2015-01-25.. Near Collision, JetBlue Arrival to White Plains, NY

An Airbus A320, flown as JetBlue Flight 94 from Orlando, FL [KMCO] to White Plains, NY [KHPN], reportedly took evasive actions during the arrival, to avoid a collision with a small plane. The news story was widely reported four days later.

(click on image to view source/original article at cnbc.com)

(click on image to view source/original article at cnbc.com)

Below is arrival portion of the route of flight, from FlightAware. Note the flight-planned crossing of the midsection of Long Island and the box-shaped route over the Sound, apparently to transition through the flows in/out of KLGA and/or KJFK.
20150125scp.. JBU94 Arrival to KHPN, FlightAware route plotIf reports are accurate and the JetBlue crew did in fact take last-second evasive actions, this was most likely a controller error. And this does happen; controllers get bored or distracted. Or, they may be coming to work with deprived sleep, due to bad workshift planning, with compressed work schedules (though, many controllers ‘benefit’ from this type of schedule, by having what feels like a 3-day weekend every week).

In any event, if there is any possible ATC involvement, NATCA and FAA will both encourage the controller to file an ATSAP report. Doing so grants that controller immunity for his/her error, meaning less re-training  and less discipline. More importantly (to FAA and NATCA), filing the ATSAP report means the Public will likely learn nothing more about what happened here.

Why not? Because in May 2014, FAA Administrator Huerta signed off on a new administrative rule that declared all ATSAP report data ‘fully exempt’ from release under FOIA laws. Now, not even the courts will compel release of ATSAP data. This change makes ATSAP effectively a ‘black hole’ for U.S. aviation safety data. Thus, no matter how diligently the media investigates this incident, FAA will refuse to release the real details, as reported by the controller.

If it helps to sweeten your bitter, just give it a fuzzy new name and catch-phrase:

ATSAP – FAA’s new ‘Flying Blind’ program

‘We keep you safely in the dark!’

QZ8501: Debris Field and First Bodies Reportedly Found

News reports indicate searchers spotted wreckage at around 12:40 local time (0740 UTC) and began recovering passenger bodies from an area of the Java Sea with 3-meter waves. One aircraft door has been found, but the main fuselage and other aircraft components have not yet been located. The debris location is consistent with the known flight route, reportedly in waters 30-meters deep, roughly 100-miles southwest of the Borneo coastline.20141228.. AWQ8501 map showing wreckage locationBased on the flightplan revealed early by Indonesian authorities, it appears the flight was heading northwest along route M635 (the route marked in blue, see below) at FL320 (32,000 feet). The flight disappeared close to the time that it passed the intersection TAVIP, which defines the boundary between the Ujung Pandang controlled airspace and the Jakarta controlled airspace (note the verticle blue line with the ticks on either side; this defines FIR boundaries).

The original filed flightplan called for an initial cruise altitude of FL320, with a later climb to FL380. It appears this is a standard climb profile, related to the fact the flight crosses a route (W15) heading southwest to Jakarta. A reconstruction of other air traffic (posted at FlightRadar24) indicates QZ8501 needed to be northwest of the crossing route before the last climb could be approved. And this is exactly what reportedly happened; i.e., the QZ8501 crew had given ATC their climb request and, two minutes later, they were given a climb clearance to FL340 … though at this point in time there was no response, likely because the clearance was issued just after the upset.

20141228cpy.. World Hi Chart, near TAVIP intersection, showing crash debris vicinity

(click on image to view World Hi Chart near intersection TAVIP)

20141228.. AWQ8501 map showing other air traaffic (FlightRadar24 data, posted at NYTimes)

(click on image to view other graphics and article at NYTimes.com)

This accident, following the disappearance of MH370 in early March 2014, has intensified the call for mandatory satellite-based flight tracking along non-radar flight routes.

See also:

QZ8501: A Preliminary Meteorological Analysis

Tim Vasquez served in the USAF from 1989 to 1998. During his service, his meteorological duties progressed from weather observer to weather forecaster to weather programmer. He is the owner of Weather Graphics, a firm based in Oklahoma City that specializes in meteorological software, forecasting textbooks, data services, and consulting & training.

Here is a preliminary analysis Mr. Vasquez did to assess the potential for weather issues in the disappearance of QZ8501. The analysis suggests a higher potential for clear (and rapid) ice accumulation at the cruise altitude, 32,000 feet MSL. The infrared image below reflects conditions eight minutes after the last contact with the flight. Look closely at the graphic and you will see the thin blue outline of Pulau Belitung, due west of the estimated incident location.

(click on image to view original meteorological analysis at 'Weather Graphics.)

(click on image to view original meteorological analysis at ‘Weather Graphics.)


Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 Missing, with 162 On Board

20141228cpy.. AirAsia Indonesia A320A Sunday morning flight from Surabaya to Singapore has gone missing, with 162 on board. According to the airline’s official statement, AWQ8501 (a.k.a. QZ8501) departed Juanda International Airport at 2235Z (5:35AM local time), and lost contact with air traffic control nearly one hour later, at just after 2324Z. The regularly scheduled passenger flight is 745 nautical miles direct. The route filed included RAMPY-M635-SURGA, and was planned at two hours and ten minutes flying time. Weather is believed to be a likely factor, as the pilot had reportedly requested weather diversions and a climb related to monsoonal storm activity.

20141228.. AWQ8501, FlightAware map view (approx. direct route, labels)

(click on image to view article at Accuweather.com)

(click on image to view article at Accuweather.com)

One early report, since declared erroneous by Indonesian authorities, placed a search in Java Sea waters, just southeast of Pulau Belitung. This seems fishy because, although much of the route lacked radar coverage, per ATC tracking procedures there should have been a good idea of roughly where the flight was, at the time of last communications. Thus, the reported search site remains plausible, and perhaps the media has failed to get authorities to clarify they are simply modifying their search locations. Many are frustrated by this situation , as it echoes the many miscommunications following the Malaysia flight incidents, MH370 and MH17, from earlier this year.

It would be nice, in this world where we now all have access to charts, weather data, and so much information, if airline and government authorities would quickly share the hard and basic facts for this incident, including:

  • the filed route of flight
  • the reported positions along the amended route of flight (time & lat/long)
  • the weather data (convective sigmets, satellite weather presentation, at time of departure and at time of disappearance)
  • any relevant transcribed communications between the flight and ATC (voice, or datalink)
  • and other known and releasable information.

Given the heightened fears of terrorism in today’s world, it is understandable that some details might be concealed for real security reasons, but much of what authorities continue to hide is clearly releasable. The key lessons we learned during the Malaysian incidents was that aviation officials, both at the airlines and with the regulatory agencies, need to evolve away from their old pro-business ‘informational control and PR spin’ habits. Let the people know the facts, and right away. That said, it is commendable that the Indonesian Ministry of Transport did make a fairly quick release of some flight data, including a Data Manifest (listing all passengers and personnel),and a Load and Trim Sheet (showing fuel, routes, etc.).

Aviation Charts

Here are portions of the World Hi Chart, in two sections, showing the approximate direct route updated charts, with orange boxes marking filed route fixes. The red arrow marks two degrees of latitude (120 nautical miles) for scale.

20141228cpy.. World Hi Chart, N half of WARR-WSSS, route added

North half of charted direct route

20141228cpy.. World Hi Chart, S half of WARR-WSSS, route added

South half of charted direct route

See also:
MH370, March 2014:
MH17, July 2014: