Eye-in-Sky Satellite Storm Alert May Avert Future Air Disasters

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


Reprinted from Bloomberg.com

By Pat Wechsler and Adriana Brasileiro

June 18 (Bloomberg) — Ronaldo Jenkins recalls the day a wall of cumulonimbus thunderheads appeared on his radar screen.

“I looked on the radar for the thinnest patch of the cloud system to go through and decided to go for it,” said the 63- year-old former pilot for Brazilian carrier Viacao Aerea Riograndense SA, who was unable to fly under or over the clouds.

Jenkins, now a flight safety consultant for the union representing Brazil’s airline companies, made it through the turbulence and lightning safely. Marc Dubois, the captain of Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, wasn’t as fortunate on June 1. In the early hours that day, his Airbus SAS A330-200 fell from the sky during a storm, killing all 228 on board. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

A system to provide more detailed weather information that may have helped both Jenkins and Dubois has been under development for at least four years by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and counterparts around the globe, according to the agency. The satellite-based upgrade of air-traffic management, primarily aimed at ascertaining aircraft positions more accurately, will have the ability to send real-time climate images and data to cockpits.

Seeing the severity of the storm an hour before reaching it “would have been useful” in the case of Flight 447, giving the pilot more time to find holes to fly through, said John Hansman, director of the International Center for Air Transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Accident Investigation

Martin Fendt, a spokesman for Airbus, declined to comment on whether a system like the one under development would have helped Flight 447. The company is waiting for the accident investigation to conclude before making statements, he said in a phone interview from Paris.

Air France-KLM also won’t comment before the probe ends, according to a spokesman in Paris, who declined to be identified because of company policy. The plane sent 24 automated system- failure messages, including one indicating that the A330-200’s speed sensors were faulty, according to Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, the French agency responsible for the crash investigation.

In the U.S., the proposed technology is called NextGen, for Next Generation Air Transportation System, and is estimated to cost the government as much as $22 billion to develop, according to the FAA. The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast link, being built by a team led by ITT Corp., is slated to be operational by 2013, according to the FAA Web site. ITT, based in White Plains, New York, is a manufacturer of engineering products and communications systems.

FAA Appropriations

The FAA, which is working jointly with the Commerce Department and military, expects to spend about $1 billion a year on the system, spokeswoman Tammy Jones said. It is seeking $865 million in appropriations for fiscal 2010, according to the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

“We want to get to generate forecasts so far in the future that we can generate routes” that avoid storms, said Jason Tuell, chief of science plans for the National Weather Service. That capability, not expected to be available until 2025, will depend on meteorologists and engineers developing a system that combines advanced numerical and higher resolution weather models with radar and satellite feeds, said Don Berchoff, the director of the service’s office of science and technology in Silver Spring, Maryland.

UAL Testing Systems

UAL Corp., parent of United Airlines, may not wait for the government’s link. The carrier, the third-largest in the U.S., is testing satellite-based weather systems for its planes, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based airline.

“Making the business case for this is the problem airlines face since safety records are already so good,” said MIT’s Hansman. There is the equivalent of one to two crashes per 10 million takeoffs and landings, based on his calculations.

The Washington-based National Transportation Safety Board reported 42 serious turbulence-related injuries and no fatalities in the U.S. over the past five years.

Most such injuries involve flight attendants who are unable to get strapped in before planes are buffeted, said Jim Burin, director of technical programs at Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit group in Alexandria, Virginia.

Every year, millions of airline passengers fly through a turbulence-prone band, known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, when they cross the equator. In the 30 days to June 8, 38,716 flights crossed the equator with a scheduled seat capacity of 8.2 million, according to OAG Aviation Solutions, a unit of London-based United Business Media Ltd.

Convergence Zone

The Air France plane was in the convergence zone when it crashed into the Atlantic.

“There is a ring of very big thunderstorms circling the earth,” said Henry Margusity, senior meteorologist at State College, Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather.com. “This is the area where hurricanes and tropical storms form and planes must cross every time they fly between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.”

At times dead calm, the convergence zone produces some of the planet’s most violent weather when northeasterly and southeasterly trade winds clash, said Pat Slattery, a spokesman in Kansas City, Missouri, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The thunderstorms may be 50 miles across,” said Jorg Handwerg, a Deutsche Lufthansa AG pilot for 17 years. “We call it squall lines,” which resemble “pearls on a string. If they are too close, you can’t find a way through. And if you have a cluster you may have to deviate for hundreds of miles.”

Tropic Supercells

Violent weather in the region can approximate the supercells that spawn tornadoes in the U.S., which exceed altitudes of 50,000 feet, NOAA’s Slattery said.

“We are eons ahead in forecasting convective storms in the central part of the U.S. than we are in forecasting them in the tropics,” said National Weather Service’s Tuell. “So much of it takes place over water in the tropics — over the Indian Ocean, Pacific and Atlantic — and there is just much less data available because of that.”

The Air France jetliner was carrying eight to nine hours of fuel and flying near its limit of altitude just before it crashed, said Hans Weber, chief executive officer of San Diego transportation consulting company Tecop International Inc. He was referring to information released by the official investigation that placed the plane at about 34,000 feet. AccuWeather’s Margusity said the storm clouds reached to at least 50,000 feet.

‘Coffin Corner’

“Pilots call it the coffin corner when they are flying a heavy aircraft close to its ceiling,” Weber said. “Flying gets to be difficult because there is a narrower speed difference between too slow and too fast. Not having to contend with the most severe weather would have freed up the pilots to deal with any equipment problems.”

The latest radar products are three-dimensional, such as IntuVue from Honeywell International Inc. in Morris Township, New Jersey, which helps pilots determine the height of thunderheads. The three-dimensional systems, introduced less than three years ago, are in a small portion of the commercial aircraft fleet, said Chris Benich, director of aerospace regulatory affairs at the world’s largest maker of airplane controls.

Among airlines using IntuVue are Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Air Canada and Singapore Airlines Ltd., while the U.S. Air Force uses it on C-17 cargo planes, according to a list provided by Honeywell. The cost for long-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 777 is about $335,000, said Bill Reavis, a Honeywell spokesman.

Two-Dimensional Radar

Most commercial planes are equipped with two-dimensional radar that requires pilots to manipulate it to get an accurate picture of the weather, Benich said.

“With older weather radars, pilots have difficulty accurately determining the top of significant weather,” Benich said.

Honeywell, Airbus of Toulouse, France, Thales SA of Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and 14 other partners signed a contract on June 12 to work on the European version of the satellite-based link called Sesar, or Single European Sky ATM Research.

Brazil also is implementing a satellite-based system that will provide both the position of aircraft to control centers — even if they are outside radar coverage areas — and real-time climate data, said Ramon Borges Cardoso, a brigadier in the nation’s air force.

“The pilot in the cockpit will be able to receive a wealth of information he doesn’t get so easily now, including weather information,” said former pilot Jenkins. “The new system will definitely give pilots more confidence.”


FAA Holds Regional Airline Safety Summit

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events

After Buffalo Crash, Airlines, Government, Industry Discuss Voluntary Ways to Boost Safety

Reprinted From ABC.com


When Federal Aviation Administration administrator Randy Babbitt listened to the tapes and poured over the information about February’s deadly plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y, he, like much of the American public, had a strong reaction.

“When I went through and listened and read the transcripts of this accident, and saw what was going on, there was a breakdown in professionalism,” Babbitt told ABC News Monday. “That wouldn’t happen at some carriers because they would have been taught, they would have been mentored. It simply wouldn’t have happened. I want to make sure it never happens again.”

Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met in Washington, D.C., Monday with representatives from all corners of the airline business to focus on finding ways for airlines to voluntarily make flying safer.

High on the group’s agenda was crafting a manifesto to reassure travelers that airlines are doing all they can to ensure pilots are beyond prepared to fly passengers to their destinations, and to help more senior pilots mentor those with less experience.

Babbitt told airline companies today he expects them to do complete background checks on pilots before hiring them to fly passengers — including getting permission from pilots to access all of their training records. Airlines are allowed to do that today but it became clear in wake of the Buffalo crash that not all of them do.

“There’s a public perception out there, unfortunately, right now that pilots can repeatedly fail check rides and still keep their jobs,” Babbitt said. “We want the passengers in this country to have absolutely no doubt about the qualifications of the person or crew flying their airplane.”

“I want a recommendation today about asking Congress to expand the scope of the Pilot Records Improvement Act to give employers access to all of the records available in a pilot’s file,” Babbitt also said.

Though current law dictates that pilots must sign a release allowing potential employers access to their training records, the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday set new expectations and strongly recommended the airlines ask for access.

“We want to be innovative,” Dan Morgan, vice president of Colgan Air’s safety and regulatory compliance, said last week. “We’re part of an industry that’s highly regulated, but there’s nothing that says that we can’t try to do a few things that haven’t been done before.”

But not everyone thinks changes can happen without federal laws to support them.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen voluntarily,” the captain for a regional carrier who asked to remain anonymous said Monday. “It’s going to have to be mandatory. You know, the FAA is actually going to have to put this into law for these airlines to change because it’s going to cost the airlines money to hire more crews and to work less, so it’s probably going to have to be forced upon them.”

The gathering comes after several recent high-profile plane crashes that have raised concerns about travelers’ safety.

The February crash of a regional plane in Buffalo, N.Y., the June crash of a massive Airbus A330 over the Atlantic Ocean and the relief of a successful emergency landing over the Hudson River in January each reminded aviation experts it’s important to keep their guard up.

Buffalo Crash Draws Attention to Regional Airline Safety

A total of 50 people died when Colgan Air Flight 3407 went down just short of the Buffalo airport in February.

“We follow all the requirements of the FAA, as does every other airline, and we generally exceed those requirements,” Morgan said. “We have very stringent training programs. Something happened on a flight. That does not mean that the rest of this airline is a bad boy and is a poster child for the worst of all in this industry.”

But even the government’s top aviation officials admitted Monday that the Colgan crash is a wake-up call revealing serious safety problems with regional airlines that now fly half of the flights in the United States. The pilot of the Buffalo flight, Capt. Marvin Renslow, had failed several flight checks when getting his pilot’s license, but had not disclosed them all to Colgan Air on his application.

“We must regain the public’s trust,” LaHood said Monday. “We must inspire confidence in every traveler every time he or she steps on a commercial aircraft or any size at any airport in our country.”

“Some of the things that I have seen and heard about practices in the regional airline industry are not acceptable,” Babbitt said. “Our job is to deliver and ensure safety, and recently we’ve seen some cracks in the system. We need to look more deeply into what’s happening, but the last few months, quite frankly, are an indication that some things aren’t right.”

At its recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing on the Buffalo accident, investigators honed in on the pilot and crew’s training as well as issues of fatigue and possible cockpit errors.

But many pilots in turn said they’d seen it all before. Those who fly for regional carriers sent ABC News a deluge of e-mails about the safety shortcomings, punishing schedules, low pay and inexperience.

The regional pilot who spoke to ABC News today said “it all boils down to saving money.”

“The regional airlines will definitely cut costs when it comes to training,” he said. “I mean, they will give you the minimum amount of training that the FAA allows just to save money.”

The money crunch also means regional pilots are working extremely long hours, often getting paid just $18,000 per year, he said. He said those factors taken together mean airlines are compromising quality and, ultimately, safety.

“If they continue with the hiring standards and working conditions, safety can be compromised,” the pilot said. “So it’s definitely a possibility there could be more accidents.”

The FAA agreed today that work rules must be changed to reduce fatigue, but has not yet set a timetable on that issue.

“We’re going to be very impatient about this and do what we can very immediately to assure the flying public that flying regional jets is safe — that the pilots that are flying them are well-trained and well-rested,” LaHood told ABC News Monday.

Inspector General Identifies Five Weaknesses in Airline Oversight

Lawmakers examined this year’s plane crashes at a hearing just last week on Capitol Hill.

“We are a safe aviation country, but we should be now saying, ‘Let’s take another look. Let’s see where we need to be more stringent and have more oversight just to assure we are doing everything possible,'” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said at that meeting.

Just last week, Transportation Department inspector general Calvin Scovel said the FAA’s system to oversee commercial airlines needs work, adding, “We have identified serious vulnerabilities in five critical FAA programs for oversight of the aviation industry.”

Those weaknesses include “risk-based inspections, repair stations, aging aircraft, disclosures of safety violations made through the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and whistleblower complaints,” Scovel told the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce panel. Scovel plans to release a report on those issues later this year.

Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, called the recent incidents “chilling, horrific reminders that there is nothing more important in aviation than the safety of all passengers” in a statement prepared for the meeting.

Air Travel: One Level of Safety

Last Tuesday, Babbitt and LaHood announced that, starting immediately, pilot training at regional airlines will be scrutinized by FAA inspectors.

The regional airlines voiced support last week for the new emphasis on federal oversight of pilot training.

“Safety always has been and always will be our No. 1 priority,” said Regional Airline Association President Roger Cohen. “We support all steps DOT Secretary LaHood and FAA administrator Babbitt call for to make this happen.”

“I would like to note that these issues are not relevant to regional airlines alone,” NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker testified on Capitol Hill. “They are pertinent to every airline operation, major air carriers as well as regional air carriers.”

After several commuter plane crashes in the early 1990s, rules took effect in 1997 that ensured regional carriers were required to follow the same rules as major carriers.

Pilots can be on duty 16 hours per day, which includes time not spent flying. They can fly only eight hours in a 24-hour period.

The FAA also requires 250 hours of flying time for pilot hires, though it says industry practice is usually higher, with many logging at least 500 hours.

In addition to private, commercial and air transport pilot certifications from the FAA, Babbitt said pilots get “initial and additional recurrent training through the air carriers for whom they work,” which are also manned by the FAA.

Still, some have said the FAA is not doing enough.

In mid-May as NTSB investigators examined what went wrong in Buffalo, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter to LaHood calling on the FAA to immediately rethink what is required of new pilots before they take to the skies.

“I believe that FAA must start by reevaluating what it requires of airline training curricula,” Schumer wrote. “NTSB’s hearings have indicated that lack of hands-on training of a stick-pusher may have played a role in the crash of Flight 3407, and I wonder what other important training exercises may be left of out of curricula.”

“In the interest of cost cutting, the commuter airlines seem to be overworking and underpaying their pilots,” Schumer later told ABC News. “The training doesn’t seem to be full and adequate.”


Part falls off FedEx jet bound for California

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events

A FedEx jet bound from Phoenix to Long Beach Airport was diverted to Los Angeles after witnesses reported seeing something fall off the plane.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said Friday that an air conditioning access panel, 3 feet by 3 feet, was missing when the plane landed Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport.

The panel fell off during takeoff from Phoenix and landed between a runway and a taxiway. No injuries were reported and it was not immediately clear what danger was posed to the airplane by losing the panel.

A FedEx spokesman says the incident was very uncommon and the company would work with the FAA to investigate.


Air France Crash Underscores Challenge of Designing Complex Automated Systems

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events



Reprinted from Design News

John Loughmiller

On May 31, 2009, four hours into a trip from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-200, encountered heavy turbulence. Fifteen minutes later, an automated system began sending messages documenting a worsening situation as first one and then another of the redundant electrical systems failed until all four were gone. Among the last messages sent was one advising that the cabin pressurization system had also failed suggesting an in-flight breakup.

The circumstances surrounding this flight underscore the diabolical challenge of designing complex, automated systems for multiple contingencies and then managing the consequences of the design choices made. Since I have a couple hats in my collection, one for when I’m being an engineer and another for when I’m being a pilot, the crash brought these challenges into sharp focus. It also reminded me of 30+ years of pilot concerns about Fly-By-Wire flight control systems.

In a Fly-By-Wire system, electric motors and actuators operate the flight surfaces via wires or fiber optic strands. Multiple computers provide continual oversight of the process. Designers employ software to prevent what they consider to be dangerous or illogical user inputs from the pilot in an attempt to reduce pilot error and thereby increase safety. Unfortunately there have been accidents – some fatal – because designers didn’t adequately anticipate abnormal flight regimes.

In a fully implemented Fly-By-Wire system, there’s no reversion to manual control. Pilots are system managers, making requests of the computers, which then decide whether the requests are reasonable. They control the movement of control surfaces using a set of rules or “laws.” On an Airbus for example, four operational laws govern its operation: Normal, Normal Alternate, Abnormal Alternate and Direct Law. As systems fail, control authority changes, eventually offering the pilot control only of elevator trim, rudder and thrust of the airplane’s engines in the Direct Law mode.

With four electrical systems and multiple computers, the odds of ever getting to Direct Law are remote. But Flight 447 lost all of the electrical buses plus cabin pressurization in a thunderstorm, which was something the designers probably listed as an extremely unlikely possibility. Manual reversion in this case may not have helped, but it certainly could not have hurt. In a dire emergency, a pilot needs access to every flight control on the airplane. After all, if things are really bad, why make them worse by restricting a pilot’s options to the point that he or she is little more than a passenger?

To an aeronautical designer, there’s a tightrope to walk that’s both long and very far above the ground. Involving non-designers in the process isn’t something that’s normally high on their list of priorities since outsiders (pilots in this case) will frequently want to add features that translate to added cost. Still, most airline pilots I know who make their living in a Fly-By-Wire airplane don’t object to the software itself. They appreciate the smooth way the computers execute the flight surface movements.

What they hate is the lack of full control of the airplane in an emergency. This desire is at variance with an aircraft designer’s mindset that tries to prevent mistakes by restricting the actions a pilot can take. While these design objectives work well in normal operations, should things go horribly bad, as they did with Flight 447, the design rules may be in conflict with what’s required to extricate oneself from disaster. This is the pilot’s case in a nutshell.

John Hansman, a pilot and an Aeronautical Professor at M.I.T. specializing in aircraft design, has studied the differences in the Fly-By-Wire control philosophy and the more traditional approach to aircraft control. In his opinion, Fly-By-Wire gives more decision authority to the aircraft systems and less to the pilot, whereas traditional systems provide dynamic feedback on the operation of the aircraft but leave most of the decisions to the pilot. Hansman feels that by allowing computers to make critical decisions when operating in an abnormal flight regime, designers place a tremendous burden on themselves to anticipate all possible emergency modes and design the system to react appropriately.

But what’s appropriate? That’s at the core of the debate. Although there are budget constraints in any design, Hansman has an approach that may help. He tells his students, who may well be the next generation of Boeing or Airbus designers, that to make correct decisions, particularly when designing complex machines like airplanes, it’s critical to involve end users early in the design process. He teaches that both the designer and the end user have a mental model of how something should work. However, the two models are frequently at variance with one another.

An example: A designer working on flight dynamic issues notes there are many reports of pilots getting the airplane to assume a steep angle of attack coupled with a decay in air-speed to decay. This set of conditions is precisely what killed New York Yankee catcher Thurmond Munson as he approached an airport in his Cessna Citation business jet. The designer’s solution was to examine the amount of pitch up requested by the pilot, and as it increased, cause the engines to spool up so that the aircraft can’t slow down. This strategy worked fine until a combination of events that had not been modeled during the design phase fooled the system. Although the pilot steadily increased the pitch, the engines didn’t spool up. The pilot should have immediately lowered the nose and manually increased the thrust but, relying on the automation, he didn’t, and the airplane crashed short of the runway. It was a case of pilot and designer error.

Another example: A pilot descended below the normal Initial Approach Fix (IAF) altitude because the weather was excellent and he was flying a visual approach. Once past the IAF, he commanded the aircraft to fly the approach. He thought it would simply continue on towards the runway, capturing the glide slope from below instead of from above which is the way it works when you start at the IAF. Instead, the aircraft went into an immediate climb and attempted to reach the altitude required at the IAF even though that point was behind the aircraft by this time. The pilot decoupled the aircraft from the autopilot but placed the airplane back in the approach mode once he’d satisfied himself that the system was working properly. The aircraft once again started climbing, giving the passengers a carnival ride they didn’t expect. The designer in this case never anticipated the pilot would attempt to fly a precision approach from a point other than where the approach is normally begun.

We may never know what happened to Flight 447. But the dialogue that will emerge from this event will be invaluable to system designers, as they continue in their quest to design higher degrees of safety into their automated systems.


Inspector Predicted Danger Before Buffalo Crash

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


Reprinted from The New York Times

By Matthew L. Wald

WASHINGTON — More than a year before a twin-engine turboprop flown by Colgan Air crashed on approach to Buffalo, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector complained to his superiors about the rocky start the airline was having with that model.

The inspector, Christopher J. Monteleon, was in the cockpit when the airline got its first such plane, a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, and put it through a series of test flights.

Three times, he said, the pilots flew the airplane faster than the manufacturer’s specifications allowed, but they initially refused to report this and have the plane inspected for damage. They flew with a broken radio and did not want to write that up in the maintenance log, as the rules require, he said, because it might delay the next test flight. And they tried three approaches to the airport in Charleston, W. Va., and “botched” all of them, failing to get the plane at an appropriate altitude, on the right path and at the right speed for landing.

“They got confused,” Mr. Monteleon said in a recent interview, as he recalled the test flights in January 2008.

But when he reported problems to his F.A.A. superiors, he was suspended from important portions of his job overseeing Colgan’s acquisition of the Dash 8 and given a desk job, he said. Mr. Monteleon has had other run-ins with his bosses, and is currently on paid leave because, he said, managers accused him of menacing an agency lawyer.

Mr. Monteleon’s complaints about Colgan, which he repeated three months later to the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency established to hear whistle-blower complaints, foreshadowed some of the issues that emerged 13 months later at the National Transportation Safety Board hearings on the crash near Buffalo, on Feb. 12, 2009. Colgan crews were flying fatigued, Mr. Monteleon said, and were not fully focused on the tasks in front of them, two factors apparently in play in the Buffalo crash. All 49 people on board the flight, which took off from Newark, were killed, along with one man on the ground.

While the safety board usually takes about a year to issue a final report on crashes like the one in Buffalo, its hearings in early May made it clear that the quality of the F.A.A.’s regulation of Colgan was one of the areas under investigation.

The F.A.A. insists that it took Mr. Monteleon seriously in the months before the crash.

A spokeswoman for the F.A.A., Laura J. Brown, said that after Mr. Monteleon made his allegations, the agency called in a team made up of inspectors from around the country, who could review the issues with an impartial eye. They recommended some changes in F.A.A. procedures, she said, which were carried out, but did not find any “major regulatory issues.”

Mr. Monteleon was not punished, she said, and privacy laws limited what she could say about “personnel issues.”

A spokesman for Colgan, Joe F. Williams, said, “Mr. Monteleon’s claims against us are baseless.”

“Colgan met or exceeded every single F.A.A. requirement necessary to add the Q400 to its fleet prior to beginning operations,” he said.

The Office of Special Counsel does not settle safety issues but sends them on to the inspector general of the department in question if it finds a “substantial likelihood” that that they are at least partly accurate. The office did send Mr. Monteleon’s complaint to the inspector general of the Transportation Department, the parent agency of the F.A.A., but the inspector general’s office has not completed its investigation.

The claims by Mr. Monteleon, 64, a 40-year veteran of the aviation industry who joined the F.A.A. in 1997, rely mostly on documents he himself wrote when the events occurred, and on his memory. Thus they are difficult for outsiders to evaluate. But they echo a previous case of inspectors who were penalized by their supervisors who overruled them in favor of the airline.

In 2008, two F.A.A. inspectors assigned to Southwest Airlines testified before Congress that their managers had let Southwest fly its Boeing 737s without inspections for cracks that the safety agency required. Office managers referred to the airline as the regulatory agency’s “customer.” Top F.A.A. officials eventually conceded that the inspectors were right and the middle managers were wrong.

Mr. Monteleon said his supervisors were too “cozy” with Colgan, and eager to help it keep its schedule; the airline had a contract with Continental Airlines to begin flights in the Dash 8 plane — flying as Continental Express — in a little over a month after it acquired its first plane of that type.

In one memo retained by Mr. Monteleon, his manager indicates that he was reassigned because of his “conduct during a work-related duty” and because “the matter also required management to immediately respond to the operator’s scheduling needs.” The operator was Colgan.

Mr. Monteleon’s lawyer, Debra S. Katz, said the most recent charge against Mr. Monteleon, of menacing an F.A.A. lawyer, was trumped up as a way to get rid of him. “The F.A.A. seems bent on pushing Chris out in retaliation for his disclosures,” she said. She said she hoped the Office of Special Counsel would order his re-instatement.

His complaints — and his troubles — did not begin with Colgan’s handling of the Dash 8. Earlier, he had a bigger job supervising Colgan, as the principal operations inspector. But, he said, after he observed violations and deficiencies in crew training, crew fatigue and other problems, he tried to bring a case against the airline and was blocked by his F.A.A. managers. As punishment, he said, he was demoted. He then agreed to be transferred to the Office of Runway Safety, which was in charge of collecting and analyzing data about incidents in which planes came too close to each other on the ground.

When he got there, he complained that the office was using skewed methodology to understate the severity of safety concerns. He said a top F.A.A. safety official testified before Congress in April 2008, and said that the agency was making progress on improving runway safety, but, Mr. Monteleon said, the testimony was based on inaccurate statistics.

This has not been verified, either, but a 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office does note that the F.A.A. found problems itself with its 2006 runway incursion data.


Cabin Set to Become Influenza A-Free Zone

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


Reprinted from The Korea Times

By Kim Rahn
Staff Reporter

Airlines are blaming public fears of H1N1 influenza A for a decrease in the number of passengers, along with the economic slump.

Korean Air and Asiana Airlines expected the demand to grow during the summer peak season, but are seeing lower booking rates than in previous years. For Asiana, seats are less than 80 percent booked for July, and Korean Air also expects to have fewer reservations than in previous years.

As part of efforts to recover demand, the airlines are publicizing the cleanliness, improved sanitary conditions and the overall safety of the cabin environment.

According to international aviation law, aircraft makers such as Airbus and Boeing must install state-of-the-art ventilation systems in aircraft to filter out foreign substances and sterilize the air.

In the ventilation system, air from outside the plane flows in through an engine that is heated to more than 2,000 degrees Centigrade, becoming sterilized ― the influenza A virus can’t survive above a temperature of 70 degrees.

The air is cooled after passing through an ozone purifier and then mixes with the air inside the cabin, which is also filtered through a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, and released into the cabin every two to three minutes.

The air flows from the top down, like an air curtain, so that viruses or other substances don’t spread back and forth between passengers.

Almost all Korean Air and Asiana Airlines aircrafts are equipped with the ventilation system and HEPA filter, the carriers’ managers said.

Besides the air system, the national carriers also thoroughly disinfect the cabin. Korean Air uses a disinfectant named EnviroTru, which is more effective than EcoTru, which was used when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was rampant in 2003.

The airline staff clean the lavatories, galley, meal tables, cabin armrests, grips and washstands in the lavatories with the disinfectant on every aircraft traveling from countries where flu patients have been confirmed.

According to the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention, no one has been found to have contracted the flu virus on a plane since May.

“The aircraft cabin is almost perfectly sterilized by a state-of-the-art air ventilation system. If passengers wash their hands and pay attention to hygiene, they have a lower chance of getting the disease on the plane than on the ground,” a health expert was quoted as saying by Korean Air.

Air France Jet Is Feared Lost on Flight From Brazil to Paris

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events

PARIS — An Air France passenger jet traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared after its electrical systems malfunctioned during a storm with heavy turbulence on Sunday evening, and officials said Monday that a search had begun for the wreckage in a vast swath of the Atlantic Ocean.

The plane, an Airbus 330-200, was carrying 216 passengers, nine cabin crew members and three pilots, the airline said.

The plane took off from Galeão Airport in Rio de Janeiro at 7:30 p.m. local time (6:30 Eastern time), and its last verbal communication with air traffic control was at 10:33 p.m., when the pilots said they would enter Senegalese air space in 50 minutes, according to a statement from the Aeronautica, the agency in charge of Brazilian air space. At that time, the flight was at 35,000 feet and traveling 520 miles per hour.

About a half-hour later, the plane encountered an electrical storm with “very heavy turbulence,” an Air France spokeswoman, Brigitte Barrand, said. The last communication from the plane was 14 minutes later — an automatic message informing air traffic control of an electrical-system malfunction, Air France officials said in Paris.

The chief Air France spokesman, Francois Brousse, said “it is possible” that the plane was hit by lightning, The Associated Press reported.

Planes have been brought down by lightning strikes in the past, though it is rare. In 1988, a twin-engine turboprop FA-4 was struck by lightning in the skies over Germany and crashed, killing all 21 people aboard. In 2006, a plane carrying Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, was struck by lightning and had to land, his spokeswoman said at the time.

Brazilian officials said the plane disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean between the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 186 miles northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal, and Ilha do Sal, one of the Cape Verde islands off the coast of Africa. It is a huge area of ocean three times the size of Europe, officials said.

The Brazilian Air Force sent two planes to search for wreckage, an air force spokesman, Col. Henry Munhoz, told O Globo television in Brazil, and Brazilian Navy ships were reported to also be joining the search.

The head of investigation and accident prevention for Brazil’s Civil Aeronautics Agency, Douglas Ferreira Machado, told O Globo that he calculated that, given its speed, the plane must have left Brazilian waters by the time contact was lost.

“It’s going to take a long time to carry out this search,” The A.P. quoted him as saying. “It could be a long, sad story. The black box will be at the bottom of the sea.”

All jets are built to withstand severe turbulence, especially at upper flying levels, as well as to withstand lightning strikes. The missing aircraft was relatively new, having gone into service in April 2005. Its last maintenance check in the hangar took place on April 16, 2009, Air France said in a statement.

Pilots are trained to try to avoid flying directly through thunderstorms, and instead try to find an opening in a storm front through which to guide their plane. Ms. Barrand said that the pilot of the missing jet was very experienced, having clocked 11,000 flying hours, including 1,100 hours on Airbus 330 jets.

The plane was scheduled to arrive at Paris’s Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport at 11:10 a.m. local time. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France expressed grave concern about the missing airliner and sent his transport and environment ministers to a special crisis center set up at the airport, where relatives of passengers were gathering. The president was due to arrive at the airport later Monday afternoon.

Among the passengers were 126 men, 82 women, seven children and an infant. Brazil’s Civil Aviation Authority said the release of names has been hampered because many passengers did not fill out the form on their tickets with names and numbers of next of kin or contacts. Radio reports in Brazil said that 37 percent of the passengers were Brazilian and 34 percent were French, and that the rest were other nationalities. Those reports were not initially confirmed by the airline.

French and Brazilian aviation authorities are expected to lead the investigation, but the United States National Transportation Safety Board may be involved if the plane had American-made engines or had any American passengers on board.

No Airbus 330-200 passenger flight has ever been involved in a fatal crash, according to the Aviation Safety Network, though the seven-person crew of a test flight died in a June 30, 1994, crash near Toulouse, France, where Airbus is based. The test was meant to simulate an engine failure at low speed with maximum angle of climb.

In October 2008, an A330 operated by Qantas on a flight from Singapore to Perth had to be diverted for an emergency landing near the Australian town of Exmouth after suddenly losing altitude. Dozens of passengers and crew members were injured.

Air France said that people in France seeking information about the flight could telephone 0800-800-812. For those calling from abroad, the number is 33-1-57-02-10-55.

Caroline Brothers reported from Paris, and Sharon Otterman from New York. Reporting was contributed by Alexei Barrionuevo from Buenos Aires, Micheline Maynard from New York, Brian Knowlton from Washington, and Andrew Downey from São Paulo, Brazil.


House OKs safety plan for overseas aircraft work

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. inspectors would conduct more checks of overseas aircraft repair stations under a House bill approved Thursday that seeks to address safety concerns as major airlines send maintenance work overseas.

The European Commission has threatened to pull out of an aviation safety deal over that requirement. A U.S.-European Union agreement says each will have comparable safety requirements and inspection systems.

The legislation also authorizes $13.4 billion to accelerate the U.S. transition from a radar-based air traffic control system to one based on Global Positioning System technology.

The bill, approved by a vote of 277 to 136, requires the Federal Aviation Administration to increase its overseas inspections from once a year to twice a year, and foreign workers would have to submit to the same drug and alcohol testing and criminal background checks that apply to U.S. workers.

A report last year by the Transportation Department’s internal watchdog said nine big U.S. airlines are farming out aircraft maintenance at twice the rate of four years earlier and now hire outside contractors for more than 70 percent of major work. While most of the outsourced work is still done in the U.S., often at nonunion repair shops, more than one-quarter of the repairs are done overseas.

The European Commission has threatened to withdraw from the pending aviation safety deal if the provision on overseas repair station becomes law.

Republican lawmakers called the provision a “job killer,” predicting European airlines will stop sending their aircraft to repair stations in the United States.

“Our interest here is putting people to work and making this system safe, not doing away with jobs,” said Rep. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who waved a list he said contained of 11,000 aircraft repair jobs in the U.S. that would be lost.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the Europeans are “crying wolf.”

“I wouldn’t want to have to come back on this floor at some future date and have to respond to an air tragedy because an aircraft wasn’t properly inspected in a foreign repair station that wasn’t properly crewed or supervised by U.S. personnel,” Oberstar said.

Another provision of the bill would make it easier for unions to organize FedEx truck drivers and other non-aviation employees.

Since its founding in 1971, FedEx Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., has fallen under the Railway Labor Act, which requires long mediation before employees can take work actions and bars localized unions. The bill’s provision placing some FedEx workers under the less restrictive National Labor Relations Act would benefit the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has sought to represent FedEx drivers, and rival package delivery giant United Parcel Service of Atlanta, whose drivers are already Teamsters.

FedEx has vowed to cancel a $7 billion order for 30 Boeing 777 freighters if the provision is enacted; Teamsters officials have accused the company of trying to blackmail Congress.

The provision “threatens FedEx’s ability to provide competitively priced shipping options and ready access to global markets,” FedEx spokesman Maury Lane said.

The bill, which would authorize $70 billion for the FAA through September 2012, also would:

_Require the agency to hire more safety inspectors.

_Increase taxes on fuel used by corporate and private aircraft, raising an additional $600 million over 10 years beginning in 2010.

_Create an independent office to investigate whistle-blower complaints.

_Increase money available to subsidize air service to rural communities from $127 million to $200 million annually.

_Require a study on pilot fatigue.

_Require a study on airline pilot training and certification.

_Require airlines and airports to develop contingency plans for how they will handle the passengers whose flights have been delayed for hours on tarmacs. Consumer advocates had sought a three-hour limit on how long airplanes can sit on runways before they have to return to a gate.


Rebooking Charge During Flu Scare Has Flier Fuming

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


Reprinted from: MINNETONKA, Minn. (WCCO)

Written by: Bill Hudson

Rita Nathanson is sharp as a tack when it comes to keeping up on news. That was especially true when the entire nation was affixed to the recent H1N1 flu outbreak.

Nathanson heard the state epidemiologist warn Minnesotans, “If you’re sick stay home!”

She even watched as Vice President Joe Biden urged Americans to use caution with public transportation; comments he was later criticized for. On a morning news show the vice president boldly stated, “It’s not that it’s going to Mexico, you’re in a confined aircraft where one person sneezes, that goes all the way through the aircraft.”

And that’s the prevailing attitude and concern over the “swine flu” at the time which now has Nathanson fighting mad.

“My whole life I lived by — you can’t fight city hall. Well, I just decided, Dammit, why not,” she said.

Nathanson thought she was doing Delta and Northwest Airlines a favor by canceling her recent trip to California. The day before her May 7 flight to Los Angeles, she had a bad sore throat. She didn’t know what the bug was but she had a pretty good idea that she was contagious.

“I’m sneezing, I’m coughing, I mean, I was a mess. I did not belong on there,” said Nathanson.

She decided she would play it safe and rebook her trip one week later. But when she contacted a Northwest ticket agent to change the ticket, she couldn’t believe what they told her.

The total price for the ticket had jumped an additional $219. She was being charged another $150 for the change of ticket charge, plus the added fare increase of $69 from when she had originally bought the ticket.

According to travel expert Terry Trippler, Delta’s change of ticket fee is consistent with most of the other major carriers.

“One hundred-fifty is pretty standard with everybody. One exception is Sun Country at $75, but most are $150,” said Trippler.

Delta defends the rebooking fee, saying at the time of the flu outbreak the Centers for Disease Control was only cautioning against travel to Mexico and not on domestic flights. That’s why Delta/Northwest decided to waive the fee on any ticket purchased to Mexico between April 26 and May 31.

Nathanson recalls asking the ticket agent if it would make a difference if she had a doctor’s written statement.

“I said, ‘Will a doctor’s note help?’ And they said, no. Only if you had taken out the flight insurance. I’ve never taken out flight insurance for a little domestic flight,” Nathanson recalls.

Delta is investigating Nathanson’s case but says it can’t make exceptions every time a passenger is sick.

The airline’s statement from spokesman, Anthony Black goes on to say, “We are currently investigating the details of this story. While we do not make general exceptions to travel policies, we do work with customers on an individual basis as issues warrant.”

One day after she cancelled her original flight to California, Nathanson saw her doctor and learned that she did not have the flu, but rather a bad sinus infection.

But she says this time was different. Americans were being asked to “play it safe” and help stop the spread of this potential flu. She calls it an exorbitant price to pay for being a responsible flier.

And for doing what she thought was the right thing, Nathanson says, “SOL baby – that’s it!”


Airman spots midair fuel leak

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


Reprinted from CNN.com

Written by: Brian Todd

Staff Sgt. Bartek Bachleda doesn’t consider himself a hero, but passengers on a recent jumbo jet flight might beg to differ.

One of 300 passengers on a United Airlines flight from Chicago, Illinois, to Tokyo, Japan, in April, Bachleda noticed white “smoke” billowing from the left side of the Boeing 747-400 jet on takeoff and then again at cruising altitude of over 30,000 feet.

He said he was sure it was a leak, a big one that could lead to a potentially dangerous situation.

Bachleda, 30, should know. He serves in an air refueling squadron in the U.S. Air Force.

He videotaped the midair vapor from his window seat and tried to warn a flight attendant. But at first, she paid him no heed.

“When I initially hit the call button, she thought maybe I wanted something, and she said, ‘Sir, I’m handing out drinks, I’ll be right back with you,’ ” Bachleda said.

Undeterred, Bachleda called her back to his seat.

“Ma’am,” he said. “It’s looking bad.”

He identified himself and showed the flight attendant his video.

“I decided, if the captain doesn’t know about this before we go oceanic — meaning once we fly over the ocean — and we’re leaking this massive amount of fuel, this is going to be a bad day,” said Bachleda, on a return trip back to Kadena Air Base in Japan, where he is stationed.

This time the flight attendant took him seriously, immediately stopped serving drinks and alerted the flight crew. 

United Airlines spokesman Jeff Kovick said the crew was already aware of the situation and was considering what action to take when Bachleda brought it to their attention. He said the captain would never have attempted a Pacific crossing.

In Bachleda’s estimation, the plane, which United said has a capacity of 373,000 pounds of jet fuel, was losing about 6,000 pounds an hour.

Over the course of a 13-hour flight, the plane would have lost about 20 percent of its tank. But a former NTSB official said the plane still would have had to land because it lacked extra fuel to divert once it was over the Pacific or circle at its destination.

The jet landed in San Francisco, California — with all 300 passengers safe.