A Job Done Better by Drones

Yet another helicopter accident pointing out how some aviation jobs would be better handled using drone technologies. This time, a Bell 206 helicopter lost power and crashed while on a pipeline survey. Nobody was killed, but one of the three on board was seriously injured near Woodsboro, TX, on October 2nd. 20141001.. B206 crash pic, Woodsboro TX

These flights are typically done at low altitudes, and with slower speeds as needed to more closely study potential pipeline issues. At these altitude/speed combinations, an engine failure cannot be recovered into a safe landing. In many cases, the crash initiates a fire, and numerous casualties.

The benefits of doing this work with drones are many, including:

  • fewer lives would be placed at risk
  • far less fuel would be consumed
  • far less noise would be generated

Is it time for FAA to quit impeding the use of drones for applications such as this?

Aviation vs. Railroads: Why is FAA so much slower than FRA to address personal electronics distractions?

Last week, FAA posted in the Federal Register their Final Rule, Prohibition on Personal Use of Electronic Devices on the Flight Deck. Essentially, the new rule declares the obvious … that texting (or computer games or sharing pictures of your cute kids or porn files or whatever) is dangerous, distracting, and must cease immediately …or at least once the rule goes into effect on 4/14/14.

A discussion then developed at FlightAware.com. While most of the discussion participants were pilots and all had a keen interest in aviation, some of the participants were U.S. railroad professionals. They made a very interesting point: specifically, that very similar accident histories have produced very different outcomes by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) vs. the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In short, here is the comparison:

Rescue workers in front of the Metrolink locomotive lying on its side after penetrating the lead passenger car (left). (photo from Wiki)

FRA: On 9/12/08, a head-on collision at Chatsworth, CA killed 25, injured 135, and caused $7.1 Million in damages. The NTSB investigation revealed the locomotive engineer was texting and missed a safety signal. Twenty months later, on 5/18/10, FRA issued an NPRM rule proposal via the Federal Register. Fifteen comments were received. The Final Rule was posted to the Federal Register on 9/27/10, and went into effect on 3/27/11.

Thus, for an FRA rail safety failure related to a major accident, it took thirty months from accident to effective rule change.

FAA: On 8/27/06, Comair Flight 5191 took off from the wrong runway at Lexington, KY, then crashed, killing 49. The tower controller had failed to specify the runway and the pilots, evidently fatigued from a short night’s sleep, failed to notice they were on the wrong runway. The controller had nearly a full minute to look out the window and see the problem and ‘save’ the situation with a timely radio transmission. The tower controller failed and the accident happened. Seventy-seven months later (!!), on 1/15/13, FAA issued an NPRM rule proposal via the Federal Register. Sixty-three comments were received. The Final Rule was posted to the Federal Register on 2/12/14, and will go into effect on 4/14/14.

Thus, for an FAA aviation safety failure related to a major accident, it took ninety-two months from accident to effective rule change. Ninety-two months; yes, nearly eight years!

So, in summary, a railroad safety rule by FRA takes 30-months, while an essentially identical aviation safety rule by FAA takes 92-months.

Why does it take FAA so much longer to pass the new safety rules? Most likely, the delay is directly related to FAA (and industry) efforts to protect their financial bottom line: mistakes happen, people die, and those who might have saved the tragedy feel compelled to obscure their culpability, to protect their own interests. So, they maneuver to maximize distance from any risk/liability exposure. In other words, a conscious effort is made by aviation professionals — including some very highly paid FAA officials — to guarantee no accountability for system failures.

FAA Orders Inspections & Repairs for 34,000 Pipers


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.

Waldo Lake: Just say ‘NO’ to Floatplanes

A few links… online petitionGovernor’s letterUSFS Supervisor’s letterOregon Parks & Rec letteraiR-link

The following is the statement sent to OSAB by this one Oregon citizen, expressing opposition to seaplanes at Waldo Lake…

Statement Opposing Seaplanes at Waldo Lake (submitted to OSAB, 1/31/2013)

Please accept this as my statement in strong opposition to seaplane use of Waldo Lake. I opposed this absurd aviation activity when I used the allotted three-minutes and spoke to you and the other members of the Oregon State Aviation Board (OSAB) last May. In my words, I noted that both former Governor Kulongoski and current Governor Kitzhaber, as well as the vast majority of citizens, have made it clear they strongly oppose seaplanes at Waldo Lake. I also suggested in very clear terms, OSAB’s continued catering to the desires of the tiny seaplane user group, smacks of cronyism, especially since you went on record as a seaplane pilot yourself.

That was eight months ago. Nothing has changed since. Now, you have the responsibility to permanently shut down seaplane use at Waldo Lake. Please do your duty.

You may not be aware of Oregon’s fatal seaplane accident of 7/31/94. A couple from Boring was paddling a canoe in the Willamette, when a seaplane taking off struck both of them. Their two young children were lower in the canoe and survived without physical injuries, but their parents were killed. I was working in the air traffic control tower at Salem when the radio call came in. We quickly dispatched emergency crews, but to no avail. When I learned of the larger details, my heart ached – as it still does – for those children.

Waldo Lake is an extraordinary place with exceptional water quality. It is a huge attraction for nonmotorized boating activity. Clearly, it is appropriate for the state to JUST SAY ‘NO’ TO SEAPLANES and all gas-powered use of the lake surface. Not just for environmental reasons (noise, water purity, wildlife) but also for safety reasons. The seaplane/watercraft accident precedent was set; now you have a chance to guard against a tragic repeat.

Mr. Gardiner, you yourself are a seaplane pilot, and are thus mindful of the fact that seaplanes have much louder propellers than do regular aircraft. The regular aircraft are already too loud. Seaplanes, especially in a special area such as Waldo Lake, are entirely inappropriate. Furthermore, you are aware that seaplane pilots transitioning through the Willamette Pass area, have superior facilities – with docks even! – just a few miles away, at Crescent Lake. They also have landing access to Odell Lake, in close proximity to Highway 58. Both of these other lakes are far superior for use by seaplanes. Clearly, there is no excuse for OSAB hornswoggling the citizens of this state with any implication that Waldo Lake serves any necessity for aviation. You know that it does not.

Crescent Lake rRsort

Photo shot 11/5/2010, and copied from the C-SPA.org website in late January 2013. Crescent Lake is just a few minutes south of Waldo Lake, and less off-route, for pilots transitioning through the Willamette Pass area.

Nearby Crescent Lake is promoted by C-SPA.org as a destination for their seaplane pilot buddies, like you Mark. They even have docks to tie down.

Please do us all a favor. Lead OSAB in rejecting seaplane access to Waldo Lake.

Jeff Lewis, Mulino, OR
(copy posted at aiREFORM.com)
Waldo Lake Cross Country Routes

map copied from the C-SPA.org seaplane website. Implies Waldo Lake is critically located and needed for use by seaplanes. But, other much larger nearby lakes (ODELL LAKE, and CRESCENT LAKE) are not on the map, and are far better located for seaplane use. In fact, C-SPA.org promotes use of Crescent Lake, with a photo of seaplanes tied down to the dock. Clearly, Waldo Lake is NOT needed for aviation use.