenges with appropriate levels of safety training and sound work practices," says Hayes.

Here is a link to some charts illustrating some of the Ascend survey data.

Friday, March 27, 2009

AirTran pilot's puzzling suspension

AirTran Airways logoYesterday the AirTran Airways pilots' union issued a press release strongly condemning what they called the "wrongful suspension" of a pilot. The National Pilots Association (NPA), the independent union that represents AirTran pilots, also asked the public "to join them in demanding that [the suspended pilot] be reinstated immediately and paid in full." The suspended pilot's offense? --  appearing in uniform at a circus.

The NPA press release explains:
...[M]anagement's position is that the pilot was in violation of AirTran's flight operations manual and would face possible discipline for wearing his uniform while dropping off his wife and two young children at a circus in Atlanta on February 21, 2009. The NPA sponsored a family day at the circus, and the pilot was on his way to work when he stopped at Philips Arena to help his wife with their kids.

"He was wearing his uniform so that he could get to work on time," said First Officer Tim Baker, spokesman for the NPA. "The circus started at 3 p.m., and he had to be at work at 4:30 p.m. He was leaving on a four day trip and wanted to spend as much time with the kids as possible. He will soon be deployed overseas and is focused on spending time with his family. He only stayed at the circus for a few minutes. The rules even state that he can wear his uniform to and from work."
The press release went on to note that the man who was suspended also is a pilot in the Air Force Reserves, where he has served for thirteen years.

AirTran Airways shot back almost immediately with its own statement to the press:
The suspended pilot wore his uniform to a non-work, NPA union-sponsored event in clear violation of the Flight Operations Manual and the collective bargaining agreement.

This policy has been clearly communicated to the airline's 1,700 pilots and is standard practice throughout the aviation and other industries.

The NPA union leadership had the opportunity to avoid this suspension on several occasions, and they chose not to.

AirTran Airways is dedicated to dealing equitably with all Crew Members, and to exempt pilots from the policy would be unfair to our other hard-working Crew Members.

The airline has no further comment on this issue and will not conduct labor relations through the media.
NPA President Linden Hillman said, "It is intolerable for our pilots to be exposed to this type of intimidation. We have tried to resolve this issue directly with management. However, we continue to find management unreasonable. It would be nice to see management focused on returning to profitability, instead of threatening their hardworking crewmembers. You don't see other airlines treating their employees like this."

I have to admit, this is one of those stories that has me scratching my head. I can't help but think there are a few more pieces to this odd story that have not been revealed publicly.

Who 'told on' the pilot? Did someone take his picture in uniform at the circus (and pass it along to management)? Did he do something at the circus that reflected poorly on his employer?

And what about those "other hard-working Crew Members" mentioned in the airline's press statement? Who are they, and what was it about the pilot's brief appearance at the circus that was "unfair" to them?

Or is this just a power play?  After all, relations between AirTran Airways and its pilots have been anything but harmonious for quite some time.

Since 2004, the pilots have been in contract negotiations with AirTran. Those negotiations have proceeded -- if that is the right word -- in fits and starts and often have been contentious.

Meanwhile, the NPA leadership voted unanimously last month to approve a merger agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). Voting on that measure by the full membership is currently underway, and is due to wind up by April 10. Should the membership approve the deal, the merger with ALPA would go into effect on May 1, 2009.

If the pilots become a part of ALPA, they will be able to draw upon ALPA's considerable resources during the next round of contract negotiations. So I'm wondering: is the suspension of the pilot who stopped by the circus in his uniform simply a move by AirTran to show some muscle?

If any readers would like to fill in the missing details of this story, or opine about the motivations behind this very public snit, you are welcome to leave a comment.

UPDATE Apr. 11, 2009:  AirTran pilots plan to picket on Monday, Apr. 13, 2009 outside the North Terminal of Atlanta’s airport in protest of what it claims is “a pattern of threats and intimidation” by the airline against the pilots, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which reports:
The union said in a statement its members have been “energized by the recent suspension of one of our pilots” in what the union calls “a blatant attempt” to intimidate the pilots.
And by the way, the AirTran Airways pilots voted 'overwhelmingly' to merge their union with the Air Line Pilots Association.

American Eagle Airlines to furlough 75 pilots

American EaglePilots at American Eagle Airlines have been notified by management of plans to furlough 75 pilots during the next few months, due to "over-staffing" in conjunction with reduced flying.  The regional carrier plans to furlough a group of 35 pilots on May 1, 2009, followed by an additional 40 on June 1, 2009.

American Eagle pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. Their current contract was ratified in late 2008.

ALPA past president named to head FAA

FAA logoA short time ago, the Obama administration announced the nomination of J. Randolph "Randy" Babbitt to serve as the new Administrator of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Babbitt's candidacy for the post has been rumored for some time; today it's official.

Randy Babbitt, who attended the University of Georgia and the University of Miami, began his aviation career as a pilot for Eastern Airlines. He flew for more than 25 years, and is a past President of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

Babbitt must now be confirmed for the FAA Administrator post by the U.S. Senate.

UPDATE: The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) just issued the following statement regarding Randy Babbitt's nomination as FAA Administrator:
The president of the world’s largest pilots union today heralded the Obama administration’s nomination of Capt. J. Randolph Babbitt as the next FAA Administrator, calling him “a powerful leader who promises to direct the FAA with staunch determination and a deep understanding of the aviation industry.”

“I speak for ALPA’s more than 52,000 airline pilots in welcoming this news as critical progress to ensure that the U.S. air transportation system sets the world standard for safety and efficiency now and in the future,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA's president. “Capt. Babbitt’s decisive leadership will position the FAA to take aggressive action to modernize our country’s antiquated airspace in the face of air traffic demand that is sure to escalate as the economy improves.”

Babbitt’s keen understanding of the airline industry is rooted in his experience as an airline pilot, union president, aviation consultant, and a member of numerous government and industry advisory committees. He began his career with Eastern Airlines and served two terms as president of ALPA. In 1993, Babbitt served the country as a Presidential appointee for the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry. He was also a Presidential appointee to the FAA Management Advisory Council, created by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 1996.

In 2008, Babbitt was named by then U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters to an independent review team of aviation and safety experts tasked with evaluating and crafting recommendations to improve the FAA’s implementation of the aviation safety system and its safety culture.

“Capt. Babbitt knows what it’s like to serve as the pilot in command of an airliner and is intimately familiar with all aspects of the regulatory and industry framework,” said Prater. “He will develop a flight plan to guide the FAA into the future.”

ALPA is the world’s largest non-governmental safety organization. “ALPA’s leaders and hundreds of safety representatives eagerly await the opportunity to roll up our sleeves alongside Capt. Babbitt and his team and get down to the business of moving our aviation system forward for the benefit of all who depend on it,” concluded Prater.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Colgan Air accident: Don't draw conclusions from incomplete information

Colgan Air logoYesterday the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a factual update about last month's Colgan Air Dash 8-Q400 accident near Buffalo. The NTSB update provided fodder for a new round of speculation by the news media regarding what may have caused Flight 3407 to crash on February 12, 2009. Last month those stories focused on icing; now the media spotlight has shifted to actions by the crew.

But hey, folks: we still have only bits and pieces of the story. The investigation is still underway, and -- more to the point -- it is only in its early stages. The NTSB is still collecting and collating a massive amount of data - about the aircraft and its systems; about the crew, their actions during the accident flight, their backgrounds and training; about operations, maintenance procedures and training practices of the carrier; and about environmental conditions aloft on the night of the crash. The latest update gives us a peek at a few more data points among the thousands that will be considered, but does not draw conclusions. Neither should the press.

I think this is the underlying message in a statement issued yesterday by Colgan Air in response to the latest NTSB update. Here is that statement:
We welcome the update from the NTSB on the progress of this investigation. As the report clearly indicates, there is still no definitive conclusion as to what caused this accident. It remains an active investigation and one with which we are cooperating thoroughly.

It’s important not to jump to conclusions, and instead focus on what is factual and released by the investigating team at the NTSB. Nothing in today’s announcement pinpoints a cause nor does it offer theories on a cause, as was suggested in some news reports. Again, the only absolute fact is that we do not know the cause of this accident.

We look forward to discussing recommendations the NTSB may have that could make our industry even safer. We stand by our FAA-certified crew training programs which meet or exceed the regulatory requirements for all major airlines and include training on emergency situations. When our crews fly our aircraft, we believe, and the FAA has certified, that our crews are prepared to handle emergency situations they might face.
It is tempting to infer probable cause from isolated facts in NTSB updates, but all of us would do well to remember that we do not yet know all the facts. We were not on the flight deck of the accident aircraft; we have not heard the contents of the cockpit voice recorder; we have not seen all the data from the flight data recorder; we have not examined all the debris from the aircraft - and even if we had heard and seen all of the above, we -- like the NTSB, at this point -- still would not be able to conclusively state the cause for this accident.

Once the NTSB assembles and models all of the data and information they have collected, they will issue a comprehensive final report that will make public their conclusions regarding probable cause. In addition, they will likely make one or more safety recommendations intended to correct a flaw, refine a procedure, or supplement crew training so that a similar accident can be avoided in the future.

Armchair accident investigators -- in the media and elsewhere -- would do well to learn and acknowledge that there is very rarely a single item than can be isolated as a causal event. Instead, accidents result from the interaction of a host of conditions, decisions, actions, and reactions, known colloquially as the Swiss Cheese Model. It is the job of the NTSB to figure out how it was that the holes in the Swiss Cheese slices lined up, allowing the accident to happen. This can't be discerned by examining one slice at a time.

We all can guess what might have caused an accident, and in the end, some of us will have guessed correctly.  But until all of the details and data are known, we cannot -- and should not -- present our guesses about probable cause as if they were facts.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Colgan Air Flt 3407 on Aircrew Buzz.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Colgan Air Flt. 3407 crash near Buffalo: New info from NTSB

NTSB logoEarlier today, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released new information from their ongoing investigation of last month's crash of a Colgan Air Dash 8-Q400 near Buffalo. Readers will recall that the aircraft, operating as a Continental Connection flight between Newark and Buffalo, crashed during an instrument approach to runway 23 at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport on February 12, 2009, killing all 49 people on board, and one person on the ground.

We'll get to the new factual information about the aircraft, etc., in a minute, but first, I want to point out something that immediately jumped out at me when I read through today's news release from the NTSB, in which the Board also announced plans to hold a public hearing in Washington regarding this accident. The hearing, which is scheduled for May 12-14, 2009, "will cover a wide range of safety issues including: icing effect on the airplane’s performance, cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training," says the NTSB.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Sterile cockpit rules? What the heck was on that Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)? Nothing about the CVR's content -- not even a partial transcript -- has been revealed publicly to date. I can't imagine that they would specifically mention 'sterile cockpit rules' unless there was a reason.

Fatigue management? That phrase gave me a start as well, as did the mention of crew experience and stall recovery training. In fact,I can't help but notice that the "wide range of safety issues" actually is loaded with a wide range of human factors issues. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Now, about the aircraft. Today's NTSB update provides the following factual information about Flight 3407:
A preliminary examination of the airplane systems has revealed no indication of pre-impact system failures or anomalies. Investigators will perform additional examinations on the dual distribution valves installed in the airplane’s de-ice system. The de-ice system removes ice accumulation from the leading edges of the wings, horizontal tail, and vertical tail through the use of pneumatic boots. The dual distribution valves, which transfer air between the main bleed air distribution ducts and the pneumatic boots, were removed from the airplane for the examination.

The airplane maintenance records have been reviewed and no significant findings have been identified at this time.

The ATC group has completed a review of recordings of controller communications with the flight crew during the accident flight and conducted interviews with air traffic controllers on duty at the time of the accident. The group has no further work planned at this time.

Further review of the weather conditions on the night of the accident revealed the presence of variable periods of snow and light to moderate icing during the accident airplane’s approach to the Buffalo airport.

Examination of the FDR data and preliminary evaluation of airplane performance models shows that some ice accumulation was likely present on the airplane prior to the initial upset event, but that the airplane continued to respond as expected to flight control inputs throughout the accident flight. The FDR data also shows that the stall warning and protection system, which includes the stick shaker and stick pusher, activated at an airspeed and angle-of-attack (AOA) consistent with that expected for normal operations when the de-ice protection system is active. The airplane’s stick shaker will normally activate several knots above the actual airplane stall speed in order to provide the flight crew with a sufficient safety margin and time to initiate stall recovery procedures. As a result of ice accumulation on the airframe, an airplane’s stall airspeed increases. To account for this potential increase in stall speed in icing conditions, the Dash 8-Q400’s stall warning system activates at a higher airspeed than normal when the de-ice system is active in-flight to provide the flight crew with adequate stall warning if ice accumulation is present.

Preliminary airplane performance modeling and simulation efforts indicate that icing had a minimal impact on the stall speed of the airplane. The FDR data indicates that the stick shaker activated at 130 knots, which is consistent with the de-ice system being engaged. FDR data further indicate that when the stick shaker activated, there was a 25-pound pull force on the control column, followed by an up elevator deflection and increase in pitch, angle of attack, and Gs. The data indicate a likely separation of the airflow over the wing and ensuing roll two seconds after the stick shaker activated while the aircraft was slowing through 125 knots and while at a flight load of 1.42 Gs. The predicted stall speed at a load factor of 1 G would be about 105 knots. Airplane performance work is continuing.
Further to the crew issues, the NTSB said:
Since returning from on-scene, the Operations & Human performance group have conducted additional interviews with flight crew members who had recently flown with and/or provided instruction to the accident crew, as well as personnel at Colgan Air responsible for providing training of flight crews and overseeing the management and safety operations at the airline. The group also conducted interviews with FAA personnel responsible for oversight of the Colgan certificate, which included the Principal Operations Inspector (POI) and aircrew program manager for the Dash 8 Q-400. The team has also continued its review of documentation, manuals, and other guidance pertaining to the operation of the Dash 8 Q-400 and training materials provided to the Colgan Air flight crews.

The Operations & Human Performance group continues to investigate and review documentation associated with the flight crew’s flight training history and professional development during their employment at Colgan as well as prior to joining the company.
By the way, there was some good news about the crew. Toxicology reports were negative for alcohol and illicit drugs for both pilots.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Colgan Air Flt 3407 on Aircrew Buzz.

Monday, March 23, 2009

FedEx identifies pilots who died in Narita MD-11 accident

FedExFedEx has announced the identities of the two pilots who lost their lives in the crash of an MD-11 aircraft at Tokyo's Narita International Airport on March 23, 2009.

They are:
  • Captain Kevin Kyle Mosley, 54
    • Hometown: Hillsboro, Oregon
    • Total career flight hours: 12,800
    • Joined FedEx Express on May 1, 1996
  • First Officer Anthony Stephen Pino, 49
    • Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
    • Total career flight hours: 6,300
    • Joined FedEx Express on July 10, 2006
These crew members were the only two people on board FedEx Flight 80 at the time of the accident.

Condolences to their families, flying partners and friends, and to FedEx.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pilatus PC-12 crash in Montana kills all on board

A Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop aircraft (registration N128CM) crashed earlier today near Butte, Montana. According to news reports, the aircraft was preparing to land at Butte's Bert Mooney Airport, but impacted the ground about 500 feet short of the runway. The aircraft caught fire, and all on board are said to have perished.

A short time ago, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a press statement that said that the accident occurred at approximately 15:00 MDT on March 22, 2009. The NTSB statement noted that the aircraft crashed into a cemetery while on approach to the airport. The NTSB has dispatched a 'Go Team' to Butte to investigate the accident.

It is unclear exactly how many people were on board the aircraft, but various news reports said that a number of the passengers were children. News reports say that the aircraft was en route from Oroville, CA to Bozeman, MT, but that it diverted to Butte for unknown reasons. The origin and intended destination of the accident flight have not been confirmed by official sources.

UPDATE Mar. 23, 2009: It has been confirmed that there were 14 people on board the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft that crashed yesterday at Butte, Montana. Most of the seven adults and seven small children were members of the extended family of Dr. Irving 'Bud' Feldkamp III, of Redlands, CA, who leased the plane. All those on board perished.

The pilot, who also died in the accident, was identified as Bud Summerfield, from Highland, CA. He reportedly flew the Feldkamp family for about 10 years. An article about the accident on a Los Angeles Times blog quoted a surviving member of the Feldkamp family, who said about the pilot, “He is accomplished and careful, dotting his `i's' and crossing his 't's' and filing his flight plans. If you were in the position to hire a pilot, this is the guy you would hire. We called him Air Bud. My wife has flown with him. There are none better.”

Condolences to the families and friends of all those who perished in this accident.

RELATED: NTSB: Preliminary report on Pilatus PC-12 crash in Montana - Apr. 3, 2009

Fatal FedEx MD-11 accident at Tokyo-Narita

An MD-11 aircraft operated by FedEx has crashed and burned at Tokyo's Narita International Airport. The aircraft was completely destroyed. According to Japan Today, the two crew members on board, who were said to be U.S. citizens, were fatally injured.

[Update Note: FedEx has confirmed in a press statement that there were no survivors. See below.]

The accident happened on March 23, 2009 at about 06:50 AM local time as FedEx Flight 80 was arriving at Narita from Guangzhou, China. Japanese television aired video footage of the landing, which showed the plane touching down on Runway 34L, then bouncing, and ultimately rolling to the left, striking its wing, and bursting into flames. The video was posted to YouTube, and is included at the bottom of this post. (Audio accompanying the video is in Japanese.)

Japan Today reports windy conditions at the time of the accident:
A local observatory said winds of up to about 72 kilometers per hour were blowing near the airport at the time of the accident.

The observatory said it had notified airline companies and related entities of the possibility of the occurrence of wind shear—a condition in which wind speed and direction suddenly change—after the weather became rough on Sunday evening.
Updates about this accident will be posted here on Aircrew Buzz as further information becomes available.

UPDATE: A short time ago, FedEx issued the following statement:
A FedEx Express MD-11 was involved in an incident today en route from Guangzhou to Narita, with two crew members on board. The incident occurred upon landing. We are sad to report that there were no survivors.

Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of these crew members. This loss pains all of us at FedEx. Right now our focus is on doing everything we can to assist those involved at this difficult time.

We are thankful for the quick response of emergency teams on the ground and will continue to work closely with the applicable authorities as we seek to determine the cause for this tragic incident.
Condolences to the families, flying partners and friends of the crew members who lost their lives in this accident.

UPDATE Apr. 17, 2010:  The Japan Transport Safety Board has released an interim report on this accident. The report does not specify a probable cause, but does include information from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, and photos.  Click here to download the English version (31-page 'pdf' file).

RELATED: FedEx identifies pilots who died in Narita MD-11 accident

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AmeriJet pilots seek release from mediation

AmeriJet International IncThe pilots at air cargo carrier AmeriJet International, Inc. have asked the National Mediation Board (NMB) to release  them from mediated contract talks with AmeriJet management.  The request was made because "the parties are at an impasse in their negotiations after Amerijet announced last week that it was unilaterally cutting the employees’ wages by 10 percent and eliminating their 401(k) pension matching contributions," according to a statement by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents the pilots.

AmeriJet and its pilots have been negotiating for a collective bargaining agreement for nearly five years. The last three years of negotiations have been supervised and directed by the NMB and its team of mediators.

The Teamsters want to be released from mediation, and to proceed to binding arbitration. According to the Teamsters' statement:
If the NMB releases the parties from mediation, and if either of the parties refuses to accept binding arbitration, then – barring intervention by President Obama – they will be free to engage in economic self help at the conclusion of a 30-day cooling off period. Typically, self help includes strikes and lockouts.
“It is abundantly clear that Amerijet’s tactics and antics throughout the mediation process were designed to ensure that no self-respecting labor organization would ever be able to reach an agreement with it,” said Teamsters Airline Division Director Capt. David Bourne in the NMB filing. “In doing so, Amerijet has also evidenced a total lack of respect for the NMB process and indeed has made a mockery of it.”

ANA crew strike in Japan

All Nippon AirwaysAir travel in Japan was disrupted today as pilots and cabin crew at All Nippon Airways (ANA) staged a 24-hour strike.  Due to the strike, 137 domestic flights were said to have been canceled, and another 30 were delayed.  No international flights were disrupted.

Bloomberg News reports:
The Tokyo-based airline plans to cut 14 billion yen ($142 million) in labor costs in the fiscal year starting next month by slashing salaries and bonuses as passenger numbers slump. ANA has agreed to cut salaries of regular managers by 5 percent and was in negotiation with unions on pay adjustments for regular employees.

The four unions that are striking say that a difference between wages at ANA’s main airline and its subsidiaries will widen if it doesn’t take action, according to a statement dated March 15 on the Web site of Air Nippon Network Pilot Union.
The Mainichi Daily News adds that this is the first strike affecting ANA's domestic flights since April 2007.

ANA is Japan's largest domestic air carrier.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Video: Southwest Airlines' rapping flight attendant

Just in case there's still someone out there who has not heard about Southwest Airlines flight attendant David Holmes, who became famous recently for 'rapping' a safety briefing, here is the video - "uncut and unedited," says LiveLeak.com:

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

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spirit Airlines pilots win arbitration decision on scheduling

Spirit AirlinesAn arbitration decision was issued recently in regard to a dispute between Spirit Airlines and its pilots over alleged contract violations. The System Board of Adjustment ruled in favor of the pilots, who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

The decision orders Spirit's management to cease committing violations related to a contract provision commonly known to Spirit pilots as the 5/4 Rule, which allows commuting pilots to spend more time with their families. According to ALPA, this provision was originally negotiated based on priorities set by the pilots.

ALPA had alleged that Spirit Airlines was committing contract violations by shortchanging the number of days off that pilots receive after a scheduled sequence of trips. In accordance with ALPA’s collective bargaining agreement, pilots are entitled to receive up to five days off (but no less than four) after the conclusion of a sequence of trips with no intervening days off.

“The company decided it wouldn’t abide by this agreement in August,” commented ALPA Spirit MEC chairman Capt. Sean Creed. “Since then, we have been working to get back what is ours. After over two-and-a-half years of negotiations and contract violation after contract violation, this win means a lot to this group. It also sends a clear message to our management: we will fight for our contract, and we will win!”

Here's the link to the System Board of Adjustment decision - 39-page 'pdf' file

Spirit Airlines and its pilots have been battling on several fronts for a considerable period of time (see list of related articles below). In early September of 2008, the pilots sued Spirit Airlines, claiming multiple violations of the Railway Labor Act by the carrier's management.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines vs Pilots: Trouble in paradise?

by B .N. Sullivan

A tropical storm of sorts appears to be brewing in Hawaii, but it has nothing to do with the weather. Instead it has to do with what is turning into a full-blown labor dispute between Hawaiian Airlines and its pilots.

Fed up after two years of fruitless negotiations with Hawaiian Airlines management, last week officials of the pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), met with Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and state labor officials in Honolulu to apprise them of the situation. Capt. John Prater, ALPA's national president, expressed to the governor "a strong sense of urgency" regarding the need to finalize contract negotiations.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767-300ER“I told Governor Lingle that we feel we have moved beyond the realm of simple negotiations and now are in a labor dispute with Hawaiian,” said Capt. Prater in a statement to the media. “She clearly understands the vital importance of air transportation to the state’s economy, and we appreciated her taking the time to listen to our concerns.”

Also present at the meeting with Governor Lingle were Chief of Staff Barry Fukunaga; Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations director, Darwin Ching; Capt. Eric Sampson, chairman of the Hawaiian Airlines chapter of ALPA; and Capt. Mike Garnett of the Island Air pilots’ Negotiating Committee. Island Air, another ALPA-represented airline, is also in contract talks with its management.

The Hawaiian Airlines pilots are working at present under the terms of a concessionary agreement ratified in 2005 while the airline was in bankruptcy. The pilots' contract became amendable on June 30, 2007. This past September, ALPA filed for federal mediation of contract talks, but no satisfactory agreement has yet been reached. At issue are wages, including a cost-of-living raise, and retirement funding. The last scheduled session with the federal mediator will be held April 7-15.

“With two weeks of intensive bargaining coming up in April, we wanted to make the governor aware that the Hawaiian pilots have already made numerous contract concessions for the past six years, both in and out of bankruptcy,” Capt. Sampson said. “Our perspective is that the company is profitable and can afford to pay us small, reasonable cost-of-living raises.”

If a satisfactory agreement is not reached next month, would Hawaiian Airlines pilots begin preparing for a strike? Local news media in Hawaii are reporting that move as a possibility. The day after the pilots met with the governor, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported:
Capt. John Prater said yesterday that the two sides are still at issue over wages and retirement funding and that Hawaiian's pilots eventually could go on strike if no settlement is reached. He met with Gov. Linda Lingle and other state officials in Honolulu on Thursday to brief them on the status of negotiations.

"(Hawaiian is) still living under what the bankruptcy judge gave them," Prater said. "They paid everybody else off. They paid their creditors off. They paid their managers quite well. They expect us to work for a bankrupt company - no. This company has been doing OK. It has done a lot better and it can do even better. We don't want this thing to drag on and on because there will be a day of reckoning that we're trying to avoid."
The Star-Bulletin article also quoted Hawaiian Airlines Senior Vice President Charles Nardello, who said of the pilots, "Their union's current position - especially during the worst recession in a generation while other carriers are laying off - has undermined our efforts to have constructive discussions."

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines reached tentative contract agreements with its flight attendants' union, AFA, in February, and with ground workers represented by the IAM earlier this month.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alaska Airlines flight attendants ratify contract extension

Alaska Airlines B737-400Alaska Airlines flight attendants have ratified a two-year contract extension. The ratification vote, which concluded on March 10, 2009, extends the contract through April 2012. The contract was previously amendable on May 1, 2010.

According to a statement about the contract, issued jointly by Alaska Airlines and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the extension offers flight attendants a 1.5% pay increase on May 1 of 2010 and 2011. Flight attendants also will now participate in the same performance-based incentive plan as the airline's dispatch and management employees.

Kelle Wells, president of the Alaska Airlines unit of AFA said she is pleased with the contract extension. "This gives us an opportunity to go forward for the next several years knowing our work rules and compensation are secure as we address the challenges ahead," she said.

"This contract recognizes the outstanding work and dedication of our flight attendants and reflects a desire on both the union and company's part for a stable labor agreement in the face of difficult times," said Ann Ardizzone, vice president of inflight services.

[Photo Source]

RELATED: Alaska Airlines flight attendants have tentative contract agreement - Feb. 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NTSB: Urgent safety recommendation for Rolls-Royce powered Boeing 777 aircraft

FOHE FaceThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) issued an urgent safety recommendation today regarding Rolls-Royce engines on Boeing 777 aircraft. The recommendation arises from investigations of two separate events -- one in the U.K. and another in the U.S. -- involving engine thrust rollbacks on Boeing 777-200ER airplanes powered by Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 800 Series engines. The NTSB is calling for the redesign of a Rolls-Royce engine component, and recommends that after the redesign is completed, the new system be installed on all affected B-777 airplanes at the next maintenance check or within six months.


According to the NTSB, these recommendations are being issued in response to the findings in two investigations involving engine thrust rollbacks on Boeing 777-200ER aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 800 Series engines. In both cases a build-up of ice (from water normally present in all jet fuel) on the fuel/oil heat exchanger (FOHE) restricted the flow of fuel to the engine, resulting in an uncommanded engine rollback. [Note: The photo on this page, provided by the NTSB, shows ice accumulation on the inlet face of a Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 800 Series Fuel/Oil Heat Exchanger during testing.]
The first event, which is still being investigated by the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), occurred on January 17, 2008, when a Boeing 777 experienced a dual engine rollback on final approach and crashed short of the runway at London's Heathrow International Airport. One passenger was seriously injured, eight passengers and four of the flight crew sustained minor injuries; the airplane was substantially damaged.

The second event occurred on November 26, 2008, when a Delta Air Lines Boeing 777 experienced a single engine rollback during cruise flight over Montana while en route from Shanghai to Atlanta. Normal operations resumed after the flight crew followed Boeing's published procedure to recover engine performance; the airplane landed safely in Atlanta.
After the U.K. accident, Boeing developed procedures to help prevent ice accumulation, and to recover thrust in cases of ice blockage. After the Delta rollback incident, Boeing modified the procedures, which then became the basis of an airworthiness directive issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The NTSB says that while the procedures may reduce the risk of a rollback in one or both engines due to FOHE ice blockage, they add complexity to flight crew operations, and the level of risk reduction is not well established. And because the recovery procedure requires a descent, the aircraft may be exposed to other risks such as rising terrain or hazardous weather, or the inability to achieve maximum thrust during a critical phase of flight, such as during a missed approach.

Because of these hazards, the NTSB has determined that "the only acceptable solution to this safety vulnerability is a redesigned FOHE that would eliminate the potential of ice build-up."

Last month, Rolls-Royce indicated that a redesign of the FOHE was underway, and that they anticipated the redesign to be tested, certified and ready for installation within 12 months.

"With two of these rollback events occurring within a year, we believe that there is a high probability of something similar happening again," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "We are encouraged to see that Rolls-Royce is already working on a redesign, and we are confident that with the FAA and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) overseeing the process, this flight safety issue - even one as complex as this - will be successfully and expeditiously resolved."

The NTSB has made the following two recommendations to both the FAA and the EASA:
Require that Rolls-Royce redesign the RB211 Trent 800 series engine fuel/oil heat exchanger (FOHE) such that ice accumulation on the face of the FOHE will not restrict fuel flow to the extent that the ability to achieve commanded thrust is reduced.

Once the fuel/oil heat exchanger (FOHE) is redesigned and approved by certification authorities, require that operators of Boeing 777-200 airplanes powered by Rolls Royce RB211 Trent 800 series engines install the redesigned FOHE at the next scheduled maintenance opportunity or within 6 months after the revised FOHE design has been certificated, whichever comes first.
Here are the links to the NTSB's Safety Recommendation letters:

American Airlines to furlough 323 flight attendants

APFA logoAmerican Airlines (AA) notified its flight attendants' union yesterday that 323 cabin crew would be furloughed as of April 1, 2009. Last month the carrier notified the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) of plans to reduce the flight attendant work force by 410, however dozens of AA flight attendants volunteered for leaves and reduced flying options since then, thereby reducing the total number of involuntary furloughs that would be necessary.

APFA president Laura Glading said in a Hotline message to the union membership:
The most senior Flight Attendant who will be furloughed has a current DECS seniority number of 16900. These members were only recently recalled back to active status and of course this will be most devastating for them. Our heart goes out to our members who will soon be without income, active coverage for health benefits and the career they love.

This furlough will have a further negative impact for all APFA members as it will prolong the period of stagnation which results in increasingly senior reserve lists and limited transfer opportunities.
Assistance information for those about to be furloughed is available on the APFA website.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lion Air MD-90s grounded after accident at Jakarta

Indonesia's Ministry of Transportation has grounded all MD-90 aircraft operated by Lion Air, following the carrier's most recent accident.  Lion Air had a fleet of five MD-90s, however two already are out of service due to damage incurred in recent accidents.

On the afternoon of March 9, 2009, Lion Air Flight JT-793, reportedly skidded off a runway at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport as it was arriving from Makassar, South Sulawesi, in heavy rains. It came to a rest in the grass beside the runway, with damage to its landing gear and cracks in a wing. No injuries were reported among the six crew members and 168 passengers on board.

Another  Lion Air MD-90 landing accident occurred on February 24, 2009 at Batam’s Hang Nadim Airport after that aircraft's nose gear failed to deploy.  There were no casualties.

Apparently there has been some concern in Indonesia about the age of Lion Air's MD-90s, which have been in service since 1989. However, at least one Indonesian official seems to have a clearer perspective on the problem. The Jakarta Globe reports that Herry Bhakti Singayuda, the new director general of civil aviation for Indonesia's Ministry of Transportation, said that the physical condition of the MD-90s and Lion Air’s maintenance procedures for all of its aircraft would be investigated.
“It’s not a matter of old planes and new ones,” he said. “It is a matter of airworthiness.”
The Jakarta Globe also quoted Emirsyah Satar, chairman of the Indonesia National Air Carriers Association, who blamed the recent string of commercial aircraft accidents in Indonesia on aviation regulators who are not strict enough.
“We have always pushed for safety compliance within our association, including Lion Air,” Satar said. “Safety and compliance is the top priority and we will not compromise on that.”

Rapper Coolio busted for drugs at LAX

CoolioThe Los Angeles District Attorney's office announced today that Grammy-winning rapper Artis Leon Ivey -- AKA 'Coolio' -- has been charged with one felony count of drug possession, plus two misdemeanors arising from his arrest last week at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).  

This past Friday, screeners at LAX allegedly discovered crack cocaine and a crack pipe in Coolio's luggage as he was preparing to board a Southwest Airlines flight, according to Reuters.  He was charged today with one felony count for possession of the drug, and a misdemeador charge for the pipe.

According to Reuters, the performer also was charged with misdemeanor battery because he allegedly "grabbed an airport screener's arm to prevent the search of his luggage."

Coolio is slated to be arraigned on April 3, 2009. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of three years in state prison.

UPDATE Apr. 3, 2009:  Coolio pleaded not guilty to the charges against when he appeared at  court today for arraignment.  He is free on bail, and will appear before a judge on April 20, in Los Angeles.

Monday, March 09, 2009

CommutAir pilots negotiating first union contract

CommutAirPilots at CommutAir have opened negotiations for their first union contract. Officials at the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents CommutAir's 120 pilots, said that the talks are off to a good start, with both the union and the airline's management coming to the negotiating table well-prepared, and with a positive attitude.

ALPA describes the initial meetings favorably:
The two parties reached a protocol letter of agreement, setting rules for the collective bargaining process and establishing an aggressive six-month negotiating schedule. ALPA’s team, including Contract Administrator Jeff Loesel and Manager of Representation Jeff MacDonald from the Association’s Representation Department, then presented contract openers on five sections and were able to reach a tentative agreement on one by the end of the second day of talks.
A survey of CommutAir's pilots determined that their priorities are better pay and scheduling. Negotiations are to resume in early April.

“Being able to tentatively agree to a small part of the contract was a very satisfying conclusion to two hard days of work by both sides,” said Negotiating Committee Chairman Capt. Chris Roney. “We’re on our way.”

CommutAir's pilots fly Dash 8 Q200 aircraft under the Continental Connection livery.

Etihad Airways: A bright spot amidst the gloom?

Etihad AirwaysFor the better part of a year, a continuing theme in aviation news stories has been capacity reduction, with concomitant reductions in staff, but it looks as though Etihad Airways may be bucking that trend. Etihad, which currently employs about 7,000 people, plans to increase its work force by 5% this year.

A story about Etihad Airways on the Emirates Business 24/7 website quoted airline official Dr. Salwa Al Nuaimi, who said, "We are not firing anybody and we also didn't freeze our recruitment. We are taking care of our people and we are trying to utilise them more." Dr. Al Nuaimi is Etihad's Vice-President, Talent Acquisition, Human Resources.

Etihad is actively seeking to increase the number of Emerati nationals it employs. Currently Emiratis comprise only 3% of Etihad's work force, however the airline is providing training in technical, engineering, cadet pilot and managerial programs in order attract more local citizens into the business.

In 2007, Etihad's pilot training program made history by accepting two women as cadets. They will graduate in April of this year.

Etihad also encourages Emiratis to join the airline's award-winning cabin crew team, according to Dr. Al Nuaimi.
"Hopefully in the next two to three years we can see local cabin crew on Etihad," she said. "You see, the UAE is changing all the time. Nobody thought that we would have two female pilots."
Etihad Airways is headquartered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and is backed financially by the government of Abu Dhabi.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Interim report on the July 2008 Qantas B-747 depressurization accident

QF30 - July 25, 2008The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has just released an Interim Factual Report regarding the sudden decompression in flight of a Qantas Boeing 747-400 on July 25, 2008. The accident happened during the cruise phase of Qantas Flight QF30, which was en route from Hong Kong to Melbourne. The flight diverted to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila where it landed safely, with no serious injuries to the 365 people on board.

After the aircraft landed, a large rupture in the fuselage was discovered.  The ATSB's preliminary factual report about the accident, issued in August of 2008,  stated that one of the cylinders that supplied emergency oxygen to the passenger cabin had "sustained a failure that allowed a sudden and complete release of the pressurised contents," and that "damage to the aircraft's fuselage was consistent with being produced by the energy associated with that release of pressure" from the oxygen cylinder.

Today's interim report elaborated on damage to the aircraft and its systems, with many photos to illustrate. The report also provided detailed descriptions of the engineering tests carried out (and still underway) on components of the accident aircraft's emergency oxygen system, and on similar oxygen cylinders and fittings.

Among the points included in this lengthy interim report:
  • there was no evidence of an external explosive event or the use of explosive materials around the rupture area
  • no significant maintenance difficulties had been experienced with the passenger oxygen system prior to the accident
  • no anomalies in samples of the oxygen gas used to fill the cylinders were identified that would have contributed to this event
Regarding survivability issues, the ATSB said in a media release accompanying the report:
The investigation has determined that, despite the damage to the aircraft's passenger oxygen system caused by the oxygen cylinder failure, the system would have continued to operate for approximately 65 minutes following the depressurisation event. Passenger oxygen was only required for about 5 ½ minutes during the period between the depressurisation event and when the aircraft reached an altitude of 10,000 ft.
The ATSB expects to issue a final report on this accident investigation by the end of 2009.

Here is the link to the report: ATSB Transport Safety Report: Aviation Occurrence Investigation AO-2008-053, Interim Factual - 62-page 'pdf' file

[Photo Source]


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Preliminary factual report on the easyJet B737-700 upset incident

easyJet Boeing 737-700Back in January of this year, a Boeing 737-700 aircraft operated by British carrier easyJet experienced a 'violent pitch down' during which it exceeded Vmo (maximum operating speed) by 100 knots, and dropped 10,000 feet. Fortunately the incident happened during a non-revenue flight, and no one was injured -- although I think it's safe to bet that it scared the bejeezus out of the four crew members on board.

Earlier this week, the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB)  issued a preliminary factual report about this serious incident, in the form of a Special Bulletin.  From that report we learn that the aircraft, which was at the end of its lease, had just undergone maintenance, prior to it being handed over to another operator. The incident flight was a combined maintenance check and customer demonstration flight, designed to confirm the aircraft’s serviceability.

The incident occurred during a flight control manual reversion check at FL150. Here is what happened, according to the AAIB report (reparagraphed for easier reading):
This required the aircraft to be flown at FL150, at 250 kt IAS with the fuel balanced, the AUTOPILOT and AUTOTHRUST selected OFF, the STAB TRIM MAIN ELEC and AUTOPILOT switches set to CUTOUT and the aircraft in trim.

The ‘customer demonstration flight schedule’ also required SPOILER A and B switches to be selected OFF. All these checks were conducted using the operator’s ‘customer demonstration flight schedule’ and not the maintenance manual extracts as the guiding reference.

Before the manual reversion check commenced, the individual hydraulic systems were isolated by placing the FLT CONTROL switches A and B to the OFF position individually and reinstating in turn enabling the flight controls to be checked for normal operation on a single hydraulic system. Operation was confirmed as satisfactory on both systems.

Then, with the commander having released the controls, the co-pilot selected FLT CONTROL switches A and B to the OFF position, removing all hydraulic assistance from the primary flying controls. As he did so the aircraft suddenly pitched nose down.

The commander pulled back on the control column with considerable force but was unable to prevent the aircraft from maintaining a nose down pitch attitude of ‑2.81° and descending at up to 3,100 fpm. The commander, therefore, decided to abandon the check but did not wish to re-engage the hydraulics whilst applying significant backpressure to the controls.

The commander stated that, should the aircraft pitch up or down uncontrollably during a manual reversion check, he had been trained to roll the aircraft to unload the pressure on the elevator and release the controls before reinstating the hydraulics. The commander therefore, rolled the aircraft left 91.2° and believes he released the controls before calling for the co-pilot to re-engage the FLT CONTROL switches.

The recording from the Cockpit Voice Recording (CVR) indicated that at this point there was confusion between the two pilots. This resulted in the commander thinking that hydraulic power had been restored to the flight controls although there is no evidence that the FLT CONTROL switches had been moved from the OFF position.

The commander rolled the wings level and attempted to arrest the rate of descent which had increased considerably, peaking at 21,000 fpm; the aircraft had pitched 30° nose down after the aircraft had been rolled to the left.

The control forces remained high but the commander considered this to be due to the aircraft’s speed, which both pilots observed to be indicating above 440 kt. He retarded the thrust levers and selected the speed brakes, however, the spoilers had been switched OFF as part of the test procedure.

The commander continued to maintain backpressure on the controls and made a PAN call to ATC. The aircraft eventually recovered from the dive at about 5,600 ft, having entered a layer of cloud. The pilots reviewed the situation and selected the FLT CONTROL switches, which had remained OFF throughout the flight excursion, to the ON position. The control forces returned to normal.
.. and shortly thereafter they landed that puppy back at Southend, where it had originated, without further incident. (One can only imagine the state of their underlinens!)

So why did this dramatic excursion happen? Since the purpose of this AAIB report was to provide preliminary factual information, not analysis, there was no 'probable cause' stated. Nevertheless, there are some clues to where the ongoing investigation may be headed.

The pilot in command during the incident had earlier ferried the aircraft to the contract maintenance facility. During that earlier ferry flight, a 'shakedown' test was performed to identify any existing defects so that they could be brought to the attention of the maintenance provider, and rectified.

One of the items in the 'shakedown' was the manual reversion test to assess the trim of the aircraft. Quoting again from the AAIB report:
...This involved switching off both hydraulic systems powering the aircraft flight controls and assessing the amount of manual stabiliser trim wheel adjustment required to balance the aircraft in level flight.

The results of this test identified that the aircraft was within, but very close to, the approved maintenance manual limits.

Following the flight, the commander verbally requested that this be addressed during the subsequent maintenance input, but elected not to enter it in the tech log, as the level of stabiliser trim required during the test had been within limits.

The absence of a formal post‑flight debrief and formal written record resulted in the balance tabs, attached to the elevators of the aircraft, being adjusted in the opposite sense to that identified as necessary by the flight test. The aircraft was therefore significantly out of trim during the post-maintenance test flight, and it was that which initiated the pitch-down incident during the manual reversion test.
Here is the link to the AAIB report: AAIB Special Bulletin S2/2009 - 4-page 'pdf' file

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Boeing issues warning to B-737 operators, due to accident investigation findings

BoeingThe following is the text of a memo issued by Boeing to operators of Boeing 737 airplanes. The information reflects preliminary findings by the Dutch Safety Board regarding their investigation of the crash of a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft at Amsterdam on February 25, 2009:

TO: MOM [MESSAGE NUMBER:MOM-MOM-09-0063-01B] 04-Mar-2009 05:29:01 AM US PACIFIC TIME Multi Operator Message

This message is sent to all 737-100,-200,-300,-400,-500,-600,-700,-800,-900,-BBJ customers and to respective Boeing Field Service bases, Regional Directors, the Air Transport Association, International Air Transport Association, and Airline Resident Representatives.

SERVICE REQUEST ID: 1-1228079803 
ACCOUNT: Boeing Correspondence (MOM) DUE DATE: 10-Mar-2009 PRODUCT TYPE: Airplane

PRODUCT LINE: 737 PRODUCT: 737-100,-200,-300,-400,-500,-600,-700,-800,-900,-BBJ ATA: 3400-00

SUBJECT: 737-800 TC-JGE Accident at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam - 25 February 2009

REFERENCES: /A/ 1-1222489391 Dated 25 February 2009

Reference /A/ provides Boeing's previous fleet communication on the subject event.

The US NTSB, FAA, Boeing, the Turkish DGCA, the operator, the UK AAIB, and the French BEA continue to actively support the Dutch Safety Board's (DSB) investigation of this accident. 
The DSB has released a statement on the progress of the investigation and has approved the release of the following information.

While the complex investigation is just beginning, certain facts have emerged from work completed thus far:

- To date, no evidence has been found of bird strike, engine or airframe icing, wake turbulence or windshear.

- There was adequate fuel on board the airplane during the entire flight.

- Both engines responded normally to throttle inputs during the entire flight.

- The airplane responded normally to flight control inputs throughout the flight.

The Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) data indicates that the crew was using autopilot B and the autothrottle for an ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach to runway 18R at Amsterdam Schiphol airport.

During the approach, the right Low Range Radio Altimeter (LRRA) was providing accurate data and the left LRRA was providing an erroneous reading of -7 to -8 feet.

When descending through approximately 2000 feet the autothrottle, which uses the left radio altimeter data, transitioned to landing flare mode and retarded the throttles to the idle stop. The throttles remained at the idle stop for approximately 100 seconds during which time the airspeed decreased to approximately 40 knots below the selected approach speed.

The two LRRA systems provide height above ground readings to several aircraft systems including the instrument displays, autothrottle, autopilots and configuration/ground proximity warning. If one LRRA provides erroneous altitude readings, typical flight deck effects, which require flight crew intervention whether or not accompanied by an LRRA fault flag, include:

- Large differences between displayed radio altitudes, including radio altitude readings of -8 feet in flight.

- Inability to engage both autopilots in dual channel APP (Approach) mode

- Unexpected removal of the Flight Director Command Bars during approach

- Unexpected Configuration Warnings during approach, go-around and initial climb after takeoff

- Premature FMA (Flight Mode Annunciation) indicating autothrottle RETARD mode during approach phase with the airplane above 27 feet AGL. There will also be corresponding throttle movement towards the idle stop.  Additionally, the FMA will continue to indicate RETARD after the throttles have reached the idle stop

Boeing Recommended Action 
- Boeing recommends operators inform flight crews of the above investigation details and the DSB interim report when it is released. In addition, crews should be reminded to carefully monitor primary flight instruments (airspeed, attitude etc.) and the FMA for autoflight modes.

More information can be found in the Boeing 737 Flight Crew Training Manual and Flight Crew Operations Manual. Operators who experience any of the flight deck effects described above should consult the troubleshooting instructions contained in the 737 Airplane Maintenance Manual. Further, 737-NG operators may wish to review 737NG-FTD-34-09001 which provides information specific for the 737-NG installation.  Initial investigations suggest that a similar sequence of events and flight deck indications are theoretically possible on the 737-100/-200/-300/-400/-500. Consequently the above recommendations also apply to earlier 737 models.
Thanks to the reader who passed this memo along to me.

Dutch Safety Board's preliminary report on the Turkish Airlines crash at Amsterdam

Dutch Safety BoardThe Dutch Safety Board has issued a preliminary report regarding the Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 accident at Amsterdam last month.  Turkish Airlines Flight TK 1951, which was arriving from Istanbul,  was on approach to runway 18R (AKA 'the Polderbaan') at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on February 25, 2009 when it crashed into a field short of the runway threshold. Four crew members and five passengers were killed in the accident. Twenty-eight of the 80 people who were injured remain hospitalized, according to the Dutch report.

The Dutch Safty Board's preliminary report states that the flight experienced no problems "until just before the approach." According to information obtained by investigators from the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, the aircraft was descending, with the auto-pilot engaged, when "an irregularity occurred" at 1950 feet.

Quoting from the English version of the Dutch Safety Board report posted on the Board's website:
At a height of 1950 feet the left radio altimeter suddenly indicated a change in altitude -- from 1950 feet to -8 feet -- and passed this onto the automatic pilot. This change had a particular impact upon the automatic throttle system which provides more or less engine power.

The radio altimeter normally measures the altitude of the plane above the ground very accurately and can start registering this from 2500 feet. As already mentioned, this radio altimeter is very significant for providing the appropriate power for an automatic landing.

A Boeing is fitted with two radio altimeters, a left one and a right one. The black box has shown that this deviation only occurred in the left radio altimeter.

The voice recorder has shown that the crew were notified that the left radio altimeter was not working correctly (via the warning signal “landing gear must go down”).

Provisional data indicates that this signal was not regarded to be a problem.

In practice, the plane responded to this sudden change as though it was at an altitude of just a few meters above the Polderbaan and engine power was reduced.

It seems that the automatic system -- with its engines at reduced power -- assumed it was in the final stages of the flight.

As a result, the aircraft lost speed.

Initially the crew did not react to the issues at hand.

As a result of the deceleration, the aircraft's speed was reduced to minimum flying speed (stalling situation) and warning signals (the steering column buzzes at an altitude of 150 metres) were given.

The black box shows that full power was then applied immediately. However, this was too late to recover the flight, the aircraft was too low and, consequently, the
Boeing crashed 1 kilometre short of the runway.

The black box -- which can register 25 hours of flying time and which, in this case, covered 8 flights -- showed that this problem had occurred twice previously in a similar situation, before landing.

The aircraft initially hit the ground with its tail and then the undercarriage followed.

The forward speed was about 175 km per hour upon impact. An aircraft of this weight should normally have a speed of 260 km per hour for landing.

The aircraft came to a rapid halt (after about 150 m) as a result of the arable land being made up of boggy clay.

The braking caused by the ground meant that the aircraft broke into two pieces; the tail broke off and the aircraft’s hull ruptured at business class.

The landing gear broke off, in accordance with its design.

This also applied to the two engines.

The full power and the sudden braking resulted in both engines continuing forwards for a further 250 meters.
The report goes on to note that the Board's investigation "will now focus fully on the workings of the radio altimeters and the connection to the automatic throttle (automatic steering system)."

Separately, the Dutch Safety Board announced that it has issued a warning to Boeing as a result of the initial findings of the Turkish Airlines accident investigation. Boeing, in turn, has given notice that a warning will be issued to all users of this type of plane to make them aware of this possible risk.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about THY Flt 1951 on Aircrew Buzz.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Chicago-O'Hare air traffic controller blamed for near mid-air collision

NTSB logoThis past July, there was a near mid-air collision at Chicago-O'Hare International Airport between a departing American Eagle ERJ-145, and a Learjet LR60 that was arriving on an intersecting runway. No one was injured, and neither aircraft was damaged in the July 22, 2008 incident, but it was a very close call: according to ground radar (ASDE-X) analysis and radar replay, the LJ60 passed 325 feet above and slightly behind the departing E145. 

A 'probable cause' report issued recently by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cites "[t]he LC-10 [Local Control] controller's failure to ensure the appropriate separation between two airplanes operating on runways where flight paths intersect" as the cause the incident.

Here is the timeline of events, from the NTSB report:
At 1243:09, the ORD tower local control 10 (LC-10) controller instructed the E145 pilots to taxi into position and hold on runway 32L at taxiway M. The LC-10 controller issued a wake turbulence advisory to the pilots and advised them to expect about a 2 1/2 minute delay before "we can getcha rollin". The E145 pilots acknowledged the clearance. The runway 32L/taxiway M intersection is approximately 8,800 feet from the runway 9R final approach path.

At 1244:57, the LJ60 pilot contacted the north local controller (NLC) and reported over Lance, the runway 9R outer marker, located about 4.1 nautical miles from the approach end of the runway. The NLC cleared the LJ60 pilots to land on runway 9R and advised them to "plan a left turn on runway 32R" during their landing roll. The LJ60 pilots acknowledged the clearance and repeated the exit information.

At 1245:27, the LC-10 controller cleared the E145 for takeoff stating, "...runway 32L at [taxiway] M, cleared for takeoff, turn right heading 330 [degrees]." The controller did not provide any information regarding the LJ60 that was about 2.5 miles from the runway 9R runway threshold. The E145 pilot acknowledged the takeoff clearance. At 1245:45, EGF298 commenced its takeoff roll.

According to the local monitor's statement, he recognized the potential conflict between the E145 and LJ60 and told the LC10 controller to advise the departing aircraft to stay low.

About 1246:13, when the LJ60 was about 3/4 of a mile from runway 9R, the NLC instructed the LJ60 pilots to "...go around maintain 4,000 [feet msl]." According to the LJ60 pilot-flying's (PF) statement, the pilot not flying observed the E145 on runway 32L and told the LJ60 pilot flying (PF) "Climb, climb, there is an MD80 on takeoff roll on [runway] 32R."

At 1246:19, the LC-10 controller advised the E145 pilots to "...stay low...stay low traffics above you."

At 1246:26, the ASDE-X data revealed that the closest recorded proximity occurred as the LJ60 passed about 150 feet laterally and about 325 feet above the E145. About 13 seconds later, the NLC instructed LJ60 pilots to "Turn right heading 140 [degrees], contact Chicago departure control on 127.4." The pilots acknowledged the clearance.

At 1246:27, the LC-10 controller instructed E145 pilots to "Climb and maintain 5 [thousand feet], sorry about that." A few seconds later, the pilots acknowledge the clearance.

At 1246:43, the E145 pilots said, "...it was interesting." About 19 seconds later, the LC-10 controller instructed the E145 pilots, "Contact Chicago departure 125.4." [NTSB ID: OPS08IA011A]
The report also includes statements from the pilots on both aircraft. The crew on the Lear spotted the ERJ nearly concurrently with the controller's go-around instruction. The PNF (pilot not flying) told the NTSB "...We never received a TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) advisory - either alert or resolution - during the go-around."

Meanwhile, the ERJ captain, who was the PF, said, "...As I called gear up after rotating, I see a Learjet at 11 o'clock converging directly with our flight path. I immediately leveled the aircraft at 200 feet above the runway to avoid a collision and maintained runway heading. The tower issued an alert to level off two seconds later, as the Lear [jet] passed directly over our cockpit. I am estimating 600 feet separation. The controller apologized."

The American Eagle first officer, who was the PNF, said, "...From my vantage point, all I saw was an aircraft directly above us moving left to right at no more than 200 feet of separation vertically. The Captain immediately initiated a level off at no more than 200 feet AGL until we were instructed to continue the climb. The tower apologized and continued working aircraft, handed us off to departure where the flight continued without further incident."

The NTSB report notes that "The LC10 position, located on the south side of the tower cab that has an external view of the runway 32L/9R intersections. The tower was equipped with digital radar and ASDE-X displays. ORD managers reported that the ASDE- X did not have crossing runway logic installed, and the ASDE-X did not alarm during the incident.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Spirit Airlines flight attendants file for federal mediation of talks

Spirit AirlinesThe latest manifestation of the ongoing poor relations between Spirit Airlines crew members and management: The flight attendants at Spirit Airlines are filing for federal mediation of their contract negotiations.  The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which represents Spirit's cabin crew, will file their petition tomorrow with the National Mediation Board (NMB).

The present contract between Spirit and the flight attendants became amendable in November of 2007. Although union representatives and Spirit management have met several times since then, union officials say that the carrier's management "continues to come to the table without a single proposal." The union has requested a federal mediator  in order to obtain management's active participation in the negotiations process, as required by statute.

"After continued negotiations, little progress has been made and management continues to be disrespectful at the bargaining table," said Deborah Crowley, AFA-CWA Spirit President. "For the second time this year, airline management has come to the table unprepared and it is time that their stall tactics and inconsiderate behavior come to an end. We look forward to having the NMB appoint a mediator who will help move negotiations forward."