Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NTSB determines probable cause of ABX Air Boeing 767 freighter fire at San Francisco

Fire-damaged ABX Air B767 at SFOThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed its investigation into a fire that erupted on an ABX Air Boeing 767-200 aircraft (registration N799AX) on January 28, 2008 while the cargo aircraft was parked at San Francisco International Airport. The report issued today summarizes the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations arising from the investigation.

Today's NTSB report states that the probable cause "was due to the design of oxygen system hoses and the lack of positive separation between electrical wiring and electrically conductive oxygen system components. The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) failure to require the installation of new oxygen system hoses to remedy a safety issue previously identified by Boeing was cited as a
contributing factor."

Excerpt from the press release announcing the NTSB's findings (re-paragraphed for easier reading):
At 10:15 PM PT, on June 28, 2008, at San Francisco
International Airport, an ABX Air Boeing 767 cargo airplane experienced a ground fire just aft of the cockpit area before engine startup.

The cargo airplane was operating as flight 1611 and was destined for Wilmington, Ohio.

Airport rescue and firefighting (ARFF) personnel extinguished the fire, which had burned holes through the crown of the aircraft in the forward galley area, in a timely manner. The captain and first officer, the only two aboard the aircraft
at the time of the fire, evacuated the airplane through the cockpit windows and were not injured.

The fire started in the supernumerary compartment, which is located between the cockpit and the main deck cargo compartment.

Crew descriptions about what was heard when the fire started, combined with Safety Board testing, revealed that the ignition source had to be within the oxygen hose. The Safety Board's investigation determined that a short circuit to the supplemental oxygen system reached the oxygen hose.

The design of the hose included an internal spring, which could be heated by the inadvertent application of electrical current, causing the plastic hose to ignite. Safety Board testing found that the hose design brought together the three elements for a fire: the coil acting as an ignition source, the hose material acting as a fuel, and the oxygen to promote burning.

Boeing had previously identified safety issues involving conductive hoses and had issued a service bulletin instructing operators of aircraft with these hoses in the cockpit to replace them with nonconductive ones. The FAA approved the bulletin but did not issue an airworthiness directive to make compliance with the bulletin mandatory.

The Safety Board also found that other ABX 767 aircraft's supplemental oxygen system did not include positive separation between electrical wiring and oxygen system tubing. Electrical wiring that is near or in contact with oxygen system tubing creates the potential for electrical short circuits to reach the oxygen system hoses. The involvement of oxygen in a fire can significantly expedite its growth and severity.

Prior to the accident, ABX maintenance personnel performed numerous instances of oxygen system servicing on the accident aircraft, indicating a chronic problem on the airplane. However, ABX did not develop a specific action plan to resolve the identified discrepancies.

The lack of further action was not stipulated by ABX's continuing analysis and surveillance program (CASP). The Safety Board determined that ABX's CASP did not properly address and correct the oxygen leaks. However, these previous oxygen leaks did not directly cause the fire.

"The hose design issue, which was one factor that gave rise to this accident, should have provided the FAA with plenty of warning that, if left unaddressed, could result in a serious accident, as we have seen here," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker.

"Had the fire started when the plane was in the air, the result would very likely have been catastrophic."

As a result of the investigation, the Safety Board voted to recommend that the FAA:
  • require operators to replace electrically conductive hoses with electrically nonconductive hoses and prohibit further use of conductive hoses unless the conductivity is an approved design element
  • formalize the airworthiness directive (AD) process so it addresses all possible uses of an appliance affected by an AD
  • require positive separation between electrical wiring and oxygen system tubing; ensure that oxygen system tubing in proximity to electrical wiring is made of, sleeved with, or coated with nonconductive material or is isolated from
    potential electrical sources
  • develop and implement electrical grounding requirements for oxygen system components for all transport-category aircraft
  • develop inspection criteria or service life limits for flexible oxygen hoses to ensure that they meet current certification and design standards and require that airplane operators replace hoses that do not meet these criteria or life limits
  • and require operators of transport-category cargo airplanes to install smoke detectors in the supernumerary or similar airplane compartments
During its investigation, the Safety Board determined that reading lights located in passenger service units (PSU) could become a potential source of ignition to nearby combustible materials. Because of this, the Board recommended that the FAA require transport-category airplane operators to ensure that all reading lights in PSUs be installed with rubber boots or use other means to provide a greater level of electrical protection.

The Safety Board also voted to recommend that ABX Air modify its CASP so that all chronic discrepancies are effectively resolved. And the Board reiterated a previous recommendation to the FAA about training on an emergency response firefighting device.
Here is a link to the synopsis of the NTSB report on this accident: NTSB ID AAR-09-04.

The full report will be available in several weeks.

[Photo Source]


Monday, June 29, 2009

Yemenia Airbus A310-300 crashes into the Indian Ocean

by B. N. Sullivan

Yemenia Airbus A310-300An Airbus A310-300 aircraft operated by Yemenia Air, the national air carrier of Yemen, has been lost in the Indian Ocean near the Comoros Islands. The aircraft, operating as Yemenia Flight IY626, had been en route from Sana'a, Yemen to Moroni, Comoros Islands. It was reported overdue at its destination, and is believed to have crashed into the ocean.

News reports say there were about 150 people on board the flight. At this time it is not known if there are any survivors.

UPDATE: The following message has been posted on the Yemenia web site:
Yemenia regrets to announce the missing of its flight No. IY626 from Sana’a to Moroni with 142 passengers and 11 crew onboard for more information contact the call center at 00967 1250800 or the emergency No 00967 1 250833 or call center 00967 1 250800
UPDATE 2: News media are reporting that in the early morning hours of of Tuesday, June 30, 2009, searchers located wreckage believed to be from Yemenia Flight IY626. The debris was discovered in the ocean, just off the coast of Grande Comore, and was said to be not far from shore. Some human remains also have been recovered, but no survivors have been found so far.

Reuters news agency quoted Mohammad al-Sumairi, deputy general manager for Yemenia operations, who said, "We still do not have information about the reason behind the crash or survivors."

"The weather conditions were rough; strong wind and high seas. The wind speed recorded on land at the airport was 61 km an hour. There could be other factors," he said.

Airbus, the manufacturer of the accident aircraft, has issued a statement with information about the plane. The statement, which is posted on the Airbus web site, notes the time of the accident as 01:50 local time (Comoro Islands) on June 30, 2009.

Airbus gives these details about the aircraft:
The aircraft involved in the accident, registered under the number 70-ADJ was MSN (Manufacturer Serial Number) 535. It was first delivered from the production line in 1990 and has been operated by Yemenia since October 1999. The aircraft had accumulated approximately 51,900 flight hours in some 17,300 flights. It was powered by Pratt and Whitney engines PW4152. At this time no further factual information is available.

In line with the ICAO Annex 13 international convention, Airbus will provide full technical assistance to the French BEA as well as to the authorities who will be responsible for the accident investigation. A team of specialists from Airbus is being dispatched to the Comoro Islands.

The A310-300 is a twin engine widebody seating 220 passengers in a standard two class configuration. The first A310-300 entered service in December 1985. By the end of May 2009, 214 A310s were in service with 41 operators. To date, the entire fleet has accumulated some 11.7 million flight hours in some 4.5 million flights.
UPDATE June 30, 2009: News media are reporting that at least one survivor, described as a child, has been rescued. Reports vary about the age and gender of the child.

UPDATE July 6, 2009: News media reported yesterday that a French submarine searching in the area where the Yemenia crash occurred has detected 'pings' from the aircraft's 'black boxes' (i.e., Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder).

Also of interest, Tim Vasquez of WeatherGraphics.com has published a thorough analysis of the meteorological conditions in the area at the time of the Yemenia accident. See: Yemenia Flight 626: A detailed meteorological analysis

UPDATE Aug. 28, 2009: BBC News is reporting that the flight data recorder from the Yemenia accident was found in the Indian Ocean at a depth of some 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) and has been recovered. Still no word on the cockpit voice recorder.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

NTSB investigating two recent Airbus A330 'speed and altitude indication anomalies'

by B. N. Sullivan

NTSB logoThe afternoon, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an advisory announcing the investigation of "two recent incidents in which airspeed and altitude indications in the cockpits of Airbus A-330 aircraft may have malfunctioned."

The NTSB advisory describes the incidents as follows:
The first incident occurred May 21, 2009, when TAM Airlines flight 8091 (Brazilian registration PT-MVB) flying from Miami, Florida to Sao Paulo, Brazil, experienced a loss of primary speed and altitude information while in cruise flight. Initial reports indicate that the flight crew noted an abrupt drop in indicated outside air temperature, followed by the loss of the Air Data Reference System and disconnections of the autopilot and autothrust, along with the loss of speed and altitude information. The flight crew used backup instruments and primary data was restored in about 5 minutes. The flight landed at Sao Paulo with no further incident and there were no injuries and damage.

The Safety Board has become aware of another possibly similar incident that occurred on June 23 on a Northwest Airlines A-330 (registration unknown) flying between Hong Kong and Tokyo. The aircraft landed safely in Tokyo; no injuries or damage was reported. Data recorder information, Aircraft Condition Monitoring System messages, crew statements and weather information are being collected by NTSB investigators.

Further information on both incidents will be released when it becomes available.
For what it's worth, a chilling story about a Delta (i.e., Northwest) A330-300 incident has appeared on several aviation message boards over the past day or two. I tend to view undocumented stories on message boards with some skepticism, and as regular readers of Aircrew Buzz know, I am not inclined to report rumors. But I must admit that when today's NTSB advisory showed up in my email inbox my first response was to revisit one of the message boards where I had seen the Delta A330 story to see if my memory of what I had read was correct.

The story described a marked drop in indicated outside air temperature, the loss of airspeed and altitude information, and the sudden disengagement of the autopilot and autothrust. The failure was said to have lasted about three minutes. The details of the story (aircraft type, carrier, route, date) did indeed match those in the above NTSB advisory. The source of the message board story is purported to be a crew member from the flight in question.

Fortunately that story had a favorable outcome, as did the TAM flight mentioned in the NTSB advisory. One cannot help but wonder if indeed something similar happened to Air France Flight 447, but with a different and hugely tragic outcome.

Let's hope that the NTSB, the French BEA, and other agencies will be able to get to the bottom of these apparently similar incidents before we have another occurrence that is irrecoverable.

Final report: 2007 Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 uncontained engine failure

Damage to No. 2 engineOn November 17, 2007, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 aircraft (registration N676SW) suffered an uncontained engine failure in flight, during which pieces of the fan blades and the spinner separated from the number two (right) engine. No one was injured, but the aircraft sustained substantial damage to the engine and its housing components, as well as some damage to the fuselage and wing. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a final report on the accident, concluding that the engine failure occurred "as a result of an unidentified object striking the spinner, separating it from the fan disk and causing the spinner to be ingested into the fan blades." [Click on the photo for a larger view.]

The Event

On November 17, 2007 the Boeing B737-300 aircraft, operating as Southwest Flight 438, departed Dallas Love Field en route to Little Rock with five crew members and 133 passengers on board. The number two engine, a CFM International CFM56-3B1, failed while the aircraft was climbing through FL250 to FL330. According to the NTSB report:
The flight crew reported feeling severe vibration, pulled both throttles back to idle, declared an emergency, and started an air turn back to Love Field (DAL), Dallas, TX.

While heading back to DAL, the pilot reported seeing the following cockpit warnings: a No. 2 constant speed drive (CSD) low oil pressure, No. 2 engine low oil pressure, No. 2 generator bus OFF, No. 2 pack trip OFF lights, and No. 2 engine vibration meter at 5 units.

The pilot also reported that while heading back to DAL, the start lever on the No. 2 engine was CLOSED. An uneventful single engine landing was performed and no injuries were reported to any of the occupants.
Airframe Damage

Once the aircraft was back on the ground it was discovered that there were "impact marks along the fuselage from about 10 feet aft of the right-hand forward entry door to about 6 feet forward of the right-hand aft entry door and along almost the entire length of right wing leading edge. The right horizontal stabilizer also exhibited impact marks along almost the entire leading edge." The aircraft's pressure vessel was not punctured.

Engine Damage

The NTSB reports that all of the fan blades in the number two exhibited heavy airfoil damage.
...all the fan blade roots remained installed in the disk, and several fan blades fractured near the platform.

The forward and rear spinner cones were no longer attached to the fan disk and a large penetration hole was noted on the right-hand side of the fan cowl just forward of the engine fan case.

No breaches of any of the engine cases or signs of fire damage were noted.
The pieces of the forward and rear spinners cones that exited the engine were never recovered, despite an extensive search on the ground. The missing engine components presumably fell to the ground in a sparsely populated rural area of Texas.

NTSB Findings

According to the NTSB report:
  • Metallurgical examination of the fracture surfaces of the fan blades and the fragments of the rear spinner aft flange revealed no preexisting fatigue-type mechanism and all the fractures were consistent with overstress.
  • Four sequential fan blade spacers were distorted consistent with a severe axial load rearward applied to the spacers by the rear spinner cone prior to the spinner cone release; however, no determination could be made as to the initial failure or what may have impacted the spinner cone.
Probable cause: "A total loss of engine power due to the No. 2 engine experiencing a release of its fan spinner through the fan cowl as a result of an unidentified object striking the spinner, separating it from the fan disk and causing the spinner to be ingested into the fan blades."

Here is the link to the NTSB final report: NTSB ID ENG08IA002 - June 22, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NTSB to meet on ABX Air Boeing 767 freighter fire at San Francisco

ABX Air B767 fire at SFOThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will meet next week to discuss the investigation of a fire aboard a cargo plane at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) last year. The meeting, which is open to the public, will take place on June 30, 2009 in Washington, DC.

The sole topic of discussion at the NTSB meeting will be the Board's final report on the fire that erupted on an ABX Air Boeing 767-200 aircraft (registration N799AX) on January 28, 2008, at about 10:15 pm local time. The aircraft, painted in DHL livery, was parked at SFO at the time of the accident.

The captain and first officer were on board, and were preparing to start the engines when the fire broke out. Both crew members evacuated the airplane through the cockpit windows and were not injured. The aircraft was substantially damaged.

According to the NTSB, a summary of the Board's final report, which will include findings, probable cause and safety recommendations, will appear on the website shortly after the conclusion of next week's meeting. The entire report will appear on the website several weeks later.

The NTSB meeting will convene on June 30, 2009 at 09:30 am in the NTSB Board Room and
Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, D.C. A live and archived webcast of the proceedings will be available on the NTSB website at www.ntsb.gov.

[Photo Source]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Low-fare carrier SkyEurope Airlines files for reorganization

SkyEurope AirlinesLow fare carrier SkyEurope Airlines announced today that it had voluntarily filed to reorganize under 'creditor protection'. The airline is the operating subsidiary of SkyEurope Holding AG, headquartered in Bratislava, Slovakia.

A SkyEurope press release about the filing explained:
During the reorganisation, existing supplier agreements must be honoured by suppliers and by SkyEurope. Suppliers will be paid for goods and services received during reorganisation, but the company is protected from action by creditors to enforce payment of pre-existing debts. The objective is for SkyEurope to emerge from the period of creditor protection a stronger and financially stable business.
The airline intends to continue to flying its scheduled and charter routes during reorganization.

Jason Bitter, Chief Executive Officer of SkyEurope, said, “This is a good step for SkyEurope because it means we will be able to operate without any disruption while we implement our reorganisation. It is good for our customers who may have full confidence in flying SkyEurope for holidays, city breaks, business travel, and friend and family visits. It is good for our suppliers who will be fully paid for goods and services provided during the reorganisation. And it is good for our employees because it allows us to preserve and protect jobs.”

Several injured during Qantas Airbus A330-300 severe turbulence incident

Qantas A330-300A number of people on a Qantas flight were injured last night during what has been described as severe turbulence. The Airbus A330-300 aircraft, operating as Qantas Flight QF 68, was en route from Hong Kong to Perth. At the time of the incident, which happened about four hours after departure from Hong Kong, the aircraft was in cruise at 38,000 feet over Borneo.

There were 13 crew members and 206 passengers on board Flight QF 68. Following the incident, the aircraft continued on to Perth, where it landed safely.

Qantas has issued a statement about the incident, saying that the injured included six passengers and one cabin crew member. According to the airline, the seven inured were taken to hospitals after the aircraft landed in Perth, and have since been released.

News reports about the incident, quoting passengers, said the aircraft dropped suddenly causing those who were not restrained to be thrown from their seats. Some passengers reportedly hit their heads on overhead compartments with enough force to crack the plastic. News media described back and neck injuries, and indicated that some of the injured were children.

Mr. David Epstein, speaking to the press on behalf of Qantas, said:
"The aircraft most likely encountered what is known as convective turbulence, which led to it rapidly gaining around 800 feet in altitude before returning to its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet.

"This convective turbulence is not normally visible to weather radar. At top of descent into Perth, the Captain explained this to passengers and also referred to the radar being designed to detect moisture but not ice crystals.

"The flight crew responded quickly to this incident in line with procedure and based on their regular simulator training.

"Some media reports have suggested the aircraft was travelling through thunderstorms at the time of the incident. There may have been thunderstorms in the vicinity, but there is nothing to suggest the aircraft was actually flying through any storm activity."
The incident has been reported to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Continental Airlines pilot who died during international flight is identified

Continental Airlines logoA Continental Airlines captain died today during a flight from Brussels to Newark. Capt. Craig Alan Lenell, 60, was in command of Continental Flight 61, a Boeing 777, when he passed away about halfway through the trans-Atlantic crossing. The two other pilots on board completed the flight, landing safely at Newark.

Capt. Lenell's wife, Lynda, told Houston TV station KHOU that the first officer on Flight 61 "thought her husband had fallen asleep during the flight, but they couldn’t wake him up. That’s when they realized something was wrong and called for a doctor."

A cardiologist who was a passenger on the flight responded to a call for assistance by the crew. The cardiologist, identified in several news reports as Dr. Julien Struyven of Belgium, reportedly used a defibrillator to try to resuscitate Capt. Lenell, but was unsuccessful.

Mrs. Lenell said that her husband "was in perfect health" and had no known heart condition. His most recent physical exam had been in March of this year.

Capt. Lenell, who was based in Newark, had worked for Continental Airlines for 32 years. He was a former Air Force pilot who had served in Vietnam. He lived with his wife in Flynn, TX. They had been married since 1973, and had several children and grandchildren.

"Flying was his life," Mrs. Lenell said. "He died doing what made him happiest."

Sincere condolences to Capt. Lenell's family, flying partners and friends.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

British Airways asks staff to volunteer for unpaid leave or unpaid work

British AirwaysAbout a month ago, British Airways (BA) reported a record annual loss of £401 million. Now the airline's CEO, Willie Walsh -- claiming that BA "is in a fight for survival" -- is asking more than 40,000 employees to volunteer by the end of this month for unpaid leave or unpaid work for periods of one week to one month.

In order to set an example, Mr. Walsh has said he will work for free for the month of July, forgoing his usual monthly salary of £61,000. The Financial Times reports that Keith Williams, chief financial officer at British Airways, also has volunteered to waive his hefty salary for July.

Union officials representing several work groups at British Airways were quick to point out that most of their members earned between £13,000 and £18,000 a year.

From the Financial Times article:
Mick Rix, national officer for civil aviation at the GMB, said his members could not take the proposal seriously.

"Most workers may consider this request if and when the company's executives take permanent and radical action to reduce their own remuneration packages," he said

Unite, BA's biggest union, said: "Willie Walsh can afford to work a month for free. Our members can't."
A Times Online article about the work-for-free scheme quoted a flight attendant who said, "We are treating it like a joke. It’s all very well for Willie Walsh, but my basic is £11,000 a year."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

ALPA Congressional Testimony on Regional Air Carriers and Pilot Workforce Issues

Capt. John PraterCapt. John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), appeared last week at a Congressional hearing regarding regional air carriers. Capt. Prater testified before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives. In his appearance on June 11, 2009, Capt. Prater addressed pilot workforce issues at regional carriers.

Here is an excerpt from Capt. Prater's oral testimony before Congress:
In recent years, the major airlines have come to rely heavily on codeshare arrangements with regional airlines to serve midsize and smaller cities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This has resulted in the exponential growth of the regional sector of the industry.

Still, the major carriers exert a great deal of economic pressures on the regional airlines to provide their service at the lowest possible price. They control ticket pricing and schedules, and regularly move flying between their regional partners. Some majors have even begun outsourcing their flying to regionals and laying off their own pilots with decades of experience in the process.

These experienced pilots cannot afford to work for a regional as a newly hired first officer. As a result, many of the smaller regional carriers hire pilots at the FAA minimum standards and do not employ screening processes during hiring that identify the “ideal” candidate.

As was brought out during the NTSB’s recent hearing on the tragic accident in Buffalo, many pilots who fly for regional airlines aren’t getting adequate training or enough rest. Airlines are requiring pilots to work longer days and more of them each month. Fleet and base changes are forcing pilots to decide between commuting and possibly taking a pay cut to train on new equipment. The consequence: the quality of airline pilot “careers” has been greatly diminished and severe erosion of benefits and quality of life are motivating pilots to move to other professions.

Current training practices do not take into account changing airline pilot demographics. Instead, they assume that pilots are far more experienced than they may actually be. ALPA believes there must be a new focus on standardization and even some fundamental flying skills. To meet this challenge, airlines and other training providers must develop methodologies to “train experience and judgment.” Current training practices may also need to be adjusted to account for the source and experience level of the pilot entering initial training at the airline.

ALPA also believes there should be more stringent academic requirements to obtain both commercial and airline transport pilot ratings in preparation for a career as an airline pilot. The FAA should develop and implement a structured and rigorous ground school and testing process for pilots who want to qualify to fly for Part 121 airlines.

ALPA also recommends that airlines provide specific command and leadership training courses for new captains to instill in them the necessary skills and traits to be a real leader on the flight deck. Airlines should also implement mentoring programs for both captains and first officers as they first enter operations in their crew positions to help them apply their knowledge and skills to line operations and supplement their own limited experience by learning from their peers.

Flight experience and pilot capabilities cannot be measured by mere flight hours. Screening processes should be established prior to initial pilot hiring to ensure that new‐hire airline pilots are indeed the best and the brightest as far as abilities, airmanship, professionalism, and performance.

Turning to another area of concern, fatigue has reached alarming levels within the industry. ALPA has long advocated changes to flight and duty time rules for commercial aviation operations, and we join the NTSB in calling for revisions that are based on readily available science.

We have talked long enough. It is time to implement these science‐based regulatory changes.

Other means to enhance safety and improve airline operations are data collection and analysis programs such as FOQA [Flight Operational Quality Assurance] and ASAP [Aviation Safety Action Plan] which provide important and needed safety information, not only internally within air carriers, but also for the overall air transportation system.

In order to allow these programs to grow and make the reports more readily obtainable, additional legislative protections need to be put in place that will limit the data use in civil liability cases. Restrictions also need to be strengthened to ensure the data is used for safety purposes only.

Many major carriers have implemented these programs and follow other best practices which should also be undertaken by their codeshare partners. ALPA joins with the NTSB in calling upon major airlines and their code‐sharing partners to establish a program of operational oversight that includes periodic safety audits of flight operations, training programs, and maintenance and inspection, as well as emphasize the exchange of information and resources to enhance the safety of flight operations.

The best safety device on any airplane is a well‐trained, well‐rested, highly motivated pilot. A strong safety culture must be instilled and consistently reinforced from the highest levels within an airline and among its codeshare partners. This type of organizational safety culture will encourage the highest levels of performance among professional pilots, improve airline operations, and, most importantly, advance aviation safety.
As is customary, Capt. Prater also submitted written testimony to the Congressional Committee. That document elaborates on the issues raised in the oral testimony, to provide more detail.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

ATSB investigating Jetstar Airbus A330-200 in-flight cockpit fire

by B. N. Sullivan

JetstarThe Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating an in-flight cockpit fire on a Jetstar A330-200 aircraft (registration VH-EBF). At the time of the incident, Jetstar Flight JQ20 was over the Pacific en route from Osaka, Japan to Coolangatta (Gold Coast), Australia. The aircraft diverted to Guam, where it made a safe emergency landing at about 02:20 local time today. There were four pilots, nine cabin crew, and 186 passengers on board, none of whom were injured.

News reports have stated that the fire began near the base of the first officer's windscreen. According to FlightGlobal.com, Jetstar said the fire was caused "by the electrical connector part of a cockpit window heater."

An article about the Jetstar incident in the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Jetstar's chief executive, Bruce Buchanan, who said the aircraft's computer system had detected a fault with the cockpit's windscreen heater "but whether it's an electrical problem I'm not sure".

"As far as we can tell it's just a freak accident. It looks like something has gone wrong with the wiring, but it's too early to say whether … it's the primary cause," Buchanan said.

In any case, it was reported that the crew quickly contained the fire and managed to extinguish it well before the aircraft landed at Guam.

The ATSB sent a team of investigators including operations, electrical engineer and licensed aircraft maintenance engineer to Guam to commence the investigation. The ATSB also said it has notified the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the French Bureau dEnquêtes et dAnalyses pour la sécurité de laviation civile (BEA).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

NTSB hearing: Passenger testimony vindicates US Airways flight attendant

by B. N. Sullivan

US Airways Flight 1549 evacuationFrom time to time I have chided the mainstream news media for rampant speculation regarding aircraft accident investigations, and for accusatory statements about crew members who are in no position to defend themselves publicly. This is one of those times.

Moreover, in this instance an official of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) allegedly made statements about a crew member's behavior that were untrue, fueling the fire. He, of all people, should know better.

Several days ago as I was browsing stories on Google News, I came across the following title: Witness to challenge flight attendant's story. I clicked on it, and found it was an Associated Press (AP) story about the NTSB's public hearing on US Airways Flight 1549, the Airbus A320 that ditched in the Hudson River back in January.

The lead paragraph of the AP story implied that a passenger from the accident flight would testify at the NTSB hearing that "it was a flight attendant — not a panicked passenger — who opened a rear door on the aircraft, sending water rushing into the cabin."

I have to tell you, I was flabbergasted. I could hardly take in what I was reading!

The story of what happened on board that airplane on the afternoon of January 15, 2009 is well known by now. There have been countless newspaper and magazine write-ups about the 'splash landing' of Flight 1549 into the Hudson River, and the subsequent successful evacuation and rescue of all 150 passengers and five crew members.

The two pilots and three flight attendants have told their story during numerous interviews on TV. Most notably, they also gave testimony before Congress about what they experienced that day.

Was it possible that a conflicting version of what transpired was soon to be revealed for the first time? I just couldn't believe it. It made no sense.

Yet there it was again, further along in the AP article: "Board member Robert Sumwalt, who will chair the hearing, said that [passenger] Campbell has told NTSB investigators that it was flight attendant Doreen Welsh who cracked open the door, not a passenger." Mr. Sumwalt is vice chairman of the NTSB.

I just couldn't believe that Ms. Welsh, a veteran flight attendant with 39 years of service, had done such a thing. Yesterday I mentioned the story to a flight attendant who is a member of my family. Her reaction was similar to mine: she was incredulous.

My thoughts flew to Doreen Welsh. The only crew member on the flight to have been physically injured, it has been reported that she also has suffered from post-traumatic stress. I could only imagine how devastated she would feel once this new accusation began to circulate. And of course the story did circulate. In no time, other news outlets picked it up, parroting what the AP article had said.

The NTSB hearing got underway this morning, moderated by Robert Sumwalt. Capt. Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, the pilot in command of US Airways Flight 1549, was the first to testify. He told his story once more, and near the end of his testimony he pointedly praised his crew -- all of them -- for their professionalism during the emergency.

Passenger Billy Campbell testified after Capt. Sullenberger. He explained that he had been sitting in seat 25A, a window seat in the second-to-last row of the aircraft. His testimony about what he saw and felt was detailed and evocative.

Mr. Campbell mentioned that after the geese hit the aircraft's engines, Doreen Welsh reassured the passengers in the rear of the plane that everything would be fine. Minutes later the aircraft hit the surface of the Hudson River tail first. Mr. Campbell described the impact as "violent" -- the same descriptor Doreen Welsh had used in several interviews..

Then came his much-anticipated testimony about what Doreen Welsh did next. He did NOT say she opened the door. On the contrary, Mr. Campbell stated that it was a woman passenger who rushed past the flight attendant and attempted to open the door.

Mr. Campbell said that Doreen Welsh intervened with the woman at the door, and at the same time forcefully shouted at the passengers in the aft section of the aircraft, urging them to move quickly to the forward exits to evacuate. He described the flight attendant as "courageous and direct."

In fact, rather than dispute what Doreen Welsh had said months earlier, this passenger's testimony at the NTSB hearing confirmed her story in every way. "She was heroic," he said.

So what's up with that insinuating AP article, and the statement attributed to Robert Sumwalt that impugned Doreen Welsh? Clearly someone spoke imprudently, to say the least.

Early this evening, KDKA in Pittsburgh reported that the NTSB had apologized to Doreen Welsh, and that NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen "says the AP report was wrong."

"Billy Campbell never contradicted the account of the flight attendant that a passenger opened the rear door," Knudsen said.

Regarding the AP story and Sumwalt's comments, Doreen Welsh told KDKA, "It was very painful and very hurtful especially because I knew none of it was true."

She said of Billy Campbell, "His comments today meant the world to me - I appreciate them - and I thank him from the bottom of my heart."

[Photo Source]

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

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Air France Flight 447: Wreckage and human remains recovered, search continues

AF447The Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira) released photos today of some debris believed to be wreckage from the Air France Airbus A330-200 that disappeared over the Atlantic nearly a week ago. While some debris found early this past week turned out not to have been from the accident aircraft, at least some of the most recently recovered wreckage is identifiable as having come from an Air France aircraft.

The item shown in the photo on this page appears to be a piece of a mobile crew rest unit of the sort used on A340 and A330 aircraft. Such removable crew rest units are located on the lower deck (i.e., cargo hold) of the aircraft for use by crew members during long haul flights. Here is a link to a photo of a similar mobile crew rest unit on a Lufthansa aircraft. [Tip of the hat to @naugusta for posting that link on Twitter.]

Brazilian and French salvage teams searching at sea for wreckage from Air France Flight 447 have found humans remains among the debris. As of this afternoon, 17 bodies had been recovered. They have not yet been identified.

A total of 228 people perished in the accident. The search and recovery effort will continue.

[Photo Source]

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

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Air France and BEA press releases regarding the AF447 pitot tube issue

Air FranceAfter every major aircraft accident, media reports are rife with speculation about the cause. This is especially so in the case of high profile accidents that generate international interest, such as the loss of Air France Flight 447, the Airbus A330-200 that was lost over the Atlantic several days ago. In this particular case, the situation is complicated by the fact that very little factual information about what happened is available.

In the past few days, much speculation by the press has centered on reports of ACARS messages transmitted by the aircraft while it was en route, which may have indicated 'speed sensor' problems. Presumably, the 'speed sensors' in question are the aircraft's pitot tubes and the electronics associated with processing data they provide.

I thought it would be useful to set forth the contents of official statements on the issue made by the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) -- the French accident investigation agency -- and Air France. Together, these statements amount to the only factual information that is available at this time.

A statement released yesterday by the BEA about AF447 confirmed that the accident aircraft transmitted automated messages that indicated inconsistency between different speed measures. No more, no less. Here is the link to the BEA press release (in French).

Today, Air France addressed the issue with a press release of its own. The Air France press release about the pitot tubes is presented here in its entirety:
Following the many questions which have appeared in the media on the issue of the Pitot probes in its fleet (the Pitot probe is an instrument which measures the air speed of the aircraft), Air France wishes to make the following clarifications:

1) Malfunctions in the Pitot probes on the A 320 led the manufacturer to issue a recommendation in September 2007 to change the probes. This recommendation also applies to long-haul aircraft using the same probes and on which a very few incidents of a similar nature had occurred.

It should be noted that a recommendation from the manufacturer gives the operator total freedom to apply the corresponding guidelines fully, partially or not at all. Should flight safety be concerned, the manufacturer, together with the authorities, issues a mandatory service bulletin followed by an airworthiness directive (AD).

The recommendation to change the probes was implemented by Air France on its A320 fleet where this type of incident involving water ingress had been observed. It was not implemented on the A340/330s as no such incidents had been noted.

2) Starting in May 2008 Air France experienced incidents involving a loss of airspeed data in flight, in cruise phase on A340s and A330s. These incidents were analysed with Airbus as resulting from pitot probe icing for a few minutes, after which the phenomenon disappeared. Discussions subsequently took place with the manufacturer. Air France asked for a solution which would reduce or eliminate the occurrence of these incidents. In response to these requests, the manufacturer indicated that the probe model recommended for the A320 was not designed to prevent such incidents which took place at cruise levels, and reiterated the operational procedures well-known to the crews.

In the first quarter of 2009 laboratory tests suggested, however, that the new probe could represent a valuable improvement to reduce the incidence of high altitude airspeed discrepancy resulting from pitot probe icing, and an in service evaluation in real flight conditions was proposed by Airbus. Without waiting for the in service evaluation, Air France decided to replace all its probes and the programme was launched on 27 April 2009.

Without making any assumptions as to a possible link with the causes of the accident, Air France speeded up this programme and reminded its pilots of the current instructions issued by the manufacturer to cope with the loss of airspeed data.
Source: Flight Air France 447 Rio de Janeiro - Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Press Release No. 12

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

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Next week: Public hearing on the US Airways Flight 1549 accident

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold a three-day public hearing next week on the ditching of a US Airways Airbus A320 aircraft into New York's Hudson River this past January. The three-day hearing will take place at the NTSB's Board Room and Conference Center in Washington, DC.

The subject accident occurred on the afternoon of January 15, 2009, shortly after US Airways Flight 1549 departed New York's La Guardia Airport, bound for Charlotte, NC. During its departure climb, the aircraft suffered multiple bird strikes resulting in a loss of engine thrust. The aircraft subsequently ditched in the Hudson River. All five crew members and 150 passengers survived, however five serious injuries were reported, according the the NTSB.

The NTSB has announced that a public docket will be opened at the start of the hearing. The public may view and download the docket contents on the web under the "FOIA Reading Room" at http://www.ntsb.gov/Info/foia_fri-dockets.htm at that time.

From the NTSB Advisory announcing the hearing:
The information being released is factual in nature and does not provide analysis or the probable cause of the accident. The docket will include investigative group factual reports, interview transcripts, Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) transcripts, Flight Data Recorder (FDR) data and other documents from the investigation. In addition, docket items that will be used as exhibits during the public hearing will be available on the website under "Public Hearings"

The hearing, which is part of the Safety Board's efforts to develop all appropriate facts for the investigation, will cover a wide range of safety issues including:
  • Pilot training regarding ditching and forced landings on water.
  • Bird detection and mitigation efforts.
  • Certification standards regarding ditching and forced landings on water for transport-category airplanes.
  • Cabin safety training, emergency procedures and equipment.
  • Certification standards for bird ingestion into transport- category airplane engines.
An agenda is posted on the Board's website at http://www.ntsb.gov/events/2009/agenda.htm.

According to the NTSB, the hearing convene at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 2009, and is expected to conclude mid-day on Thursday, June 11. Location: the NTSB's Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, D.C.

A live webcast of the proceedings will be available on the Board's website at http://www.ntsb.gov/events/hearing_sched.htm.

Highlights from the hearing will be reported here on Aircrew Buzz next week.

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

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Back to the bargaining table: Southwest Airlines pilots contract ratification vote fails

SWAPAThe membership of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) "officially declined to ratify a new five-year contract with Southwest Airlines." So said a press release issued by the union. According to SWAPA, the vote was very close: with over 95% of eligible pilots voting, just under 51% voted against the new contract. Nevertheless, a failure to ratify means it's back to the bargaining table.

Contract negotiations between Southwest Airlines and its pilots had begun as soon as the current contract became amendable back in September of 2006. A tentative contract agreement was reached in January of this year this year, and was endorsed by SWAPA's Board of Directors in March.

At that point, SWAPA President Capt. Carl Kuwitzky had said, "While this contract isn’t perfect, it does include improvements in many areas and shores up very old language that will protect our pilots'”

"Many in our pilot group are extremely sensitive to codesharing flights that Southwest Airlines could possibly fly. While some degree of codeshare is allowed in this contract, limitations on the Company help keep our jobs secure," Kuwitzky added.

Today SWAPA announced that they will reopen negotiations with Southwest Airlines after polling of the pilot group "to fully pinpoint the aspects that the pilots want to see readdressed in talks with the Company."

"Our pilots have spoken, and the group has stated there is more work to be done," Capt. Kuwitzky said after the vote results were announced. "This contract, despite some financial gains, contained too many other negative aspects to ratify it."

Speaking on behalf of Southwest Airlines management, Chuck Magill, Vice President of Flight Operations said, "We are naturally disappointed and acknowledge it was a very close vote."

"We reached a tentative agreement in good faith, and both sides put a lot of effort into getting to this point. We have an outstanding and highly productive group of Pilots, and we appreciate their active involvement in the voting process," said Magill. "We welcome the opportunity for our negotiating teams to re-engage and work toward an agreement that best meets the needs of our Company and our outstanding Pilots during these challenging economic times."

United Airlines wants up to 150 new aircraft, asks Boeing and Airbus for bids

United AirlinesUAL Corp., the parent of United Airlines, is seeking to acquire up to 150 new aircraft, an order that could be worth up to $10 billion. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is reporting that UAL has asked both Boeing and Airbus to bid for the order.
Unlike some of its largest domestic rivals, United already flies both Airbus and Boeing planes, giving both manufacturers an incentive to try to grab a bigger share of a major airline's business. As part of its order, United is hoping to simplify its fleet by ending up with fewer different types of aircraft, a change that would cut its maintenance and crew-training costs.
Citing 'people familiar with the matter', the WSJ says the focus of the order will be replacement of "many of United's 111-airplane wide-body fleet, as well as some of its 97 aging Boeing 757 narrow-body planes."

Just a year ago, United announced plans to downsize its fleet, a move that would include retiring six Boeing 747-400 aircraft, and all 94 of the Boeing 737 type. The airline also is in the process of reintegrating the 56 Airbus A320 aircraft that have been operating all-economy Ted flights into the mainline fleet, repainting them in the standard United livery, and reconfiguring the seating to include a First Class cabin.

Hundreds of United pilots are furloughed at present, and the elimination of 100 planes from its fleet over the space of a year has meant that many pilots have had to be retrained to fly different types of aircraft in order to keep their jobs. I can't help but wonder how United's pilots will view this intended expansion of the fleet, especially from a single airframer.

The timing of this proposed order for new aircraft is as surprising as its potential dollar value: the WSJ report indicates that United "could sign a major order as early as the fall." But perhaps the timing is more shrewd than it might seem at first glance. Says the WSJ:
It's a notable move amid falling travel demand and a tight lending environment -- on top of UAL's recent heavy losses and poor credit rating. But even in good times aircraft builders will go to considerable lengths to lock in an order, using in-house financing arms and other maneuvers to help airlines buy...
In other words, UAL is in bargain-hunting mode, and the ace up its sleeve is the lure of a winner-take-all deal for either Boeing or Airbus.

Let the bidding war begin.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Regional jet in near-collision with Pilatus PC-12 after runway incursion at Charlotte

Charlotte Douglas International AirportThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating a runway incursion that caused a near-collision several days ago at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), North Carolina. A PSA Airlines regional jet and a general aviation turboprop aircraft were involved in the incident, which occurred at about 10:17 AM on May 29, 2009. No one was injured.

At the time of the incident, a PSA Airlines CRJ-200 regional jet, operating as US Airways Express Flight 2390, was preparing to depart CLT for a scheduled passenger flight to Craven County Regional Airport, New Bern, NC (EWN). According to information released today by the NTSB, the jet was cleared for takeoff on runway 18L.

As the CRJ began its takeoff roll, a privately operated Pilatus PC-12 single engine turboprop aircraft was cleared to taxi into position and hold farther down the same runway in preparation for a departure roll that was to begin at the taxiway A intersection.

After the ground-based collision warning system (ASDE-X) alerted controllers to the runway incursion, the takeoff clearance for the regional jet was canceled. The jet rejected takeoff.

The pilot of the turboprop, seeing the regional jet coming down the runway on a collision course, taxied the PC-12 to the side of the runway. The FAA reported from the scene that the regional jet stopped approximately 10 feet from the PC-12.

On board the CRJ were three crew members and 42 passengers. The number on board the PC-12 was not mentioned, but the NTSB notes that there were no injuries reported among those on board either aircraft.

According to the NTSB, visual meteorological conditions prevailed with 9 miles visibility.

Brazil: Debris confirms Air France Flight 447 crash in the Atlantic

Air FranceA short time ago, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim announced that debris discovered in the Atlantic Ocean is from Air France Flight 447, the Airbus A330-200 that vanished while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris earlier this week. According to Bloomberg News the debris, which consisted of wire and metal pieces, was found over a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) stretch of ocean.

The brief Bloomberg article about the debris discovery quotes Jobim, who told reporters, “A Hercules plane spotted a debris line stretching 5 kilometers, which confirms the plane crashed in that area.”

Earlier in the day there were several media reports of debris sightings by search aircraft, although officials were cautious not to confirm prematurely that the items were from the missing Air France A330. Those earlier reports, from several sources, described airline seats and orange life vests among the items sighted on the ocean surface, thus Mr. Jobim's eventual announcement came as no surprise.

Now that the debris has been identified as that of the lost Air France Airbus, efforts will focus on locating and possibly retrieving the so-called 'black boxes', i.e., the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder. Worth reading: Reuters has published an interesting article about the challenges of retrieving the devices from the deep ocean. Clearly, the search and recovery effort will continue for quite awhile.

There were 248 people on board Air France Flight 447: three pilots, nine cabin crew, and 216 passengers. All are presumed to have perished in the accident. Thus far, no human remains have been found.

It is not yet known whether the aircraft broke up while aloft, or whether it crashed into the ocean, nor is it known what caused the accident. I will continue to post updates about this tragedy as more information becomes available.

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

Monday, June 01, 2009

Catastrophe: Air France Airbus A330 with 248 on board lost over the Atlantic

Air FranceAn Air France Airbus A330-200 aircraft with 12 crew and 216 passengers on board has been lost over the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft (registration F-GZCP), operating as Air France Flight AF447, was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when contact with the aircraft ceased. Now long overdue at its destination and with no further communication, the aircraft is presumed to have been lost.

At a press conference several hours ago, Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told reporters, "We are without a doubt faced with an air disaster. The entire company is thinking of the families and their pain."

Air France Flight 447 departed Rio's Galeao International Airport (GIG) at 19:03 local time on Sunday, May 31, 2009 for a scheduled passenger flight to Paris- Charles De Gaulle (CDG). According to Air France, the last communication from the aircraft was at 04:14 Paris time. The aircraft was due to arrive at CDG at 11:10 Paris time.

News reports, quoting Air France officials, say that an 'automated message' received from the aircraft indicated an electrical fault and loss of cabin pressure. The aircraft was believed to be flying through stormy weather and severe turbulence at the time it vanished, but the extent to which the weather contributed to the accident is unclear at this time.

Powered by twin General Electric CF6-80E engines, the aircraft entered service in April of 2005, and is said to have logged 18,870 flight hours. Its last major maintenance check was in April of this year, according to Air France.

Updates will follow here on Aircrew Buzz as more information becomes available.

... or click here to view all posts about Air France Flt 447 on Aircrew Buzz.