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.

“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.

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!…)

FAA Orders Inspections & Repairs for 34,000 Pipers

NOTE:

This is a good example of FAA’s ongoing failure to serve safety with diligent regulation.

In this case, a series of accidents in the 1990’s caused NTSB to issue Safety Recommendation A-01-006 on 4/16/01. WEB FAA was partially responsive, and issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) in November 2001. NTSB considered this ‘recommendation’ by FAA to be sufficient, and showed A-01-006 ‘Closed, acceptable’ on 5/17/02. [NOTE: history has since shown NTSB between 2001 and 2009 was exceptionally passive, and focused on whittling down the list of Safety Recommendations.]

Pilots were not required to make any repairs, and accidents continued to happen. A more aggressive NTSB has emerged in the last couple years. When the 3/14/12 accident occurred (and it was the first flight after an annual inspection on 3/13/12!), NTSB pressed FAA for action. FAA then issued a proposal in early August 2012 and now, another six months later, has decided to make this inspection and repair a safety requirement.

It is astonishing that, given the speed at which things happen in aviation, FAA seems to be ‘glacial’ in their efforts to resolve known safety problems. One more clear example, showing the need for FAA REFORM.

The Federal Register WEB for Monday, February 2, includes an Airworthiness Directive issued by FAA ordering an estimated $15 Million worth of inspections and repairs on 34,013 older small aircraft manufactured by Piper Aircraft, Inc. Included are the single-engine PA-28 and PA-32 models, and the PA-34 and PA-44 (both twin-engine models). The safety issue was corrosion of stabilator control cables, as identified on these four Piper models. The AD applies to those aircraft in service for 15-years or more. For the record, the airplane service manuals include a special inspection with a requirement that the cable be replaced if any corrosion is found.

Numerous accidents preceded FAA’s issuance of the proposed order, as published in the Federal Register on 8/2/12. WEB Two of the most recent accidents investigated by NTSB include:

  1. 4/7/11: WEB a PA32 at Sundance Airport (HSD), in Oklahoma City. The pilot had just taken off when the cable snapped, causing the nose to point downward. He impacted the runway, did another hard bounce, and came to a stop with substantial damage but no injuries. The pilot and a passenger had been practicing touch-and-go landings.
  2. 3/14/12: WEB a PA32 at Warrenton, VA (HWY). A commercial pilot and flight instructor had departed the Manassas airport (HEF) earlier to practice maneuvers in a local practice area. They then went to Warrenton airport with intentions to do closed pattern practice. One landing was done and, on landing flare for the second landing, the pilot heard a loud ‘boom’ and the airplane’s nose dropped.

This analysis by aiREFORM does not (yet) include a closer look at the larger NTSB accident history, to determine extent of damage and numbers of fatalities during the decade-plus delay.

NTSB’s statement supporting the proposal was summarized as follows:

“Deborah A.P. Hersman, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), stated that two special airworthiness information bulletins (SAIBs) have been issued that recommend inspecting the entire surface of each cable terminal, turnbuckle, or other cable fittings for corrosion or cracking. Within the past 2 years, the NTSB has investigated two accidents and one incident involving Piper airplanes where control cable assembly failures due to stress corrosion cracking led to failures of the horizontal stabilator control system. She stated that the fact these events continue to occur more than 10 years after the SAIBs were issued shows that the SAIBs were not effective.

The NTSB supports the need for this AD.”

 

It is good to see NTSB not only making Safety Recommendations, but also following through until they are implemented. Back in 2002, when NTSB prematurely ‘Closed’ their 2001 Safety Recommendation, they were clearly operating with a deficient concern for safety.

Also, it is a promising development, that FAA has chosen to finalize this AD. Doing so will likely save at least a few dozen lives in the next decade. The average cost to the owners of these aircraft will be less than $500 — money very well spent to not be confronted with the physical hazard, or the intense emotional distress, of a sudden loss of stabilator control.

Hopefully, this marks a new direction for FAA, in which they will quickly and decisively address safety issues for PA28’s, Boeing 787’s, and all types of aircraft.