Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hello G650, Gulfstream's new flagship business jet

by B.N. Sullivan

Gulfstream G650On September 29, 2009, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation ceremoniously rolled out its new flagship aircraft, the G650. Nearly 7,000 invited guests were present at the Gulfstream Aerospace plant in Savannah as the new ultra-large-cabin, ultra-long-range business jet was officially introduced. Scheduled for delivery to customers in 2012, the twin-engine G650 will be Gulfstream's largest and fastest (and most expensive) aircraft.

“We’ve all been looking forward to this day since we officially announced the G650 program last year,” said Joe Lombardo, executive vice president, General Dynamics Aerospace group. “Simply put, the Gulfstream G650 is in a class by itself. I want to thank everyone who made this aircraft possible. I share the tremendous amount of pride you have for this significant piece of aviation history. Like you, I am eagerly awaiting the first flight later this year.”

According to information provided by Gulfstream, the G650 will offer the longest range, fastest speed, largest cabin and the most advanced cockpit in the Gulfstream fleet. The G650 is capable of traveling 7,000 nautical miles at 0.85 Mach and has a maximum operating speed of 0.925. That near-supersonic speed will make it the fastest civil aircraft flying.

The G650 can climb to an altitude of 51,000 feet, allowing it to avoid traffic and inclement weather. One can only imagine the view from the 'office window' at that altitude!

"The G650 offers unprecedented speed and range, superb takeoff performance, an all-new Gulfstream wing, best-in-class Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, and top-of-the-line aesthetics. It provides the most technologically advanced flight deck in business aviation with the PlaneViewTM II cockpit and an advanced aircraft health and trend monitoring system to support aircraft maintenance planning and improve availability," said Pres Henne, Gulfstream senior vice president, Programs, Engineering and Test.

Gulfstream G650Then there is the wider, taller cabin, featuring an all-new fuselage cross section. The G650 cabin measures 102 inches wide and 77 inches high, and is said to be the largest purpose-built cabin in business aviation. The extra space allows for larger galleys and lavatories -- and speaking of lavatories, the G650 has a vacuum toilet system. The larger fuselage also offers increased storage space and in-flight access to 195 cubic feet of usable volume in the baggage compartment.

The aircraft, which seats 11-18 passengers, has 16 panoramic windows that measure 28 by 20.5 inches, the largest in the industry. By the way, I noticed two over-wing emergency exits in a photo of the port side of the aircraft (not shown here).

"Along with traditional measures of aircraft performance, significant effort has been spent in ensuring the cabin will be in a class by itself. The Gulfstream Cabin EssentialTM systems include redundant fiber optic and wireless technologies, along with the latest innovations in lighting, seating, acoustics and cabin systems to provide the most productive cabin environment in business aviation," said Henne.

The first flight of the new G650 is scheduled for later this year and Gulfstream expects the G650 to be certified in 2011. Entry-into-service is planned for 2012.

[Photo Source]

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sully returning to duty at US Airways, as a management pilot

by B. N. Sullivan

Chesley B. 'Sully' Sullenberger, IIICaptain Chesley B. Sullenberger, III -- AKA 'Sully' -- is about to return to work at US Airways, this time as a management pilot. Capt. Sullenberger, you will recall, was the pilot in commend of US Airways Flight 1549, the Airbus A320 that successfully ditched in New York's Hudson River on January 15, 2009.

The announcement about Sullenberger's return to work at US Airways was made today in a press release issued by the carrier. That statement also said that in addition to his flying duties, Sullenberger will join the US Airways flight operations safety management team.

“We welcome Capt. Sullenberger back to work and are proud to have him flying with us again as a member of the US Airways safety management organization,” said Chairman and CEO, Doug Parker. “US Airways is an industry leader when it comes to safety and Sully is an excellent addition to the team.”

“The months since January 15 have been very full, and my family and I have had some unforgettable experiences,” said Capt. Sullenberger. “However, I have missed working with my colleagues at US Airways and I am eager to get back in the cockpit with my fellow pilots in the months ahead. In my new role, I will continue to be the same kind of advocate for aviation safety that I have been for several decades.”

Here's hoping his advocacy for aviation safety continues to encompass the issues about which he spoke so eloquently before Congress in February of 2009.

Welcome back, Sully!

[Photo Source]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pinnacle Airlines pilots reject new collective bargaining agreement

by B.N. Sullivan

Pinnacle Airlines logoPinnacle Airlines pilots have rejected a new collective bargaining agreement with management. The leadership of the pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), approved the tentative contract agreement in August and sent it to the membership for ratification. But, according to ALPA, "Pinnacle pilots concluded that the job security enhancements, work rule improvements, pay increases, and signing bonus just weren’t substantial enough to warrant a yes vote."

The pilots' contract became amendable on May 1, 2005, and contract negotiations began in February of 2005. Negotiations between Pinnacle's pilots and management have been mediated by the National Mediation Board since September of 2006.

“Pinnacle pilots believe there are sections of the tentative agreement that should be modified to better reflect their current needs,” said Capt. Scott Erickson, chairman of the Pinnacle arm of ALPA. “We look forward to working with the company to address these problem areas to achieve a successful ratification.”

The pilots are the only employee group at Pinnacle that has not had a raise in more than five years.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flight Options pilots strike authorization vote is underway

Flight OptionsStrike authorization ballots have been sent to the pilots at fractional jet operator Flight Options LLC. Ballots will be counted at the offices of the pilots' union, Teamsters Local 1108, on Oct. 19, 2009.

“The International Brotherhood of Teamsters stands behind the Flight Options pilots 100 percent,” said Capt. David Bourne, Teamsters Airline Division Director. “These negotiations have been going on for over three years. It’s time our members get the contract they deserve.”

According to a press statement issued by the union:
The parties met in Washington, D.C. at the offices of the National Mediation Board (NMB) last week in an attempt to reach a complete agreement on remaining compensation, benefit and work rule provisions. No agreement was reached and the federal mediator assigned to the case has scheduled a final bargaining session Oct. 26-31.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the NMB, the federal agency charged with administering that federal labor law, may declare that its mediation efforts failed to produce an agreement resulting in a proffer of voluntary binding arbitration as a last resort. If either management or the labor organization rejects the arbitration proffer, a 30-day cooling offer period is imposed, after which time the labor organization is free to strike the carrier absent intervention by the president of the United States.
“Local 1108 is ready to make a fair agreement with Flight Options management,” said Capt. Mat Slinghoff, Local 1108 President. “A fair agreement requires industry standard scope protections, benefit security and compensation increases pilots need.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Perp walk: Pace Airlines CEO arrested for not paying employees' health insurance

by B. N. Sullivan

William C. Rodgers, the CEO of charter carrier Pace Airlines, was arrested today at Piedmont Triad International Airport, Greensboro, NC. He has been charged with one count of willful failure to pay group health insurance premiums. According to North Carolina news station Fox 8, Rodgers "knowingly canceled his employee group health insurance without providing the required 45-day notice to his 337 employees." The Fox 8 video, below, shows Rodgers being led into the Forsyth County Magistrate's office.

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on Fox 8.

Today's arrest of Rodgers, while dramatic, is only the latest event marking the downward spiral of Pace Airlines. On August 21, 2009, the North Carolina Department of Labor began investigating claims that employees of the carrier were not being paid. Nonpayment of wages for a month or more put those employees in a a cruel limbo: they were not getting their paychecks, yet if they simply quit, they would not be eligible tot file for unemployment benefits.

In early September, some unpaid employees spoke about their plight with reporters outside Pace headquarters in Winston-Salem, NC. The Winston-Salem Journal quoted an unpaid employee from Pace's parts department:
"Most of us live paycheck to paycheck, so when the paychecks stopped coming, we've had to drain whatever savings we had," he said. "I feel like I can't walk (from Pace) because I'm afraid I won't get paid what I'm owed and they'll fight me getting unemployment."
Employees showed journalists a July 1 memo from Rodgers that said one reason for Pace's financial struggles was that Continental owed Pace $1 million for work it had already completed. A spokeswoman for Continental said that "Continental was current on its payments to Pace." Continental ultimately canceled its contract with Pace.

On September 8, 2009, Fox 8 reported that "roughly 200 employees were told they were being 'furloughed without attachment,' a technical way of saying the company has no plans of hiring them back."

Fox 8 quoted a Pace employee who said, "The letter says furlough, but we asked about callbacks and they said there will be no callbacks. We will have to reapply if the company decides to hire again."

"At least we will have some type of guaranteed pay, but now everybody's question is, 'What about the four, five weeks they owe us?'" he said, referring to unpaid back wages.

A few days later, the Winston-Salem Journal announced that the U.S. Department of Labor had become involved as well. In an article dated September 11, Journal reporter Richard Carver wrote:
The company learned today that it is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hours Division, which is investigating issues of nonpayment of hourly and overtime wages as related to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
That same day, another 75 to 100 Pace employees were shown the door. By that time, according to the Journal, employees were owed three two-week paychecks.

Meanwhile, employees discovered that in addition to not receiving paychecks, their health insurance was no being funded either. This allegation prompted an investigation by North Carolina's Department of Insurance, which ultimately led to today's arrest of Rodgers.

Last week Pace Airlines advised the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that it had "temporarily ceased operations" for a period of up to 90 days. On September 17, Fox 8 quoted a spokeswoman for the FAA who said that the agency had "increased its surveillance of Pace." (Ya think??)

UPDATE Sep. 28, 2009: Fox 8 is reporting today that the Forsyth County Airport Commission has asked Pace Airlines to vacate its space at Smith Reynolds Airport by Sep. 30, 2009. According to Fox 8, the Commission "cites unpaid September rent and and other overdue rent payments as the reason for the request," and notes that Pace Airlines is the airport's largest tenant.

Monday, September 21, 2009

NTSB issues probable cause report for 2008 safety incident aboard Obama's plane

by B. N. Sullivan

On July 7, 2008, a chartered Midwest Airlines MD-81 (registration N804ME), which was carrying then-Senator Barack Obama and his presidential election campaign entourage, diverted to St. Louis due to a mechanical problem. The aircraft was en route from Chicago to Charlotte, but had developed a "flight control anomaly" during initial climb. The aircraft made an uneventful landing at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, after which it was discovered that the escape slide in the aircraft's tailcone had inflated in flight, apparently interfering with the aircraft's elevator cables. Today the U.S. National transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its report on the incident, including a statement of probable cause.

The NTSB determined the probable cause(s) of this incident as follows:
The inadvertent partial inflation of the evacuation slide within the tailcone during takeoff and subsequent binding of the elevator control cables.

The partial inflation resulted from the tailcone evacuation slide cover failing to be secured to the floor fittings on the walkway for undetermined reasons.
There were no injuries among the two pilots, four flight attendants, two airline representatives, and 43 passengers. The passengers included Mr. Obama, members of his staff, news reporters, and United States Secret Service (USSS) personnel.

Flight Details

Deployed escape slide inside aircraft tailconeAccording to the NTSB report, the flight crew told investigators that the problem arose shortly after departure from Chicago Midway International Airport. During initial climb, the aircraft's pitch increased without a corresponding flight control input and exceeded normal limits before the captain was able to regain control.

Quoting from the NTSB report:
The captain reported that after liftoff the airplane's pitch continued to increase without a corresponding flight control input. The airplane's pitch reached 20-25 degrees nose up before he regained control using control column and stabilizer pitch trim inputs. The flight crew noted that the pitch control pressure required to level the airplane was "higher than normal."
Although the flight crew was able to regain control of the aircraft, a significant restriction in pitch control still remained. Consequently, the crew elected to divert to St. Louis instead of continuing to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the intended destination.

The captain told investigators that as the airplane passed through 15,000 feet mean sea level (msl), normal pitch control pressures returned. No further flight control restrictions or anomalies were encountered during the remainder descent and landing.

Inspection of the aircraft on the ground in St. Louis revealed that the tailcone evacuation slide had inflated inside the tail area of the aircraft. Investigators "found the deflated slide lying in and around its cover." The NTSB report describes it this way:
The slide cover was overturned immediately aft of its normal location at the end of the walkway. The slide's inflation cylinder was empty and lying inside the slide cover. The slide cover and base, including the hinges, forward tie-down straps, deployment lanyard assembly, and floor mounting hardware were undamaged. A bracket that secured one of the walkway railings to an overhead structural support had fractured.
The investigation found that the slide cover had not been secured to the floor fittings on the walkway before the flight, although "it could not be determined why the slide's cover was not secured." Normally, the cover is secured by the mechanic who installs it and should remain secured until it is removed from the airplane.

The NTSB concluded that the pitch control restriction experienced during the flight "was caused by the inflated slide and a subsequently damaged walkway railing that impinged on a set of elevator cables in the tailcone." The set of elevator control cables ran vertically in close proximity to the railing.

More About the Slide

Undeployed escape slideThe tailcone of the MD-81 is attached to the aft end of the fuselage and can be jettisoned to provide an opening for an emergency exit. This exit can be accessed from inside the passenger compartment through the aft bulkhead pressure door and aft accessory compartment.

Here is the NTSB's description of how the aft slide normally works:
The tailcone can be released either from inside or outside the aircraft. A mechanism is integrated into the aft bulkhead door, that when armed will jettison the tailcone and initiate the evacuation slide deployment. The tailcone falls away from the aft fuselage, and an attached lanyard pulls open the evacuation slide cover. This in turn rotates the slide pack aft and a second lanyard triggers the inflation cylinder which inflates the slide.
The incident slide had been installed on December 10, 2007. The last visual inspection of the tailcone evacuation slide area (service check) was on June 5, 2008, with no anomalies noted. The inflation cylinder pressure was last checked on June 20, 2008, without any significant findings.

Flight crew statements to NTSB investigators indicated that "they did not hear the slide inflate in flight, nor did an airline mechanic who was seated in the rear of the airplane." The results of an internal investigation carried out by the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) revealed that "no USSS personnel or USSS support personnel interfered with or altered the aircraft's hardware or systems relating to the tailcone evacuation slide" during their security sweeps of the incident aircraft.

Inertial calculations were performed using data from the incident aircraft's flight data recorder (FDR). The NTSB determined that "during takeoff rotation and initial climb there were inertial loads of sufficient magnitude and duration to allow an unsecured slide cover to rotate open and initiate slide inflation." The NTSB noted further that the incident aircraft had flown 15 flight legs since the last service check of the tailcone evacuation slide, and had experienced inertial loads of similar magnitude, but concluded that "they were of insufficient duration to result in slide inflation."

Maybe, but at the same time, the NTSB's postincident testing showed that "the slide pack could not have rotated enough to activate its inflation cylinder if the slide container had been properly secured. Further, a properly secured slide cover would have contained the slide if the inflation cylinder had improperly discharged."

So then, how was it that the slide container was not properly secured in the first place? The NTSB report offers no conclusion.

Meanwhile, though, a Maintenance Alert Bulletin issued last October added an additional step to the MD-80 Service Check "to ensure the security of the slide cover tie-down straps." Midwest Airlines also released a revision to the work card for the general visual inspection (service check), adding specific language calling for an examination of the tie-down straps to ensure their proper installation and security.

About the photos: The first photo, near the top of this page, shows the deployed tailcone evacuation slide in the tailcone of the incident MD-81 aircraft. The second photo shows an undeployed tail cone evacuation slide as installed on another aircraft. Both photos were supplied by the NTSB. [Click on the photos for a larger view.]

If you would like to read the NTSB report for this incident, here are the links: NTSB Identification: CHI08IA182 Summary; and Full Narrative.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Aeroflot to cut 2,000 jobs -- for now

by B. N. Sullivan

AeroflotRussian flag carrier Aeroflot announced it will cut 2,000 jobs over the next six months. That number represents about 13 percent of Aeroflot's current work force. At least one news report suggests that further cuts may follow.

The AFP news service quoted an Aeroflot spokeswoman who said that 2,000 jobs will be cut by the end of this year or first quarter of next year. However, AFP also cited an item from Russia's Interfax news agency in which a 'company insider' stated that "Aeroflot had already cut 500 jobs and could cut up to 6,000 -- more than one-third of the company's 15,500 employees."

From AFP:
Asked about the likelihood of more sweeping job cuts, [Aeroflot spokeswoman] Danneburg said: "Yes, maybe even more, but for now 2,000."

"The general director has more than once said the staff needs to be thinned, now with the crisis this has become necessary," she added.
The Russian government owns a 51 percent stake in Aeroflot, which is a Sky Team member. The carrier announced in July that its year-over-year profits had fallen by 88 per cent. In June, Aeroflot Cargo declared bankruptcy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Japan Airlines restructuring includes loss of 6,800 jobs

by B. N. Sullivan

JAL logoJapan Airlines (JAL) has announced plans to reduce its work force by about 14 percent over the next three years. This means some 6,800 of JAL's current 48,000 employees will lose their jobs.

The airline, which is Asia's largest carrier by revenue, also wants to reduce to reduce the pay and pensions of pilots and other workers. Earlier this year, JAL asked pilots, cabin crew, and ground workers to volunteer for two months of unpaid leave, and even suspended part of its pilot training programs to save money.

Today's announced job cuts are part of JAL's restructuring plans, which also include a large reduction in international passenger and freight flights. The Financial Times, quoting a Japanese transport ministry official, reports that "JAL's international and domestic routes are currently split 50-50, but the airline would now focus more on domestic services."

At present, JAL is in talks with Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and Air France-KLM about their possible investment in the Japanese carrier. In return for an infusion of between $200 million and $300 million, the investor airline(s) would gain access to important Asian markets -- China, in particular -- through code-sharing.

As Reuters columnist Alexander Smith writes:
Oneworld and to a greater extent SkyTeam -- which includes Air France and Delta -- are both relatively under-weight in Asia and will seize on any opportunity that comes along. If winning the prize means providing cash to bail out an ailing airline such as JAL, then they see it as a necessary evil.
Smith also mentions the that such a deal might present "an opportunity to push an open skies deal with the United States." At the same time, notes Smith, "nobody is holding their breath for the United States to relax its rules so far as to allow majority foreign ownership -- especially in the middle of a recession."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evergreen Airlines pilots frustrated after five years of contract talks

Evergreen International B747The pilots and flight engineers at Evergreen International Airlines are working under rules and pay based on a contract arrived at a decade ago. Frustrated by talks that have dragged on for five years, the pilots' union is questioning Evergreen management's commitment to contract negotiations. They recently released the following statement to the press regarding their situation:
Evergreen International Airlines (EIA) crewmembers, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) are seeing red over management’s concessionary demands in the current contract talks. Evergreen crewmembers and management have met off and on over the past five years with little progress while the crewmembers continue working under 1999 wages and contract rules. The two sides are still chasms apart on all economic areas, even though Evergreen crewmembers lag the industry in pay as much as 32-40 percent depending on their rank compared with carriers doing similar work.

Evergreen crewmembers have supported the United States armed forces operating thousands of missions worldwide for the Air Mobility Command since 1975. Crewmembers are also counted on for their professionalism and experience when it comes to global humanitarian relief missions and DOD support through the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet. Evergreen crewmembers are the sole highly trained operators of Boeing’s LCF fleet of notably modified 747 freighters used to transport large segments of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner from factories to the assembly plant in Everett, Washington.

“Evergreen crewmembers are loyal, dedicated employees who are committed to our airline’s successful future,” said William Fink, chairman of the Evergreen ALPA unit and EIA professional flight engineer. “We see the wonderful contributions our company’s president has made throughout the years to international humanitarian and relief projects as well as to aviation history and the community of McMinnville, Oregon through the Evergreen Aviation & Space museum with its Imax Theater and planned indoor water park and resort lodge. We only wish that a modicum of that attention could be focused on our pilots’ futures to conclude contract negotiations without further delay.”

Evergreen crewmembers are long overdue for a fair and equitable new collective bargaining agreement that reflects their considerable contributions to the cargo carrier’s success. Pilots have been in mediated talks under the supervision of the National Mediation Board since the end of 2005. Pilots are asking for cost-of-living pay increases which are approximately equal to the sum of consumer price index increases since 1999. They are well below industry standards on pay, protections and provisions for flying into hostile environments, and vacation time.

“We know our founder and majority stockholder understands the demands of our profession and respects the work that our crewmembers do to keep operations on schedule under sometimes very challenging conditions,” said Fink. “It’s time for pilots to see visible evidence of that understanding to stem mounting crewmember frustration – because a highly dissatisfied crew force benefits no one. Just as management must come to terms with its financiers and suppliers, it is equally critical to the success of the operation that management reaches a reasonable accord with its crewmembers."

ALPA is the bargaining representative for the 221 pilots and flight engineers in the service of EIA, including 10 currently on furlough, since 2008. Founded in 1931, ALPA represents nearly 53,500 pilots at 36 airlines in the United States and Canada.
[Photo Source]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Video: Gear-up landing at Stuttgart by Contact Air Fokker 100

by B. N. Sullivan

This morning a Fokker 100 aircraft operated by Contact Air made a gear-up landing on Runway 07 at Stuttgart Airport, Germany. The aircraft (registration D-AFKE), operating as Flight 288 from Berlin-Tegel to Stuttgart, had five crew members and 73 passengers on board, all of whom evacuated on the runway using emergency slides. One minor injury was reported.

News reports about the incident say that the crew were unable to lower the main landing gear during approach to Stuttgart. They orbited the airport for more than an hour while trying to correct the problem, but were unsuccessful in doing so. The crew declared an emergency and landed the aircraft on its belly on a foam-covered runway.

Following the emergency, Runway 07 at Stuttgart had to be closed for about eight hours, during which time en route aircraft were diverted to other airports, and many departures from Stuttgart were canceled.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines pilots have voted in favor of authorizing a strike

Hawaiian Airlines logoThe Hawaiian Airlines pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), recently carried out a strike authorization vote. Yesterday the union announced that the membership voted "to authorize their elected union representatives to conduct a lawful withdrawal of service if contract talks do not result in a new collective bargaining agreement." According to ALPA, 98 percent of the pilots responding voted to support the strike ballot.

“This vote should be a wake-up call to Hawaiian Airlines management,” said Captain Eric Sampson, chairman of the ALPA unit at Hawaiian Airlines. “There has never been a strike in the 80-year history of our airline, and we don’t want one now. But if that’s what it takes to win a fair and reasonable contract, our pilots have told us loud and clear that they’re ready to take that final step.”

The union points out that the strike vote does not mean that a strike is imminent. It merely authorizes the pilot leadership to begin a strike if and when they deem it necessary once the National Mediation Board (NMB) declares an impasse and releases the parties to self-help. Negotiators for ALPA and Hawaiian Airlines are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator on October 12, 2009. The two sides also met this past week in Honolulu without the mediator present and could do so again prior to the October NMB session.

“The 98 percent approval rating is outstanding and one of the largest margins of support ALPA has ever seen. We deeply appreciate every Hawaiian pilot who stood up and made a statement when it counted, and we hope the next vote we take is one to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement,” Sampson said.

At present, the pilots are working under terms of a concessionary agreement ratified in 2005 while the airline was in bankruptcy. The contract became amendable on June 30, 2007 and it has been more than two years since collective bargaining began for a new contract.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Watching 9/11 from space

September 11, 2001 is one of those dates that is permanently seared into the memories of all Americans, but there was one American who watched the events of that day unfold from a unique vantage point. Astronaut Frank Culbertson was in orbit aboard the International Space Station. Culbertson, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were his fellow crew members, watched and filmed the events of 9/11 from space.

Here is an excerpt from an article by Patricia Phillips on about Culbertson's experience of 9/11:
"It's difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this," Culbertson told ground controllers. As the tragedy unfolded, Culbertson learned that a friend of his had been flying Flight 93 when its heroic crew and passengers forced its early crash in Pennsylvania, diverting it from another attack in Washington, D.C. Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

Culbertson spoke poignantly of exhaustion and a sense of isolation. He kept reporting their observations, including a "haze" over Washington, D.C., and the "odd bloom" of the smoke rising from the Twin Towers.
Please take a moment today to remember those crew members and passengers who perished on board the four hijacked planes, and all those who died on the ground as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hijacking drama on Aeroméxico Boeing 737 ends safely in Mexico City

Aeroméxico logoThe attempted hijacking earlier today of an Aeroméxico Boeing 737-800 ended safely in Mexico City. The drama began shortly after Aeroméxico Flight AM 576 departed from Cancún en route to Mexico City. The hijackers, who were among the 100-plus passengers on the flight, claimed to have a bomb. News reports say the men threatened to blow up the plane unless they were allowed to speak to Mexico's president, Felipe Caldéron.

The hijackers never gained access to the flight deck. The aircraft continued on to Mexico City, where it landed safely and parked at a remote area of the airport. Passengers were allowed to deplane, although the crew were believed to have been held on board at first. Federal police and soldiers reportedly boarded the plane after the passengers had been released and took a number of men into custody.

There is still some confusion as to the exact number and nationality of purported hijackers -- various news media report as few as three and as many as nine. In any case, no explosive device was found on the aircraft, according to Mexico's Transport Minister Juan Molinar.

UPDATE: According to the Bloomberg news service, there was only one hijacker -- a Bolivian man identified by authorities as identified as Jose Marc Flores Pereira -- who said he was inspired by “divine revelation.” Flores reportedly told Mexican authorities that he "took action because today’s date, Sept. 9, 2009, represented an upside-down 666."


Bloomberg reports:
Flores threatened the crew from Aeromexico flight 576 with a fake bomb about an hour after takeoff from Cancun, [Public Safety Minister] Garcia Luna said. The pilot informed authorities and later acted as interlocutor between Flores and authorities once the plane landed in Mexico City at about 1:40 p.m. local time
At least six other passengers had been removed from the plane in handcuffs, but police later concluded that they were not involved in the hijacking plot.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Evergreen International's fire-fighting Boeing 747-100 Supertanker

You may have seen news clips on TV about the Very Large Aerial Tanker (VLAT) aircraft that are currently in use to fight the wildfires that are raging in California. These DC-10 and B-747 aircraft, operating under a supplemental type certificate, drop fire retardant material to assist in controlling large fires. They are operated by private companies under contract to the U.S. Forest Service.

One of those aircraft is the Boeing 747-100 Supertanker operated by Evergreen International. According to information provided by the company:
The multi-role B747 Supertanker is the largest tanker aircraft available today. With a payload of more than 20,000 gallons and a response time of 600 mph, it has more than eight times the drop capability and twice the speed of any other federal air tanker currently fighting fires. The Supertanker’s patented pressurized system has the capability to disperse product at high pressure for an overwhelming response, or disperse at the speed of falling rain in a single or several segmented drops. This pressurized system will also allow for drops at higher altitudes, creating a significant safety buffer and enabling the Supertanker to fight fires during the day and at night, when they are most vulnerable.
The video below shows some demonstration flights of Evergreen International's B747-100 Supertanker.

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

For more detailed information about both the B-747 and DC-10 tanker aircraft and their use in aerial fire suppression, see USFS Very Large Aerial Tanker Operational Test and Evaluation, a 24-page report ('pdf' file).

Friday, September 04, 2009

Air India Boeing 747 catches fire on Mumbai taxiway

by B. N. Sullivan

An Air India Boeing 747-400 aircraft (registration VT-ESM) caught fire on a taxiway at Mumbai earlier today, prompting an emergency evacuation. According to news reports, Air India Flight AI 829 had just pushed back from the gate in preparation for departure on a scheduled flight to Riyadh when the number one engine caught fire. All sixteen crew members and 213 passengers safely evacuated the aircraft using emergency slides. News reports say that 21 individuals suffered minor injuries during the evacuation. The fire was said to have been quickly extinguished, but the aircraft incurred substantial damage.

Several news reports from India attribute the fire to a fuel leak. India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered an investigation of the accident.

Here is a news video, provided by, showing Mumbai airport firefighters battling the blaze:

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

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Engine fire prompts emergency evacuation of JetBlue E190 at Nassau, Bahamas

by B. N. Sullivan

JetBlue Embraer 190An Embraer 190 aircraft operated by JetBlue Airways made an emergency landing at Lynden Pindling International Airport, in Nassau, Bahamas today after its number one engine reportedly caught fire. The aircraft, operating as JetBlue Flight 1781, was arriving in Nassau from Orlando, FL at the time of the emergency.

A brief Reuters article about the incident quoted an FAA spokeswoman who said the fire was extinguished shortly after the aircraft landed. All 89 passengers and four crew members evacuated the aircraft on the runway via emergency slides. There were no reports of injuries.

[Photo Source]

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

FAA plans to restructure New York City airspace and operating rules

by B.N. Sullivan

FAA logoBack in mid-August, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a New York Airspace Working Group to review current operating procedures over the Hudson and East Rivers and recommend safety improvements. Today FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt announced that the task force had developed a comprehensive series of recommendations that the FAA plans to implement immediately.

According to the FAA, the new safety enhancements would restructure the airspace, mandate pilot operating rules, create a new entry point into the Hudson River airspace from Teterboro, standardize New York area charts and develop new training for pilots, air traffic controllers and businesses that operate helicopters and aircraft in the area.

One change under consideration is to divide the airspace into altitude corridors that separate aircraft flying over the river from those operating to and from local heliports or seaplane bases. This new exclusionary zone would be comprised of three components:
  • It would establish a uniform “floor” for the Class B airspace over the Hudson River at 1,300 feet, which would also serve as the “ceiling” for the exclusionary zone.
  • Between 1,300-2,000 feet, it would require aircraft to operate in the Class B airspace under visual flight rules but under positive air traffic control, and to communicate on the appropriate air traffic frequency.
  • Between 1,000-1,300 feet, it would require aircraft using VFR to use a common radio frequency for the Hudson River. Aircraft operating below 1,000 feet would use the same radio frequency.
Pilots will be required to use specific radio frequencies for the Hudson River and the East River. Under the proposed new rules, operating speeds will be set at 140 knots or less, pilots will be required to turn on anti-collision devices, position or navigation equipment and landing lights. Pilots also will be required to announce when they enter the area and to report their aircraft description, location, direction and altitude.

The practice of flying along the west shore of the river when southbound and along the east shore when northbound will become mandatory. In addition, the FAA will require that pilots have charts available and be familiar with the airspace rules.

From the FAA press release announcing the proposed changes:
The FAA also intends to propose standardized procedures for fixed-wing aircraft leaving Teterboro to enter the Class B airspace over the Hudson River or the exclusionary zone. If an aircraft plans to enter the Class B airspace, Teterboro controllers would request approval from Newark before the aircraft takes off and be authorized to climb the aircraft to 1,500 feet. Aircraft that want to enter the VFR exclusionary zone would be directed by a special route over the George Washington Bridge.

The FAA expects to complete and publish any changes in time to have them in effect by November 19, so that they can be incorporated on new, standardized aeronautical charts that will replace existing charts. The charts will highlight the Class B VFR corridor, encouraging more pilots to exercise the option to fly over the Hudson River under air traffic control, instead of entering the congested exclusionary zone.

Finally, the FAA intends to develop training programs specifically tailored for pilots, air traffic controllers and fixed-base operators to increase awareness of the options available in the Hudson River airspace, and better develop plans that enhance safety for the intended flight.
“These steps will significantly enhance safety in this busy area and create crystal-clear rules for all of the pilots who operate there,” said Babbitt.