Thursday, April 29, 2010

When there Oughta be a Law ...

In the bad old days it wasn't uncommon to go through an intra-cockpit voice recorder after, say, a runway overun in heavy fog and rain, and hear pilots discussing dinner plans or flirting with flight attendants on final approach, just moments before the "Oh $#&%" entry on the transcript.

Such incidents for U.S. carriers were supposed to be over decades ago after the FAA drafted the sterile cockpit rules that govern airline operations during critical phases of flight.

But increasingly we're learning that all phases of flight are critical, including the phase of flight where you notice it's time to land at your destination.

We know of a few transoceanic airline captains who pioneered electronic cockpit distraction as far back as the 80s, toting offline-reader-equipped laptops to read and reply to messages on AVSIG during long overwater flights.

No one flew off the horizon so far as we know, and we attribute that happy fact to the judgment of said Great Captains, and maybe a little bit to the horrendous laptop battery life of that era. But mostly to good judgment.

After the crew of a Northwest Airlines flight overflew its own hub city of Minneapolis because they were playing checkers, networked Call of Duty (delicious irony, eh?) or watching YouTube videos of bug-eyed lemers (with so many internet rumors, including these brand new ones, it's hard to keep track) the FAA is revisiting cockpit distraction issues.

The agency recently issued Information for Operators asking airlines to establish a "top-down" safety culture in training and daily operation that discourages pilots from engaging in distractions, electronic or not, during flight.

Not very toothy. Another no-duh policy for the internet-in-your-pocket age that recognizes that there are long stints at cruise, and that even with a complete ban on personal electronics in the cockpit, somebody will pack playing cards.

Back on the ground, approximately every three minutes some municipality passes a "no texting while driving" law. Such laws are pretty much unenforceable prior to an accident triggering a cell phone record subpoena. But while it goes without saying that texting while driving is dangerous (there, I said it) somebody has to say something official about it.

The FAA's latest guidance is surely issued in this spirit, minus the rulemaking.

But in an age where we decry the nanny state, make no mistake: we are the nanny state. We proclaim our ability to exercise common sense, yet won't suffer the reliable percentage of the population who won't ... especially when public safety is involved.

Eventually the "There Oughta be a Law" posse will come calling on distracted high-altitude drivers too ... approximately the day after we ask our nanny state to put cockpit video in airliners.

M.O.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Accident & Incident Update for April 26, 2010

[Accidents & Incidents published by www.AVSIG.com are preliminary and not meant to reflect the complete or official record of aviation accidents/incidents and their causes.]


2010

April 25 - A hot air balloon operated by Balloon Adventures Emirates crashed south of Dubai, United Emirates, killing two of 14 aboard. A sudden wind gust during landing reportedly precipitated the crash.

April 25 - A New Zealand Air Force UH-1 Iroquois helicopter crashed near Wellington, New Zealand, killing three of four aboard. Low cloud cover was reported over the hilly terrain of the crash area.

April 25 - A Jordanian Royal Falcon Airlines 767 made a safe emergency landing in Warsaw after the cockpit windscreen cracked during a flight from Sweden to Iraq.

April 24 - The pilot of a Piper Aerostar made a safe belly landing at Immokalee Regional Airport in Florida after his landing gear failed to extend.

April 23 - The pilot of a TBM Avenger was killed after crashing shortly after takeoff from Miramichi, New Brunswick. Weather was reported clear at the time of the crash.

April 23 - The pilot of a Cessna 310 was uninjured after his nosegear collapsed on landing at Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville, California.

April 23 - A Piper Arrow crashed near Porvoo, Finland, killing one and injuring two. Witnesses reported that the engine appeared to quit before the crash.

April 22 - A Southwest Airlines 737 made a safe emergency return landing to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas after developing undisclosed trouble shortly after takeoff.

April 22 - The pilot of a Cessna 210 sustained minor injuries after making an emergency landing in a field near Moorpark, California.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fun with À la carte Marketing

In the beginning there was Aunt Martha, who traveled from Buffalo each summer to visit, and who managed to bring most of her household thanks to her indestructible set of Samsonite. You met her at the gate back when you could do that, and accompanied her down to the baggage claim belt -- sometimes with other recruited family members or friends to whom you would soon owe favors.

The wait at the baggage carousel could be long. Lots of bags to unload, people crowding the belt looking for their own discrete tag or tape marking on otherwise identical-looking beige hard-side luggage, and periodically some duct-taped trash bag full of clothes whose cleverness some college student bragged about before going to the airport, and whose self-destruction on the conveyor belt that same college student would laugh about back at the frat house.

You brought the station wagon, and hauled all of auntie's junk out to the short-term parking lot. You knew you were going to spend a frenzied hour trying to help her find everything she brought before taking her back to the airport for her trip home.

Then airlines began charging fees for checked luggage.

Hallelujah.

Lots of the junk haulers got lost. Some just quit flying and can now be seen wallowing down the turnpikes in sagging minivans. Aunt Martha learned to leave her Hummel collection behind.

Other airline travel givens have disappeared on most domestic flights over the years.

Meal service ... gone.

(Not many flights over four hours, so big deal. Buy some Pepperoni Pizza Combos at the airport snack shop if you can't rock 1,200 calories at Burger King before boarding).

Alcohol ... gone.

(We have enough to worry about with sober unruly passengers).

But now, some airlines are planning to charge for carry-on bags.

Next thing you know, they'll be charging for you to get on.

Oh, wait.

They already do charge for you to get on.

Presumably airlines long ago figured-in the cost of your carry-on luggage, as evidenced by the built-in overhead bins on most airliners. Not much airline labor involved in stuffing them either, except for the two- or three- interventions-per-departure where a flight attendant figures out a polite way of saying, "That ain't gonna fit no matter how much you push. I'll take it up to the First Class closet since you managed to get past the boarding gate with this monstrosity."

Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza, who is the first to sing the praises of this wonderful new travel fee choice, says his airline is charging for carry-ons in-part to streamline the boarding process.

But airlines can already control pre-departure luggage bin mayhem by simply snagging bags that don't meet size restrictions at the gate and playing tough with the lap baby mother who thinks she's getting on with a stroller and diaper bag in addition to her baby and two overstuffed carry-ons. (Don't whine about the cruelty. Let's face it: the kid's going to scream all flight-long, and the mother's going to inadvertently leave him or her on the plane in her preoccupation with collecting all of her stuff later).

Baldanza further argues that Spirit has already lowered fares by the amount that will be charged for carry-on articles ... which is the very same logic used by restaurants that advertise free dinners for those who don't want to eat.

Generally when people take a trip that requires airline travel they'd like to take a change of underwear. Maybe even a T-shirt to rotate.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), observes that "We are going from the sublime to the ridiculous with airlines."

He's right, of course, but maybe we're all getting duped.

Say ... just how often was Spirit Airlines front page news before this proposition?

And their prices are the same or lower than other carrier fares even with the bag-check fees?

How many senators were holding press conferences about Spirit Airlines before this?

How many bloggers were ...

Dang.

Clever work, Mr. Baldanza.

M.O.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Accident & Incident Update for April 19, 2010

Accidents & Incidents published by www.AVSIG.com are preliminary and not meant to reflect the complete or official record of aviation accidents/incidents and their causes

2010

April 18 - The pilot of a single-engine plane was killed after crashing on takeoff at Orlando North Airpark in Zellwood, Florida.

April 17 - A single-engine Cessna made a safe emergency landing at Panama City-Bay County International Airport in Florida after smoke filled the cockpit. The smoke had reportedly subsided by the time firefighters reached the aircraft.

April 16 - A Spanish military Bell AB-212 crashed in the Fond Verrettes, Haiti, killing all four aboard. The aircraft was engaged in earthquake relief efforts at the time of the crash.

April 16 - A Cessna 182 registered to Aerial Advertising in Vista, California, crashed during a landing attempt at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California, injuring both aboard. The aircraft reportedly struck utility lines before the crash.

April 16 - A United Airlines Airbus A320 made a safe emergency landing in Lincoln, Nebraska after smoke filled the cockpit during a New York-Denver flight. No serious injuries were reported.

April 16 - The pilot of a 1961 Brantly B-2 helicopter lost control of the aircraft as he performed engine testing at Ukiah Municipal Airport in California, destroying the helicopter and embedding a two-foot piece of the main rotor in a hangar wall 100 feet away. The pilot suffered minor injuries in the crash.

April 15 - The pilot of a single-engine plane received serious injuries after crashing on approach to Baraboo Airport in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Heavy wind and rain were reported at the time of the crash.

April 15 - A single-engine plane made a safe emergency landing on the shores of Lake Michigan in Gary, Indiana after the pilot reported an oil pump failure. The pilot reported he intentionally conducted the flight hugging the shoreline of the lake in case trouble developed.

April 15 - A Red Bull race plane crashed in the Swan River in Perth, Australia, causing minor injuries to the pilot. The aircraft was making a low pass over the river at the time of the crash.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Accident & Incident Update for April 12, 2010

[Accidents & Incidents published by www.AVSIG.com are preliminary and not meant to reflect the complete or official record of aviation accidents/incidents and their causes.]


2010

April 11 - The pilot of a single-engine plane was injured after crashing shortly after takeoff from Sky Acres Airport near Verbank, New York. An AVSIG member reports that the pilot stated he failed to latch the plane's canopy before takeoff. (AVSIG Discussion)

April 11 - A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aborted takeoff in Sacramento after the cabin filled will smoke during taxi. No serious injuries were reported.

April 10 - A Tupolev Tu-154 crashed on approach to Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 aboard including the Polish president and first lady, Lech and Maria Kaczynski. Heavy fog was reported at the time of the crash, and air traffic controllers in Smolensk reportedly twice asked the crew to consider landing at another airport prior to the crash. The aircraft was making its fourth landing attempt when it clipped trees and crashed. (AVSIG Discussion)

April 9 - An An airBaltic Fokker 50 made a safe emergency return landing to Vilnius International Airport in Lithuania after a cockpit warning light indicated fire aboard the aircraft. No fire was found.

April 9 - A Delta Air Lines flight declared an emergency prior to landing at its destination of Atlanta after an "unusual note" was found aboard during the flight. Federal authorities are investigating the incident.

April 9 - An Onur Air Airbus A321 made a safe emergency landing in Istanbul after experiencing a hydraulic failure in flight.

April 9 - A United Airlines MD-83 made a safe landing with a flat tire at Palm Springs International Airport after a scheduled flight from Chicago.

April 9 - A Southwest Airlines 737 made a safe emergency landing at Oakland International Airport in California after a hydraulic leak was detected just before the scheduled landing. Some passengers reported seeing smoke coming from the vicinity of the landing gear on touchdown.

April 8 - The driver of a fuel truck was pinned in his cab after being struck by a jet making a U-turn at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. Rescue workers were able to free the driver by cutting into the cab.

April 8 - Two Ohio National Guard F-16s reportedly triggered the onboard TCAS on an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight near Cincinnati. The airline crew reportedly maneuvered out of harm's way and continued to its destination of Atlanta.

April 8 - A U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing four and injuring an undisclosed number of passengers.

April 8 - A Detroit-bound CRJ-200 operated on behalf of Delta Air Lines made a safe emergency landing at Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia after smoke was detected in the cabin.

April 8 - A Delta Air Lines 757 made a safe emergency landing in Tampa, Florida after the crew detected the odor of smoke in the cockpit during an Atlanta-Cancun flight. (AVSIG Discussion)

April 8 - The pilot of a single-engine plane was killed after crashing on approach to Borrego Valley Airport in Borrego Springs, California.

April 8 - A Southwest Airlines 737 made a safe emergency return landing to Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama after smoke was detected in the cockpit shortly after takeoff.

April 8 - Two terminals were closed at Los Angeles International Airport after a passenger took a bag flagged for secondary screening and disappeared into a crowd.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

News from Down Under

Qantas Airways crosses the 'drome & farm news desk this week, not for any accident or incident, but for having people onboard their airliners bent on crashing them.

Not terrorists, even.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a government workman's compensation body in Australia has ordered Qantas to pay pilot Bryan Arthur Griffin $160,000 for failing to take him off the flight line after he expressed his compulsion to crash the airliners he flew during the trailing end of his Qantas career in 1979-1982. Griffin claims he had to leave the cockpit on several occasions while fighting the urge to shut down all engines in flight. On one occasion the newspaper reports that in the cockpit Griffin was ''forced to immobilize his left arm" to avoid moving other controls in an effort to crash the airplane.

Griffin reportedly told several colleagues about his urge to crash the airliners in his command, but after being examined by several doctors was cleared for takeoff and repeatedly scheduled to fly Qantas jets.

Three decades later the airline appears to take such threats more seriously.

This week a passenger threatened to crash a Qantas 747 "with his mind" during a flight from Sydney to Singapore. Crew members immediately restrained the man in his seat.

Bravo.

But if a pilot can get a large payout just for being permitted to fly suicidal on Qantas 30 years ago (instead of the payout going to, say ... paying customers who were put in harm's way), who knows what will happen when some similarly odd-minded government body figures out that physical restraints were the best thing the airline could come up with when faced with the threat of a mind-activated airliner crash.

We're betting on matter over mind here.

M.O.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Winds of Change Blow Through

It's looking more like this blog will be powered by wind by 2012. The Obama Administration has just authorized wind exploration here in Central Ohio despite protests from right-wing conservatives, who claim that wind is already in great evidence in the state with no need for a federally-funded study.

The first green-technology, fully-wind-driven windsocks will be going up here at the AVSIG International Aerodrome and Farm in May. Our own base Mr. Fixit, Robin Bee, will be working with the federales to hook-up the bright orange socks to the blog you're now reading so that even if nothing comes of the wind study efforts, at least we'll harvest blog entries out of the deal.

The wind-to-words process still strikes this humble blogger as fuzzily dodgy ... I just don't get it.

But regular readers whom I trust assure me that this blog's conversion from hot air to clean wind technology will result in a brighter future for our children and our world.

Happy first of April, everyone.

M.O.