EPA on Leaded Avgas: Delay-Delay-Delay

EPA recently issued a response to a petition filed by a coalition seeking action to address the problem of aviation lead air pollution, particularly at the nation’s busiest GA-training airports. Lead was banned decades ago in automotive fuel, paints, and other products, yet lead is still being added to the fuel used by small propeller-driven aircraft, even newly-built aircraft with brand-new aircraft engines.

(click on image to view original article)

(click on image to view original article)

A quick look at the timeline on this matter reveals just how ineffective EPA is at pressuring FAA to protect air quality near airports. The timeline on this issue is as follows:

  • October 3, 2006: petition by Friends of the Earth, seeking rules to regulate GA lead emissions
  • late 2008: EPA strengthened the NAAQS for lead, reducing the allowable level from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter, to 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter
  • 2010: EPA improved lead monitoring by requiring readings at selected airports
  • July 18, 2012: EPA responded to the 2006 petition
  • April 21, 2014: petition by a coalition, asking EPA to reconsider the 2012 response
  • January 23, 2015: EPA’s final response letter, responding to the 2014 petition

Note that the timeline includes two formal response letters by EPA. In the first one, in mid-2012, EPA estimated they would produce a final determination in mid- to late-2015, with regard to Avgas lead emissions endangerment. In their latest formal response letter, EPA is now estimating they will produce a final determination in 2018, with regard to Avgas lead emissions endangerment.

That’s twelve years, 2006 to 2008, just to produce a ‘final determination’, which does not even get to the actual change needed. An entire generation will be born and grow up breathing in this lead, at and near hundreds of lead-impacted airports in the U.S. — not just the ‘seventeen’ airports posted in EPA’s latest questionable summary, but scores of other ‘unlisted’ airports, too (like Hillsboro, near Portland, OR).

The beat goes on. And, so does the AvGas lead pollution….

See also:

‘Just Say No to Jets’ — In Santa Monica

Joe Marrapodi was interviewed for a column in the Santa Monica Daily Press. As a final question, he was asked: Is there anything you’d like to share with the Santa Monica community? Here is what he said:

“The Santa Monica Airport has a rich history with the city, but with the relatively recent explosion of jet traffic, the airport is no longer in balance with the community. Jet fumes cause cancer, birth defects, and are a serious health issue for growing children.

Please, Santa Monica, the jets were never welcome and now they need to go.”

There are many in and around Santa Monica Airport who agree with this, and if the FAA will cooperate, this could happen this year. The few jets using KSMO can easily and more efficiently use the bigger and better-suited airports (KBUR, KVNY and KLAX are closest).

See also:

Trends in Aviation Transparency: Passenger Documents In-Flight Engine Failure

The trend in aviation has been toward careful micromanagement of information, by both the airlines and the regulatory officials. So, when an airplane issue happens (an accident, an in-flight failure, or even a disappearing flight), or when ATC makes a mistake, it is nearly impossible for the press to produce a solid, informative news article. Often, in fact, the stories do not get into the news. It seems that, if the Av-Gov Complex had it their way, there would be no transparency in aviation. Increasingly, what transparency we have is driven by personal electronic devices, social media, and independent blogs.

So, it is a pleasure to see the occasional news story that DOES happen, when a passenger snaps a picture from her airplane seat. In this case, a Dash-8 feeder flight from Kansas City [KMCI] to Denver [KDEN], operated as Republic Airlines Flight 4936, was flight-planned to cruise at FL240 but levelled at FL200 (20,000 feet) when the crew had to shut down the number one engine due to low oil pressure. Here’s the photo which helped ensure the world would learn about this incident:20150123.. Republic 4936 DH-8 engine out, passenger photo
The flight then turned around and landed back at KMCI. Total flight time: one hour.

(click on image to view flight data at FlightAware.com)

(click on image to view flight data at FlightAware.com)

Transcript for the 1-17-2015 Near-Collision at KJFK

The following transcript is based on the archived ATC recording at LiveATC.net: KJFK 1-18-2015 0300-0330Z. The airline codes are: BWA (Caribbean Airlines); JBU (JetBlue); AZA (Alitalia); UAE (Emirates); AAL (American); VRD (‘Redwoods’, aka Virgin America); AMX (Aeromexico); UAL (United). Flights below are color- coded: red (arrival) and green (departure).

The arrival sequence was: AMX404 — VRD56 — BWA526 — AAL32 — JBU302. ATC applied positive control on both VRD56 and AAL32, issuing: “…right Juliet, hold short of two-two-right, remain this frequency….” Importantly, this clearance was NOT issued to BWA526. Also, a full five minutes passed between the time ATC issued the ‘hold short 22R’ to VRD56 and then AAL32; thus, the arrival spacing was averaging one per 2.5 minutes, which is a relatively calm arrival rate.

The departure sequence was: JBU1337 — AZA611 — UAE206 — JBU1295. For each departure, ATC had the aircraft ‘line up and wait’ on the runway, then issued a takeoff clearance after the previous arrival had finished taxiing across the runway downfield. Again, at the time the controller cleared JBU1295 for takeoff, he had done nothing to ensure BWA526 would hold short of the same runway.

Additionally, there is no evidence that the controller needed to be in any hurry. AMX404 was crossed prior to takeoff clearance for UAE206 (at time 27:35). Then, it was a full two minutes later, when VRD56 was crossed prior to takeoff clearance for JBU1295 (at time 29:41). And notice on the transcript that, immediately after clearing JBU1295 for takeoff, the controller does NOT focus on BWA526; instead, he diverts his attention to a nonessential flight, a VFR Cessna overflight whom he tells to maintain at or below just 500-feet altitude under departing jets (an approval that in itself is arguably unsafe).

So, what happened?

This appears to be a classic same-runway controller error, where the controller simply ‘temporarily forgot’ about one of his aircraft. Happens all the time. This is why controllers are trained to scan all the time, and this is also why it is valuable to have more than one controller watching the runway areas. Had this controller been in training, his instructor would have written him up for a ‘POSNI’ (Positive Separation not Insured). Then, again, the instructor’s job is to make sure situations like this never happen, so it might also have been swept under the rug….

Of course, the BWA56 flight crew was a major part of this error, too. Most pilots would have stopped short of the runway and radioed ATC advising they were holding short, and asking for further instructions. But, it is up to the controller to ‘control’ the traffic, by issuing crisp and timely clearances that keep the aircraft flowing and out of trouble. This controller, on this particular Saturday night, was surprisingly sloppy with his phraseology, and it came back to bite him.

It is worth saying again: this sort of incident happens all the time, where a controller temporarily spaces on one aircraft. This latest incident is just the ‘big league’ version of a very similar scenario, the 7/25/2010 Controller Error at KCMA. That, too, was swept under the rug. In fact, the Camarillo controller error was concealed by the tower supervisor, then the tower manager, then the hub management, then the regional QA people, and eventually even by Clay Foushee and Tony Ferrante at FAA Headquarters.

ANALYSIS: 2015-01-17.. Near Collision at JFK Airport

A potential runway collision at JFK Airport [KJFK] was averted when pilots aborted a takeoff clearance off Runway 22R while a Boeing 737 arrival started to cross the runway downfield. The departure, JetBlue Flight 1295, an Airbus A320 to Austin [KAUS], had already accelerated when the pilots saw an aircraft crossing ahead, so they pulled power and braked to avoid an impact.20150117.. [KJFK] AprtDgm portion showing RWY incursionThe departure was able to stop and exit at Taxiway Golf (green, in the airport diagram above), well short of Taxiway Juliet where the runway incursion had crossed (red, in the airport diagram above). Here’s an excerpt from a news article:

“We were heading full speed down the runway, and the plane came to a screeching stop,” says passenger Brandon Card.
“Caribbean Airlines Flight 526 was right in the path of JetBlue’s plane.
“The people came on the intercom and said ‘yeah, we almost collided with another plane,” said passenger Krista Hollis, “when they said that collision would have been inevitable if we hadn’t braked, I was like, ‘what?!’”

20150117.. BWA526, SYJC (runway incursion acft) The B737, Caribbean Airlines Flight 526 [BWA526] had landed on Runway 22L roughly a minute earlier, after a 4.5 hour flight from the main airport in Georgetown, Guyana. After landing, the flight would normally be given instructions to exit the runway, then hold short of the other runway. It appears this did not happen. Reportedly, shortly after clearing the JetBlue departure for takeoff, the controller observed the runway incursion developing and asked the Caribbean flight if he was stopping … while the JetBlue was still accelerating.

Flightaware data indicates that the JetBlue flight was departing roughly 90-minutes late when they aborted their takeoff. The actual departure then delayed for more than two additional hours, likely to refuel and possibly to have their mechanics do an inspection of the brakes. Passengers who were expecting to arrival at 11:43PM instead arrived in Austin at 3:27AM.

How Did This Happen?

The incident recording is archived at LiveATC.net (see: KJFK 0300-0330Z; BWA526 reports on frequency at 24:38). The controller is not too busy, and is working a steady flow of departures off Runway 22R and arrivals to Runway 22L. There is no complexity. He puts each departure onto the runway to ‘line up and wait’, then clears each for takeoff once the preceding departure is far enough out and once the arrivals have all been crossed or held short of the runway. In the case of BWA526, it appears the controller never issued any hold-short or taxi instructions. So, it was a risky clearance, for him to clear JetBlue for takeoff, having not yet talked to BWA526 to ensure the runway was protected. A closer analysis will follow, once a transcript is made.

ANALYSIS: 2015-01-16.. Forced Landing of an Air Tour Flight Near Halawa Falls, Molokai

A Cessna Skyhawk flying an apparent air tour lost engine power and crashed in rough forested terrain, while touring near Halawa Falls in the northeast part of Molokai. The tour passengers were a Japanese couple and their daughter. News reports indicate that the pilot and two passengers had minor injuries, but the mother was hospitalized with serious injuries.

20070819scp.. C172 forced landing field on Lanai, pilot pic (M.Richards)

The pilot, happy for his good luck. (click on image to view article/source)

The pilot, 35-yr-old Michael Richards, had previous experience with forced landings while flying this same aircraft type. On August 16, 2007, he was doing an instructional flight with N5207D, a C172, when he lost engine power; all three survived (the instructor, his student, and an observer/student). Then, on June 24, 2014, Mr. Richards and a student lost power at 2,000-feet and made a forced landing with N66540, ending up in a plowed pineapple field, near the Waipio Costco.

The most recent forced landing was with N5660E, a C172 registered with an operator named Hawaiian Night Lights LLC.

20070819scp.. C172 forced landing field on Lanai (M.Richards)

(click on image to read article about another forced landing, involving the same pilot, in 2007)

Is the Safety Oversight Missing?

Interestingly, neither the 2007 nor the 2014 forced landings are included within the NTSB aviation accident database. They clearly should have been. On the same day as the 2007 Hawaiian incident, another student pilot had a hard landing at an airport in Keystone Height, FL; that incident, far less significant (and far more common) than an in-flight engine failure, was investigated and added to the NSTB database [LAX07CA256]. And, on the day before the 2014 Hawaiian incident, another C172, in Miami, FL, had a hard landing when the pilot’s seat slid during touch-and-go pattern practice. It was written up at NTSB [ERA14CA331].

So, it will not be a surprise if neither NTSB nor FAA produces an investigation and report for the latest incident. They should. These are commercial activities. Just like the ‘instructional flights’ sold to tourists on ultralights are ‘commercial’ and generally overlooked by FAA. In fact, two died ten months ago in Kauai, the latest in a long history where both pilots and paying passengers have died in commercial flight accidents.

An agency that takes civil action against those who use low-altitude drones to capture real estate or news photos, should be far more concerned with ensuring safety in commercial air tourism. Get the data on these incidents, share it widely, and clean up Hawaiian air tourism before the next fatality happens.

See also:

The FAA’s Time Warp

(click on image to view blogpost at AVweb.com)

(click on image to view blogpost at AVweb.com)

The first major event of the new year for general aviation is going on right now, the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. It is happening on January 14th-17th, at the airport in Sebring, [KSEF] in the heart of Florida. The first expo was in 2004.

This is a big event for those who enjoy recreational flying. A chance to do some flying (to Florida, in the middle of winter!), meet up with old friends, learn about new products, and listen to a few speakers. It is also a chance to discuss aviation politics.

A blog by Mary Grady at AVweb.com generated some interesting reader comments. Ms. Grady expressed concerns about how sluggish and ineffective FAA has been for decades, and how this is hurting general aviation. Here are four of the comments posted after her blog…

“Check any aviation magazine of the past couple decades and you will see the same discussions we see today, 3rd class medical reform, unleaded avgas, easier certification for GA. It never changes. These issues have been ongoing since the 80’s at least. Will it ever change? Probably not. No bureaucracy will purposefully and voluntarily give up any of it’s rules or regulations. It will add more layers on top of existing layers and create situations where you must have A to get to point B but you cannot get A without the paperwork obtained at point B. The FAA is supposed to be there to support and further aviation but ends up merely restricting it and the front line troops who work so hard are impeded by confusing rules from the head office.”
“Sadly, the FAA today is doing to GA what Detroit did to itself in the 1970s. It is making American GA irrelevant. Once that “Mission Accomplished” banner gets hung in OKC, there will be no way to recover – ever.
Remember the old “doomsday clock,” back during the Cold War? Lately I’m reminded of it by every action – or instance of inaction – taken by the Agency. Pass the Prozac!”
“Time warp indeed. Why are the simple details of 3rd Class medical reform that Commissioner Michael Huerta told everyone about at Airventure still “top secret” some six months later? People need to know this stuff in order to get on with life. It’s totally ridiculous and childish to treat this information like it’s the nuclear defense codes.”
“So long as the FAA (and I have my own, unprintable words for that acronym) can just ignore mandates from congress with impunity, nothing will change (well, not for the better). Reducing regulations and making things simpler is not in their DNA so you aren’t going to see the changes we want here unless someone at the FAA fears losing their job over it and congress has not shown any backbone in enforcing their laws.
They jumped on the ill-concieved changes to ATP and First officer qualifications so that demonstrates they CAN do something fast if they feel like it. In that case it ADDED to the onerousness of regulations so they liked it.
Congress mandated action on the 3rd class medical and the FAA just gave them the finger and said they couldn’t get to it. If we look at the FAA as a corporation and congress as the BOD, in what private sector company could the CEO and other officers blatantly ignore directions from the BOD and expect to keep their jobs?”

See also:

ANALYSIS: AirAsia 8501, Extreme Weather, and the Crash of Pulkovo 612

2014 is behind us now. Thank goodness, because it was a lousy year for public confidence in aviation. Our confidence was undermined substantially, not by engineering, but by aviation marketing spin.

Our engineering progress has been great. We are developing new technologies and learning how to fasten hundreds of people inside ‘flying jetfuel tanks’. These new aircraft are technical marvels: reliable, while also increasingly lighter, more powerful and more fuel-efficient.

But, our aviation marketing is a flop. Not the marketing that makes people feel they need to buy a ticket and fly off on a vacation or for business. No, I mean the marketing that protects people from what the airlines and the aviation regulators feel might diminish demand. 2014 was a flop in this area because of the miserable mishandling of information about three major air crashes. First Malaysia 370; then Malaysia 17; and closing out the year with Indonesia AirAsia 8501.

To be fair, there was some improvement, in that Indonesian authorities did release some detailed information much more quickly than had happened nine months earlier. But, it has now been eleven days since the crash of a radar-tracked Airbus 320 into relatively shallow seas, and we still have not located the ‘black box’. Plus, we are seeing over and over again: the airlines – and the regulators who serve us them – want to keep us in the dark. Classic spin control: he who controls the information controls the show. On top of that, we are saddled with an obsolete regulatory framework that perpetuates this informational inequity. Relatively primitive black box technologies that minimize transparency, maximize airline/regulator control of critical flight data, and frankly ensure that the revealed facts are kept as fuzzy as possible.

There are Always ‘Design Limits’

No matter how good our engineering is, and no matter how robust a system is designed and built, we cannot avoid the fact that there are limits. Design a roof to hold the huge weight of a two-foot snowfall in an area where nobody has ever seen that much snow, and the roof should work just fine. But, what if the weather suddenly produces three feet of snow? We design to expected extremes, but what if our expectations are wrong, or what if the measured extremes are intensifying over time?

It is entirely conceivable that the design for today’s airliners does not offer real protection from the most hazardous phenomena associated with today’s most intense thunderstorms, the ones that tower to 50,000 feet. The windshear and turbulence, or the rate of icing, may be too much. Then, too, our pilots may be becoming complacent, losing the fear of weather that, in the past, would have caused all pilots to simply stay on the ground until the thunderstorm was done.

If the aircraft seems invincible and the pressure from airline management to keep the whole day’s schedule ‘on time’ is more intense than the fear of a weather forecast, a commercial pilot will fly on, even into danger, unaware until it is too late that he has more than met his match. And, this appears to be exactly what happened eight years ago, with Pulkovo Flight 612.

The Crash of Pulkovo Flight 612

20060822.. Tu-154 picThe accident happened on August 22, 2006. All 170 onboard were killed. The aircraft was a Tupolev Tu-154 with three engines at the tail, a design quite similar to the Boeing 727. The flight data showed convincingly: the flight was cruising at FL380 (38,000 feet) near a strong storm cell, was suddenly lifted to near FL420, and then entered a flat spin, descending all the way to a terrain impact (near 1,000 feet MSL) in less than three minutes.

20141228pic initial_radar_QZ8501

Photo showing the QZ8501 datablock, just prior to disappearing.

The Pulkovo Flight 612 accident scenario is consistent with the reports that QZ8501 made a sudden extreme climb while losing airspeed, just prior to disappearing. This was covered in a few articles, including the BusinessInsider piece by Paul Colgan on January 2nd. A tweet posted hours after the QZ8501 disappearance included a photo of the radar display, showing (red ellipses, added) an altitude of FL363 and climbing, with an airspeed of 353 knots. The article includes a second photo with a leaked printout, indicating that seconds after the climb and dangerously slowed airspeed, QZ8501 was showing a descent rate of nearly 12,000 feet per minute – far in excess of even the steepest controlled descent. And, the printout showed the speed had decayed to just 61 knots – indicating the A320 was no longer flying, but was simply falling like a rock.

Below is a paragraph from the Pulkovo Flight-612 accident summary, as posted in the Aviation-Safety.net database.

Pulkovo flight 612 departed Anapa (AAQ) for St. Petersburg (LED) at 15:05. The Tu-154M climbed to the cruise altitude of 35,100 feet (10.700 m). Because of storm cells ahead, the pilot decided to change course laterally by 20 km and attempted to climb over the storm cells. However, the thunderstorm front was unusually high, extending up to 15 km (49,000 feet). The Tu-154 entered an area of severe turbulence, pushing up the airplane from 11.961 m to 12.794 m within just 10 seconds. The angle of attack increased to 46 degrees and the airspeed dropped to zero. It entered a deep stall from which the crew could not recover. The plane crashed and burned in a field.

A more thorough analysis has been compiled at this aiREFORM webpage: aiR-Link

What Might We Conclude?

Obviously, to be absolutely certain, we have to wait for the real flight data, once the black box is recovered. But, even without that, it is clear that the existing data shows the QZ8501 accident had many similarities to the Pulkovo 612 crash. While many people are looking closely at the Air France 447 accident in 2009, they should be paying as much – and perhaps even more – attention to what we know about the Pulkovo crash in 2006. And, both airlines and regulators need to take another look at what they are doing to keep pilots from getting too close to mega thunderstorms.

Real time tracking, FDR transmission needs to happen now

Scott Hamilton at Leehamnet nails it again: aviation regulators need to get off their butts and implement effective tracking and transmission of flight data, to support timely search and rescue after remote crashes.

The failure to mandate what should be a relatively cheap system installation and operation cost only encourages the news media to spin off wild misinformation, seeking to fill the news information void. In a recent post, Mr. Hamilton noted that this “… is to the great disservice and most likely distress of the families and friends of the victims on the flight….” It also substantially undermines the public’s perception of the safety of today’s passenger aviation program. Mr. Hamilton goes on to note, “…for the industry, it all comes down to costs and in this context, dead people don’t matter, only cost matters. It’s the infamous tombstone mentality that enough people have to die before there is enough of an outcry to force regulators to do the right thing and force the airlines to follow….”

A Simple & Inexpensive System

The solution is a simple combination of technology and regulation. FAA and other regulators would simply require that all commercial passenger flights operating beyond continuous radar coverage must install a system that would transmit a basic data bundle in the event of a potential emergency.

Essentially, the system would track (each second) the flight’s basic data, including latitude & longitude, altitude, indicated airspeed, pitch angle, bank angle, and heading. The system would also apply logic to identify substantial heading/speed/altitude changes within the previous 15-seconds.

A transmission of data bundles would be triggered by odd parameters, such as excessive pitch angle and/or bank angle, abnormal speeds and/or altitudes, or substantial heading/speed/altitude changes. Once triggered, data bundles would be transmitted each second.

Each data bundle would require only three basic parameters: position (lat/long), altitude, and indicated airspeed. A few additional parameters would be added to the data bundle, as appropriate; for example, if the system noted excessive pitch angle or bank angle, or substantial heading/speed/altitude changes within the previous 15-seconds, these parameters would be included in the data bundle. On the assumption that this is a flight emergency, the transmissions would continue indefinitely.

For security purposes, if the transmission was triggered during a flight, the shutoff/override authority would NOT be in the aircraft. Instead, it would be by the ground dispatch/monitor personnel, who would need to communicate with the crew via radio, satellite, ACARS etc., to ensure the transmission is an anomaly, not a real emergency.

A Petition: Delta Airlines Lost Our Dog

With help from FAA, airlines routinely dodge accountability. When they screw up, if a family is hurt, the airlines feel no obligation to make them whole. This is a simple petition, asking that Delta Airlines behave responsibly about the loss of a family dog. Check it out by clicking on the image, and please sign on to help this family get fair treatment by Delta Airlines.
(click on image to view and sign the petition at Change.org)

(click on image to view and sign the petition at Change.org)