An Outstanding Investigative Series on Allegiant Failures and FAA Hiding Those Safety Issues From the Public

If you are increasingly concerned that FAA appears to be just a hack, a faux-regulator that does not really serve the people but instead enables the industry … you need to read these articles.

If you have felt yourself doubting the veracity of an FAA high official, as they spew glowing pro-NextGen claims while dodging the enormous failures and impacts (like David Suomi, at the Port of Seattle on 4/25/2016; to see the video, click here, then select the April ‘video’ tab, and ‘Item 3c – Briefing’ under the 4/25 meeting) … well, you need to take a look at these articles.

This is where agency corruption goes beyond being an annoyance, to become downright dangerous.

When the Nut is Not Secured…

This photo was shot during an investigation after an Allegiant MD80 was forced to do a high speed aborted takeoff. The castellated nut at the center of the photo has a twisted safety wire, to prevent the nut from detaching. The near-accident was caused by failure to secure the nut, creating a jammed elevator.

Despite FAA and industry efforts to confuse us all, this is not rocket science.

Given the speed and power in aviation, it is absolutely critical that parts not ‘come apart’ while operating.

So, what happens when aircraft mechanics fail to include a cotter pin or safety wire, as in the photo at right? Well, in this example, a hundred or so aircraft occupants are damned lucky they did not end up dead in a post-impact fire in Las Vegas. What exactly happened? While accelerating for takeoff, the nose lifted up on its own and the crew suddenly discovered they had zero elevator control. They cut the power to bring the nose back down and, luckily, had enough runway remaining to come to a safe stop and taxi back to the gate.

…Safety Eventually Breaks Down

This particular incident has far bigger repercussions. It was one of many incidents that caught the attention of Nathaniel Lash and other reporters, who did an outstanding investigative series, published by the Tampa Bay Times. Here are links to archived PDF copies of the three articles:

The third piece just came out, and it includes an interesting twist. It appears that FOIA was used, and that FAA heavily redacted their response documents. A formal appeal was filed and, eventually, an appeal response letter was sent back by FAA, denying the request to reveal the redactions. BUT… a fully unredacted copy was enclosed with the appeal response! So, now we can see what FAA chose to initially redact (which itself can be extremely revealing).

Was the fully unredacted report enclosed by accident? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it was enclosed by someone who had seen too much. FAA employees are real people, often feeling trapped in a corrupt and soulless bureaucracy, and silenced by the fear of losing their paycheck. Sometimes real people become sick and tired of all the lying and propaganda, and feel it is their duty to bypass the corrupt intentions of higher FAA officials; sometimes they make little ‘mistakes’ with big consequences. Lucky for all of us, not all FAA employees are afraid of the agency’s ‘culture of fear’. Some really do blow the whistle, and sometimes they do this in very subtle ways.

Also, for those who really want to dive deep, check out the 27-page unredacted report.

Is FAA Failing in Their Safety Oversight of Allegiant Air?

On May 11th this year, we were deeply embroiled in the election primaries, with growing evidence that the U.S. election system is in a flat-line failure mode. So, it is not surprising that the 20-year anniversary of the ValuJet crash in the Everglades might have gone unnoticed, at least by some of us.

The crash took 110 lives, and deeply scarred thousands more. The investigation of the crash exposed cultural failures at FAA, and led DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo to abruptly resign in July of that year (she was THAT disgusted with the inside politics and cover-up, not just by FAA but by the White House, too). The crash and victims were recalled in a Miami Herald article. Subsequent news articles this year have looked at Allegiant Air, noting its many connections back to ValuJet, and presenting evidence that FAA is AGAIN being lax in safety oversight.

Below is a recent news article, critical of both Allegiant and FAA. In the pages that follow, aiREFORM provides an archived collection of articles and other documents related to Allegiant Air. The records are presented in chronological order on the following pages, mostly as scrollable PDF files.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Li-ion Battery Devices Can Ignite, If Crushed in a Seat

(click on image to read the report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB))

(click on image to read the report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB))

The concerns about Li-ion battery ignition hazards grounded the Boeing 787 fleet in 2013, and they continue to make the news. The picture above is from a new investigative report about an actual fire on a Qantas 747. A passenger misplaced an electronic device and it became crushed inside the seat mechanism, creating a hissing sound and igniting. When crewmembers arrived, they “…observed an orange glow emanating from the seat….”

The concerns are not new. The Australian report cites a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) issued by FAA in June 2009. Archived copies are linked below.


See also:
  • 9/23/2009 – archived copy of SAFO 09013 (1p)
  • 9/23/2009 – archived copy of Supplement to SAFO 09013 (2p)

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.

See also…

12/28/2014
Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 Missing, with 162 On Board
aiREFORM Post
12/30/2014
QZ8501: Debris Field and First Bodies Reportedly Found
aiREFORM Post
1/2/2015
The Truth is the First Casualty of any Air Crash
aiREFORM Post

The Truth is the First Casualty of any Air Crash

Geoffrey Thomas, at AirlineRatings.com in Western Australia, seems to have one of the best factual views of the QZ8501 tragedy. And he is doing a great job posting coverage since the Indonesia AirAsia flight disappeared nearly six days ago. One of his Posts on New Years Day re-declares the maxim that, when anything bad happens in aviation, facts are the first things to disappear.

He’s correct, but it should not be this way. Every nation has an aviation authority, such as FAA in the United States. These agencies are stuffed full of employees, theoretically there to serve the Public. In their early years, these agencies did very important safety and infrastructure development work. But, as these agencies have matured, they seem to have become less and less productive, more about quietly helping the airlines than about aggressively speaking up for safety. So, when an accident or incident occurs, they tend to say nothing. It is as if their speaking up might get in the way of how the accident airline needs/wants to manage the PR spin.

Given this, when an incident like QZ8501 happens, we end up with a deep informational vacuum. Neither airlines nor regulatory authorities take charge to clearly and timely articulate the known facts. And as we all know, where there is an informational vacuum, rumors and other garbage will quickly fill the void. This is happening (AGAIN!) with QZ8501, while victim’s families suffer, and while millions of others ponder just how safe aviation is.

It’s a new year.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if FAA’s leadership chose to set a new, higher standard for the world to follow, by aggressively working for maximized aviation safety? Wouldn’t it be great if, when a serious accident or incident happens, the relevant national authority would step forward and firmly assert the known facts, and then stay up front to keep us all urgently posted? This is kind of the way NTSB’s Deborah Hersman handled the investigation, in early 2013, when the B787 battery fires were happening.

Can we make that our new standard for aviation safety transparency?

“Unfit for Flight” news investigation wins the NPF ‘Feddie’ Award

National Press Foundation recognized Thomas Frank for his USA Today investigative series about aviation fatalities and regulatory capture.

A non-profit foundation, NPF cited Mr. Frank for his “extraordinary investigation” in his series, ‘Unfit for Flight’, which appeared in June. He was given the ‘Feddie’ award, recognizing that his writing helps to show how federal policy affects local government. Judges were also impressed with how the presentation of the  news series “…effectively uses the techniques of digital journalism: video, animation and responsive design. This is modern journalism at its best.”

The series revealed how design defects have been allowed to persist in private airplanes and helicopters for decades, often because of cover-ups by manufacturers. The stories also showed how National Transportation Safety Board crash investigations often overlook the causes of aircraft crashes and deaths, and how the Federal Aviation Administration allows brand-new aircraft to be manufactured under safety regulations that are decades old, thus perpetuating known design flaws.

New Investigative Report on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Li-ion Battery Fires

20130117.. Burnt Li-ion Battery B787

An NTSB picture of a charred Li-ion battery, January 2013.

In early 2013, FAA was forced to ground the entire U.S. Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, after two serious incidents in which Li-ion batteries had caught fire. Many aviation safety professionals were very impressed with the transparency and safety advocacy subsequently shown by NTSB and NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. At the same time, much of FAA’s response smacked of being a loyal waterboy for damage control efforts by Boeing and other corporations in the aviation world.

20140910.. Li-ion Battery becomes a torch

The battery design is extremely volatile. When shot during testing, it quickly became a veritable blow-torch.

FAA’s grounding of the Dreamliner went on for more than three months, and ended on 4/27/2013. In the months since, a few minor incidents have made the news, but more notably there has been a concerted effort by Boeing marketers (with assistance from FAA) to both re-shine the Dreamliner’s image AND micromanage the coverage of all incidents. Eventually, Ms. Hersman resigned her NTSB post and moved on, and Boeing stock has made more than a complete recovery. So, we wait and we hope.

If we are lucky, and if the re-configured marketing efforts were not just hype, we will not see a repeat battery fire or other problem. We will not dread the news when a  Dreamliner filled with passengers has a major failure, out over an ocean and two hours from land.

We hope.

A detailed 48-minute investigative report has been posted on YouTube. Will Jordan and an Al Jazeera team of reporters spent more than a year investigating. They talked with Whistleblowers, management, outsource ‘partners’, union officials, workers, and former DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo, but they did not talk to any FAA officials. Clay Foushee (AAE-1), as head of the office that is supposed to protect aviation Whistleblowers, would have been an extremely appropriate interview … and his name appears on a memo at around 37-minutes. But, no FAA interviews or, if they did, perhaps the answers were empty and got edited out?

Here are a few quotes and time-marks from this excellent analysis of an FAA/Boeing work culture that appears to have drifted sharply, from safety to earnings reports.

4:50 “We have a contract with Boeing, so we can’t tell any comments to you.”
7:25 “After my building burned down, after that they realized, very emphatically, the danger of this chemistry.”
9:40 “When it comes to building airplanes, the FAA delegates oversight almost completely to the aircraft manufacturers .”
10:35 “I don’t think it’s a sufficient fix. Even inside that steel box, with all of its fortification, all the elements are still there for fire.”
13:50 “…it was almost as if, at times you thought Boeing executives believed, well maybe they could sit in Chicago and have other companies do things, and they would just rake in the money somehow by putting it all together and putting a Boeing sticker on it at the end.”
16:46 “More than any other single event, it was the big lie, and it was a statement that the Boeing Company is now all about the big lie.”
21:10 “They changed basic engineering principles to meet schedule. We all protested.”
24:15 “It’s been eating me alive to know what I know, and to have no avenue, no venue to say anything.”
32:00 The John Woods Whistleblower story (5-minutes)
35:20 “…He turned to the FAA, filing a Whistleblower complaint. The document alleged seven serious violations in the South Carolina plant.” Former DoT-IG Schiavo: “I’ve gotten to the page where they reach their conclusions and the discussion and what they found was that all the allegations, all but one of them they could not substantiate, and the one that they could substantiate, they asked Boeing to fix it, Boeing said ‘OK, we fixed it’, and then they close the investigation. And that’s pretty much how they all go, I mean I’ve seen this so many times.”
37:00 “…It shouldn’t be this hard to do the right thing.”
38:30 “One day you’re regulating the airline, and the next day you’re working for it. You can’t possibly be tough on the industry that you’re regulating, because you’ll never get that plum job after you leave. The regulators at the FAA will rarely cross Boeing.. They simply won’t.”
42:30 Interview with a Boeing VP (and GM of the 787 Program) (2-minutes in, the interview was stopped by Boeing’s Communications Director, and he asked that the cameras be turned off)

Here are links to the aiReform.com Posts related to this issue:

see also:

 

Metal Object Crashes Through Roof of House near Dulles Airport…

…and FAA is not sure it is an airplane part!

Here’s three pictures from the newscast. First shows the burst drywall in the ceiling of the homeowner’s dining room.

Second is a closeup of the homeowner holding the metal object, said to be four inches long and weigh roughly two pounds. It appears to be bolt-like, with a diameter at least one inch.

Third picture shows the object. Note that it is threaded, and on one end appears to have broken free from a larger metal object. The rough surface suggests fatigued metal and/or a porous casting.

Any object can eventually fail, so it is not surprising that an aircraft part might dislodge during a flight and come crashing through shingles and plywood and drywall into someone’s dining room. But, the real shocker watching this news story is the comment by the FAA inspector. The FAA Inspector said, “We have no idea if it’s an aircraft part or where it came from, and we have to investigate it.”

Earlier in the day, a gas company employee, who probably makes half or less what the FAA employee earns, assessed the damage and told the homeowner straight up: it appears to be an aircraft part.

The part has reportedly been sent to NTSB for analysis. The FAA inspector said they will go to the airport and see if any airlines reported any incidents. If that turns up no confessions, perhaps NTSB can come up with an explanation:

Is there any way (other than falling from an aircraft) that this potentially lethal object could have the energy to crash through a roof and a ceiling and end up on a dining room floor?

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UPDATE:  2-5-2014 — FAA did a good job of quickly investigating and providing an explanation. This excerpt from the short news article: “On Wednesday, the FAA reported that the piece actually came from a nearby industrial-strength woodchipper. WJLA-TV reported (http://wj.la/1kUXfJY ) that the piece, called a grinding tooth, came off a chipper about a block away from the Herndon home.” (…Note to self: stay far away from noisy wood chippers!…)

Boeing 787: more damaged transponder wires found

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has had a series of serious problems related to electrical systems. The fleet was grounded for months earlier this year, after the Li-Ion battery fires in Boston and in Japan. Then, just seven weeks after resuming flights, a fire on July 12th seriously damaged a parked Ethiopian Airlines B787, and shut down London’s Heathrow Airport. That made the news, of course, and Boeing stock fell 7% before recovering.

Emergency crew surrounds a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, which caught fire at Britain’s Heathrow airport in this July 12, 2013 still image taken from video.

The latest fire location was far from the batteries, but in the immediate proximity to where the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) beacon is installed on the B787. In the week that followed the Heathrow fire, blame was being tipped away from the B787 (and Boeing) and toward Honeywell, manufacturer of the ELT unit.

Now, two weeks after the Heathrow fire, British investigators are focusing on two leading theories: (1) that the ELT was installed with possible pinched wires, which might initiate a short circuit; and (2) that the higher humidity levels within the plastic B787 fuselage may be increasing the probability that irregularities such as pinched wires will evolve into full-blown electrical problems, even fires.

The fire damage was just over the rear door.

The largest fleet of B787’s is operated by Japan’s ANA Holdings, Inc (All Nippon). ANA removed the ELT units from its eight domestic-route 787’s and inspected the ELT units in its twelve international-route 787’s. In the process, ANA found two units with slightly damaged wires, and shipped these units to Honeywell for further inspection.

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Some links to related articles:

  • 7-26-2013Airline says it found faulty beacon wiring in Boeing 787
    …ANA found two ELT’s with slightly damaged wires. This article also has links to a good timeline on B787 problems.
  • 7-26-2013A timeline of troubles: Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner
    …The timeline spans from 10/26/11 (when the first commercial passenger flight was made by ANA) to 7/19/13 (when FAA announced it would soon order inspection of all ELT’s due to the Heathrow fire).
  • 7-15-2013A Question About My Old Car and The 787
    …A simple and reasonable analysis of how extreme conditions reveal weaknesses in old cars. Andrew Boydston asks: “Is the strong electric systems and new technology making the 787 an old airplane fast?”
  • Winging It (blog)A link to the blog
    …Andrew Boydston’s blog. There is a lot of interesting data and analysis on the airlines, the Boeing 787, and other topics.

UPDATE: 7-27-2013 — FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive requiring inspection.

Pee-testing for Boeing Management…?

…and a new Stainless Steel Sarcophagus.

Sometimes, when a problem develops such as a burning Li-Ion battery on the Boeing 787, months are spent engineering a solution. Why not just seal the problem inside a box? The picture on the left gives a sense of the size of the blue-boxed original battery; on the left is the new 150-pound stainless steel sarcophagus version.

Play video: 787 Battery Tests
Has this solution been tried before…

…where other technologies have failed? YES!!

It was used to contain escaping radiation after the Chernobyl reactor melted down in April 1986. Many of those responding to the emergency were irradiated (and died) in the struggle to build a massive concrete and steel sarcophagus. In truth, that shell leaks, and is rapidly disintegrating, so a new sarcophagus is being constructed nearby, and will eventually be slid into place to protect the first sarcophagus (the radiation over  the reactor was too intense and dangerous to construct in-place).

cher_photocher_image
There is a clear difference of scale…

…between the 1986 technology failure at Chernobyl and the 2012 failures on board the Boeing 787. But, Boeing’s fix does beg the question: why not just revert to NiCad battery technologies, with a safer record? After all, by adding the expensive sarcophagus, there is no longer any weight-savings. One commentor to the Seattle Times article nailed it with this:

“…i just want to get the facts clear.

based on the current decision, the management of boeing should be pee tested for drugs on a daily basis. because only someone smoking dope would make such an illogical decision.

the correct decision, since both battery options weigh the same now, would have been to use ni-cad batteries….”