Will FAA and Huerta Say Anything, Do Anything, to Protect THE PEOPLE?

(click on image to hear the Dr. Dao portion of Emil’s podcast )

On a Sunday before Easter, when Dr. David Dao was flying home from LA through O’Hare to Louisville, KY, he became the latest in an endless stream of victims of airline abuse. He was seated on a United feeder (Republic Airlines flight #3411) when the airline decided to bump four passengers, so four extra crew members could fly to Louisville for duty the next day. Dr. Dao, with patients to see on Monday, calmly and firmly refused to surrender his seat. The airline then called in airport security and he was forcibly removed, with his face smashed into a seat-arm, before being dragged off the plane. Dr. Dao, who escaped during the fall of Vietnam as a young adult, lost two teeth. Many passengers used their cellphones to capture shocking video of the entire debacle, and it all went viral.

Appropriately, legal counsel was engaged. A press conference was held on April 13, led by attorney Thomas Demetrio. The video is well worth a listen; here’s an embed, and a couple quotes:

At time 4:11, Demetrio states: “I have concluded the following: that, for a long time, airlines – United in particular – have bullied us. They have treated us less than maybe we deserve.”

At time 4:48, Demetrio continues: “Here’s what we want as a society: we want fairness in how people treat us, we want respect, and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal. But just treat us with respect; make us feel like you really care.”

Fairness. Respect. Dignity.

What happened at Chicago, to Dr. Dao, was horrific. He was maltreated, even to the point of violence. No fairness, no respect, and no dignity. This was a gross failure, made worse by the bumbling of a profit-focused airline CEO, and enabled by a faux-regulator captured to serve only industry.

Yes, we need and deserve fairness, respect, and dignity. But, the same applies not just to our rights as passengers, but also to our rights – and responsibilities – as homeowners and employees (teachers and medical professionals, especially). We all deserve to have our environment respectfully protected, so that our families and those we serve can have the highest possible quality of life. But, today’s U.S. airline industry, collaborating with FAA, has come to a point where they routinely and aggressively abuse people, bullying passengers off flights, and destroying neighborhoods that used to be livable.

This terrible incident has unfolded in no small part because people used everyday technologies to share what the industry works hard to hide. The agency that oversees the industry has thus far said and done nothing to assure us, we are right to be shocked. Right to be shocked about the torture of Dr. Dao to accommodate crew who could have taken a company car or another flight, and right to be shocked by FAA’s wanton abuse of authority to impose NextGen impacts that are destroying neighborhoods… solely to tweak airline profits up a bit.

The balance between commerce and community is lost. It needs to be restored, immediately. If Mr. Huerta is not going to stand up and speak up about Dr. Dao’s abuse, he needs to sit down and let someone else serve THE PEOPLE.


See also:

Ten Years Later: FAA’s Pattern of Concealment After the Comair 5191 Crash

Among the greatest lessons learned from this year’s democratic party primary debacle was the complicity of the mainstream media in aiding corrupt party officials. Those leaked DNC Emails – nearly 20,000 emails total! – showed an incredible level of collusion between DNC officials (unapologetically hell-bent on defeating Bernie Sanders and nominating Hillary Clinton) and the mainstream media players (also corrupted, hell-bent in their lust for campaign advertising dollars).

Just to be clear, this was NOT a lesson about solely the democratic party; no, this was a lesson about the troubling reality of U.S. politics today… that We The People are being manipulated by the two dominant parties, using tools of propaganda. This is being called ‘engineered consent’ and, yes, this manipulation is being done by both oppressing political parties. In the process, the reigning duopoly that serves up ‘lesser-of-two-evil’ choices each cycle, has all but destroyed our so-called Democracy.

One critical tool of this manipulation is in the repetitive framing and reframing of so-called facts to crystallize acceptance of a historical perspective that fits the needs of the established political powers. We see this in politics, and we see it outside politics in retrospective news stories, for example. One of those retrospectives just happened again: the ten year anniversary of the horrific crash in Lexington, of Comair 5191. Here is a PDF copy:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded; or click here to view original source article.

If you read the article and research other U.S. aviation disasters, a clear pattern emerges: FAA’s response consistently is to hide disclosable information, obscure employee/management accountability, obstruct any proposal that would cost money, and delay-delay-delay on what few reforms are eventually emplaced. See for example the 10-year restrospective on the ValuJet Everglades crash in 1996, opined by FAA Whistleblower Gabe Bruno.

A few analysis points about the Comair/Lexington accident:

  1. FAA’s failures surrounding the Lexington crash were many. Not just the chain of seemingly tiny failures that led to the fatalities, but also the many, MANY efforts since to distort facts and reject long overdue safety and culture reforms.
  2. the principle cause of this accident was fatigue, for both the flight crew and the air traffic controller. This was perhaps the most important fact revealed by the extensive NTSB investigation. Cost-cutting by both the airlines and the FAA contributed to a combination of fatigued personnel that led to a chain-reaction of inattention, costing 49 lives.
  3. this accident should never have happened. The same combination of fatigue (in both the control tower and on the flight deck) had occurred over and over again, and continues to occur even today. BUT, the fact that aviation professionals can and will become bored/inattentive/fatigued is a given, and a key part of why so many redundancies are built into the aviation safety system. When simple redundancies – like, re-scanning the runway – are skipped, the system can and will break down.
  4. the controller, Chris Damron, simply failed to look out the window, not even once during the critical 2-minutes between when he issued a takeoff clearance and when he called out the emergency crews, nearly 45-seconds AFTER the crashed jet exploded in flames.
  5. just one look, during the critical 50-second window prior to start of takeoff (the time it took to move forward, turn onto and line up on the runway, finish the checklist and open the throttles), would have produced a quick transmission, cancelling the takeoff clearance.
  6. the transcript at the back of the 174-page NTSB investigative report shows the abrupt end of audio and data recording a half-second after the last audible exclamation by the pilots; thus, it appears that the explosion happened immediately, yet the controller did not make the crash phone call until another 44-seconds passed. It was a quiet Sunday morning, and there were no other airplanes. When he did make the call, his voice was markedly different, with a clear panic (the call was initiated at time 6:28 in the Crash Phone ATC recording, and the airport emergency crews picked up the call almost immediately).
  7. was the controller inattentive? Absolutely. He did not actually watch what played out, or he would have spoken up. He was either focused on nothing at all – resting while on position – or focused on another activity (distracted).
  8. was he possibly resting on position? Yes, quite possibly. It was the end of his workweek and the final hour of an overnight shift, so he was certainly tired. When fatigued while on position, nearly all seasoned FAA controllers do this: they physically rest, even shutting their eyes, while vigilantly listening to audible cues such as the power-up sequence. In this situation, with no other traffic, fatigued controllers are conditioned to apply an internal timer, reflexively waiting another half-minute or so after the last audible jet-noise cue, to then perform the next task for that flight – establishing radar contact on the digital radar display. While waiting, a common physical posture would have him reclined in his controller chair, eyes shut, but otherwise attentive and listening, much like a reliable watchdog. This is a strategy of fatigue management; it is practiced by both controllers and pilots. The pattern is repeated ad nauseum; it commonly creates a workplace boredom that can potentially become a lethal complacency, as happened at Lexington.
  9. how might he have been distracted? Three possibilities: he may have been doing other controller duties, he may have been doing administrative duties, or he may have been distracted with non-ATC activities.
    1. controller duties? not possible. He had no other controller duties to perform, since all his other traffic was gone.
    2. administrative duties? not plausible. The only excuse offered to investigators comes nowhere close to explaining nearly two minutes of inattention. The only cited administrative task was counting fourteen (14) 1″ by 8″ computer-printed paper strips, representing the entirety of his work the previous six hours. Any truthful controller will note this task I a quick finger-shuffling and recording a half dozen figures, thus would require less than 10-seconds. Any competent controller would perform this task quickly, only when traffic allowed, and then immediately scan the runway and airspace.
    3. non-ATC activities? very possible, and indeed likely, if he was not resting on position. He may have been reading, watching a movie or a TV show, playing a game on his laptop, online and surfing the internet, or texting with his cellphone device. In my FAA ATC career, I saw all of these activities routinely happening, and all were accepted by most on-duty supervisors as helpful strategies to manage fatigue.
  10. was the controller’s fatigue excessive and noticeable on the audio? No. Listen to the official Tower ATC recording and, frankly, Mr. Damron sounds professional, alert, and competent. His speech is quick and focused; he is clearly doing tasks that have been done many times before. He efficiently handles a departure push, with three flights to hubs at Chicago, DFW and Atlanta. There is no slurring and no hesitation. Based on this, his momentary inattention would logically happen ONLY if he was distracted into another activity such as using a digital device.
  11. were there larger national-level issues between FAA and NATCA? Absolutely. At the time this happened, controller morale was extremely low and FAA management was imposing draconian work rules onto all air traffic controllers. It was nearly three years later that a mediation panel ordered FAA management to abandon these imposed work rules (aka ‘The WhiteBook’).
  12. would a second controller have helped? Probably not. A few years after Lexington, in 2013, a fatigued controller lost two fatigued pilots when a UPS flight crashed at 4:49am on approach at Birmingham [KBHM]. One of his first actions was to use the tower phone system to call the other controller back to the tower. On overnight shifts, as another fatigue-management strategy, it is very common for paired controllers to alternate; one controller works the combined positions (which is generally easy, since traffic levels are very low), while the other controller can relax, catch a nap, or stay alert with other non-ATC activities (internet, DVD movies, music, studying, etc.)
  13. caused a near-midair collision in March 1989

    The TV set at another FAA tower, that caused a near-midair when a controller became distracted watching the NCAA basketball playoffs on a sunny Saturday in March.

    what does the controller probably want/need to say? As a retired ATC whistleblower, I spent decades working inside the ATC culture. I do know that concealment of facts is a big part of that culture. I also know that concealment is very destructive to those stuck concealing. My first whistleblowing was about a TV set at my first ATC tower, that was connected to a near-midair collision; I spoke up and endured retaliation, and was eventually fired 6-months prior to turning age-50, to force me to voluntarily retire at earliest eligibility. My gut-sense is that when the investigation started, Mr. Damron wanted to tell the whole story and was probably ready to talk, but was shut down. He would have had both FAA management and the union (NATCA) leadership scaring him into silence, with ample help from the attorneys brought in from the start. It is chilling to imagine his having to live today with the knowledge of what really happened, yet not be allowed to talk about it.]

  14. the controller’s identity was protected for four months, even though the identity had to be revealed eventually. A basic purpose of the NTSB investigative process is to give the public some transparency on transportation safety issues. FAA’s initial opacity was a classic knee-jerk reaction: acting from bureaucratic fear, protecting culturally entrenched failures from becoming exposed, and hoping to salvage what they could by over-controlling the flow of information.
  15. an initial effort was made to pin the blame on the Lexington tower manager, Duff Ortman. This failed when emails soon emerged, showing how Mr. Ortman was rebuffed in his many efforts to secure resources needed to cover the staffing: either two additional controllers, or an increase in allowed overtime funding.  The emails included comments by Eastern Terminal Services Director John McCartney, attempting to brand Mr. Ortman as a ‘renegade’.
  16. TVs, DVD movies, and other workplace distractions have been documented elsewhere and in numerous national news stories, including:
    1. There was the controller at Cleveland Center, who took off his shoes while watching a movie DVD on an overnight shift; he accidently had a hot mic when a shoe tipped onto a pedal-switch. A ham radio operator was doing his thing that night and heard a movie soundtrack on an ATC frequency, so he called FAA to report what appeared to be a dangerous situation. The FAA manager on duty  promised to investigate; while walking down to the control floor, he stopped at the technicians’ desk and mentioned the problem, and they noted ‘well, he’s probably watching a movie!’. Sure enough, he was. Made the national news but NOBODY was disciplined because it was a ‘prior working condition’ and had been condoned by supervisors for more than a decade. An aiREFORM FOIA request [F11-8134] eventually yielded hundreds of pages, including a confirmation that nobody was ever disciplined.
    2. There was the case at New York Center (Ronkonkoma, NY) where in 2010 a new supervisor, Evan Seeley, spoke up about common practices of sleeping on the job, early undocumented departures, and use of personal electronic devices while working. He was then subjected to vandalism and harassment, and found a management team that could do nothing to correct the situation. An OSC investigation confirmed Mr. Seeley’s claims.
    3. There were the many cases of sleeping air traffic controllers in 2011. Eventually, the Air Traffic COO, Hank Krakowski, was forced to resign.
    4. There was another news story that broke in 2012, when a controller Whistleblower at White Plains, NY [KHPN] leaked cellphone images and video exposing widespread napping and personal electronics in the control tower.
    5. And, there was the TV wired into a cabinet at Troutdale, OR (the photo above). This was the safety risk that launched my career as an ATC Whistleblower in 1989, and eventually led to a forced-voluntary retirement in 2009; see that Whistleblower case study here.

[QUOTE]: A Fluff Interview of American Airlines’ CEO Doug Parker

QUOTE

“…The entire interview is one huge lie….”

– a typical reader comment in an AviationWeek article, featuring a fluff interview of the American Airlines CEO

When interviewed, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker coughed out the obligatory plug for ATC privatization with this comment:

It’s of the utmost importance to continue the strides we’ve made to make the United States the safest country for aviation, and we need to find new ways to fund innovation and better efficiencies, including Air Traffic Control reform. Our industry is at a crossroads right now in Washington as we’re seeking a transformational change to the way the U.S. ATC system is financed and governed.

The strides made by American/USAir include using Categorical Exclusions to impose NextGen procedures that are destroying quality of life near the largest airport hubs dominated by American. In fact, the list of NextGen-impacted airports includes nearly every major hub with a schedule dominated by American: Charlotte, Chicago-O’Hare, Phoenix (approximately 51% of flights), and Washington-National (approximately 50% of flights), as well as LaGuardia (approximately 30% of flights), and Boston (approximately 24% of flights).

If Doug Parker and American Airlines REALLY wanted to make customers happy, they would recognize they serve not only passengers but also communities. They would then insist that FAA manage and downsize hub scheduling, even disincentivizing airline hubbing, to ensure the residents of each community are well served yet not inundated with excessive repetitive noise impacts and aviation air pollution.

Click here to read the original blog post, or here to read an archived PDF copy with aiREFORM annotations.

Citizen’s Noise Monitoring (website)

There’s a new website of great value to Nextgen victims and others suffering from aviation noise impacts: Citizen’s Noise Monitoring. It appears to be based in the San Francisco Bay Area, created by a tech-savvy impacted citizen trying to find relief from noise impacts such as the SERFR arrivals to KSFO over the Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and Portola Valley areas. (NOTE: for a graphic image showing the absurdly low SERFR arrivals, click this link; this is not just a noise issue, but also a SAFETY ISSUE!)

Here is a screen-capture showing the homepage, packed with information. Be sure to click through and spend some time studying what has been posted in just the past two months. Some truly amazing work!

(click on image to view original at Skyote.com)
(click on image to view original at Skyote.com)

 

The gist of this website appears to be to facilitate a workaround to a serious aviation noise problem. Specifically, FAA, Airports and the Airlines are effectively conspiring to shut out citizen-involvement in aviation impact decisions, such as the implementation of new NextGen routes that are consistently lower over our communities.

It can be said that truth comes from data, and he who controls the data thus defines the truth. Well, we simply can no longer allow the intensifying spin of this evolving troika, aka the Av-Gov Complex (an unfortunate consequence of FAA’s regulatory capture, wherein the regulator caters to the regulated industry), to define and frame aviation noise issues. Thus, we go beyond their spin and create our own REAL data.

More information about Citizen’s Noise Monitoring will be added soon…

NextGen in Phoenix: ‘And the Beat Goes On’

Readers can judge for themselves, just how unwilling FAA is to fix the mess they made when they flipped the switch on NextGen departure procedures, nearly eight months ago, on September 18th.

Take a little time and read this pair of letters, presented as PDF files in two scrollable windows. The first is FAA’s 4/14/2015 letter to leaders of Phoenix, signed by FAA’s Regional Administrator Glen Martin. The second is the City’s 4/24/2015 response letter, responding to Mr. Martin, and also summarizing the difficult history of this mess, signed by City Manager Ed Zuercher.

¡¿Happy Earth Day, Mr. Huerta?!

20150422scp.. FAA's 'Happy Earth Day' FB text20150422.. FAA sunset pic, poster image from their Earth Day 2015 Facebook PostThis is what FAA posted on the FAA Facebook site, on Wednesday morning. And they clearly want ALL OF US to celebrate with them, from Phoenix to Flushing, and from Charlotte to Chicago. Take a close look at the small text above, in the glorious picture with no airplanes (hence, the glory); FAA wants everyone to believe, “NextGen routes ease aviation’s burden on the environment….”

NextGen and EarthDay2015. Like two peas in a pod…

…¡¡¿¿Are you kidding me??!!

Hey, I forgot, too. The world has been looking a lot less beautiful in recent years. In fact, on that morning, my distraction was studying noise impacts created by focused NextGen tracks, trying to figure out how to get a certain three-letter aviation authority to clean up their mess. It was only when FAA sent out their disingenuous propaganda-piece that I remembered, ‘…hey, today is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day!’

Some of us might easily have been distracted watching the new record levels of atmospheric CO2 or the accelerating polar ice melt that appears to be closely tied to our weird winter weather. And, no doubt, if we live in one of the NextGen launch communities, perhaps we were too busy testifying (again!) before our local City Council, hoping – even praying – we could get relief from NextGen noise.

A lot of us probably forgot. But, thank you FAA, for reminding us. Oh, and by the way, we posted many comments onto your Facebook page (a copy has been saved at page two of this aiREFORM Post). Here is one of the comments:

“What a farce NextGen is: Lies and deceit; Environmental “reviews” with no basis in facts; The ruination of quiet neighborhoods; Destruction of property values without any compensation.
It’s Federal government bullying at its worst, and they claim to be celebrating Earth Day? George Orwell could not have written such a scenario.”

 

<< <> <<>> <> >>

Administrator Huerta, your agency’s PR branch will likely tell you the comments are all ‘thank you notes’, but you might want to read them yourself. They are overwhelmingly opposed to what your agency is doing. And they find your NextGen greenwashing to be absolutely despicable. Why? Well, put it all into perspective.

Earth Day started in 1970 because people were fed up with the trends toward environmental destruction, largely accelerated by greed and indifference. And it wasn’t about aesthetics; it was about health. Essentially, the people demanded effective regulations, and they also demanded to be meaningfully involved in a transparent democratic process.

What FAA did in 2014, with the CATEX applications and refusals to mitigate bad NextGen launches, is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what Earth Day represents. In early 2012, under pressure to move past years of legislative gridlock, our Congress punted; they put the decision solely on YOU. At Section 213 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, they codified that you were to make the determination as to whether or not ‘extraordinary circumstances’ would void filing of a Categorical Exclusion. Here is a screen-capture of the relevant section (with markups by aiREFORM):20120214scp.. 'expedited review' portion of Section 213, H.R. 658, 112th Congress, FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, re CATEXMost of the FAA Administrators who preceded you expended enormous effort trying to balance the profit goals of the airlines with the quality-of-life needs of the larger public. Under your helm, and particularly with your NextGen launches, this balance has been completely discarded. You (and your subordinate Regional Administrators) have failed to see the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ of the noise impacts you have imposed upon families in places like Phoenix and Flushing. FAA is failing and has become YOUR agency, because it sure as hell isn’t serving the people anymore.

Sure, the Cuyahoga River is no longer igniting, like it was before the first Earth Day in 1970, but YOU are putting the fire in our skies with your NextGen noise. YOU are destroying our quality of life, and allowing your employees to delay producing records and correcting FAA’s cronyistic actions.

Mr. Huerta, your agency appears to have lost sight of an important fact:

Aviation and the NAS should be an asset

for the whole country, not just a way for

‘the final four major airlines’

to make a profit.

Too many in your organization are failing to serve the whole public. Our aviation system needs to be deliberately and equitably managed.

A year from now, if you (or your successor) want to make a similar ‘Happy Earth Day!’ post, you may want to show that you mean it. Starting today, you might want to put the environment and quality-of-life front and center, to reform your agency and serve the larger public.

¡¡Happy Earth Day, Mr. Huerta!!

ANALYSIS: American Eagle ends up ‘Stuck in the Mud’ in Columbia, MO

(source: tweet by Courtny Jodon   @CourtnyKRCG13)

(source: tweet by Courtny Jodon @CourtnyKRCG13)

20150404.. KCOU mishap, left main gear in soft grassThe images indicate a simple pilot error, not unlike what can happen to us with our cars, if we misjudge our turn and sideswipe a curb or another vehicle while parking.

METAR shows winds were from the SSW at 10mph, so ATC would have issued a taxi clearance for a Runway 20 departure.

20150404scp.. KCOU mishap, RWY20 area SATview marked-up

Orange diamond shows mishap location, blocking both runways. Green curved line shows turn; green arrow was intended takeoff roll.

To get there, the pilot evidently used a short segment of Runway 13, then started a left turn to line up for the full length of Runway 20. This is good practice, as it maximizes runway length, improving the safety margin while also minimizing takeoff noise impact on nearby communities. Unfortunately for this flight crew, they misjudged the turning radius of their passenger jet; their attempt to get an extra hundred feet of takeoff distance ended up with a left main gear stuck in muddy grass. The runway is 150-feet wide, so they had plenty of room to do the turn correctly. They just turned too soon.

(click on image to view the airport webpage)

(screencap of the webpage notice by the airport authority. Click on image to view the airport webpage)

What makes this story more interesting is how the airport authority and the media whitewashed the mistake. The airport authority phrased the incident as ‘dropping a wheel’. The local media, which of course got their information from the airport authority, ran a headline that read ‘Plane slides off tarmac at Columbia Regional’. Um, nothing was dropped and nothing slid; this was a simple matter of cutting a left turn too soon, failing to account for the fact your main gear is half a plane-length behind you. As noted earlier, we do the same thing driving a car, even more likely if we are driving something long like a bus, or pulling a trailer.

The ‘Larger Story’ about KCOU

Sometimes a news story has more value for revealing a larger issue than for the minor news event itself. The news story can inadvertently shine a light into an area not thought about by the average person. This may be the case with this story.

Columbia, MO (locally known as ‘COMO’) is a progressive college town in central Missouri, home of the University of Missouri. The town’s airport is notable not just as the regional airport, but also for its extraordinary level of federal subsidy. In 2014, [KCOU] had 20,958 airport operations, thus averaged 29 takeoffs per day. ATC services are provided by a federal contract control tower, with controllers handling just two takeoffs per hour. The airport is relatively large, at 1,538 acres, and averages $2.5 million annually in FAA grant monies for maintenance and further development. Passengers (who pay the flight taxes FAA grants each year) have no choices at this airport. American Airlines is the only commercial carrier, with four total departures each day, two each feeding passengers to their super-hubs at O’Hare and DFW.

There is certainly a need for passenger air service in Columbia, MO. The airport is an asset. But, in a more rational national airspace system, this airport would not be as large as it is, nor as heavily subsidized. KCOU would be just as safe if it was much smaller (even down to just 200 acres), had no tower (saving roughly $600K/year), and received far less or even zero grant monies. The fact is, these subsidies primarily serve the industry (…just one airline (American) and one large tower contractor), the politicians (…who ‘bring home the bacon’ to get reelected), and the regulators (…especially the FAA retirees who supplement their retirement pensions by becoming ATC contractors).

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)

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.

Pilot Fatigue: a Problem FAA Still Needs to Address

Flying Magazine published an article by Stephen Pope, Fighting Pilot Fatigue: New Views on Staying Alert.PDFThe article looks at the long history of fatigue-related accidents, and the insights collected in recent years.

The article refers to the Colgan 3407 accident in Buffalo on 2/12/09, as well as the crash of a Beech Baron in Teterboro at 3:05AM on 8/21/2009. Fifty died in Buffalo, in an accident that put HUGE political pressure on FAA about many commercial aviation issues:

  • FAA’s ongoing refusal to resolve pilot fatigue risks,
  • the apparent lower quality assurance standards at commuter/feeder airlines,
  • common long-distance commutes by underpaid pilots,
  • and the deceptive sales of tickets by major carriers, but for flights flown by commuter/feeder airline subcontractors.

Both accidents were fatigue-related, but in a decision that reveals how NTSB can be pressured to help FAA accommodate the financial interests of the airlines, the actual reports were drafted to direct attention at other, non-fatigue issues. This finally caused a minor rebellion by two NTSB members in 2011, when the Teterboro [KTEB] crash report was finalized. Both Chair Deborah Hersman and member Mark Rosekind submitted dissenting opinions. “Despite substantial indications of fatigue effects,” Rosekind wrote in his dissenting brief on the Teterboro crash, “the present accident report fails to acknowledge fatigue’s role in the accident. Based on the factors identified, fatigue was a likely contributory cause.”

In the years since, some minor rule changes have been implemented, but they exclude the sector of pilots most susceptible to fatigue issues: cargo pilots, who commonly work overnight shifts. One such example was the UPS Flight 1354 crash at Birmingham, AL on 8/14/13, which killed two.

So, that’s some of the background. Here are three short excerpts from an article well worth studying, about an aviation risk FAA still needs to address…


 

EXCERPT “In the last decade alone researchers have made tremendous strides in sleep research, noting in studies, for example, that getting even 30 minutes less rest in a single night can impair performance and memory the next day, and that the effects of sleep loss are cumulative, meaning that the sleep we get is like money we deposit in the bank. If we continually draw down our “sleep accounts” for several nights, the effects can be cumulative — and lethal.”

EXCERPT “GA pilots who fly for transportation are at high risk of flying while fatigued. The same factors that go into becoming a pilot/owner of a high-performance airplane, an attractive income and high-achieving attitude, are often associated with a lifestyle that lends itself to fatigue. Typical GA pilots have crazy work schedules, many family commitments, and hobbies about which they’re passionate but which further impact their schedule. The lifestyle of high-achieving individuals puts them at constant risk of flying while fatigued.”

EXCERPT “The NTSB put pilot fatigue on its “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements and kept it there for 22 straight years, but it wasn’t until the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Buffalo, New York, in February 2009, in which 50 people died, that the FAA rewrote airline pilot rest and duty-time rules.