I've had my doubts about the viability of Terrafugia's project to build a street-legal airplane, but this week it became more clear what the end game is.
The company announced a project -- called the TF-X -- which uses what it's learned so far from the original project to create an actual product that could change transportation in a Jetson's-style way.
The company says a person could figure out how fly/drive the vehicle in as little as 5 hours, well below the current regulations from the FAA now.
It appears the plan is to allow the vehicle to land anywhere, unlike the current project which can only land at an airport. That presents a challenge to local municipalities that will have to be worked out.
Based on its stick-to-itiveness displayed in its current project, Terrafugia isn't a company interested in pie-in-the-sky announcements to get some quick marketing hype. This could actually happen.1 Comments)
The Royal Air Force museum in Britain is planning to raise a World War II-era airplane from the floor of the English Channel. This is a nice BBC report on the "der Fliegende Bleistift" (German for the flying pencil), which includes an interview with the last-surviving pilot of that type of airplane.
Gerhard Krems told the BBC:
"It made a fantastic impression on me in comparison to the other planes. It looked somehow different, and I only later realised why. It was agile, it was very slender and it was elegant, really elegant. But you only realised quite how elegant when you saw it in the sky. ..."1 Comments)
Maybe the administration finally has the "pain" to trumpet in the wake of the so-called "sequester cuts."
Bay News in Tampa reports the organizers of Sun 'n Fun -- probably the second-most-important general aviation event of the year -- in Lakeland are taking a big hit because of anticipated air traffic controller cutbacks.
They have to come up with $300,000 to pay for air traffic controllers for the event, which starts April 9.
Last week, the FAA announced that the air traffic control tower at Lakeland will close.
Sun 'n Fun director John Leenhouts suggested organizers are checking the couch cushions for spare change, indicating the group will cut its order of Porta Potties for the event.
(h/t: Don Hanzlik)(0 Comments)
The FAA has now released the list of airport towers it intends to close on April 7th, due to the sequester cuts.
The tower at the airports in Anoka (Blaine) and St. Cloud are the only towers in Minnesota to close, down from the three the secretary of transportation said he might close, and only one of them is on the original list.
Both towers are "contract towers," operated by a private firm under contract to the government.
Spared were the airport towers at Flying Cloud and Crystal, both of which are staffed by FAA personnel. Flying Cloud is one of the busiest airports in Minnesota.
three eight airport control towers will close: Central Wisconsin in Mosinee, Kenosha, Eau Claire, Janesville, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, and Waukesha.
The Oshkosh closing will be worth watching since for one week of the year in July, it becomes the busiest airport in the world. During the giant EAA airshow, FAA controllers from elsewhere in the country staff the tower. They're handpicked to do so, but it's unknown -- officially -- what affect the planned furloughs of controllers will have. EAA officials say the show will go on and there will be a tower, however.3 Comments)
As we near the date when some air traffic control towers will close, the claims of unsafe skies are gaining volume. Most of it, though, remains guesswork.
In a story filed today, the Associated Press headlines "Planned closure of nearly 240 air traffic control towers will strip away layer of safety."
The planned shutdown of nearly 240 air traffic control towers across the country under federal budget cuts will strip away an extra layer of safety during takeoffs and landings, leaving pilots to manage the most critical stages of flight on their own.
The towers slated to close are at smaller airports with lighter traffic, and all pilots are trained to land without help by communicating among themselves on a common radio frequency. But airport directors and pilots say there is little doubt the removal of that second pair of eyes on the ground increases risk and will slow the progress that has made the U.S. air system the safest in the world.
I've already written extensively on the likely effect of the planned closures because of "the sequester," so I won't bother repeating how the system won't collapse, at least based on the scant information those who say it will have provided so far.
There's no question that having another set of eyes watching airport operations -- even at a dull airport -- adds a level of safety; that's simple logic. But the AP story overstates the threat a bit.
Here's one description of the comments of the only pilot the AP put in its piece. He flies a small plane:
Chicago pilot Robert McKenzie, who has a commercial license but primarily flies a small Cessna, has a lot of experience landing at smaller airports without control towers.
Doing so involves a lot more concentration, he said. Pilots have to watch for other aircraft, take note of weather conditions, look for debris on runways and make calls over the radio -- all while operating their own plane.
A little more concentration isn't a bad thing. The FAA has been trying to get pilots to add it for years. And, in fact, controllers do not absolve the pilot from the responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft. That's the pilot's responsibility. Any pilot who supplies less concentration because there's a controller in a tower, is doing it wrong in the first place. Winds, weather, stuff on the runway, and talking on the radio? Pilots have to do that whether there's a control tower or not.
It's also worth noting that equipment inside even small airplanes is vastly different from just a few years ago. Many, including the one I built, are equipped with passive traffic warning systems. And, although it won't do any good for this sequester crisis, in a few years, every plane -- even the small ones -- will have the same image of air traffic in front of them that air traffic controllers have on their screens on the ground.
Most troubling, he said, would be the loss of towers at airports such as Springfield and Santa Fe, which are used by a mix of small private planes and larger passenger aircraft that often converge on airfields at different speeds and using different procedures. Controllers keep those planes safely separated and sequenced for landings.
True, addressed in my previous post on the subject, and not that troubling. But let's take the afternoon rush hour at Sante Fe, as an example. Here's what it looked like this afternoon, courtesy of flight aware. The traffic destined for Santa Fe is depicted in light blue. Yes, there was only one.
Someday, there'll be a fascinating study on the psychology of people who try to get stuff past airport security.
Somebody last week thought this would be a blast to try to sneak through, the TSA blog reports:
It's not really a bomb vest; it just looks like one.
It was another week of confiscation of inert hand grenades too -- seven in all.
None came out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, although people trying to sneak stun guns through came in for special mention, as did the guy who joked about having a gun.(0 Comments)
Janet Napolitano, the nation's director of Homeland Security, says airport security lines have been running nearly twice the normal amount at some airports.
She mentioned Los Angeles International and Chicago's O'Hare, but said she'd have to doublecheck which ones she's talking about specifically.
"If you're traveling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would," she warned. "There's only so much we can do with personnel, and please don't yell at the customs officers or the TSA officers, they are not responsible for sequester."
Hers is the latest call that sequester is going to be a nightmare for airport travelers.
But the security checkpoint woes have been hard to spot.
CBS News says it's not the airport security checkpoints that are the problem Napolitano cites, it's customs, which makes her advice particularly curious for someone in charge of the system, since people don't go through customs on the way out of town..
At John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, CBP said there were approximately 56 flights with wait times in excess of 2 hours, and 14 flights over 3 hours. Miami International Airport (MIA) reported 51 flights over 2 hours, and 4 flights approached/exceeded 3 hours. According to the CBP, those wait times are uncharacteristic and a result of reduced staffing.
"Due to sequestration, CBP reduced overtime this weekend at Ports of Entry around the country and effects are already visible," the department said in a statement. "Lanes that would have previously been open due to overtime staffing were closed, further exacerbating wait times at airports with typically longer international arrival processes."
UK's The Telegraph reports that officials at the three airports cited by Napolitano suggest everything's fine:
"We haven't had any slowdowns at all," said Marshall Lowe, a spokesman for LAX. Mr Lowe said that he had been on duty over the weekend and received no reports of unusual security delays.
DeAllous Smith, a spokesman for Hartfield-Jackson, said: "There have been no abnormally long lines at the security checkpoint nor unusual aircraft delays at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as a result of sequestration."
Their comments were echoed by Karen Pride, the director of media relations at Chicago Department of Aviation, who described operations at O'Hare as "normal" with "no unusual delays or cancellations".
If you've been traveling via airports, please report your experiences in the comments section below.(4 Comments)
Remember that news conference Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had last week about the air transportation system will be a "calamity" because the coming sequester will force the FAA to furlough air traffic controllers?
The Washington Post today has a side of the FAA budget that LaHood didn't talk about: The side that sends money to small airports with little real reason for existing, including one -- it claims -- in Minnesota.
But the Post focuses mostly on Lake Murray Airport in Oklahoma which last year got about $1,500 from the FAA for every takeoff and landing.
That's because of a bill Congress passed in 2000 that created a new "entitlement" program for small airports. The rules: If a field was on the FAA's official airports list, and if it had sufficient need for infrastructure improvements, there would be money. Up to $150,000, every year.
The money was paid out of a "trust fund" filled by taxes on airline tickets and airplane fuel.
On Capitol Hill, this looked like a master stroke of pork politics, engineered by then-House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.). His measure carpet-bombed congressional districts with money. In the Senate, the bill won by 65 votes. In the House, it won by 218. (Shuster retired in 2001. He did not return a call for comment about the legislation).
Out in the real world, however, there were problems.
Little airports such as this "need a grant every now and then. Not necessarily every year," said an FAA official who discussed the program's flaws on the condition of anonymity. "Now, we have a system that gives 'em all a little money, every year."
Airport advocates often try to get public owned airports to grab the money because it comes with strings attached: the airport has to stay open or the money has to be paid back.
But there are a few problems with the Post reporting. It lists 88 airports across the country, including the one in Oklahoma, that "have no paying customers and no planes based there."
It lists Glencoe, MN as one of the airports. But that's not exactly true. There are 10 aircraft based on the field and the city sells aviation fuel, although it doesn't sell much. It says the airport has no "paying customers" and that's a slight flaw in the Post's methodology since small general aviation airports don't usually exist for passenger travel.
Several airports in farm country serve as bases for the traveling agricultural crop spraying operations that visit Minnesota farms several times a year.
Still, the airport received $150,000 in 2012, according to the Post. You could pay a few air traffic controllers with that money, the paper figures.
(h/t: Sara Meyer)
With a week to go before "The Sequester," we'll be hearing more about what services the government will cut as across-the-board cutbacks are implemented.
What's somewhat surprising is we haven't already been told specifics in some cases and an appearance by outgoing transportation secretary Ray LaHood in the White House briefing room underscores the lack of detail.
Lahood told reporters that more than 100 air traffic control towers would be closed, and suggested that travelers could feel the pain.
"Travelers should expect delays of up to 90 minutes at peak airports during sequester," starting on April 1, LaHood said. "It's going to be very painful for the flying public."
The airlines aren't buying LaHood's assessment that it could be "a calamity."
"When they see the kind of cutbacks that are going to be made at some of these towers, they're going to have no choice," LaHood countered.
Linking the closing of air traffic control towers with delays by airline travelers also ignores one truth: Most air traffic control towers aren't in cities where most travelers go. And closing an airport's control tower doesn't close an airport.
Take Minnesota, for example. There's only one very important control tower -- the one at Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport. But it's not Minnesota's only control tower. Presumably, the FAA wouldn't close the tower at such a large airport, not when there are so many other candidates.
There are three other towers in the state staffed by FAA controllers.
Crystal Airport: There is, obviously, no airline service to Crystal. It's a general-aviation reliever airport, designed to keep smaller planes from needing to land at the big airport. According to the website, Flight Aware, it handles an average of 514 flight operations a day. But that mostly includes planes flying through the airspace, not actual takeoff and landings. Most of the traffic at the airport is VFR -- visual flight rules -- in which the pilot, not the controller, is primarily responsible for keeping aircraft apart.
Crystal is on the FAA's list of towers that would likely be closed.
Flying Cloud: The effect of a tower shutdown is somewhat more pronounced because this is the region's executive airport, with plenty of corporate jets. Generally, there are two controllers in the tower -- one handling take-off and landings and one handling ground traffic. Because there are two parallel runways, the closing of the tower mostly affects the ground operations. Pilots, left to their own devices, could cross a runway where a jet is taking off or landing.
But that's unlikely because there are already provisions in place for a closed tower at Flying Cloud (and every other towered airport in Minnesota). When the tower closes for the night, only one runway is "open" to traffic, eliminating the problem.
Flying Cloud is on the FAA's list of towers that would likely be closed.
Saint Paul: The downtown airport isn't close to what it once was. The National Guard helicopter maintenance facility moved most of its operations a few years ago. The flight school closed after the Mississippi River flooding of a decade ago (there's still a flight school on the field, but it has nowhere near the traffic the old one did), and there hasn't been scheduled passengers service in a decade. 3M still has its corporate jets there and there are still a handful of executive jets landing each day. But, like Flying Cloud, changing to closed-tower rules presents few problems, and isn't going to have any effect at all on airline travelers.
Those are the only control towers in Minnesota operated with FAA controllers. But there are several "contract towers" that are operated by private firms under contract to the FAA."
St. Cloud -- Allegiant Air runs a handful of flights a day to the Phoenix area. Could they be affected or delayed if the tower were to be shut down? It's hard to see how. Back when Northwest Airlines ruled the skies, airline flights made it in and out of uncontrolled airports all the time. It's not as if it's every-pilot-for-him/herself. In the absence of a controller, there are radio procedures for keeping an orderly flow of traffic.
St. Cloud is on the FAA's list of towers that would likely be closed.
Duluth - The airport claims 162 flight operations a day, a third of which are general aviation flights and 14% of which are military. United, Delta, and Allegiant (or their subcarriers disguised to look like the big airline partners) all fly out of Duluth and if there were to be a slowdown in the event of a closed tower, Duluth figures to be the place where it might be felt. But the tower there also stands a good chance of being allowed to stay open because it's an airport of entry for people flying into the U.S. from Canada. (Update: See comments. Duluth is an FAA tower. It is not scheduled to be closed but may not be staffed overnight)
Anoka/Blaine - This is another reliever airport that actually has a busier schedule than nearby Crystal. It's almost exclusively general aviation (there are some medical evacuation aircraft based on the field), and the pilots are well schooled in flying in and out of uncontrolled fields.
Anoka is on the FAA's list of towers that would likely be closed.
Rochester - It claims only 112 aviation operations a day, a third of which are commercial. Because of Mayo, it's popular for corporate jets too. But, like St. Cloud, it's not a particularly difficult airspace to fly in and out of. (Update: See comments. Rochester is an FAA tower. It is not scheduled to be closed)
And we know this because busier airports underneath the big MSP airspace don't have any control towers and traffic comes and goes just fine. These include Lakeville (Airlake), Lake Elmo, and South Saint Paul.
But there's much more to the nation's airspace system than the control towers on which Secretary LaHood focused. The most critical operations in these parts comes out of this non-descript building.
It's the FAA's Minneapolis Center -- located in Farmington -- and it controls all of the nation's airline traffic as it passes through (parts of)North and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and a small slice of Kansas and Missouri.
Whatever delays passengers might experience would actually come from furloughs there, although "optional" services to general aviation pilots would most certainly be sacrificed in favor of keeping the airlines happy. The entire air traffic control system is already designed to keep GA operations out of the way of the airlines.
In the meantime, it's good to keep the dire warnings in perspective and require a transportation secretary to explain how closing towers at airports without airline service is going to significantly hamper the airline-traveling public.(7 Comments)
It was the battle of the perceived business-friendly state vs. the perceived business-unfriendly state today. And the business unfriendly state won.
Pinnacle Airlines, the corporate head of a group of smaller airlines that fly regional flights for big airlines, announced today it's moving its headquarters from Memphis to Minnesota.
Pinnacle is coming out of bankruptcy.
"We had the responsibility to explore every aspect of our business to find opportunities to reduce costs, including evaluating our property leases, to find the most economical options for Pinnacle," said John Spanjers, president and CEO of Pinnacle Airlines said in the press release. "Our analysis covered everything from the available labor pool and operational alignment to economic incentives. Both Memphis and the State of Minnesota presented very strong cases. In the end, it was an economic decision."
It makes sense. There are many more flights out of MSP than Memphis. Various analysts have suggested Delta is in the process of getting rid of its Memphis hub.
That's got to hurt a state like Tennessee, named last year as the fourth-best state for business. Minnesota finished 36th on that list.
The announcement today comes a little more than a year after Pinnacle moved Mesaba Airlines' headquarters from Minneapolis to Memphis.(0 Comments)
When last we touched on the airplane you can drive like a car -- or the car you can fly like an airplane -- it had undergone its initial flight testing and people were warming to the possibility that it would soon be on the market. That was last summer, two years after its prototype flew.
Now, AvWeb reports, its back to the drawing board, suggesting the company continues to find things it doesn't like about the concept. That's something considered normal in aviation but it's particularly sensitive with this type of concept. A car that flies (or an airplane that drives) is by definition a series of compromises between two vehicles. Tinkering with one characteristic introduces more compromises to the other. And the company has a challenge to do this without alienating the people who might buy it.
But the company continues to crank out interesting videos:(3 Comments)
If any humans orbiting the earth want to talk to Roseville (by way of Bemidji) native Paul Dye in the future, they'll have to call him at home.
The longest-serving space shuttle flight director in NASA history, has left Mission Control in Houston for the last time.
"I have had the great privilege and honor of leading human spaceflight activities from the pointy end of the stick as Flight Director in NASA's Mission Control for close to two decades - and I was blessed to be a flight controller for more than a decade before that (starting with the first Shuttle mission)," he posted today. "It has been a heck of a ride, and while I can't say that every day has been a good day, I can honestly repeat what I have always told the folks who really enjoy real time operations - that the worst day in the control center is still better than the best day in the office."
At NASA, his call sign was "Iron Flight," in honor of his grandfather who worked the mines of the Iron Range.(1 Comments)
KARE 11 reports that the police pulled a pilot out of his American Airlines jet this morning under the suspicion that he was drunk. He apparently failed a breathalyzer test.
Under FAA rules, a pilot may be considered drunk who is considered "sober" if he/she were behind the wheel of a car.
Pilots are forbidden from flying if their blood alcohol level is .04% or above -- that's half the limit of the definition of drunk for drivers. They are also not allowed to consume any alcohol within 8 hours of flying.
The last American flight into Minneapolis was around 11:30 last night. The flight was to depart this morning a little after 6.
Thanks to a 1990 Northwest Airlines flight from Fargo to Minneapolis, MSP has been the poster child for incidents involving drunk pilots. All three pilots of the Northwest flight were hammered, and went to prison because of it.
A few years ago, I talked to one of them -- Joe Balzer.(0 Comments)
The National Transportation Safety Board has completed an investigation into a March plane crash in Glencoe that killed three people.
The plane broke apart in the air, the NTSB said, after the pilot wandered into bad weather for which he was not rated to fly. It said the plane exceeded its "design limits" at the time, indicating the pilot lost situational awareness in the clouds and lost control of the plane.
The three were flying from Minneapolis to Colorado. The NTSB says the pilot apparently did not get a weather briefing before departing(0 Comments)
The dirty little secret of Minnesota,is that we get you, Wisconsin.
And, truth be told, we're a little envious of your mirth, as evidenced by the streets of Madison early this morning.
Update The image is from 2009, which just goes to show you how cold it is in the summer in Wisconsin.(1 Comments)
It was 40 years ago today that Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt became the last men to walk on the moon. Even then, space flight and moon walks were starting to get to be ho-hum affairs, but people still recognized the name Gene Cernan.
He was one of only 12 humans to walk on the moon. He's the only human who approached a moon landing twice (his first, Apollo 10, was a test of the lunar lander, but it did not land).
He's almost 79 now and pretty soon, there won't be any humans alive who've walked on the moon, and not quite as soon -- we hope -- there won't be any humans on terra firma who recall when one did. That's a fact which leads us to wonder whether a future generation will return to being awed when one does?
Whatever happened to Cernan? Funny you should ask.
Last summer over at Oshkosh, a kid from North Carolina got a free flight on a B-17 because he sold eggs to raise the money to travel to the big air show there.
Check out who greeted the kid when he got off the plane. Gene Cernan. "Dream big and go make it happen," he told the young man, almost as if he had something specific in mind.(2 Comments)
It's not often we hear firsthand the stories of how plane crashes occur, especially the one in Rochester last week in which four people on their way home from the Packers-Vikings game in Green Bay, ended up upside down in a crashed plane.
The cemeteries are full of pilots and passengers who tried to land an airplane in bad weather.
But pilot Scott Lebovitz, 23, of Owatonna, and three passengers Daniel Cronk, 36; Alan De Keyrel, 38; and a 9-year-old boy, all from Byron -- suffered only bumps and bruises.
Mr. De Keyrel has written a compelling account of the incident (and provided very interesting pictures) on his company's website:
We descended into the clouds. From that point on, I never saw runway lights or anything on the ground. I recall looking at the altimeter briefly and noticing our slow decent towards the ground. From the time that I actually saw the ground to impact, there was no time to react, grab for the controls or even say anything. I saw the ground for a split second and then "BAM!", we were hanging upside down.
"Oh my God! Get out of the plane before it explodes!" Scott shouted.
"Cronk, Colin," I yelled, "are you okay?"
Both responded and I felt a huge sigh of relief. We were all alive! I reached for my seatbelt and quickly unlatched it, crashing to the roof of the plane. It was pitch black. I couldn't find the door handle. A window popped open during the crash so I crawled through the small opening. Once outside, I realized that I was standing on the wing. I heard Colin say, "How do I get out?" in a scared voice. I leaned through the window opening and said, "Colin, crawl over here!" A few seconds later I saw his legs appear and I pulled him from the wreckage.
Understandably, the writer cautions people not to judge the action of the pilots. In aviation circles, that's an impossible request; it's how other pilots learn. It was a mistake -- a very bad mistake -- to attempt to land in the conditions. As pilots, we always grapple with "Get Home-itis," the tendency to make bad decisions because we just have to get home. We fly in weather in which we shouldn't fly and sometimes things don't turn out as well as they turned out in Rochester, as this tragedy from last year reminds us. Our mistake as pilots when reading stories like this, is thinking that we wouldn't or couldn't make the same mistake; it's an unimaginably easy one to make and quite often we don't realize it until after we've made it and lived.
Hopefully, we only make these sorts of mistakes once. And if we're lucky -- very, very lucky -- we get the opportunity not to make it again.
(h/t: Sasha Aslanian)(1 Comments)
Every now and again on these pages, we consider the possibilities of cars that fly -- or planes that drive (like this).
Some people don't wait for possibilities...(1 Comments)
Of no particular value other than its awesomeness is this video posted today showing every landing in San Diego over a four-and-a-half-hour span on Black Friday.
(h/t: Jon Gordon)(2 Comments)
The crash of the Concorde in Paris in 2000, killing 113 people, was an obvious tragedy, but in the end, common sense won out. In the aftermath of tragedy, we often want someone to pay. But sometimes, an unfortunate accident is just an unfortunate accident.
Today in Paris, an appeals court threw out the manslaughter conviction of a mechanic for Continental Airlines in Houston .
Mechanic John Taylor worked on a DC-10 in Houston and he fitted a metal strip on the plane that looked like this:
When the DC-10 went to Paris, the strip fell off on the runway.
Coincidentally, the Concorde's tire hit the strip, the tire blew into bits, one of the bits hit the Concorde's fuel tank, the fuel tank caught fire... and the Concorde was traveling too fast to abort the takeoff. So the pilots launched into the air.
A terrible situation. But criminal?
"He could never have imagined a scenario where this simple titanium blade could cause such a disaster," the French judge said of the mechanic, who had improperly used a titanium strip instead of a softer aluminum one.
"It reminds us that human error, regardless of the tragic outcome, is different from a crime," William R. Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, told the New York Times.
As for the mechanic, news organizations have been unable to reach him today. But two years ago he told the Associated Press the case caused him "mental anguish" and "destroyed my life."
"I've been nothing but wronged since this started," said Taylor.
He said the case also prevented him from gaining U.S. citizenship. He's a Danish citizen, but has lived in the U.S. since he was 3.
All because of one small mistake at work.(6 Comments)
In the brouhaha over an increase -- and, presumably, corresponding decrease for some people -- in aircraft noise with revised flight patterns at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, there hasn't been much coverage of the context for the changes.
It's called NextGen and the FAA has been working toward for years as it tries to get away from a fairly antiquated system of airplane navigation in the era of GPS.
Here's how it's supposed to work.
This airplane is called an AirCam. It's used primarily, as the name suggests, as a photo and video platform because it has an open cockpit and there's nothing surrounding the front view to obstruct it. Many of the finest nature videos you see are shot with an AirCam.
A week or so ago, this plane had to get from Minnesota to Florida. All that was needed was a pilot willing to bundle up enough to survive the frigid temps of flyover country.
More than likely, the view was worth it...(1 Comments)
This is a snapshot of air traffic in the U.S. on a typical Monday morning.
This was air traffic in the U.S. at 8 this morning (CT)...
A closer look at air traffic over New York is even more stunning...
(Graphics via Flight Explorer)
"This shouldn't happen," a former National Transportation Safety Board administrator said yesterday. No kidding.
American officials say that the loose seats are not an act of sabotage by angry workers. The Christian Science Monitor says government officials, too, are discouraging such speculation. And why not? The faint aroma of a maintenance problem can send passengers scurrying for other airlines.
But something is clearly going on.
There was a time when the nation's airlines performed their own heavy maintenance, as when the late Northwest Airlines agreed in 1992 to put a maintenance base in Duluth in exchange for a state bailout. But then the airlines began outsourcing maintenance, as when the late Northwest Airlines closed the facility. It laid off mechanics in 2005.
Up until last year, the Tulsa World reported then, American was one of the few airlines left still doing its own heavy maintenance. But that, too, changed.
Spokesmen for the TWU's Local 514 in Tulsa, however, said American management knew about the 757 heavy maintenance requirements more than a year ago, failed to plan for the work and refused to consider TWU proposals for performing the maintenance in-house.
"This is another example of management failing to listen to its labor force and plan properly for the future," said John Hewitt, Local 514's chairman of maintenance. "Over a year ago, management decided to defer important maintenance items on the 757 fleet until a later date, and then we began to hear that some of the 757 work would be outsourced.
"In response, the TWU officers and members formed a '757 Save Team' that studied the situation and approached management with recommendations for keeping the work in Tulsa. They did not listen. The contract between American Airlines and the TWU clearly states that this maintenance work is to be accomplished by the TWU. It's time for management to start listening to its workers."
In February, the company announced it would close its Fort Worth maintenance base, and send the work overseas.
Last week, it was announced the jobs will go to Hong Kong.
View more videos at: http://nbcdfw.com.(2 Comments)
The Laramie (WY) Boomerang reports that a Duluth doctor has been killed in the crash of his homebuilt airplane.
The Star Tribune identifies him as former St. Louis County medical examiner Donald Kundel, 79. The Duluth News Tribune says he had recently beaten cancer and was on his way to Laramie to celebrate on a hunting trip with his son.
I know every inch of the type of plane Kundel was flying; it's the same type of airplane I built.
A key may be in the FAA's description of the crash as occurring under "known circumstances." ( Update Sunday 3 p.m. - The FAA is making clear it was under unknown circumstances. Original reports used "known.")That means the pilot had advised air traffic control that he had a problem. What kind of problem is impossible to say. It could be medical -- a 79 year pilot flying at altitudes requiring oxygen -- or it could be mechanical.
In the latter category, investigators will almost certainly look immediately at the possibility he ran out of fuel, especially since a witness reports the engine had stopped. But witness statements can be notoriously unreliable. And there are lots of things that could make an engine stop. More and more experimental aircraft use electronic ignitions, for example, and one bad alternator can quickly discharge a battery.
The RV-7A holds 42 gallons of fuel, but only about 41.5 gallons is "usable." A pilot would normally calculate fuel usage when planning such a trip. Here, for example, is what the trip would look like (using the Weathermeister.com flight planning tool) today, given the weather conditions (click far larger view).
There's a two-gallon penalty for headwinds and, flying west, there's almost always a headwind.
The above flight plan, however, calculates flying at 7,500. The pilot of this flight flew at 12,500, requiring more fuel to climb to that altitude. There is, however, more fuel economy at high altitudes because of the thin air, which also requires less fuel. The destination was well within the airplane's capability.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association flight planner says at it's likely most wasteful setting, a plane would require about 53 gallons, but that assumes a fuel-burn rate which may be higher than what the pilot might have normally experienced. Aggressive "leaning" (adjusting the mixture of gasoline and air) can change fuel consumption by as much as 40 percent. Some RV-7A pilots I've talked to have said they use only 5.8 gallons per hour at the higher altitude.
The flight's data, tracked by FlightAware.com, shows that the pilot did not make a fuel stop.
But the flight data doesn't provide any answers beyond that. The last indicated position was still 20 or so miles away from the airport. The pilot apparently had cleared mountains to the east of Laramie and was descending. Judging by the speed of his airplane at that point, his engine was working.
The first report of the crash came 8 minutes later.
It is possible the plane had "extended range" fuel tanks, which would have provided another 10 gallons of fuel.
It's also important to remember that engine and propeller combinations can vary, even among the same model of airplane. The company that markets the plane, for example, claims the range of a tank of gas can be over 1,000 miles, but that supposes running the tanks dry.
The picture of the crash scene in the Laramie newspaper (link above) doesn't provide much of a clue other than that although there was enough fuel to start a grass fire, there apparently wasn't enough to burn the plane.
But even that doesn't prove fuel exhaustion. In an emergency landing, the pilot would typically shut off the fuel supply to the engine to prevent a post-crash fire.
Leaving South St. Paul's Fleming Field yesterday afternoon, I couldn't quite figure out why the Commemorative Air Force's B-25 ("Miss Mitchell") was out of its hangar. It usually only comes out on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Then I saw this...(2 Comments)
The National Transportation Safety Board today released its docket of last September's P-51 crash at the Reno Air Races that killed the pilot and 10 spectators.
Today's information release does not contain any conclusions, although most of the evidence released continues to point to a structural problem with the modified airplane.
Still, this assessment from the autopsy of the 74-year-old pilot, Jimmy Leeward, may provide an indication of one of the area's the NTSB will look at when it holds a final hearing on the investigation.
There was a large amount of ethanol in the pilot's body, the toxicology report said, and it's unclear how it got there...
Ethanol, 58 mg/dL, and methanol, 234 mg/dL (or 2.34 mg/ml), were detected in muscle. No other drugs or chemicals were detected in muscle. Carbon monoxide and cyanide were not assayed as blood was not submitted for analysis.
Additional detail regarding the above detected drugs from FAA/CAMI Forensic Toxicology's WebDrugs (http://jag.cami.jccbi.gov/toxicology/):Ethanol is produced postmortem in the putrefaction process. Ethanol is also a social drug. It is a central nervous system depressant and after ingestion and absorption is distributed throughout all body tissues and fluids. FAR Section 91.17 (a) prohibits any person from acting or attempting to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft while having 0.040 g/dL (40.0 mg/dL) or more alcohol in the blood.
Methanol is produced postmortem, along with ethanol and other alcohols, in the putrefaction process. Methanol, commonly known as wood alcohol, is metabolized to formaldehyde. If ingested, the toxic and lethal levels of methanol are 10 mg/ml and 150 mg/ml, respectively.
Additional information provided by the NTSB IIC:The fuel used by the accident aircraft did not contain ethanol or methanol. The accident aircraft had a modified "boil‐off" cooling system that contained methanol. There were alcohol (i.e., ethanol) containing beverages in the box seat area of the viewing stands where the accident aircraft impacted the ground. The accident aircraft accelerometer saturated at greater than 9 +Gz in less than one second during the initial part of the accident sequence.SUMMARY: This 74 year old male accident pilot died of multiple blunt force injuries on September 16, 2011, after the aircraft he was racing crashed into the box seating area killing 10 spectators. During the initial part of the accident sequence, the accident aircraft accelerometer saturated at greater than 9 +Gz in less than one second. His Class 2 medical certificate had been issued 18 months previously with no limitations. No disqualifying medical, psychiatric, drug or alcohol conditions, or medication use were admitted to by the accident pilot or identified by the AME at the time of the examination with the exception of alprostadil (Caverject) used rarely for erectile dysfunction. The AME further noted that the accident pilot seemed to be in good health. The accident pilot did however have hyperlipidemia and an elevated homocysteine level for which he had been prescribed atorvastatin, ezetimibe, aspirin, and Metanx. None of these medications were identified in the postmortem toxicological analysis. Ethanol and methanol were however identified in muscle on postmortem toxicology.
You can find the entire docket here.
As we've noted before, no other industry works as hard as the airline industry to drive customers away.
Today's airline travel story comes from Bob Sutton Work Matters blog, which details how United Airlines lost a 10-year old, who was traveling as an unaccompanied minor. Nobody showed up in Chicago -- Chicago, mind you -- to help her transfer to the correct flight. Apparently, United contracts the "minor escort" service to a third party.
A United employee refused to help find the girl, the blog claims, until the parents put a guilt trip on her.
"When she came back she said should was going off her shift and could not help. My husband then asked her if she was a mother herself and she said "yes"--he then asked her if she was missing her child for 45 minutes what would she do? She kindly told him she understood and would do her best to help. 15 minutes later she found Phoebe in Chicago and found someone to let us talk to her and be sure she was okay."
The blog provides the entire letter of complaint (in Word format) here.
The couple didn't hear anything back from the airline until a weekend TV anchor in San Francisco started working on the story. United has apologized.
This is reminiscent of the famous "United breaks guitars" bit of 2009. Well, except that it's about a 10 year old girl and not a guitar. And United returned her intact.
Update 1:21 p.m. - I realize that some people don't have Word, so here's the entire complaint letter:
To Whom it May Concern:(12 Comments)
I was tempted to start this with the words "it concerns no one" after the unnerving experience we just had with United Airlines losing our 10 year-old daughters as an unaccompanied minor traveling alone on June 30th, 2012.
The experience was so unbelievable that we had to write it down here, and send it to you; despite knowing no one at United reads or responds to anything in regards to their customers. It's for our own sanity and perhaps anyone in the press and travel reviews that are willing to listen.
We dropped our 10-year old Phoebe at the San Francisco airport on Saturday, June 30th for her first flight as an unaccompanied minor. She was traveling through Chicago to Traverse City, Michigan to summer camp for two weeks. The United personnel who gave her the wristband and instructions told her very loud and clear to "only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times". We waited with her and sent her off and did not leave SFO until the flight was airborne. We then tracked the flight on-line and watched it arrived on time in Chicago. We knew that she had 1:15 to transfer to the Traverse City flight. We then watched on-line as that flight took off and landed on time. We then waited and waited for the call from camp that she arrived safely. That call did not come. Instead we received a frantic call from the camp that Phoebe was not on the flight, nor did the United person in Traverse City know why she was not on the flight.
I proceeded to call United and was put on hold for 20 minutes (imagine if you are a parent waiting 20 minutes not knowing where your 10 year old is). When someone (from India) finally took the call they first told me that she had indeed arrived in Traverse City and that I was mistaken. Then (only when I started to panic on the phone) she put me on hold again for 10 more minutes only to come back and tell me Phoebe was still in Chicago and had missed her connection. When I asked how she could have missed it given everything was 100% on time she said, "it does not matter" she is still in Chicago and "I am sure she is fine". When I asked why no one called the camp or us she could not tell me. When I asked her to please confirm where Phoebe was in Chicago and who she was with she could not tell me. When I asked to speak with her to be sure she was fine she said that was not possible. When I asked frantically to talk to her supervisor she put me on hold for 40 minutes.
In the mean time my husband also started to call United using his Premier status phone line and number. He more quickly got someone on the phone (in the USA) and asked for help. The first person he spoke with was not able to help but she finally transferred him to someone who also confirmed that Phoebe did not make her flight. When he asked why she could not say but put him on hold. When she came back she told him that in fact the unaccompanied minor service in Chicago simply "forgot to show up" to transfer her to the next flight. He was dumbfounded as neither of us had been told in writing or in person that United outsourced the unaccompanied minor services to a third party vendor. We were shocked to learn this. Regardless, he asked if she could help us find Phoebe to be sure she was okay and he got put on hold again. When she came back she said should was going off her shift and could not help. My husband then asked her if she was a mother herself and she said "yes"--he then asked her if she was missing her child for 45 minutes what would she do? She kindly told him she understood and would do her best to help. 15 minutes later she found Phoebe in Chicago and found someone to let us talk to her and be sure she was okay.
From the moment of the first phone call from camp informing us that Phoebe did not arrive in Traverse City to when we spoke with her first hand it took almost an hour. But she had already been in Chicago for over two hours. She landed and no one came to get her. The attendants where busy and could not help her she told us. She told them she had a flight to catch to camp and they told her to wait. She asked three times to use a phone to call us and they told her to wait. When she missed the flight she asked if someone had called camp to make sure they knew and they told her "yes--we will take care of it". No one did. She was sad and scared and no one helped.
End of story? No--it gets crazier if that is possible.
She finally made a flight to Traverse City four hours later and we informed camp that she would be arriving late that night and that they needed to make a trip back to get her. They did and then called to let us know that she arrived but that her luggage did not. I was back on the phone with United (in India) and my husband with United Premier (in the USA) with 40 minutes of waiting for one and the other telling us they could not find her bags but to call back in two hours or check to see if it made the next flight. Phoebe went off to camp and made the most of having no sheets, pillows or clothes for what capped off one of the most stressful days of her short ten years.
The next morning we were on the phone again and were told by United (in India) that they still could not locate her bag and then by United Premier that they could not help anymore because the baggage department was no longer something they could deal with and that we had to call the special baggage number (in India that I had already called). Three more sessions of being on hold with India ensued--for 45 minutes each and one of these was a non-stop request to speak to the person in charge (who ended up being one Tom Tang in Delhi who claims to be the most senior person but could "in no way help me")---AND three more flights to Traverse City that day left from Chicago and her bag was not on any of them.
We then went back to trying United Premier again and my husband tried his "are you a Mom" tactic with the next woman on the phone who agreed to help the sad 10 year old girl at camp in 100 degree heat with no bathing suit, sheets or change of clothes (and no store to shop in for 45 miles). She put him on hold and 30-minutes later got back on having personally had someone in Chicago baggage locate the camp bag and describe it to us on the phone. We confirmed it was Phoebe's and they confirmed it would be on the next flight to Traverse City. We let camp know and sent them to the airport again to get it (United bags that arrive to TC don't get delivered to the camp until the next day they know from experience so they went personally). We thought that was it. AGAIN--The bag did not arrive--camp confirmed this. We started the same process again and another 90 minutes later we were assured by a United person that it would be on the next flight--"confirmed". We sent camp again to the airport--the bag again did not arrive. That was the last flight of the day. Phoebe was now going to bed again with no word and no clothes or bedding.
The next morning we started the same process again (day three now mind you) and had someone assure us it would make the early flight but we asked for the Traverse City United baggage desk number to confirm its arrival before we sent camp to retrieve it this time to be sure (they would not agree to give the number until we begged them by telling the whole saga). It finally arrived at noon on the second flight and was to Phoebe by 2pm after we called camp and they went to pick it up.
End of story right? Not really.
We logged a formal complaint via United Premier for the unaccompanied minor situation and were blown away to learn that when you file a complaint with United you cannot file it yourself. You have to tell someone on the phone what you are filing for, let him or her write your story down and then THEY file it. We asked to have them read it back to us to verify the facts, we also asked to read it ourselves and both requests were denied. We asked for them to focus on the fact that they "forgot" a 10-year old in the airport and never called camp or us to let us know. We also asked that they focus on the fact that we were not informed in any way that United uses a third party service for this. They said they would "do their best" to file the complaint per our situation. We asked if we would be credited the $99 unaccompanied minor fee (given she was clearly not accompanied). They said they weren't sure.
We asked if the bags being lost for three days and camp having to make 5 trips to the airport vs. one was something we would be compensated for (given we pay camp $25 every time they go to the airport). They said that we would have to follow up with that separately with United baggage as a separate complaint. They also said that process was the same--United field what they hear from you but you do not get to file the complaint yourselves.
The good news:
• Phoebe arrived at camp safely after an unbelievably traumatic experience
• Phoebe's bags arrived safely (albeit three days later)
• United employee Deborah #M2747 is a Mom and was amazing despite her United training
• United employee Lisa #A8183 is a Mom and was amazing despite her United training
The bad news is such a long list and so crazy I don't know where to start:
• United outsourced a service to accompany small children without informing parents in advance of taking their children into their care--HUGE liability
• United neglected to care for and keep safe the unaccompanied minor that they took into their care by forgetting her and having all their staff ignore her requests for help--HUGE liability
• United neglected to inform the minor's parents and/or the minor's designated pick up contact that she was delayed (or should I say forgotten?)--HUGE liability
• United in India was completely unable to help us on any account (except to tell us incorrectly that Phoebe had indeed arrived safely when she had not)
• United baggage is completely inept and has no business being in business
• United has made the travel process and experience unbearable by de-humanizing any and all experiences UNLESS you are a Premier member AND you beg someone to "be a parent" AND they break the rules ONLY then can they maybe help you
• United's complaint process is unacceptable--you lost our child and we still have not heard form you that you are even sorry and we can have our $99 fee back
• I need to stop now or I will start typing things that are even more unflattering than the above list
We have flown Untied for 40 years, my husband is a Premier member and flies all over the world with United, we have a United credit card, and we were very loyal United followers. Phoebe would have grown up to be a loyal United follower as well I am sure, but now she "never wants to fly United again".
We have never in all our collective years had such an unbelievably terrible customer service experience--not ever. We estimate that we spent around 18 hours collectively on the phones, on hold, trying to track down Phoebe, her bags and our peace of mind. Its hard to imagine how you run a business this way, how you get away with things so close to child endangerment, and how you sleep at night training your service employees how to not be of service.
End of story? You tell us. As far as we are concerned it can't get any worse.
Is there any remaining doubt that humans cannot do two things at once -- specifically, drive and talk on the phone?
Now, a Canada Transportation Safety Board report says people can't fly and talk so well either, at least in the case of a crash in British Columbia last November that killed a man.
In the report, released this summer, the investigators found the pilot spent much of the flight on his cellphone and was unable to maintain a consistent altitude during the calls.3 Comments)
Here's an airliner's track on approach to an airport you don't see everyday...
It's believed to be the ground track for one of the three planes involved in a near miss at Washington's Reagan airport this week (courtesy Flightaware.com)
On Tuesday afternoon, an incoming flight cleared to land was flying head-on at two planes that had just taken off. It appears it was the fault of an air traffic controller or two, according to the Washington Post.
"Are you with me?" the tower controller asked the inbound pilot, checking to see whether he was tuned to her radio frequency. When the pilot acknowledged her, she ordered him to make an abrupt turn to the south to avoid the other two planes.
"We were cleared [for landing] at the river there," the pilot said after breaking off the approach northwest of the airport. "What happened?"
We can learn a lot about the human brain from today's release of the report on the crash of an Air France jetliner into the Atlantic in 2009.
In its final report, the French civil aviation authority's Bureau of Surveys and Analysis said two less-senior pilots at the controls of AF 447 were "completely surprised" by the failure of cockpit instruments. All 228 passengers and crew died in the crash of the plane, which was on its way from Brazil to Paris.
Without any data to tell them what was happening to their plane, the pilots pulled up on the controls, which only made things worse.
Even Chesley Sullenberger couldn't refrain from criticizing the pilots...
I've written about this crash before, and specifically about the problems with an overloaded brain.
There's only so much data the human brain can handle. Keep in mind it's night, the cockpit is dark, there are no references outside to tell you where you are, lights are flashing, alarms are going off and a simple airspeed indicator isn't working (declining airspeed can tell you you're going up, increasing airspeed means you're probably going down), the noise from passing air is changing and telling you something, but what? Your body -- which lies to you at times like this -- is telling you one thing, some working instruments might be telling you another. Which one do you believe?
Oh, and you've got one minute to get all this sorted out.
A warning to the pilots that the plane was losing its lift (stalling) went off 75 times. Seventy-five times! And yet, the pilots didn't pay attention to it, apparently, because there's only one way to prevent a plane from stalling: push the nose down, the opposite of what they were doing.
How could this be?
Two paragraphs in today's report tell us:
Numerous studies have been conducted on insensitivity to aural warnings and they showed that the aggressive nature, rarity and unreliability of these warnings may lead operators to ignore these signals [1, 2]. In particular, in the event of a heavy workload, insensitivity to aural warnings may be caused by a conflict between these warnings and the cognitive tasks in progress. The ability to turn one's attention to this information is very wasteful as this requires the use of cognitive resources already engaged on the current task. The performance of one of these tasks (solving the problem or taking the warning into account) or of both would be affected .
In addition, studies on the visual-auditory conflict show a natural tendency to favour visual to auditory perception when information that is contradictory and conflicting, or seen as such, of both senses is presented [4, 5, and 6]. Piloting, calling heavily on visual activity, could lead pilots to a type of auditory insensitivity to the appearance of aural warnings that are rare and in contradiction with cockpit information. A recent study in electrophysiology on a piloting task seems to confirm that the appearance of such visual-auditory conflicts in a heavy workload situation translates into an attention selectivity mechanism that favours visual information and leads to disregarding critical aural warnings .
In other words, even when the answer to a problem is blaring in your ear, your brain's concentration on solving a problem makes you not hear it.
The pilots didn't have a lot of time, but the situation underscores the importance of an old axiom: Sometimes the best thing you can do, is step back and take a breath.4 Comments)
The car that can fly -- or more precisely: the plane you can drive -- has finished initial flight testing, Wired.com reports.
The Terrafugia is the closest anyone has come to marketing a car/plane.
It's still unclear whether this has any practical application. It's going to cost $279,000, but it can only fly as fast as 115 miles per hour, which is pretty slow as far as planes go, but not bad pickup for a car.
The First Amendment does not give you the right to be free from punishment for engaging in unethical conduct, the Minnesota Supreme Court said today.
You may recall the case of the University of Minnesota mortuary sciences student who was disciplined by the university for making jokes about a cadaver and making threats on her Facebook page (Details here), posting about her punishment and talking to the news media about her punishment. Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the school's right to discipline Amando Tatro, saying it did not violate her right to free speech.
"The driving force behind the University's discipline was not that Tatro's violation of academic program rules created a substantial disruption on campus or within the Mortuary Science Program, but that her Facebook posts violated established program rules that require respect, discretion, and confidentiality in connection with work on human cadavers," the Court acknowledged.
"Nonetheless, the parties agree that a university may regulate student speech on Facebook that violates established professional conduct standards. This is the legal standard we adopt here, with the qualification that any restrictions on a student's Facebook posts must be narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards," it said.
"In this case, the University is not sanctioning Tatro for a private conversation, but for Facebook posts that could be viewed by thousands of Facebook users and for sharing the Facebook posts with the news media. Accordingly, we conclude that the University's sanctions were grounded in narrowly tailored rules regulating widely disseminated Facebook posts."
The university allowed Tatro to continue in the Mortuary Science Program with a failing grade in one laboratory course.2 Comments)
Since I wrote last week about the first test flight (flown by a test pilot) of an airplane I built, people have been asking, "when are you going to fly it?"
There's now an answer. Today.
I took her out for the first extended test flight and all went well and we both lived to blog another day.
Thank you for being so flat, Dakota County.
(If you really can stand one more word about this, you can find it -- and others -- on my aviation blog, which is not affiliated with Minnesota Public Radio.)(12 Comments)
Where is Michael Bratlie and the plane he was flying to Duluth on Friday?
The mystery is intensifying as another day of searching for the missing Lakeville pilot is underway. Air and water searches since he disappeared have turned up nothing. Civil Air Patrol pilots have been unable to spot any sign of the the twin engine Piper PA-31 Navajo.
Authorities have no choice but to assume the worst, that the plane has crashed somewhere.
How can planes disappear like this? Easy. There's no real requirement that their movement be tracked.
If a pilot flies under "instrument flight rules," then air traffic controllers can pretty well monitor a plane's known location. But most general aviation flights are operated under "visual flight rules" (VFR) that do not require a pilot to be in contact with any air traffic control facility.
There are methods to allow families and authorities to track a plane's under VFR, but with a few exceptions, it's up to the pilot.
Emergency Locator Transmitter -- This is required on all aircraft but they are unreliable. Many pilots believe the order mandating them was a "feel good" directive after some high-profile aviation mysteries. The FAA recently ordered airplane owners to ditch the ELTs that operated on a 121.5 radio frequency and install more expensive -- around $1,000 -- ELTs that are monitored by satellites, but the reliability is still questionable. They depend on antennae and although they're designed to activate whenever a plane goes down, there's no guarantee the antenna will end up in a position that does any good.
Flight following -- Pilots are encouraged to use this voluntary service in which they can ask air traffic control facilities to keep an eye on them as they fly. But air traffic controllers are not required to provide it if their workload doesn't permit it, radar service can be spotty in some areas, and pilots mostly are reluctant to use it. Many just don't like talking on the radio.
This reliance on the "system" is a broader topic than what's allowed here, but it's also part of the debate over whether general aviation pilots should be required to pay "user fees" when using the air traffic control system (an Obama administration proposal calls for a $100 fee per leg of a trip for turbine powered aircraft). Faced with paying to use ATC services, many pilots will not.
Commercial products -- The SPOT satellite messenger is an example. For about $150 for the unit and another $100 a year for the service, the device allows others to track progress, allows communicating by satellite, and can send automatic text messages in the event of an emergency. It's often used by hikers, and climbers but it hasn't penetrated the aviation market in a way some had suggested. It costs money.
APRS -- This is a home-brewed method which is gaining popularity, especially among the experimental aircraft crowd, which has more freedom to install equipment in their airplanes than owners of production aircraft.
Ham radio enthusiasts developed APRS (automatic position reporting system) that transmits GPS coordinates. Amateur radio fans who are also pilots, brought the system to aviation which allows anyone to track an airplane and display its location and progress on Google maps. It's not expensive at all, but it does require a ham radio license.
In 2012, there's no legitimate reason why more pilots don't spend a couple of bucks for cheap-and-easy insurance, if only for the benefit of a loved one. Why don't they? Relatively few planes disappear, and most pilots don't think it'll ever be them.(2 Comments)
SpaceX says it took humans into space after all. Their ashes, anyway.
With the Dragon capsule now safely in orbit, a SpaceX official confirmed that the ashes of a few hundred people went along on the Falcon 9 rocket. One whose remains were on board is Gordon Cooper, one of the original U.S. astronauts. Another is James Doohan, the beloved Scotty from "Star Trek."
Which is all the excuse I need for this:
-- Eric Ringham
There's something extremely cool about Elon Musk. I mean cool in the "Right Stuff" sense, cool the way the first astronaut, Alan Shepard, was cool: "I'm a hell of a lot cooler than you guys. Why don't you just fix your little problem and light this candle?"
Musk is the brainy entrepreneur behind SpaceX, the commercial firm that launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station in the wee hours this morning. The launch was the second attempt, coming after an effort last weekend that was aborted when sensors detected a temperature spike. Musk and his people took the setback in stride, and said, in effect: O.K., no big deal. We'll try again on Tuesday.
SpaceX is developing a reputation for quickly fixing problems that might have bogged down NASA for months. I'm not sure that's fair to NASA, which does, after all, improvise quickly and brilliantly from time to time. But it's fascinating to see a nimble private enterprise function in such a high-stakes environment, doing what only governments could once do - and not many of them, at that.
(Disclosure: An in-law of mine works for SpaceX. I have zero understanding of what he does, but I regard the work with enthusiasm, envy and a touch of awe. As he does, I'm sure, my work in public radio.)
The mission to ISS is intended as a demonstration. Each step of the way, the spacecraft will have to prove itself before it proceeds to the next level. If the Dragon vehicle actually docks with the space station, that will mean everything has gone superbly well - and SpaceX will be that much closer to flying a human crew into space, which it intends to do in the next few years.
Jon Stewart did an interview with Musk a few weeks ago.
-- Eric Ringham(1 Comments)
A few years ago -- I was shocked just now to learn it was 16 years ago -- the New York Times penned an extensive article on the life of air traffic controllers in some of the busiest airspace in the world -- New York. One quote stood out among the many from controllers on how they handle the pressure. "Even as bad as you can mess up, it's a big sky; the planes won't hit," one said with a rhetorical shoulder shrug.
But other air traffic controllers might.
Bloomberg News is reporting today that whistleblowers in the centers and towers are reporting the New York controllers appear to be an out-of-control band:
When midnight rolled around and flight traffic thinned out, air-traffic controllers guiding planes in the busiest U.S. corridor whipped out laptops to watch movies, play games or gamble online.
Controllers on break inflated air mattresses and napped on the floor. Some left before their shifts were over. They cursed at managers, refused to train new controllers, and flouted rules requiring them to pass on weather advisories to pilots.
Investigators from the Office of Special Counsel, the agency that protects whistleblowers, have apparently confirmed the reports and also allegations that supervisors' cars who objected to their behavior had their cars vandalized.
In New York, investigators found a facility in which FAA managers were unwilling or afraid to discipline controllers' union members, the reports said. Supervisors who tried to enforce the rules had their cars vandalized or were threatened. The result was widespread violations of rules that undermined safety, reviews by the special counsel and FAA found.
Seeley, who'd worked in Fort Worth, Texas, before coming to New York in February 2010, said he was shocked by what he saw.
"The advice from the seasoned front-line managers was: you keep your head in the sand," he said.
And keep your tush off of New York-bound flights?
(h/t: Sara Meyer)(1 Comments)
Quick quiz: Which of these two things is a security risk to the nation's airlines?
The correct answer is B. It is prohibited from an airplane. "A" is not even though it looks like the innards of a bomb
It is, in fact, a checked bag at Newark, according to the TSA blog. Like today's "suspicious package" at the Humphrey Terminal at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, the TSA's explosive detection team has to "clear" the bag, which turned out to be the inside of a VCR, a VHS tape along with 23 smartphones each individually wrapped in aluminum foil and taped to the unit.
While it, like today's bag, disrupted things, there's nothing illegal about putting the guts of a VCR, a VHS tape, and 23 smartphone phones in aluminum foil into a suitcase.
The shaving cream? That's not allowed.
Every week, the TSA blog posts pictures of all the nonsense people try to get on airplanes, and every week the reader can only shake his/her head and wonder what on earth is going on?
And every week, the blog includes pictures of phony or neutralized hand grenades; so many, in fact, that you wonder if one of these days a real one will slip through.
Why was a passenger at MSP traveling with capped PVC pipe with a "granular material" inside. He said it was "water filtration," of course.
I'm guessing that contraption will be featured on the TSA blog next Friday.(3 Comments)
A lot has been made in the last few days about Duluth's Cirrus aircraft company's unveiling of new financing to make the world's first "personal jet."
It's big news for the Northland, which figures to gain a few jobs out of making the jet.
The announcement, curiously, wasn't made in the United States. It was made at an air show in Germany. Cirrus, which dominates many of the airshow exhibits in the U.S., blew off Sun 'N Fun in Florida this year, an indication, perhaps, that the market for the jet is primarily overseas.
Is there a big market for a personal jet? The answer depends on the answer to another question, "How many people have $1.9 million to spend on transportation?" That pricetag, by the way, is twice the estimated price when the company first gambled its future on the jet around 2006.
Robert Goyer, who writes for Flying Magazine, figures the target audience will be the person who flies Cirrus' planes now...
The price tag issue for the Cirrus jet is not as big as some are making it out to be. The jump to $2 million from its current $1.7 price tag, will doubtless spur sales leading up to the increase but I'd doubt it will slow them down much thereafter. Some will argue that you can get a really nice used Mustang for $2 million, and they're right. A used Mustang that flies up to 41,000 feet, has two engines, requires a sophisticated understanding of high-altitude operations and takes some real skill to fly around in on one engine. I love the Mustang. But for many would be Cirrus jet owners, it's more airplane than they want or need.
In my book, the news from Duluth is nothing but good news, and I personally can't wait for the SF50 to arrive. With shared aircraft ownership company PlaneSmart based at my home airport. I spoke with PlaneSmart president Mike Brosler on the subject a year ago. He told me that as soon as the new turbofan single was available, he'd start selling a lot of shares in it, some to existing SR22 owners and others to folks who are waiting specifically for the jet.
The typical Cirrus owner has plenty of money and is usually a businesses owner of some sort. At my home airport -- South St. Paul's Fleming Field -- a real estate developer flies from his home in Grand Rapids a few times of week, parks his plane in the hangar and uses a Mercedes he keeps there for tooling around the Twin Cities. Flying can be a rich man's game, indeed.
I don't know if he's interested in flying a jet for business, but in a Cirrus owners online forum this week several people who had put deposits on a jet, and had demanded a refund when the economy turned sour, are saying they're back in line for a jet when it's available -- maybe -- in 2015.
In the aftermath of last fall's tragic crash at the air races in Reno, some "experts" suggested the age of the pilot was a contributing factor in the disaster that killed 10.
Today, the National Transportation Safety Board released its recommendations as a result of the crash and none of them involve the age of the pilot. Instead, it focuses on the decisions he made months before the race.
"Our investigation revealed that this pilot, in this airplane, had never flown at this speed on this course," Chairman Deborah Hersman said.
The NTSB recommendations center on the fact that the air racing officials exercise no or little control over the designs airplane owners resort to in order to wring as much speed out of the planes as possible.
In its letter to race organizers today (available here) , the NTSB said the organizers relied only on the say-so of the pilot that the plane was safe:
The NTSB notes, however, that such a statement does not necessarily mean that the airplane, with its modifications, was evaluated while operating within the speed and flight regimes that would be encountered on the race course. Review of the airplane's maintenance records and documentation associated with its experimental airworthiness certificate found no evidence that any engineering evaluation of the modifications had been performed. Such an evaluation would provide an opportunity to identify potential unintended consequences of the modifications. For example, shortened wings require higher angles of attack, which, if executed at higher speeds, raise the possibility of destabilizing effects or control anomalies. The use of one tab to drive both elevators raises concerns about structure and flutter; the pinned elevator tab also raises concerns about stiffness and flutter. The addition of weight behind the hinge line of the elevator tabs may decrease the flutter margin.
It's significant the NTSB focused on the trim tab on the elevator. Here's what I wrote last year:
I have no idea what happened, but it was pretty clear to me by watching the video that it involved the area of the elevator -- the control surfaces on the back of the tail that control aircraft pitch. Am I right? I don't know.
Since then, there's been a focus on the "trim tab," a small piece along the elevator that a pilot can adjust to set a plane's pitch without needing to exert control input via the yoke so intensely.
The NTSB hasn't yet determined the specific cause of the crash, but it appears heading for a ruling that "flutter" is the culprit. Flutter is a frequency that oscillates perpendicularly, is eventually transferred to sound waves that literally rip a plane apart.
The agency said it's concerned that the Reno Air Racing Association didn't analyze any of the plane's modifications to ensure that it could safety operate over crowds.
The NTSB also urged a change in the course design and confirmed that the pilot probably blacked out because of high g forces. It recommended g-force training for all pilots and a requirement they wear g suits to minimize the effects of decreased blood flow to the brain.(1 Comments)
An F-18 jet crashed into an apartment building in Virginia this afternoon. The two-pilots ejected, so let's deal with the obvious question that few people will actually want to ask: Why would a pilot eject from his jet if there was a chance it was going to kill people on the ground?
The answer likely can be found in this map. The icon shows the location of the crash:
If the jet was merely crippled, the pilots could've steered it toward the ocean, then bailed. But note what lies to the lower left of the icon -- the airport. It's not known yet whether the jet was taking off or landing at the airport when the crash occurred, but in either case the close proximity of both runway and ocean indicates the pilots didn't have the ability to steer the plane to an area where it wouldn't hurt someone. And they likely only had a second or two to decide what to do.
These sorts of accidents, though few, lead many people in military aviation to think of this:
(Photo: Wiki Commons)
This is the "hero tree" in Houston, which honors Capt. Gary Herod, who crashed his jet trainer on the site in 1961. His plane was crippled and air traffic controllers were advising him to bail out.
"Not yet," he said. And those were his last words. There were too many houses below, so he steered his jet to an open area. He died in the crash.
A similar problem faced Don Hinz of Woodbury in 2004. The former Navy pilot was flying a red-tail P-51 near the airport in Red Wing when his engine stopped. He steered it away from people on the ground, power lines, and landed between nearby houses. It all happened within 30 seconds, and he died of his injuries.(7 Comments)
But no embellishment was needed in the story of what happened after 81-year-old John Collins lost consciousness. His wife, Helen, who was a passenger, began to fly the plane around the Sturgeon Bay area.
She's not a pilot, but her son today revealed she knew how to take off and land a plane because her now-late husband taught her how 30 years ago just in case something happened to him.
It's an assessment another son didn't give to MSNBC:
Somehow, in what Richard describes as "a miracle," Helen managed to touch down safely at Cherryland.
"She didn't even know how to drop the landing gear," Richard said. "I can't even tell my mom how to run a computer!"
Amazingly, Helen didn't suffer any major injuries, Richard said. While the plane landed nose-first, and Helen got some bruises in the process, she is expected to be OK.
That's a different sort of story than another son offered to the Associated Press today
Collins' son James said his mother knew her husband had died after he fell unconscious, yet she remained calm. He said his mother had learned to take off and land about 30 years ago at her husband's urging, in case something happened to him. She has flown hundreds of hours by his side.
Talking to the Associated Press exclusively in a telephone interview Tuesday, James Collins said he's also a pilot and that he helped his mother Collins via radio from the ground as the other pilot helped her out in the air.
"At one point she didn't even want the wingman to go up," he said. "She said, `Don't you guys think I could do this on my own? Don't you have confidence in me?' She was calmer than everybody on the ground. She had it totally under control."
That's a much more intriguing story than the one originally told.
(Photo: Door County Sheriff's Office)
There are many reasons why regional air carriers are in such financial trouble. One fourth of them are in bankruptcy with yesterday's filing by Pinnacle Airlines.
Labor contracts, bloated management and high energy prices are most often cited. But many carriers also fly to places few people want to go.
In the case of Pierre, South Dakota and Great Lakes Airlines, one of those places apparently is Minneapolis.
The airline added a second flight from Pierre to the Twin Cities this week and the 6 a.m. flight took off on time yesterday and arrived on schedule. With no passengers.
Great Lakes has taken over air service in several markets from which Delta bolted. In one of those communities, Jamestown, N.D., the first thing many people noticed was a much higher ticket price.
Delta, with flights operated by Mesaba and Pinnacle, left because it couldn't make money in smaller markets where its planes flew only half full. That included markets in Minnesota such as Thief River Falls and Bemidji.
For years, airlines serving Pierre, for example, got money from the federal government under the Essential Air Service program. Now, the airlines serving the airport are unsubsidized. And, judging from the Monday 6 a.m. flight, not very essential.
Pinnacle Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection today. The chances are you think it's an airline you never fly. The chances are you're wrong.
Pinnacle is what I have often called "a hidden airline." It flies many routes for different major carriers, and the planes are gussied up to look like the big carriers. Quite often, the passengers don't know the difference.
Pinnacle owns Colgan Air. Colgan was the operator of the Continental Express jet that crashed on approach to Buffalo several years ago, a crash that inaugurated a closer federal look at so-called "regional carriers."
Pinnacle operates from Detroit, Minneapolis, and Memphis with a fleet of 124 50-seat jets, all of them painted to Delta colors. It also owns the former Mesaba Airlines.
A "regional carrier" entering bankruptcy is a different beast from a major airline going into bankruptcy. They -- the majors -- often have expensive labor contracts they'd like to shed.
The regionals? According to Glass Door, the first officer on Pinnacle makes between $20,000 and $40,000. A captain makes between $52,000 and $69,000. And a flight attendant earns $15,000 to $27,000 a year.
In February, Pinnacle invoked a 5 percent permanent pay cut for all pilots, in a desperate bid to avoid bankruptcy.
It obviously didn't work.
Who makes out big in bankruptcy? The bosses. CEO Sean Menke's pay was increased from $425,000 to $675,000, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission . Executive vice president John Spanjers got a 45-percent pay increase -- to $400,000.
"Quite simply, our current business model is not sustainable, as increasing operating expenses, liquidity constraints, business integration delays and difficulties associated with combining our operations have hindered our ability to maximize our growth potential," Menke said in announcing today's bankruptcy filing.(2 Comments)
For all the fancy screening gadgets and heavy restrictions, video of an incident on a JetBlue flight today shows the biggest change since 9/11 and why the attacks are not likely to be repeated.
Passengers don't stay in their seats anymore...
In today's incident, the captain of the flight had to be subdued by a police officer and an off-duty pilot after he started yelling about a bomb. The co-pilot then locked him out of the cockpit.
JetBlue says the ill captain was taken to a medical facility. His career is likely over.
As usual in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash, some of the initial facts and witness accounts don't quite add up. That's the case for the plane crash in Glencoe today that claimed three lives.
The accident occurred around 11 a.m.
The plane was not under air traffic control supervision, according to FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.
That's one part that doesn't add up. Here's why: This is the weather observation at the nearby airport at the time of the crash, according to the website, FlightAware.
The weather at the time of the crash was five miles visibility and overcast at 900 feet above the ground. In that area, the so-called Class E airspace begins at 700 feet above the ground and requires the pilot to stay 500 feet below clouds. That's fairly impossible in this case, it would have required the pilot to fly 200 feet above the ground (and there are three towers in the vicinity that are at least 300 feet high). Just minutes before the crash, the cloud cover was reported as "broken," indicating deteriorating weather.
That means the pilot was likely operating in instrument flight conditions, which would have required him/her to be in some sort of contact with air traffic control. If he/she wasn't -- as the FAA indicated -- it means the pilot was flying by visual flight rules in conditions when VFR flight isn't allowed.
Meanwhile, just a few dozen miles away at Flying Cloud airport, the clouds were 2,700 feet above the ground, plenty of room for legal VFR flight.
In the other direction -- Marshall -- the cloud ceilings quickly went from 4100 feet to 600 feet around the time of the crash.
There is, of course, no proof that the pilot wandered inadvertently into instrument conditions, however we know a couple of things: (a) the conditions were right to trap a pilot into flying into so-called IMC and (b) inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions is one of the most common causes of aircraft accidents.
Here's what it looks like when it happens:
It's not known -- yet -- whether the pilot in today's crash was instrument rated. If so, he/she would've contacted air traffic control. If not, it's very easy to lose situational awareness and a sense of which way is "up," that often leads to a stall/spin. So can efforts to stay out of such conditions.
It's possible -- since we don't know where the plane was traveling from or to -- that the plane encountered an engine malfunction, but the relatively concentrated area of the wreckage does not suggest an attempt at an emergency landing, at least judging by this photo from MPR photographer Jeffrey Thompson.
That, of course, is not to say there wasn't an attempt at an emergency landing, but even with wet and plowed fields, the flat terrain in the area is conducive to a successful emergency landing attempt.
The Star Tribune reported a witness in the area heard "popping sounds" shortly before the crash, but such reports have been shown to be notoriously unreliable in previous crash investigations.
It's a mystery, but not one without clues to consider.
As we guessed two days ago, the new airline flying out of Minneapolis St. Paul will be Spirit Airlines, starting at the end of May.
It's a low-fare, high-fee airline, which has dampened some of the initial euphoria among travelers when the Metropolitan Airlines Commission teased them on Monday with news of a pending competitor to Delta.
Spirit will fly direct to Las Vegas (the most popular destination from MSP) and Chicago (from which you can make connections to civilized locations).
What does this mean for fares?
Let's take a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas on June 1, spend the weekend, and come back on Monday.
Our first problem? You have to fly in the middle of the night.
The airline is advertising an $83 .29 fare, but that's (a) only if you're in the $9 "Fare Club" and pay the $60 to join and (b) only if you're willing to fly at 10:15 PM.
If you want to fly at 11 a.m., you certainly can, if you pay $212 one-way, much higher than competitors on the route.
The two flights back are both red-eyes. One leaves at 12:35 AM Monday morning and is non-stop. The other leaves at 1 a.m. and doesn't arrive until 10:20 a.m. with a stop in Chicago. Curiously the non-stop is cheaper: $88.79 ($10 cheaper if you join the Fare Club).
The total cost of the flight is $182.08, including fees which are:
Passenger facility fee: $13.50
Passenger usage fee: $33.98
Segement fee: $7.60
9/11 security fee: $5.00
Unintended consequences of DOT regulations: $4.00
If you buy your tickets online, you save $10 on Spirit's baggage fee -- $30 for checked baggage and carry-on (laptops and bags that fit under the seat in front fly free).
That's another $60 for a total of $242.08.
What's Delta got?
First, it's got flights when people are actually awake. The fare is $328.60. Adding the cost of a checked bag (free if you fly with their credit card), the total is $378. Is the convenience worth an extra $156 to you? Spirit is betting it's not.
But if you want to fly at night, Delta's fare is $277.60, not including baggage, and $50 less if you apply for their credit card.
That fare matches Sun Country's, but Sun Country provides flights that leave in the daytime. And Sun Country's baggage fee is $5 less than Delta's.
Southwest is a non-player on the route. Its lowest roundtrip fare is $434.
There is, however, an indication that Spirit's entry into the market has already had an effect on fares. A Friday-to-Monday Las Vegas trip in May will cost about $355 (not including baggage).
If you fly a week before Spirit starts flying to MSP, it'll be $379.60 on Delta, and a whopping $489.60 on Sun Country. Southwest -- remember when it was a low-fare airline? -- provides flights for $540 on the low end.
So Spirit's contribution to the market may not be flights when few people want to fly, but lowering the cost of flying on airlines people would rather take.
That is likely to be a short-term benefit. Airlines that lower fares on other airlines while flying few passengers don't stay in Minnesota for very long.(7 Comments)
The Metropolitan Airports Commission announced today it will reveal the identity on Wednesday of a new airline that will begin flying into the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. Let the speculation begin!
Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal says MAC's executive director told it last month that MAC was talking to "a few airlines," including low-cost carriers JetBlue and Spirit.
Of the top 15 domestic airlines, only two don't fly to MSP: JetBlue and Spirit, so the chances are pretty good it's one of those airlines.
I'm going with Spirit. Check the current route map:
Spirit already has a couple of locations in the Central U.S. and adding Minneapolis St. Paul fills a little bit of a hole in the map. Plus, it flies places... places that are warm, places that are traditionally desired destinations of Minnesotans, including Las Vegas, which might be the most popular destination of Minnesotans.
Moreover, Spirit is all about cheap, especially with its $9 Fare Club. Presently, Minneapolis St. Paul is all about expensive. With very little competition -- MSP never experienced the much-touted Southwest Effect -- the airport has the 11th highest airline fares in the country.
If you're an airline looking to take advantage of the entire reason for your existence, Minneapolis St. Paul would be a fine choice. The airline also recently added a crew base in Las Vegas, giving every indication it wants to expand its presence there. A good way to do that is to fly to cities where people want to fly to Vegas.
In the past, however, airlines that have tried to take on Delta's former airline -- Northwest -- on the Las Vegas-to-MSP routes have paid a stiff price for doing so.
What about JetBlue? It's the larger airline and it, too, has made a name for itself with cheap fares. So all of the reasons Spirit would want to fly here are also all of the reasons why JetBlue would find Minneapolis St. Paul attractive too.
But there's something about the route map that suggests a reluctance to do so:
JetBlue doesn't fly to Atlanta. It also doesn't fly to Detroit or Memphis. Does that indicate a reluctance to go head-to-head with Delta in Delta hubs, of which Minneapolis St. Paul is one?
JetBlue also seems to have a strategy that tends to its bread-and-butter: the East Coast. The airline, based at JFK in New York, is doubling the number of flights at LaGuardia and Reagan after Delta and US Airways swapped landing slots. It's also doing some expansion along the West Coast, but has always seemed to view the Midwest primarily as "flyover country."
JetBlue only has two "hubs": Boston and JFK. Adding Midwest flights doesn't make a great deal of sense unless it opens a hub closer to the Midwest. Spirit Airlines has hubs in Detroit and Fort Lauderdale. Theoretically, a short hop to Detroit for connections makes more sense for MSP travelers.
If it's either one of the airlines, expect slim pickings for non-stop service. Southwest started at MSP flying only to Chicago and has expanded it only gradually. Neither Spirit nor JetBlue have the capacity to offer very many non-stop destination, especially since doing so would invite an all-out war with Delta.
Passengers should also expect to pay fees. While the fares are cheap, Spirit in particular has a reputation for nickel-and-diming passengers. Check out this column a week or so ago from the Motley Fool:
I think no one was able to capture this better than CBS news and NPR personality Mo Rocca. Here's what he had to tweet about his Spirit experience: "I'm really not an airline snob but boarding Spirit Air flight to Detroit & it feels like I'm trying get last helicopter out of Saigon #chaos." The company's growth plan is just getting started, so it might take a while for the word to spread about what flying Spirit really means.
In the second outcome, I see passengers embracing Spirit's low costs, but figuring out ways to avoid the extra fees--by printing boarding passes at home, packing extra-light, and forgoing that $3 glass of water. You might think Spirit wouldn't mind passengers doing this, but in the most recent quarter, these "non-ticket" sources of revenue accounted for a whopping 38.2% of revenue. Without that revenue, the airline would have most certainly not been profitable.
Spirit also charges for carry-on baggage. JetBlue, meanwhile, has just increased its fee for a second checked bag ($40), although it has a first-bag-free policy.
This is probably why the early cheering in the "guess the airline" game is for JetBlue. But this is Minnesota; We don't get that lucky in these things.
For the second time in a couple of weeks, a flight crew on an airline was pulled off a flight, possibly because of alcohol consumption.
Pinnacle Airlines pulled the pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendant from its Grand Forks to Minneapolis flight yesterday. The Park Rapids Enterprise said the suspicion is that at least one of the crew members was drunk, or had been drinking within 12 hours of the flight, against company policy.
The action comes four days after Frontier Airlines intercepted a suspected drunk pilot.
Northwest Minnesota and Eastern North Dakota is responsible for one of the most famous examples of drunk flying. The crew of a Northwest Airlines flight from Fargo flew drunk in 1990, and did prison time for it.
In 2009, I met one of the participants in that case. Here's the post I wrote about it:
"Tell those people up in Minnesota 'I'm really sorry,'" Joe Balzer said to me as I left our meeting at the EAA air show in Oshkosh a few days ago. "I had my worst day," he said of the day he committed what many, perhaps, believe to be an unforgiveable act. He and two others on the flight crew of a Northwest Airlines flight with 91 people aboard, were drunk when they flew from Fargo to Minneapolis.
He was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison.
Before the flight, he and his crew spent hours in a Moorhead bar, pounding down rum and Cokes and beer.
"That evening I was full of fear," he said. "I was on probation from Northwest Airlines, things weren't going well with the crew, we were a little dysfunctional. It was a terrifying event. It was the culmination of the ultimate struggle. A year before I had a blackout in Los Angeles as a pilot for Eastern Airlines. I tried to quit drinking on my own... I didn't have a support group, I didn't have a 12-step group, I wasn't seeking wise counsel from others. My chances of success were not very good."
Balzer, who's just released his book, "Flying Drunk", says he got drunk for the first time when he was three years old, drinking with his grandfather.
The low point of his life was hours after his flight landed in Minneapolis. "There we were in (Northwest Airline's) headquarters and the results came back and they said, 'All three of you guys tested positive for alcohol,' and I thought, 'This is bad, I'm going to lose my job and I'm going to lose my pilot's license.' That night I was stranded in a hotel in Minneapolis and I paced it off in the room. I walked back from the window and I thought, 'If I get going good I can get through that window and do a swan drive.' That's how ashamed I was about what I'd done. I let myself down and I knew that, but I looked at that window and I thought, 'This isn't the right thing to do; it'd be very selfish.' I had a good cry from deep inside and I just decided to accept responsibility and change my life."
Nineteen years after the incident, and years after prison in Georgia, Balzer rebuilt his aviation ratings. "One day I walked into American Airlines after they saw me speak. I'd been rejected by over a hundred different airlines." He was hired.
Not all airline pilots have forgiven Balzer. After the arrests and trial in Minneapolis, airline pilots were the target of jokes from late-night comedians. "What matters is I own my part and I've made amends to my professional brothers who made a living," he said. "At the time I thought I was OK to fly and I know today with the clarity of a recovering person... I had no business being near an airplane that morning. Had it happened before? Yes. Does it happen with pilots? Yes. It's a problem with brain surgeons, and pastors, and school teachers, and everyone. Ninety-eight percent of alcoholics show up and do a job. There will be pilots who will still hold it against me personally and all I can do is say 'I'm sorry.'"
He's still flying for the airline and still speaking to people, knowing that there's probably a drunk in the audience. "The pilot who knows he has a problem is really playing with fire. Alcoholism is a 100-percent fatal disease. It's very important for pilots who have scared themselves ... just like I did out in Los Angeles ... if people are having episodes like that and finding themselves with DWIs, they need to get some help," he said.
One of his messages to airline pilots is seeking help doesn't have to involve losing a career. He says the FAA, pilots unions, and the airlines have created programs for recovery.
"First they can save their lives. Then they can save their careers," he said.
Listen to the interview:
New rules for airline fares began today and, predictably, the airlines don't like them much.
Gone, at least by design, are the low fares that are advertised because all the fees and taxes aren't mentioned. Consumers consistently have thought of the tactic as "sneaky."
So there was some irony today when the head of one airline called the new rules "sneaky," because the taxes and fees are now hidden in the advertised price.
But there's actually nothing to prevent the airlines from revealing what those taxes and fees are.
Check out the fare search on US Airways for a flight from Minneapolis to Boston this afternoon:
Simple. The entire fare is listed, and the part of the fare that is taxes and fees is also listed.
But the rules don't eliminate one of the "sneakiest" of all airline fare advertising tactics: There's usually only one seat on sale at the advertised price.
Watch what happens when you want to travel with a second person.
Among the "viraliest" of the viral videos being picked up by "news" sites in the last few weeks is this video showing "scary" and "dangerous" landings in jetliners. Commenter Jim Shapiro forwards the latest victim of the supposition, the Huffington Post.
Said the Huffington Post:
The planes, from Emirates to Thomas Cook, approach the runway at odd angles to compensate for the high winds, which were gusting up to 55 knots on the day, Bogdan says.
Landing (and takeoff) is statistically riskier than other parts of the flight, 'Miracle on the Hudson' pilot Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger' told us over the summer, due to cloud height, wind and visibility, among other things. Now we see why.
"Look at these impossible landings," a TV anchor on WCCO declared the other morning while showing the video.
Let's analyze what's really happening here. While it's flying, a plane doesn't move against the wind, it's in the wind. If the winds are blowing 55 mph across a runway (it's not here although the suggestion is that it is, but that's another discussion), the plane is also moving at 55 mph across a runway . That's not a good thing.
What the pilots of these planes are actually doing is making very professional and safe approaches. They're turning the nose into the wind -- against the wind, really -- in order to align with the the centerline of the runway...drifting neither left nor right. Where you do see the plane drifting, is the pilot calculating how much of an angle is necessary to align the jetliner's track with the centerline of the runway.
But, of course, you can't actually land that way, so shortly before touchdown, the pilot uses the plane's rudder to align the nose with the runway, so as not to put any "side load" on the landing gear. Every plane has a maximum "crosswind component" to help pilots calculate whether a landing can be made safety given a certain amount of wind and the angle at which it intersects the runway. So what you see above, while an example of pilot skill, is not luck at work.
If a pilot needs more time to get the angle right, he/she simply "goes around" and tries the approach again. Look up on any day with a light breeze the next time a small plane flies over your house, and the chances are the nose of the plane is not aligned with the path (heading) of the plane. Same thing.
Think of it this way: You're crossing a river with a canoe. If you point the canoe to the spot on the opposite shore where you intend to disembark, the current will carry you downstream. So, you point the canoe upstream of where you want to land and between your heading and the current, the result is usually a straight line to your intended "touchdown." With any luck when you get to the other side, there's nobody there with a camera to tell you how dangerous, scary, or impossible it was.
There's no question that Pioneer Press photographer Ben Garvin's aerial photographs of the Crashed Ice event are some of the most spectacular photographs ever taken of the Capital City. True to the nature of geeky pilots, I wondered how it was possible the pilot could legally -- not to mention, skillfully -- get them.
It was difficult airspace for the pilot of the Cessna aircraft to navigate, given the smokestacks along the river (note: they're not so much aviation hazards as they are markers of the point at which the big airport's airspace begins at ground level), the height of the Cathedral, and the heavily-controlled airspace overhead that's meant to protect the jets at the big airport. Any safe pilot is always mindful of the possibility of an engine failure, but Garvin's pilot left himself with few options if something had gone wrong.
Having witnessed the plane circling the Cathedral at a low altitude on Saturday, I tweeted on Sunday that the pilot may have been breaking the regulations to help Garvin get his shot. He was that low.
In MinnPost writer David Brauer's excellent interview with Garvin, the suspicion was confirmed with this passage:
"We had to fly low because of the smokestack of the District Energy power plant. The pilot mentioned a couple of times, 'We're too low, we might get in trouble.' I was kind of saying 'Do what you have to do, but keep doing it,'" the photographer says with a chuckle. "He said he hardly ever got to do cool things like this. He was banking sharp, and flying in high-traffic airspace, so it was technically challenging."
It was also likely illegal at some point. Here's the relevant FAA regulation:
Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
If the engine had failed, there was nowhere for Garvin and his pilot to go but into a neighborhood, building, or the crowd below (one might have been able to limp over to the Sears parking lot to minimize the toll). And on ( b), the pilot also likely failed. The highest obstacle in the area, of course, was the Cathedral at 306 feet, requiring a minimum altitude of 1,306 above it. That would have put him in the so-called Class B airspace above the city, which protects the jets landing at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (It's not restricted airspace, a pilot simply needs permission to enter it). It appears that he was circling just outside the reach of the controllers at the downtown St. Paul airport.
This photo, which raced around the Twitterverse -- and deservedly so -- reveals the pilot was no more than 200-500 feet above the top of the spire (estimate adjusted for the use of an 80-200 mm lens).
Who couldn't look at that beauty all day?
Fortunately, airplanes don't usually develop mechanical problems, and Garvin wasn't responsible for following aviation rules -- his job was to get the shot. But the regulations exist because of the high risk involved in low- altitude flights with steep turns, which increase the danger of a stall/spin crash that, in this case, could have far eclipsed the toll in the recent Reno airshow crash.
A study by the Aviation Safety Foundation found that 80 percent of all crashes involving a stall/spin, began within 1,000 feet of the ground.
The challenge of photographing an event like Crashed Ice is also why TV news organizations use helicopters for their photo platforms. The FAA regulations exempt helicopter pilots from the minimum safe altitude requirements above, as long as the helicopters are flown "without hazard to persons or property on the surface."
It's hard to know whether the "trouble" the pilot of the plane was concerned about was the potential problem of an engine failure, or the possibility the FAA would find out .
The FAA has not yet responded to inquiries on the matter, and it's fairly unlikely it will.(12 Comments)
It's pretty unusual to see journalists sniping at each other across the country, but that's happening today between aviation reporter Christine Negroni and a blogger at the New York Times.
Negroni, who reported for the Times this year on a story about the electromagnetic interference consumer devices could cause for airplane navigation systems, is hitting Times blogger Nick Bilton hard for a series of posts that pooh poohs the threat.
Negroni makes a rational argument before unleashing the journalistic version of the "nuclear option."
For those who prefer their pilots not to be wetting their pants over suspected EMI flight control issues I'll point out that it is a basic tenet of aviation safety that events are more predictive than accidents. These pilots were reporting on the precursors to crashes.
But Bilton, having spoken to at last count about half a dozen people over the course of four posts tells Times readers its "time to change the rules."
He's wrong. Aviation's remarkable record is the result of eliminating anticipated risks and creating redundant systems for the risks and errors that are unpredictable. The use of portable electronic devices falls squarely in the former.
Bilton would know that if he felt the need to take his reporting even slightly off the path between his hunches and his biases. As a blogger he may not need to do that, but as someone who's opinions fall under the banner of The New York Times, he and his editors certainly ought to.
By the way, it would be "whose opinions."(6 Comments)
Friday afternoon is the "look what we found this week" day at the Transportation Security Administration blog. This week's top find is a sword hidden in a cane. The person
trying to sneak it through airport security who had no idea his/her cane was a sword says the cane was a present from a relative.
The TSA also reports finding miniature bottles of booze in the socks of one passenger, while noting it's not a banned item.
And again this week, there are an unusual number of people flying around with inert hand grenades in their luggage.(3 Comments)
Are old ladies given to fibbing about their experience at airport security?
Two separate octogenarians say they were strip searched at JFK airport in New York. One 85-year old says she was strip searched. The next day, an 88-year old said she was forced to pull her pants down in a search.
The TSA doesn't exactly say the women are lying, just that the events the women said happened, didn't happen.
"TSA contacted the passenger to apologize that she feels she had an unpleasant screening experience; however, TSA does not include strip searches in its protocols and a strip search did not occur in this case."
TSA blogger Bob Burns provides the latest on his investigation here.
He also suggests the arrest of four men in Georgia on terrorism charges is proof you can't take the elderly lightly when it comes to security.
It's a circuit breaker that's "popped." They sell for about $30.
It apparently caused this, which happened a month ago today (and which I wrote about here):
The Polish airliner left Newark and the pilots noticed right away there was a leak in the plane's hydraulic fluid. That's when the pilots made mistake #1, according to a report that was just released (available here). They decided to continue flying to Warsaw, where they found out the plane's landing gear wouldn't extend.
An alternate landing gear extension system didn't work because of that $30 part shown above.
Had the pilots noticed the circuit breaker, they could've pushed it in, lowered the gear, and landed the plane.
But these days, airline crews depend on computers to tell them what's wrong and the Boeing airplane wasn't built to tell pilots when a $30 circuit breaker had popped (pilots of smaller airplanes have an old-fashioned fail-proof system: They run their fingers across each circuit breaker to be sure they're all engaged before taking off).
When authorities lifted the plane off the runway, pushed in the circuit breaker, applied power, and flipped the landing gear switch, down came the landing gear.
And that's the simple sort of thing that causes major air disasters.(7 Comments)
Pilots and non-flyers are reading differently the story of a pilot who crashed in his plane in Princeton yesterday.
Most of the news stories, like this one in the Star Tribune, hinted that the result pilot Barry Ramage, 33, of Princeton, encountered -- crawling out of wreckage after his plane lost power when taking off -- was primarily because of his inexperience.
Ramage was not immediately available to explain what happened, but one of his partners in a gymnasium floor installation business said that this was just his second solo flight.
"There were a lot of trees in the area" where he was trying to land, said Debbie Covlin, a former commercial pilot, who spoke with Ramage afterward and added that she got him interested in flying. "It was a small area to put it down in, with what training he had."
The reality? There are a lot of pilots with much more experience than Ramage who are dead because they couldn't resist what Ramage was able to resist -- the urge to turn back toward the airport when an engine quits.
Pilots are taught from an early flying age to "land straight ahead" when an engine quits at such a low altitude. There's no way a plane without an engine could stay aloft long enough to make it, and pilots often die trying (like this, for example).
"Landing straight ahead," however, is no fun, even if it's the best alternative. That a pilot on only his second solo, with minimal training, was able to make the right decision not to turn back to the airport, and then survive the forced landing, is a significant tribute to his skill and his flight instructor.
It's the kind of decision and result that the best pilots make.
The last time a pilot made news for making the same decision the newspapers weren't calling him a "rookie."
Nobody blunders public relations like the Transportation Security Administration and some of the nation's airlines
Jack Zimmerman, who has to wear a splint from his wrist to elbow, was forced to leave it behind at airport security recently, while on his way to a week-long elk hunt in Wyoming, his wife reports. He had two pieces of luggage -- one just for medications -- that the airline lost. He had to scoot on his bottom down the aisle because a wheelchair the airline provided didn't allow him to fit past the first row of seats.
He was traveling alone and his wife wasn't allowed through security to help.
Jack Zimmerman was blown up earlier this year when he stepped over an IED in Afghanistan, while serving a 12-month deployment with the 101st Airborne.
His wife wrote of his commercial flying ordeal in a letter to the Veterans Airlift Command, private pilots who fly veterans and their families so they won't have to endure the nonsense of flying the nation's airlines.
Here's an interview with Walt Fricke, the Golden Valley executive who started the organization:(1 Comments)
Did a regional airline stonewall federal investigators who were trying to determine if the pilot of a doomed flight was qualified to fly?
The Continental Express flight that crashed on approach to Buffalo in 2009, was actually a Colgan Air flight, owned by Pinnacle Airlines (the same airline that has since purchased Mesaba Airlines and closed the headquarters in Eagan). The probe into the crash revealed the pilot probably helped the airplane spin into the ground by pulling up on the flight controls when he should have been pushing.
A lawsuit filed by some of the families of the 50 people who died, however, uncovered e-mails which confirm that the airline had some concerns about the flying abilities of 37-year-old Marvin Renslow, the pilot.
Like this one (click for larger image. You can find more emails here h/t: WGRZ):
The NTSB wants those e-mails. Today, NTSB chair Deborah Hersman criticized Pinnacle for withholding the e-mails during the Board's investigation:
Two weeks ago, we were disappointed to learn of internal documents released by Pinnacle Airlines Corp., parent company of Colgan Air, that were not provided to the NTSB during the course of our investigation into the February 12, 2009, crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. The NTSB investigation began immediately after the crash and concluded with a public meeting on February 2, 2010.
Today, in a letter to Pinnacle Airlines Corp., the NTSB requested that the company make available any and all information regarding the training and technical qualifications of the Captain and First Officer on-board Flight 3407.
While the content of the newly released email exchanges appears to be consistent with information our investigators learned through other means during the course of the investigation, it is critical that the factual record of this accident be complete. The previously undisclosed documents do not appear to give reason for reconsideration of the NTSB's final report and probable cause determination.
There's a bigger story here, aviation writer Christine Negroni says: the lack of safety of regional airlines:
This is just a few months after the hearing into the Colgan crash where executives of Colgan insisted safety was their highest priority. The same airline who's safety director admitted during the hearing that he had never heard of James Reason, the grand-daddy of human factors and a legend among safety specialists.
Doing the rounds of the television networks after the emails went viral this week, attorney Russ told one interviewer, "Colgan sacrificed safety for profit." He's giving the airline credit by assuming it had safety practices to sacrifice.
I wrote just some of a blizzard of articles that included the excellent Frontline report Flying Cheap, and a lengthy story in the Wall Street Journal. All delved into the many factors making regional airline operations so unsafe. (see my list of accidents since 2000 below) But the focus has narrowed to efforts to require minimum hours for pilots. I've not seen any indication that regional airlines and their relationship to large airlines has fundamentally changed.
One thing that clearly has not changed is the actions of big carriers to minimize the telltale signs that the airplane you might be getting on isn't flown by the airline you think.
Thanks to this newly-posted Ted Talk video (sent to me by my pal, Michael Wells), the infatuation with an airplane you can drive like a car is back in the news.
As a pilot, I've always found the Terrafugia to be interesting, but once you get past the "isn't it interesting?" what are you left with? I thought the idea would die before it ever came to fruition, just as every other similar idea has died. But next year, the company will start selling them.
If someone in Minnesota, for example, should buy one of these, state officials will have to get together and decide whether this is a car or a plane.
The definition is significant. It'll probably be an airplane, which means you'd have to pay a registration tax of 1 percent of its list price, which is expected to be about $279,000. Compare that $2,790 to the price you pay for your car's license tabs.
When you're driving it as a car, is it a car or an airplane? Are you covered by your auto insurance or your aircraft insurance? Minnesota laws require $100,000 of coverage for each person in the aircraft (it's a two-seat plane) and $300,000 for bodily injury per occurrence.
For auto insurance, Minnesota requires only $60,000 of coverage for injury liability for two or more people.
Would you need to buy both an auto insurance policy and an aircraft insurance policy? There's no savings in that. I pay $900 a year for insurance now for an airplane project that's not flying. That will probably go to more than $2,000 a year when it does fly, which is, by the way, one of the big reasons it's not flying now.
My 2004 Chevy Cavalier costs me about $650 a year to insure.
So it's hard to see where the market is for this air/car among the general population.
"Great idea," a commenter on the Ted Talks website said. "Early adopting might have some issues, but will be a great way to solve traffic issues."
No, it won't, actually. The only place where it'd be legal to take off is at an airport. You can't, for example, see a traffic jam ahead, and decide to unfold the wings and take off.
Anna Mracek Dietrich says an advantage is if pilots encounter bad weather, "just land and drive home." Fair enough. But that will most certainly lead its owners to head out on a flight when the weather is questionable, and that's never been a very good idea. Alternately, a pilot who might fly often in bad weather, could get training and instrument rating for a fraction of the cost of the Terrafugia.
The company says over 100 people have put down deposits on the Terrafugia.(7 Comments)
From the Department of Here's Something You Don't See Every Day: A
Russian Polish jetliner (why do people take Russian jetliners?) on a flight from Newark landed in Warsaw without landing gear today.
A nice, straight rollout. Everybody survived and, best of all, they didn't have to spend seven hours while airport officials tried to figure out how to get people off the plane.
That's Warsaw 1 Hartford 0.
On that story today, Rob Maruster, Jet Blue's chief operating officer, apologized to more than 100 passengers who were left on the plane in Hartford without food, water or functioning bathrooms during the weekend blizzard.
"Safety was our number one concern," Maruster said.
But a piece in the Boston Herald today from a reporter who was on the flight would appear to question that.
Near the front, a man nearby became annoyed and used profanity while he loudly asked a boy's father to make him stop playing with a plastic bottle. The two men exchanged words and glares.
After a while the flight attendants were alerted that a disabled man near the front needed medical attention. "He needs help!" passengers screamed.
Maybe these things should've been in a Baggie. They're land mines and the Transportation Security Administration says it found them in checked baggage this week in Salt Lake City. On its blog this afternoon, TSA says the land mines were "inert," although all of the rest of the baggage had to be rechecked and four flights were delayed 19 minutes.
It didn't answer the obvious question: Who travels with landmines?
Or the stun guns that were found in Charlotte this week?
Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that's for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items in their bag. That's why it's important to check your bags before you leave.
Twenty-two loaded weapons were found in checked baggage this week, the TSA says. Loaded. How do you pack a gun in your suitcase and leave it loaded?
Millions of dollars have been spent on airport security since 9/11, but an incident over Amarillo, Texas yesterday showed the most effective deterrent in the post-9/11 world doesn't cost the government a dime. It's passengers.
Ali Reza Shahsavari, 29, of Indialantic, Fla., is under arrest after he shouted "you're all going to die," during the flight. Authorities say it doesn't appear to be any act of terrorism, just a guy with a mental illness.
But this part of the story, from the Amarillo Globe News is the significant part...
Attendants tried to calm Shahsavari before a female flight attendant finally succeeded in quieting him, passenger Doug Oerding, of Sacramento, Calif said.
As the tension mounted, the aircraft began to gain speed and descend, Oerding said. The slender Navy veteran said he put his shoes back on in preparation to act.
"All of us guys were looking at him like, 'Are we going to have to do something?'" Oerding said after finishing a cigarette outside the Amarillo terminal while waiting to reboard the plane.
Coincidentally, Ben Sandilands, who writes the Plane Talking blog in Australia, today applauds the near elimination of air marshals on flights in that country, who he says are not needed as long as there are passengers.
When a religious nutter tried to hijack a Qantaslink flight between Melbourne and Launceston on 28 May, 2003, by attacking a flight attendant with sharpened wooden stakes concealed in his clothes, passengers leaped from their seats to help the other flight attendant subdue him.
The plane was back on the ground in Melbourne, surrounded by police, within minutes of the attack. Had there been two sky marshals on board, it would not have made it back to the airport any sooner, but there could have been a pile of corpses on the floor, including the two flight attendants.(2 Comments)
Fascinating, and maybe a little scary: Wired's Noah Shachtman reports that a computer virus has infected the U.S. military's fleet of unmanned aircraft, or drones. Excerpt:
A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America's Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots' every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.(2 Comments)
The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military's Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech's computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military's most important weapons system.
"We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back," says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. "We think it's benign. But we just don't know."
Southwest Airlines has a likely public relations nightmare on its hands after it booted a lesbian couple for kissing on the plane.
Actress Leisha Hailey, best known for playing Alice Pieszecki in the now defunct Showtime lesbian life drama "The L Word," says she and her partner, Camila Grey, were thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight for kissing.
"We have always promoted tolerance, openness and equality both as a band and as individuals. We both come from loving homes where our parents not only love and accept us, but are also proud of who we are. We believe everyone has the right to live openly in this society as equals.
In no way were our actions on Southwest Airlines excessive, inappropriate or vulgar. We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves, it was one, modest kiss. We are responsible adult women who walk through the world with dignity. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple. We were on the airplane less than 5 minutes when all was said and done.
We take full responsibility for getting verbally upset with the flight attendant after being told it was a "family airline." We were never told the reason the flight attendant approached us, we were only scolded that we "needed to be aware that Southwest Airlines was a family oriented airline."
No matter how quietly homophobia is whispered, it doesn't make it any less loud. You can't whisper hate. We ask this airline to teach their employees to not discriminate against any couple, ever, regardless of their own beliefs. We want to live in a society where if your loved one leans over to give you an innocent kiss on an airplane it's not labeled as "excessive or not family oriented" by a corporation and its employees. We find it very disturbing that the same airline who lauds itself as being LGBT friendly has twisted an upsetting incident that happened into our behavior being "too excessive." The above is not an apology and we are in the process of filing a formal complaint with the airline. We hope that when all is said and done a greater tolerance without prejudice will evolve."
The airline, which promotes itself as "the official airline of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA), and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, says it wasn't the gay kiss that caused the problem, it was just the kiss.
Initial reports indicate that we received several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive. Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all Customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender. The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight. We regret any circumstance where a passenger does not have a positive experience on Southwest and we are ready to work directly with the passengers involved to offer our heartfelt apologies for falling short of their expectation.
But a quick check of the Southwest Airlines Facebook page suggests if it was about the "gay thing," that's OK with many of the customers:24 Comments)
Ready, fire, aim...
There's plenty of online hysteria -- hello, Daily Beast -- about the crash of the P-51 at the Reno Air Races on Friday, and it's a good time to cite Bob's Axiom -- the amount of loaded adjectives and supposition in a story is in inverse proportion to the amount of facts and good journalism therein.
And remember: these military pilots are young, flying at the peak of their fitness, wearing special suits to withstand what are called G-forces--the pressure on the body created by high speed maneuvers--and very few aspirants ever make the grade. Imagine, then, how reckless it is to have old men, who can succumb to sudden health problems, flying hot rods barely 100 feet above thousands of people. It beggars belief.
I have no idea what happened, but it was pretty clear to me by watching the video that it involved the area of the elevator -- the control surfaces on the back of the tail that control aircraft pitch. Am I right? I don't know.
Since then, there's been a focus on the "trim tab," a small piece along the elevator that a pilot can adjust to set a plane's pitch without needing to exert control input via the yoke so intensely.
Did it have something to do with the plane being old? Not likely. Did it have something to do with the pilot being old? Again, not likely. There are few young pilots who believe they are better pilots than the man who was first on the scene of the crash. Older pilots like that don't fly the airplane, they are the airplane.
It's also worth noting that the two most "miraculous" airline events in U.S. history -- the Hudson River USAir ditching and the Sioux City DC-10 crash -- were accomplished by two pilots nearing retirement.
Do air races feature hotshot pilots who are on an ego bend and can't handle the demands of fast flight? Maybe. But Mark Kelly was going to fly in the races and he recently finished flying an aircraft that goes a lot faster -- the space shuttle. Retired astronaut Hoot Gibson, possibly the most publicly recognized air racer, is a Reno regular.
Brian Dunning, writing at Skeptoid, also doesn't know for sure what happened.
The media has described Leeward's plane as a "vintage" plane. This is hardly true. While WWII-era P-51 Mustangs, like Galloping Ghost, have long been mainstays of the Unlimited class in which he was competing, there is hardly a component of the original planes remaining. These planes are as fast and as modern as anyone knows how to make them. They are the fastest piston-driven airplanes in the world, and no expense is spared to gain a fraction of a knot in airspeed. Each is unique and is built to the extreme.
The "extreme" is a dangerous place in the world of physics and aerodynamics.
"When airplanes approach the speed of sound (Leeward and Hannah had both been traveling about Mach .67), airflow over certain parts of the airframe will exceed the speed of sound and create shockwaves. These can be like hitting the airplane with a hammer. They cause buffeting and damage," he writes.
The deaths of the spectators -- the first time that's happened in 47 years -- is certainly shocking and tragic. There's a debate to be had over the future of air racing in the desert. But if this event is to be used as the springboard for that debate, we're going to have to depend on the sciences to determine what happened first.
(h/t: Eric Hall)(5 Comments)
If there were an olympics for flying, this sort of thing would be one of the events:
At Fleming Field in South St. Paul today, pilots participated in a series of competitions including the "bomb drop." The bombs consisted of flour in a paper bag tied with a streamer.
It's an easier task in some airplanes than others.
What's your plan for celebrating the end of the summer?(1 Comments)
There were seven original Mercury astronauts in this country. They dubbed this woman, gracing the cover of Look magazine in February 1960, "7 1/2."
Betty Skelton was the only woman to undergo all of the physical and psychological tests given to those astronauts at the start of the nation's space program.
But she'd already established her bona fides. She was one the first women aerobatic pilots. She had no other choice if she wanted to fly because neither the military nor commercial airlines would hire a woman pilot.
She became a test pilot and flew just about every kind of machine, then took up auto racing and set speed records for stock cars.
She was 85 when she died yesterday.(3 Comments)
The FAA got the dying small airplane market revived many years ago when it created a category of aircraft to allow people to build and fly their own airplanes, often at a fraction of the cost of a certified aircraft from a company like Cirrus or Cessna.
Eventually, that decision allowed a new industry to pop up in the '90s -- companies that sold aircraft kits, which is less about building and more about assembling (disclaimer: I've been building, err, assembling one for the last 10 years).
Today, the next likely frontier appeared in the sky when the Sonex company -- one of the more popular kit makers -- test flew a jet for the second time that it may offer to people as a kit. It happened over in Oshkosh. The first flight was yesterday.
The company says it hasn't decided yet whether to market the jet.
It does look a little familiar, although it doesn't collapse into a briefcase. Yet.
The cockpit transcripts from the Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic while on a flight to France in 2009 has given a clue to the important piece of equipment that couldn't handle the situation: the human brain.
Last week, the French agency in charge of investigating the crash released its report, indicating "pilot error" as the cause. That prompted the Globe & Mail, and many others to write fairly arrogant reviews of the pilots, who were -- it should be pointed out -- first to the scene of the crash.
Nor is it clear how all three pilots became confused and in disagreement about whether they were pointed up or down, and managed to ignore loud and repeated "Stall" warnings. The warning, an artificial voice calling "Stall, Stall," is accompanied by a loud chime and a red warning light on the instrument panel. Yet for more than three minutes, the pilots failed to push the nose down, regain flying speed, and recover. (In aerodynamics, a stall is when airflow over the wings slows to the point where lift is lost. Recovery requires an immediate lowering of the nose.) Air France will face massive - perhaps record-setting - civil damages if, as now seems likely, it can be proven that the pilots failed to regain control of an undamaged aircraft, with all its flight controls and engines functioning. Those damages will be even higher if the long minutes of fall were evident to the doomed passengers.
Sure, that's pretty easy to say. The pilots obviously knew what needed to be done. Stupidity wasn't the problem.
The problem is they didn't know which way was up. Close your eyes, have someone spin you around, and then drop you off in the middle of a busy intersection. You know you need to get to the sidewalk. Try to figure out how to get there.
There's only so much data the human brain can handle. Keep in mind it's night, the cockpit is dark, there are no references outside to tell you where you are, lights are flashing, alarms are going off and a simple airspeed indicator isn't working (declining airspeed can tell you you're going up, increasing airspeed means you're probably going down), the noise from passing air is changing and telling you something, but what? Your body -- which lies to you at times like this -- is telling you one thing, some working instruments might be telling you another. Which one do you believe?
Oh, and you've got one minute to get all this sorted out.
Today, France's BEA released the cockpit transcripts (French version here, an English translation hasn't been released).
David Learmount, who writes about aviation, has evaluated them:
The PNF then says: "We are losing...Wing anti-ice." He switched the anti-ice on, and two seconds later exclaimed - twice: "Pay attention to your speed", to which the PF replied: "Okay okay okay I will descend again," but in the next 15s or so the two pilots exchanged words indicating confusion about whether they were still climbing or had achieved descent.
But the aircraft was still, indeed, climbing, and the PF, despite temporarily relaxing the stick-back input, had resumed it.
Some 25s elapsed between the PNF warning the PF to "watch his speed" before the aircraft starts to descend. But when it does, the aircraft's attitude is still between 6deg and 13deg nose-up, and at that vertical speed reversal point the "stall, stall" warning returns, this time with the "cricket" sound as well, and five seconds later the crew moves the throttle levers from the Climb detent into TOGA (take-off/go-around) position to obtain full power.
No words are spoken by either of them for about 10s, the descent rate is increasing, and then the PNF says: "Above all avoid applying lateral [roll] control", to which the PF replies: "I'm in TOGA, eh?" and 18s later the PNF says: "We have the power, so what's going on?"
Nobody has mentioned the aircraft attitude so far. In fact no-one ever mentions it in a substantive way. The attitude is actually about 18deg nose up, which is the reason the engine power is not producing the results the crew expect to see. Vertical speed (descent) is still increasing dramatically, and the speed the pilots see is varying between 130kt and 160kt.
The PF says: "I don't have control of the aeroplane here. I have absolutely no control of the aeroplane." His stick input is on the nose-up and full-left stops. The attitude is nearly 15deg nose up and the roll angle is varying between 16deg right and 40deg right.
Pulling the nose of the airplane up degraded airspeed (remember, they don't have a working airspeed indicator), causing the plane to drop even faster.
Unfortunately, the plane was doing everything the pilots were telling it to do.
Attention, Air Force and Alabama National Guard pilots: The world's largest general aviation show is probably a bad place and time to ...
Land your plane too fast...
.. run out of runway...
... and nose your $25 million airplane into the ground.
There were a lot of people with cameras when it happened yesterday in Oshkosh.
(Photos from Brian Leach)
Update 1:52 p.m. -- And now we've got video!(2 Comments)
What is the cost of having a hub airport? About $57 a ticket in Minneapolis-St. Paul, according to data released today by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. MSP is one of the most expensive places from which to fly. It's 11th among the 100 major cities -- and it's #1 as the most expensive hub for Delta, the local behemoth.
The average domestic fare here is $413.21, not including all the nickel-and-diming included in airline tickets. Houston is the most expensive ($476.60). The average fare in the country (domestic) is $356.
While the fares are pretty high at MSP, they haven't changed that much over the last year, when compared to other cities. MSP ranks 49th on the list of airfare changes; fares are up about 11 percent from a year ago.
Of the top 100 airports in the country, Madison Wisconsin had the highest increase in fares -- a 17.5 percent increase in the first quarter of 2011 over the same period a year ago.
The average airline fares in the country in the first quarter, by the way, are the highest they've been since 1995.(3 Comments)
I've been involved in aviation long enough to know that about 99 percent of the grand dreams of designers are never going anywhere, despite the occasional company's ability to raise money from
A jetpack for the average person may still become a reality, for example. But I probably wouldn't go broke betting against it.
I might also have bet against the Terrafugia when the concept was unveiled a few years ago. The idea of a car that can become an airplane -- or maybe it's an airplane that can become a car -- has been around for decades, but it usually dies of its own ridiculousness.
But, apparently, the Terrafugia is going to be different. At the big AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, which is going on this week, the company announced it will begin delivering the car/plane to buyers late next year.
It hasn't set a price yet, however, although the number being tossed around by those who are good at guessing such things is about $280,000.
So who buys one? At $280,000, not your average person, certainly. And you can get a nice airplane for $280,000. The problem, it seems to me, is that it's going to be difficult -- from a Homeland Security point of view -- to drive your car to a local airport, then find your way to a runway to take off in your airplane.
And why would you want to? You can drive your beat-up car to the airport and if you have a fender-bender, you're not out $280,000. And we haven't even talked about what your insurance cost would be for a roadable airplane. And forget about taking off from a highway; nobody's going to let you do that.
There are scenarios where a car/plane would have some practical use. If you're flying across country and the weather turns bad, you land and drive the rest of the way.
But the plane flies at only 105 mph and has a range of only 400 or so miles. That's not much of a cross-country airplane.
Still, it's a heck of a country where there are people willing to spend money betting against the people who are betting against an idea.(4 Comments)
When the Federal Aviation Administration's authority to collect a tax on airline passengers expired the other night, a lot of experts predicted a windfall for travelers with airfares dropping slightly without the tax.
What were they thinking?
Instead, the airlines raised their fares an equal amount. The traveling public has seen nothing out of the deal. It's the airlines who are reaping the benefit of the failure of Congress to pass an FAA budget.
Keep in mind, the tax that expired was not a tax on airlines, it was a tax on the passenger. In some cases, the tax was as high as 10 percent.
The airlines argue it's no big deal because the passenger is paying the same amount of money as before, it's just that the money that was going to the federal government is now going to them.
"One of the major airlines could have said, `Hey, at least for a week we're going to give this money back to the consumers," said Rick Seaney, who tracks prices as CEO of FareCompare.com. "I'm surprised no one made promotional hay over this."
Paul Dye, 52, a Roseville, Minnesota native, (profiled here five years ago) will not have to worry about anyone breaking his record as the longest-serving space shuttle flight director in this country's history. After the Atlantis completes its mission in a few weeks, there won't be any more space shuttle flight directors to break it because there won't be any more space shuttle flights.
I called him today to find out what happens when the major component of the U.S. space program ends.
Q: What's your role in this last shuttle mission and then what will you do?
Dye: I'm going to be one of the three orbit flight directors so I'll have the "Orbit Three" team, which is basically when the crew is asleep. When we first started preparing this mission about a year ago, I was following it through the office and I was temporary lead (flight director), but when it became real... we've got some guys in the office who need the experience and I've had nine or 10 lead flight director jobs over the years so we figured it was time to give someone else the job. I'm kind of mentoring them.
So I'm on when the crew is sleeping and we put the plan together for the next day, which if the mission goes as planned, it's pretty simple, and if we've got to change things around, we can be pretty busy overnight.
Then when we're done with this I go back to my other life which is flying the space station. It's amazing how often people ask, "So when are we going to get some Americans up there, again?" They're always thinking in terms of the shuttle, but we've had Americans in orbit since the space station was first staffed. That's over 10 years. We fly 24/7/365 and that takes a lot of flight controllers and a fair number of directors to keep that staffed.
Q: The last time we talked, you said you would work with a shuttle mission team for about a year before the actual launch, has that schedule changed?
Dye: Since I kind of started this mission and then turned it over to another fellow as the lead, I've been mentoring him as the lead, I've done more than the Orbit 3 would normally do for a flight. But, really, the Orbit 3 person can come in a couple months before flight, take a quick look at it, see what's different, learn those specific differences, and then do one or two simulations. We generally do one that we call an emergency run; it's just a day when we go over with the real crew, the real station crew, our station counterparts in the control center, and our team and we run through emergency scenarios. Then we go fly it.
This particular one, because it's the last shuttle flight, I've been a little more involved with some of the peripheral activities, some public affairs stuff, and helping people outside of the Agency understand what we're doing. This one's taken a little more time than some of the Orbit Threes.
When we were in production mode and flying shuttles a lot, at any one time, you were the lead on one mission coming up, you were flying Orbit Two on somebody else's flight, and Orbit Three on somebody else's flight.
Q: What's the mood? Out here in the real world, there's a sense of sadness that the shuttle program is ending.
Dye: There is, without a doubt, sadness. There is above all an incredible dedication to continuing to do the job right. The flight isn't over until all the parts stop moving. And you have to fly right to the end; you can't let up while you're coasting down the runway.
We've got people who are going to be laid off at "wheels stop." They're going to be gone. I've got people who are five or 10 years into their career starts -- these are people who were right out of college who are the brightest and best who came to work with us -- and I would be training with them and at the end of the day of training, they'd say, "Paul, it's been great working with you."
I'd say, "Yeah, we had a great day." And they'd say, "No, this is my last day of work." And right up until they were done, they did not give a hint that they were walking out the door. That's dedication.
Q: Where do they go? What do you do in your business when the job is over?
Dye: Well, that's tough. In the old Southern California aerospace industry model, Company A gets a contract to build a big, new bomber and they hire 10,000 people to do that and it takes them five years. And when they're done with that production room, everyone gets laid off. But that's OK because Company B got the contract for the next big contract for the new fighter, and they hired all those people. They walked across the street and they went to work for Company B. That's the way the aerospace industry worked for decades.
To a certain extent that works in the space business; there's still engineering jobs out there. There are people building commercial spacecraft, working on commercial space. But for my operations people, people who are dedicated flight controllers, flight trainers and the like, there's nobody else out there doing this right now.
So at the very best, they've got a couple of years before they can shovel that talent back in to , say, the commercial companies.
So what do they do right now? It's pretty tough. Folks are out there looking. There are lots of folks leaving the aerospace industry to go to other types of engineering. There are a lot of high-tech opportunities for people who are creative. If you have flight in your soul, it's hard to find something right now.
Q: In a presentation you gave in Minneapolis a few years ago, you said that as a species, we are designed to be explorers, even if we're exploring things in which the payoff isn't until another generation. Do you still think that?
Dye: As a species, I have no doubt that humanity is a race of explorers. There is a difference between humanity and a nation. I think that we will continue to explore as a species. We will continue to explore this planet, there is a great vast ocean bottom that hasn't been looked at. We will explore low earth orbit some more. We will explore near planets, and we will move out into the stars.
This is not to say the United States of America is going to be the one to lead that charge. Just as British Empire tapered off and the Roman Empire tapered off, sooner or later almost all human institutions end, but that does not end what humankind does.
I'm a student of history and... a lot of folks have said recently, "why are we still messing around in lower earth orbit? We just keep going exactly where we've been for a long time." It took the early exploration cultures -- let's go with the Portuguese -- it took them quite awhile sailing around near coastal areas before they developed the technology to just leave land behind and head out into the deep blue. And to a certain extent that's what we've been doing in lower Earth orbit.
We will, I'm quite confident unless we destroy ourselves as a species, move out into the solar system and beyond that. But it takes baby steps learning how to do it.
Q: Have you had a chance to sit back and reflect on the changes in technology over the course of your career in the space program?
Dye: Every once in awhile I'll open a file drawer and I will find an old cassette tape from an old offline computer that we would've used in the back room of the control center. Or I will find an old 8-inch floppy disk. I still have an 11-inch floppy disk somewhere. The technology that has... I'm sitting here talking on an iPhone, which does almost everything my laptop computer will do for me. All of this capability has happened fairly recently.
It all comes from society assuming that technology is always going to advance. We have a generation of people who have never known a time when mankind could not go to space. To them, you just need to launch another satellite, or just use the microelectronics to make this little widget.
From an aviation perspective, when I started flying the shuttle, all of the instruments were mechanical. About 15-20 years ago, we started replacing all of that with glass cockpit because, frankly, all of the people who knew how to fix all the old mechanical stuff were retired or dying. There was nobody left to redo that stuff.
I reflect quite a bit on the way technology has improved. There may be one or two times when I say, "Guys, get rid of the technology. Pick up a pencil and paper and just write me a note." But most of the time the technology has helped us out. It's amazing what we have developed in the 31 years that we've been flying space shuttles.
Q: Do you and your colleagues ever just sit back and say, "this is cool!"?
Dye: Oh yeah. We do it all the time. There are nights when we've got a (space station) pass over Houston, with the shuttle docked to the station and the like. We will frequently release everybody but two fire guards and everybody else goes outside in the parking lot and watches it fly over. And we stand up there just slack-jawed and say, "Holy smokes! We're going to go back inside and talk to those guys."
The weirdest thing in the world is for me to realize... I meet with a lot of people who are fascinated by the space program . And they would give anything to be even marginally involved with one spaceflight of any kind. And here I've been a flight director on 38 flight missions, I was a flight controller on many more before that. I fly the space station once or twice a month. It's very easy to sit back and realize... and forget about how privileged we've been to be part of this program, and just how incredible it really is.
As we learn from our mishaps like the Columbia, things can go bad very, very fast. And a lot of people live in a simulated world. They play a lot of video games, they see things in simulation, they see things on TV and they don't get out there and realize the real world is moving past you very fast and if something goes wrong, you can get hurt very bad.
I think to some extent, we've gotten into a culture that a lot of folks don't experience the real world directly. It's just been an amazing ride being able to fly the shuttle this long.
Q: Of all the people you've met at NASA over the years, is there one who stands out as being particularly inspiring to you?
Dye: I don't think I could pick one. I can pick several who've been my mentors over the years. Gene Kranz was one. Randy Stone was Gene's successor and he was a mentor to me. There are so many incredible people that I've been able to deal with in our flight control ranks, in the engineering world, in the flight crew ranks; it's been a privilege to work with all of them.
Q: Are you a Minnesotan or a Texan now?
Dye: I'm a temporarily misassigned Minnesotan. I've never truly adjusted to the climate here. It's hot. It's humid. There are good things; the flying weather is good most of the year, I don't have to drain the oil out of the engine in February at the end of the day after flying, then heat it up on the stove the next morning before pouring it back into the engine to go flying the next morning, which I used to do when I was a kid with a J-3 Cub.
But when we're done here, my wife and I have picked out a place out West, out in the mountains that we're going to enjoy.
Q: When will that be?
Dye: A couple more years. I never wanted the shuttle program to end. But if it was going to end, I'm glad it ended before I left so I didn't have to make the difficult decisions to leave it.
My goal is to make sure that everything I was taught by the Apollo veterans who trained me, who came before me, I want to make sure I've passed every bit of that wisdom, plus everything else we've learned, onto the next generation of people so that I can sit on the sidelines and cheer on the next generation of people who are going to take us into space.
Q: What happens when this mission is over? Sheetcake?
Dye: We're going to have a heck of a party. We used to have big splashdown parties after Apollo missions because they landed in the ocean. Then we had "wheels stop" parties in the early days of the shuttle program where we'd all go out in the woods out back. When things got routine, those wouldn't happen quite as much. But I think we're planning a good, old-fashioned "wheels stop" party here.
I personally want to be in the control center for that last "wheels stop" and I want to sit there for a few minutes with my headset on and then we'll go out and drink some beer.
Some questions were submitted via Twitter from NewsCut followers, and Paul Dye responded:
Q: Are any NASA employees moving to other countries' space programs?
"There may be a few folks going to our partner nations - that has always happened , and has helped build mutual relationships. I don't know if the current situations will increase that or not."
Q: In a perfect world, what would he want to see the shuttle replaced with?
"In a perfect world, we'd see the shuttle replaced with a more capable second-generation shuttle that was fully reusable and launch on short notice. We'd take what we learned from the shuttle and build on that. But the world isn't perfect, and we have to live with what the policymakers ask us to do. "
Q: What technology will be most crucial to propel space flight to the next level (interplanetary travel)?
"For interplanetary travel, we need to get away from chemical propulsion, and develop the technology to truly survive in space without resupply. We need to be able to live off the land and operate on our own."
(Image credit: Photo of Mr. Dye in the space shuttle simulator courtesy of Doug Reeves. Top image from Johnson Space Center/NASA)
A Southwest Airlines pilot has learned a lesson that a lot of old -- and often, former -- radio people could have taught him: Always check that the microphone is off.
The pilots comments about the lack of available dating partners among flight attendants, was broadcast to the entire air traffic control universe.
"Think of the odds of that. I thought I was in Chicago, which was Party Land. After that, it was a continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes," the pilot said.
The pilot would've been better off if he'd simply forgotten to land at his intended destination.
The airline announced the pilot was suspended, and has since been reinstated after undergoing "diversity training."
During the tirade, other pilots who weren't interested in the aviation dating scene could not properly communicate with air traffic controllers.(3 Comments)
It was a fine, old machine. The B-17 that I flew in over downtown St. Paul a few weeks ago was a traveling museum, dedicated to the bomber crews that flew her in World War II.
But the Liberty Belle is no more. It
crashed made an emergency landing and then burned this morning in Illinois...
Everybody who was aboard got out.
Last week, the Confederate Air Force's B-25 and three P-51s were lined up on the ramp at South St. Paul's Fleming Field, when the B-17 made a thrilling high-speed low-pass tribute, just feet above the runway, before rising quickly and lumbering off for Chicago.(17 Comments)
One of the best parts about being a news blogger is hearing from people years after you've written a post, who have a personal connection with some element of it.
Meet John Fred Moore of Deland, Florida. He's a former freighter pilot and, from what I could discern from his phone call today, a character with plenty of swashbuckling stories to tell.
Moore, who can't fly anymore because of pulmonary disease, was spending time online last weekend, trying to find out whatever happened to some of the planes he once flew, when he came across this picture on this News Cut post.
"38-Charlie was a great plane," he said, as if he was talking about a long-lost love.
The plane crashed in Eden Prairie in August 2009, killing two people aboard. He called to try to find out what happened.
"Engine problem," I said. "And the pilot stalled it..."
"You can't do that with a Twin Beech," he growled. "If you lose one engine with the landing gear down, you're not going anywhere but down," he said, recalling the time off the coast of Bimini when a similar model developed engine problems. He had a parachute and jumped.
38-Charlie had a glorious life with Air Cargo Services out of Miami, he said. "That plane probably flew a few tons of dope in its career," he said.
"And were you at the controls when it did?" I asked.
"If I was, I wouldn't tell you," he said, shortly before telling me of the hazards of flying at night in the Everglades in the '80s.
"You had 20-35 planes flying overhead at any one time, and none of them had any lights on," he said. "It was pretty easy to get into a midair."
Moore is an old pilot with time on his hands, thanks to a lousy economy and cigarettes. "When I was a kid, John Wayne and Errol Flynn smoked cigarettes and I wanted to be like them," he said. He can't fly anymore and the flight schools around Deland are closed and the airport doesn't have much business anymore so there's no one to swap flying stories with now.
Like the one about the time he lost an engine while flying a load of PVC pipe and had to land in Cuba. "It was right after Grenada so I was pretty concerned about what reception I'd get," he said. "But the Cubans were great. Better than the Jamaicans," he said.
But it was 38-Charlie, he said, that still holds a place in his life.
"I got my Mile High wings in that plane," he snickered, "if you know what I mean."(2 Comments)
It really wasn't a big deal when a big jet executed a "missed approach" because of bad weather in Hartford, Connecticut today. But the big jet had the president of the United States in it, so it's in the news.
But anytime Air Force One is near an airport, it causes big problems for other pilots and airlines because everything shuts down. So when Air Force one had to "go around" today, at least one pilot reported he was running out of fuel and may have to return to Newark rather than circle Hartford waiting for the president's plane to get on the ground.
Here's how it all sounded in conversations between pilots, Hartford's Approach Control, and the tower at Bradley International Airport this morning. In the interest of time, I've "telescoped" the audio somewhat. (Audio from LiveATC.net)
The president was in Connecticut to speak to graduates of the Coast Guard Academy.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling that held Duluth-based Cirrus Design responsible for teaching people who buy its airplanes how to fly them safely (I wrote about the earlier decision here).
The ruling comes in the case of Gary Prokop and James Kosak, who died in January 2003 while on a flight from Grand Rapids to St. Cloud to attend their sons' hockey tournament. The estate of the passenger -- Kosak -- sued Cirrus and Prokop's estate, claiming Cirrus omitted training on how to escape instrument meteorological conditions (primarily, darkness) and snow). Prokop was not rated to fly in such conditions.
At issue, is whether the pilot knew how to turn on an autopilot, designed to help pilots who get into trouble and lose direction.
But the Appeals Court ruled today that "although proficiency training undoubtedly promoted the safe use of the SR22 (model of airplane), we find no support in the law for (the) proposition that Cirrus's duty to warn included an obligation to train Prokop to proficiently pilot the SR22."
The court noted that a handbook given to aircraft purchasers provided the instructions on how to activate and operate the autopilot, and it said Cirrus fulfilled its legal responsibility to warn the owner of the risks involved in piloting a plane.
The Court also ruled that Cirrus cannot be held liable for the effectiveness of its training program because of Minnesota laws barring educational malpractice complaints.
But Appeals Court Justice Roger Klaphake disagreed. "While transition training may not be required as a matter of law, once Cirrus made it a part of the purchase agreement, Cirrus voluntarily assumed a duty to provide the promised training," he wrote in his dissent.
After the district court's original ruling, the Legal Broadcasting Network interviewed Dan OFallon and Phil Sieff, counsel for the family of James Kosak. O'Fallon and Sieff of counsel with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis.
Update 7/18/12 The Supreme Court has upheld the Appeals Court decision. The Associated Press says:
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Duluth-based Cirrus Design Corp. had no legal duty to provide a flight lesson to a Grand Rapids man whose plane crashed in 2003, killing him and his passenger, :(21 Comments)
The families of pilot Gary Prokop and passenger James Kosak will not receive the more than $16 million in damages a jury awarded them three years ago. Dissenting justices and attorneys for the plaintiffs feared the decision could have negative consequences for consumers. :
"To say we're disappointed would be an understatement," said Ed Matonich, an attorney for Prokop's family. "In my opinion, this ruling does not bode well for any citizen of Minnesota who is wrongfully injured in the future." :
Prokop, 47, and Kosak, 51, left Hill City on Jan. 18, 2003, for St. Cloud to watch their sons play in a hockey tournament. The Cirrus SR22 crashed shortly after takeoff. The families alleged Cirrus and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation didn't provide adequate pilot training. :
Prokop, a licensed pilot since 2001, had bought the plane roughly a month before the crash. At the time, he was given an operating handbook including emergency instructions. Cirrus also included two days of training in the purchase price, but Prokop did not receive in-flight training that would have included a maneuver to help him recover from an emergency in inclement weather.:
Itasca County District Court found Cirrus and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation negligent in 2009, and a jury awarded damages. But in April 2011, the appeals court reversed that decision. Wednesday's opinion upholds the appeals court ruling. :
The state Supreme Court found that manufacturers have a duty to warn of product dangers if it is reasonably foreseeable that someone could be injured. In this case, the justices said, the written instructions were enough. :
"But there is no duty for suppliers or manufacturers to train users in the safe use of their product. Indeed, imposing a duty to train would be wholly unprecedented," Justice Barry Anderson wrote in the majority opinion.:
The majority ruled that even if Cirrus assumed a duty to provide a flight lesson by agreeing to do so at the point of purchase, families could not recover damages under tort law. :
Justices Paul Anderson and Alan Page disagreed.:
"I conclude the majority's holding usurps the role of the jury and misreads our precedent," Anderson wrote in a dissenting opinion. :
He also said the majority overstepped its authority and he was concerned about the far-reaching consequences, saying the opinion "essentially held that no consumer of a dangerous product may ever hold a supplier liable for personal injury arising out of defective nonwritten instructions.":
The dissent also found it "absurd" that a supplier of an airplane would be held to the same standard as the supplier of a coffee pot. :
Philip Sieff, an attorney for Kosak's family, said he was disappointed the majority ignored a reasoned jury decision, and he agreed that there could be a potential for serious consequences down the line.:
Bill King, vice president of business administration for Cirrus, said his company isn't required to provide in-flight training but offers it because "it's the right thing to do." :
King said the decision gives manufacturers the ability to train people to use their products without fear of retribution if someone has an accident. But, he added: "There are still two families who are in crisis over an accident, and that is not lost on us."
The U.S. House this afternoon approved the budget bill that cuts billions from federal programs. This is probably not a good time to ask for more air traffic controllers, even though the FAA says it's going to double up the number of controllers who work the midnight shift at 27 airports, including Fargo and Duluth. The FAA is trying to cut down on instances of controllers falling asleep when working alone.
"The only answer for it is bodies, and we are really expensive," retired controller Don Brown told me this afternoon.
Brown, who writes the blog , Get the Flick, says the only way the FAA can add a second controller overnight is through overtime. But that makes the problem even worse because it adds a controller who's already tired at the beginning of the shift. "You're just doubling the problem," he says.
He wrote on his blog that staffing a control tower with just one controller is "stupid." Two isn't much better.
With only two people, sooner or later you're back to working with only one. Somebody does have to go to the bathroom at some point. (You don't want to know what the guy working by himself does.) And human nature being what it is, this is the "logic" that takes over; "If I can work alone for 30 minutes, why not an hour? Or two hours? Hey! I've got an idea. You take the first half of the shift and I'll take the second half and we'll both get a much-needed nap." It happens every time. And sooner or later, most managers go along with it.
A few weeks ago, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its report on an Owatonna crash that killed eight people, singling out pilot fatigue as one cause, and pointing out that a tired person has the same reaction time as one who is legally drunk.
"Halfway through the shift, you're half drunk," says Brown.
He says the only real solution is three controllers, something he acknowledges a budget-conscious government isn't going to do.
"All of them have got to take some kind of a nap to be functional. It's just not going to happen," he says.
It was this crash at Lexington, Kentucky that first highlighted the problem of tired controllers. A ComAir flight took off on the wrong runway, and the controller, working alone, didn't notice. The runway was too short. The plane crashed. Forty-nine people died.
"This is not a job to get distracted in. This is not a job to get sleepy in and dysfunctional," Brown says.
Staying awake isn't as easy as it may sound to people who work in the daytime, he adds.
"Guys used to bring in DVD players or bring their laptops in. The FAA said, 'Hey , that's a distraction; those have got to come out of there.' You've got a guy who's sitting in front of a blank radar scope. There's nobody talking to him and there's nothing going on. And you expecting him to stay awake and alert for eight hours?"
Brown says aviation officials are waiting until the news media has another story to write about. "They're just going to wait until it goes away. This is nothing new; this has been going on for decades. Look at the Lexington crash," he said.
The head of the nation's air traffic control group at the Federal Aviation Administration, fell on his sword today. Hank Krakowski "resigned" in the wake of several incidents in which controllers working the overnight shift fell asleep.
"Over the last few weeks we have seen examples of unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly caused the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in a statement. "This conduct must stop immediately."
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, however, gets the award for inappropriate tough talk when he said "we will not sleep" until there's good safety in the control towers.
Yesterday, the FAA said it would add a second controller to the overnight shift at 27 airports. Still unexplained by the federal aviation authorities is exactly what a second controller is supposed to do in the towers where sheer boredom may well play a part in nodding off.
Clearly, it's not a good idea for an air traffic controller to fall asleep, but how big a threat to the flying public exists at the airports named?
Ypsilanti, Michigan is one of the 27 airports to get a second controller. The reporter in the video below said "It is so scary to think about (a controller) not being alert and awake in the tower" on the overnight shift. Number of planes landing in Ypsilanti this morning from midnight to 9 a.m.: two. Both were single-engine Cessna Caravans.
Duluth is also on the list of airports. On the overnight shift this morning, no airplanes (at least on a flight plan) landed. Only one took off (at 12:47 a.m.). It was a corporate jet operated by the Living Word International church.
Fargo, also on the list, didn't have any flights arriving between 10 p.m. last night and 6 this morning. A SkyWest (US Air) flight left for the Twin Cities around 5:30 a.m.
Here's the full list of airports:
Akron-Canton, OH (CAK)
Allegheny, PA (AGC)
Andrews AFB, MD (ADW)
Burbank, CA (BUR)
Duluth, MN (DLH)
DuPage, IL (DPA)
Fargo, ND (FAR)
Ft Lauderdale, FL (FLL)
Ft Lauderdale Executive, FL (FXE)
Ft Worth Meacham, TX (FTW)
Grant County, WA (MWH)
Kansas City Downtown, MO (MKC)
Manchester, NH (MHT)
Omaha, NE (OMA)
Ontario, CA (ONT)
Reagan National,VA (DCA)
Reno, NV (RNO)
Richmond, VA (RIC)
Sacramento, CA (SMF)
San Diego, CA (SAN)
San Juan, PR (SJU)
Terre Haute, IN (HUF)
Teterboro, NJ (TEB)
Tucson, AZ (TUS)
Willow Run, MI (YIP)
Windsor Locks, CT (BDL)
Youngstown, OH (YNG)
On Stuck Mic -- a forum for air traffic controllers -- one unidentified controller describes the problem:
'Ive been in a VFR (visual flight rules) tower during IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions during the day with NO operations going on, And there literally is nothing to do. Rather than talk to other people around you, there's not much to really keep yourself busy with since you're not really permitted to have cellphones/reading material in the tower cab. I can imagine a 40-hour week, midnight shift, no aircraft around for hours, and no one else in the tower it being hard to stay sharp on the job."
A controller in Wisconsin offers this idea:
"They should have something set up where when the pilot keys the mike, a bunch of different color lights start flashing in the tower cab and a loud bell starts ringing really fast, like when you play those games at the fair and win the grand prize."
And another controller says the two-person-in-the-tower idea makes sense. That way, he theorizes, they can take turns sleeping.
Tomorrow: An interview with an air traffic controller.
The FAA has moved to solve the problem of sleeping air traffic controllers today by announcing 27 airports will now have two controllers in the tower during the overnight shift. Their primary job appears to be keeping the other controller awake.
There's not going to be much else for the additional controller to do; controlling aircraft isn't much of an option.
Officials say an air traffic controller fell asleep at Reno-Tahoe International Airport while a medical flight carrying an ill patient was trying to land at about 2 a.m. The agency said the controller, who was out of communication for about 16 minutes, has been suspended.
The FAA also said it had suspended a sleeping controller in Lubbock, Texas. "During the midnight shift, the Lubbock controllers failed to hand off control of a departing aircraft to the Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center," the FAA said. "Handing off" control of a departing aircraft involves telling the pilot to change frequency on his/her radio.
Between midnight and 6 a.m. this morning in Lubbock, there were two departing flights; both of them within a few minutes of 6 a.m.
An air traffic controller's primary job is to maintain separation between aircraft. Most of the incidents of late have occurred on the overnight shift when there really isn't any other aircraft in the area, and certainly not much to do, which is probably why they doze off in the first place.
For example, between midnight and 6 a.m., there were only four arrivals at the airport in Reno.
Last month, a controller in the tower at Reagan Airport in Washington fell asleep. Even in busy airspace such as Washington, there were only 5 arrivals this morning between midnight and 6 a.m., four of them within a few minutes of midnight or 6 a.m.
By contrast, two aircraft arrived at St. Paul's downtown airport over the same time period. St. Paul's control tower is unstaffed overnight.(13 Comments)
Mr. News Cut is out sick today. Knowing of his interest and expertise in aviation, we offer this from NBC:
A huge Airbus 380 clipped the wing of a commuter jet at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. No one was injured.2 Comments)
"He doesn't sound drunk. He doesn't sound stoned. He sounds like a jerk." That's a classic New York cop response to a joyriding pilot who landed on a Long Island beach last night.
What doesn't make a lot of sense is how Jason Maloney got a pilot's license in the first place? He seems relatively clueless on the rules.
He told the police he got the idea from a reality-TV show called Flying Wild Alaska.
The gentleman in the reality show is 1,000 times the professional pilot that the New York pilot is. And New York isn't Alaska.(2 Comments)
Haunting is a good word for the first images from the sea floor where wreckage of the Air France jetliner that crashed nearly two years ago while on a flight from Brazil to Paris. The report from France today that bodies were also found "inside the fuselage" also raises some perfectly awful questions.
Up to now, it's been assumed the airplane broke apart in flight, from a high altitude. Theoretically, it seems, there shouldn't be an "inside the fuselage." The New Zealand Herald says it now appears the plane hit the ocean "intact."
Nobody -- and for good reason -- seemed to want to ask the obvious question at today's news conference.(3 Comments)
Someday, ne'er do wells will discover that the cover-up is often worse than the crime.
The controller who fell asleep in the tower of Washington's Reagan International Airport this week at first claimed his microphone was stuck, the Washington Post reports.
The controller has been suspended pending an investigation. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today ordered a second air traffic controller be on duty overnight at that airport.
This afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board filled in the blanks on what happened:
Following numerous attempts to contact the DCA tower, the flight crew executed a missed approach. The crew reported to TRACON their inability to make contact with the DCA tower; TRACON then vectored the aircraft back to the airport for another approach.
The approach controller and the TRACON supervisor on duty made several attempts to contact the tower controller via telephone, but were unable to establish contact. The TRACON approach controller advised the crew of American flight 1012 that the tower was apparently unattended, and that the flight would be handled as an arrival to an uncontrolled airport.
The flight was again cleared for approach, and instructed to switch to the tower frequency. At 12:12 am, the crew returned to the tower frequency, still unable to make contact with the tower, made position reports while inbound, and landed on runway 1.
United Airlines flight 628T (UAL628T), operating as a scheduled 14 CFR 121 passenger flight from Chicago-O'Hare International Airport to DCA, was advised of the service interruption by the TRACON approach controller and subsequently transferred to the tower frequency at 12:22 am. The United flight, unable to make contact with the tower, made position reports on the tower frequency while inbound, and landed at 12:26 am.
At 12:28 am, American flight 1012, on the ground at DCA, established contact with the tower controller, and normal services were resumed. The controller in the tower at the time of the incident, along with other FAA officials at DCA, were interviewed by the NTSB today. The controller, who had 20 years' experience, 17 of those at DCA, indicated that he had fallen asleep for a period of time while on duty. He had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10 pm - 6 am). Human fatigue issues are one of the areas being investigated.
The NTSB will be interviewing officials at the TRACON facility tomorrow.
I should point out, for the record, that while it's unusual for airliners to land at Reagan without a tower controller, it's not something that pilots would find confusing. Commercial carriers in Minnesota, for example, land at several airports that don't have on field controllers. Brainerd, for example, has three (Delta) arrivals and departures a day. Pilots simply broadcast their position on the radio and other planes in the area listen in and everyone sorts out who's supposed to land when.(2 Comments)
It's been more than 2 1/2 years since one of the worst plane crashes in Minnesota history. That's a long time for the National Transportation Safety Board to take to investigate an air disaster, even though the "black boxes" were recovered from the wreckage of a corporate jet at the airport in Owatonna (above) in July 2008.
Eight people -- the crew and several East Coast business executives -- were killed when the jet tried to land, aborted the landing, and then crashed into a cornfield.
"He tried a go around, which is when you land and you know you are not going to make it so you throttle back up and take back off," eyewitness Brian Mechura told MPR News at the time. "From where I was to the end of the runway was about a mile but it looked like he got up a little bit but when he lifted off the right wing was too heavy. He got it up so the whole airplane from wing tip to wing tip was straight up and down and, the power from the left engine must have forced it around and then it nosed straight in."
Why? The NTSB is answering that question today at a meeting unveiling the results of the investigation. I'm live blogging the meeting, and you can also watch it here (8:30 CT start).
8:33 a.m. - Deborah Hersman, NTSB chair, is in charge of today's hearing. "No details is too insignificant to ignore -- not the winds, not even the amount of sleep the pilots got. In this case, they all contributed," she said.
8:35 a.m. - Hersman apologizes to families for the length of time the investigation took, and says that factors were uncovered requiring additional investigation. The abstract of the report will be made available on the NTSB Web site 30 minutes after the conclusion of the meeting.
8:38 a.m. - This is the fourth accident in three years, Hersman says, in which a jet was unable to stop after landing, but it's the only one in which the pilot attempted to get airborne again.
8:39 a.m. - The presentation begins. John DeLisi, an investigator, begins. Giving a timeline of the investigation. "Early on it became apparent the lack of a flight data recorder was going to hinder our ability to determine performance. The ground proximity warning system provided a limited amount of data." This conflicts with earlier reports that there were "black boxes" recovered.
8:42 a.m. - DeLisi says there will be 14 safety recommendations as the result of the accident. John Lovell, the investigator in charge, begins his presentation.
8:44 a.m. - Lovell says the Atlantic City to Owatonna flight was the second leg of a five-leg trip. The captain was flying at the time of the crash. He notes a severe thunderstorm had moved through the region. He says the pilots did not get a weather briefing. The first indication of a weather problem was 20 minutes before landing. A flight controller asked the crew if they saw the 'extreme precipitation' 20 miles ahead. He recommended the flight not go through the weather. Seven minutes before landing, he updated the weather for the crew, indicating the winds were from the northwest at 8 knots with thunderstorms in the vicinity.
8:48 a.m. - The crew called the fixed base operator on the ground three times in the last seven minutes. Lovell says the final call -- asking about fuel availability -- was when the plane was 1,000 feet above the ground. (Bob: That's not the time to talk about buying fuel)
8:50 a.m. - Here's the weather at the time, the route of the flight superimposed
8:51 a.m. - The pilot failed to deploy full braking ability for 7 seconds after landing, the plane rolled past the end of the runway, strike a light, took off, and crashed. There was no evidence that hydroplaning occurred.
Bob analysis: That was a pretty blistering indictment of the pilots, even by NTSB standards. It depicted pilots not properly concerned with flying the aircraft safely.
8:54 a.m. - John O'Callaghan (background - Washington Post) begins his presentation discussing the aircraft. He's describing the systems on the plane that help it stop. It had no airbrakes, but it had systems in place to create more drag as it rolls to a stop.
O'Callaghan says newer studies show the plane should have been able to stop in 4,930 feet. But the older "friction model" showed it should have landed in 3,790 feet. The Owatonna runway is only 5,500 feet long. He suggests the newer calculations show the plane should've been able to stop if the "lift dump" system were engaged one second after touchdown (the "lift dump" system are the slow-down abilities described earlier). But the pilot didn't deploy those systems for 7 seconds. O'Callaghan concludes his presentation.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: How slippery was the runway? What role did it play.
A: O'Callaghan: Compared to a dry runway, it was quite slippery. The slipperiness is dependent on the ground speed of the aircraft. It touched down at 130 knots. At that speed, the wet runway renders it very slippery, but not as though it had ice or snow on it.
Q: Was the runway flooded at the time?
Q: Was it the old or the new version of the calculation that was in use at the time of the accident?
A: The old one. And that would've given improper results.
Q: How could the weather have affected a different approach?
A: The tail wind was a tremendous factor regarding the stopping performance. If the landing had been made into a headwind, the landing distances required would have been significantly reduced. The landing distance would've been 4,300 feet down the runway. That's about the same point where the captain started the attempt to take off again. If he'd landed into the wind, that would've been the point at which he stopped.
Q: Some witnesses described a "rooster tail" coming up from behind the airplane...
A: That seemed to be an indication of a lot of water and some flooding. A NASA expert disabused me of that. If you have a rooster tail, it means the tires are in contact with the runway. If you're hydroplaning, you don't get a rooster tail. The water you're seeing is water on the runway but within the macrotexture of the surface. The water is channeled through those.
Q: The calculations seem to require the pilots to be "right on the money" on distance, speed, ... if they're not on the brakes quick, they're going to absolutely miss that target...
A: That's correct but that's where the safety margins are built in (i.e. requiring 1.9 times the landing distance as the calculations suggest one should have).
Q: If the "lift dump" had been deployed within a second of touchdown, the aircraft should've stopped at 4,900 feet, is that correct? Even with the tailwind?
Here's a chart showing how the the airplane slowed and went off the runway... (click for larger image)
But the plane would've stopped if the braking equipment had been deployed sooner. But why wasn't it? That answer remains to be provided.
Q: We're talking about a 6 second delay in deploying the "lift dump"?
A: The 7 seconds is measured from the time the nose wheel is on the ground. The one second is from the time the landing gear is on the ground. The difference is about 1.6 seconds. The delay is more like 8 seconds (in this case).
Q: The delay was more like "oops, I thought they'd done that," more so than not doing it?
A: It's more than mysterious than that. There was a partial deployment (of the braking mechanism) almost immediately.
Q: If the pilots had done a proper landing distance calculation, would that have given them information not to land?
A: It would've given them the OK to land. They were using the old calculations and even with an 8 knot tailwind, it would've told them they had enough room to land.
Q: Hersman: What's concerning to me is if they had conducted the calculations, it would not have told them it was not appropriate to land on this runway.
A: That's correct. With an 8 knot tailwind using the old model on a wet runway with the safety margin, they had 1,100 feet left.
9:42 a.m. - The pilot was in a card game the night before, got knocked out early, and spent time talking about the runway at Owatonna, wet/dry stopping numbers, the airport diagram, and where to park. They both felt good about the stopping distance. "So he was aware of the numbers," and investigator said. There's no indication they updated their calculations prior to the landing.
Q: How do we know the pilots didn't attempt to deploy the "lift dump" and that it didn't just fail?
A: We went through the plane from nose to tail and examined everything about that system and we didn't find any indication of a failure in the system.
PILOTS AND PRACTICES
10:01 a.m. - After a break, the presentation continues. NTSB investigator Capt. Roger Cox is talking about the crew actions.
Cox says there was no formal curriculum for "cockpit resource management" (how pilots and co-pilots work together) at the company East Coast Jets (the charter company) used for training.
He says the pilots had excellent records as individuals, but had significant difference in jet experience.
Bob: These points come up time and time again on crashes like this. It's the same concerns that were voiced after the Wellstone crash in 2002.
10:09 a.m. - Capt. Cox says the pilot tried to "go around" 17 seconds after touching down, the pilot was not prepared for such an event, and there was no training at the company for how to execute a go-around. (Bob notes: Even the new small plane flying students are taught how to execute a go-around)
10:10 a.m. - The pilots did not have enough weather information available to them to make proper decisions. Unlike airlines, there is no dispatching system for pilots to contact to make those decisions.
10:12 a.m. - Dr. Malcolm Brenner is talking about pilot fatigue now. The pilots got up around 5 a.m. The pilot didn't go to bed until midnight. They had inadequate sleep. He hints the captain had a sleep disorder. The first officer took sleep medication for which he had no prescription, but got it from his fiance. Dr. Brenner says the performance of the pilots was consistent with fatigue.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: Why did staff choose to call this a "go around" and not a botched landing?
A: Cox: The event was unusual, but the actual actions that he took were consistent with a go-around - Power, flaps, and climb out.
NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt: Pilots are taught that a "go around" maneuver is a safety maneuver. I want to be clear: there is a difference. Anytime you're in the air, you can and should go around if things don't look right. But once you put wheels on concrete, you're committed to stopping. So I don't want anyone to get the impression that going around is wrong.
Q: In effect, was this a two-crew operation or a single operation?
A: In effect, the pilot took many actions to indicate that he was the sole decision maker. (The suggestion is that the crew wasn't operating together effectively)
Q: When you evaluate fatigue, what kind of factors do you evaluate?
A: Brenner: Sleep history, how long they've been awake, which in this case wasn't very long; we're looking at time of day, and medical issues such as a sleep disorder. We also try to evaluate the degree of risk. In this case, they had about 5 hours of sleep, and both them required quite a bit more.
Q: In this case, is this a little bit of sleep loss? Is it significant?
A: Brenner: Comparing this to alcohol, a two-hour cumulative sleep loss can be equivalent to about a .04 blood alcohol percent. Four hours would be closer to .08 percent or in that range.
10:32 a.m. - This captain had a reputation for being very patient with first officers. The first officer in this case had less than 300 hours in this type of jet. Brenner says he interviewed another first officer who had flown with the captain on the Owatonna flight and the captain had instructed him -- properly and effectively -- on how to land on a short runway. If he had done that in this case, the accident would not have happened. "There should have been a thorough approach briefing. They certainly should've talked about the weather and waiting a few minutes. Or 'if we're going in, here's what to look for,'" Brenner said. "The captain on this flight didn't provide that approach briefing. He seems impatient to get down. It was a different quality... not up to his standards. He also isn't required to give a briefing."
Q: Why do you think the captain was impatient to land?
A: Brenner: I don't know. They were 7 minutes ahead of schedule.
Q: Could it be because they wanted to get down before a thunderstorm hit?
A: Cox: The bulk of it had already passed.
Q: The forecast initially issued for the time of arrival was grossly wrong?
A: The forecast the crew obtained was issued around midnight Atlantic City time. There was no forecast for Owatonna (Bob notes: Aviation forecasts from Minneapolis are used). Once the system raced through the area, the advisories were updated as necessary.
Q: People are paid to forecast accurately. How did they miss it?
A: A briefing would've caught that the conditions weren't quite right. The crew never received an updated forecast (even though) the weather service had updated the forecast.
(Lots of discussion about the failure of the crew to use standardized checklists in preparation for landing)
10:55 a.m. - Sumwalt says the accident reminds him of the Wellstone crash. "In that accident, the NTSB found improper training procedures and lack of crew coordination."
Cox: During the interviews we asked East Coast Jet pilots about procedures and we got different answers from many of them. Sumwalt says that shows a lack of standardization. "Standardization indicates discipline," he says. "It's the backbone of professionalism. If you're not standardized, you're not a professional flying organization. You're just an expensive flying club." (Bob notes: Ouch. )
10:57 a.m. - Dr. Brenner acknowledges that new rules on crew rest wouldn't have affected this accident. "They had only been on duty for 5 hours and only been flying for three hours," he says.
11:02 a.m. - Pilots should've been aware they were landing with a tailwind (pilots normally land INTO the wind in order to land with a lower ground speed and reduce the length of runway needed) an hour before the crash occurred.
Sumwalt, an NTSB board member, is lecturing on the "sterile cockpit" rule, which was violated here. Under that rule, non-relevant conversations are prohibited. "There was no reason to be calling the FBO to talk about fuel or anything else, especially when you're on final approach," he said.
Q: Summarize the role fatigue played in the accident.
A: Brenner: Both pilots were not at the top of their game. If they'd been more aware of fatigue, they could've slept better the night before. The captain was playing a card game at the company at 11 o'clock the night before! For me it's upsetting that the first officer isn't getting treatment for insomnia. He was self-medicating. We've seen that in other accidents as well.
We feel that the FAA should give a course so there are clear guidelines with the medical group and in your treatment, have a controlled safe use of medications.
(Bob notes: Because the FAA medical office is so restrictive of prescription drugs, a lot of pilots intentionally do not seek medical treatment because they're afraid they'll lose their flight status)
Q: We've heard a lot about the FAA issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking on fatigue. Would that cover pilots of charters as in this case?
Q: Why do we think the crew thought they could execute a takeoff.
A: Brenner: It was an impulsive decision made in high pressure. We can hear in the recording the pilot is breathing heavily. We believe it's fatigue.
Q: Is it only the pilot's fault or is it the failure of guidance and training they didn't have?
A: The procedures of training were inaccurate. We're not pointing a finger at the pilot and saying he's soley responsible, but he was the final authority as to the safe conduct of the flight and we felt his interaction with his first officer could have been substantially improved.
(The board is considering a recommendation that once pilots commit to stopping a plane, they don't take off again)
The staff is proposing 26 findings:
1) The pilots were properly certificated and qualified.
2) The accident investigation was properly maintained.
3) The accident was not survivable.
4) The captain did not create an atmosphere to guarantee the safety of the flight. Inappropriate conversations, non-standard terminology, no checklist.
5) Poor aeronautic decision-making prevented them from considering alternatives to landing on a wet runway.
6) The airplane touched down within the target touchdown zone and appropriate speed. The captain touched the breaks but failed to deploy a "lift dump" system.
7) If the captain had continued the landing, the accident would've been prevented.
8) Establishing a committed-to-stop point would eliminate ambiguity in decision making.
9) No evidence of hydroplaning.
10) If the company had standard operating procedures, many of the contributions to the accident might've been corrected.
11) The first officer might've been used more effectively had they received crew resource management training as is customary on the airlines.
12) The FAA inspector for East Coast Jets was not familiar with outsourced training.
13) Maintaining consistency between checklists used during training and actual flight is essential to avoiding confusion.
14) Clearly stating and responding to flap settings, rather than saying "set" would eliminate confusion about airplane configuration at a critical moment.
15) Captain didn't receive proper weather information at Owatonna.
16) If captain had obtained a weather briefing, they would've had a more complete weather picture and known they might have to land on a wet runway.
17) Guidance to terms about thunderstorms would allow pilots to make better decisions.
18) Both pilots' performance was likely caused by fatigue.
19) Although the first officer took a sleep aid, because of the short duration, it's unlikely the med degraded his performance.
20) Allow civil aviation pilots with insomnia to use sleep medications, would improve abilities.
21) Educating/training pilots on fatigue necessary.
22) Formal training on how pilots can treat fatigue would mitigate incidents.
23) Wet runway guidance in manuals can be significantly shorter than actual distances required to stop on wet runways.
24) Testing requirements for pilots in command are inadequate because they don't mirror actual flights that charter pilots make.
25) The outdated ground proximity database on the plane was not a factor.
26) A light recording system for airplanes would have helped determine the flight crew's actions - flap settings, how much breaking effort they made on landing, etc.
Official Cause: The captain's decision to attempt a go-around late in the landing roll with insufficient runway remaining, poor crew coordination, a lack of cockpit discipline, pilot fatigue, and the failure of the FAA to require cockpit resource training to pilots of Part 135 pilots (charter and business pilots).
12:09 p.m. - NTSB is now debating a recommendation to require pilots to get a weather briefing by phone before flight. I'm not going to bother with that because it's a little inside baseball. One member says that would delay emergency medical helicopter flights and ignores the reality that weather briefings are available on aviation Web sites, and that weather did not cause this accident.
Of 19 "major investigations" of aviation disasters listed by the National Transportation Safety Board, only one has not been solved: The 2008 crash in Owatonna that killed six East Coast executives and two pilots of the corporate jet in one of the worst air disasters in Minnesota history (18 were killed in a Hibbing crash in 1994).
It's unusual to have an investigation last so long, but next week it will be closed, an NTSB official told me this afternoon. The NTSB will meet next Tuesday to consider the probable cause of the crash.
The Raytheon Hawker 800 jet was carrying customers to Viracon, an Owatonna-based glass company, that was trying to get a contract for windows for the replacement buildings at the World Trade Center site.
The plane landed, rolled down the runway, attempted a takeoff, got in the air, rolled over and crashed nose first into the ground. An eyewitness said the plane attempted to land, the brakes locked up and it attempted to take off.
A line of thunderstorms, which delivered a 72 mile per hour wind gusts, had passed through the area about an hour earlier but there didn't appear to be any significant weather problems at the time of the crash.
If ever there was a lesson in the utter uselessness of government data, it's the story circulating today that air traffic control system errors are way up.
It's based on a late-to-the-party story from the Associated Press:
In the 12 months ending on Sept. 30, 2010, there were 1,889 operation errors -- which usually means aircraft coming too close together, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That was up from 947 such errors the year before and 1,008 the year before that. Before 2008 the FAA used a different counting method.
The FAA administrator says the higher number of known errors is due to better reporting and technology that can determine more precisely how close planes are in the air.
The bottom line: Maybe it's a safe system. Maybe it's not.
In either case, it's not a new story. The Washington Post reported in December that errors were up in 2010 by more than 50 percent, using more data than the AP story did. But Tim Noah of Slate looked into the numbers and found there was some dispute whether the increase was due to a change in reporting within the FAA that removed discipline penalties if air traffic controllers self-reported, as the FAA administrator insisted during testimony at the Capitol this week.
Eventually, Noah ran into the buzzsaw of the "government spokesman," whose missions seem to be to convince you that you didn't care enough about the numbers to go through the process of getting a straight answer anyway.
Brown also gave me the missing numbers for category A and B (i.e., the more-scary) air-controller errors for fiscal year 2009. They added up to 329. That means (I later calculated) that A and B errors dropped by about 26 percent between 2009 and 2010. But that good news is tempered by an increase of errors in the absolute scariest category, A. These rose from 37 to 44, i.e., by 19 percent.
I asked Brown why the FAA didn't answer the Post story by removing the duplicates from the regular database so we wouldn't have to guess what the apples-to-apples trend was for all categories of air-traffic-control errors from year to year. "I understand what you're saying," she replied, "but that's not how we keep the data." But, I protested, you have both databases. You surely have the means to identify every error that gets reported to the FAA--where it happened, what it was. They number fewer than 2,000 per year!
The FAA spokeswoman also said an indication of the safety of the skies is the fact there hasn't been a major air disaster in the country since a regional carrier crashed near Buffalo two years ago tomorrow.
We do know that there were more serious air traffic controller errors at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport than the year before. One more.
The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its final report in the August 2009 crash at Flying Cloud Airport that claimed two lives.
The report blames an engine problem. But it strongly hints that the pilot's unfamiliarity with the plane let him to stall it (stall = loss of wing lift) while trying to return to the airport:
The pilot purchased the airplane approximately one year prior to the accident with the intention of restoring it for flight. The airplane had not been flown for approximately five years and had been used for spare parts. The pilot was flying the airplane to another airport to pick up passengers prior to returning. The pilot was cleared for takeoff and to circle the airport at 2,500 feet prior to departing the area.
Witnesses reported that after taking off the airplane seemed to "wobble" at a slow airspeed in a nose-high attitude and that it never got higher than 500 feet. Some witnesses reported the engine(s) sputtering, and another stated that the airplane was loud and "didn't sound good," although other witnesses reported that the engines sounded normal. One witness reported seeing white smoke coming from the left engine and hearing the engine "popping" as the airplane took off. The airplane made three left turns and it appeared as if the pilot was attempting to return to land. Witnesses described the left wing rising prior to the airplane banking hard to the left and the nose dropping straight down. The airplane impacted the ground just northeast of the airport property and a post-impact fire ensued. Flight control continuity was established.
The right side of the elevator/tailcone structure exhibited black rub marks and scrapes. Grass and nesting material was found inside the left wing. The left fuel valve was found in the OFF position and the right fuel valve was positioned to the rear auxiliary tank. Neither the fuel crossfeed valve nor the fuel boost pump switch was located. The left engine sustained substantial fire and impact damage. The right engine sustained heavy impact damage. The airplane was last fueled one month prior to the accident with 120 gallons of fuel. About 20 engine test runs in addition to high-speed taxi tests had been conducted since then. A Special Flight Permit had been obtained but had not been signed by the mechanic, who did not know that the pilot was going to fly the airplane on the day of the accident. The pilot reportedly did not have any Beech 18 flight experience.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's lack of experience flying the accident make and model of airplane, which led to a loss of control while maneuvering to return to the airport. Contributing to the accident was a partial loss of engine power for undetermined reasons.
Wayne Roland Monson, 53, of Hibbing, and Rivka Chayka-Lev, 29, of Apple Valley, died in the crash.
(Photo: Chris Cooper)
This is the kind of thing that could put travel agents back in business. Airlines are getting tough with online ticket booking sites. They're the sites who saved travelers money by allowing people to comparison shop for airfares. Who needed travel agents?
Expedia has stopped selling American Airlines tickets after American stopped selling on Orbitz. The airline wants people to go to its Web site, instead.
Might this cost you money? Maybe. Consider this: If you wanted to book a flight to Chicago and went to the American Airlines Web site, a Monday flight later this month (and a return flight a week later) would cost you $353. Booked via Expedia, many flights on United pop up with a round trip price of $139.40. Ouch.
Delta is doing the same, though with smaller sites. Delta stopped allowing three websites -- CheapOAir.com, OneTravel.com, and BookIt.com -- to list its flights.
If you've got the time to check every possible site, you'll probably be able to find the cheapest fare. Prism Money, the personal finance column, recommends this:
>>Check the sites that follow the other sites. Start a search with Kayak and Sidestep.com, both of which monitor several other airline ticket websites, and see what turns up.
>> Surf to individual airline sites for quotes, once you've seen the best that the aggregators and online agents are offering.
>> Call the airline of your choice and ask them what extra fees would apply before you buy your ticket. Factor that into your decision.
>> Join all the frequent flyer programs and email lists that you can, even if you're not really a frequent flyer. It's typically free to join. Airlines trying to gain tighter control of their customer relationships may start offering deals directly to consumers who are already on their list.(4 Comments)
Delta is increasing the number of first-class seats on many of its jets. Sure, it may mean the economy is getting better if more people are buying first-class seating. But for the rank-and-file (i.e. cattle car) traveler, it has a more important impact: Your chance of winning the lottery for a seat upgrade.
This is a big (and somewhat entertaining) deal in the frequent-flying community. Check out this bulletin board where people reveal their strategies (or at least their obsession) for this sort of thing.
Dan Webb, who writes the blog, "Things in the Sky," picked up an interesting factoid from Delta. Ninety-two percent of Delta's first-class cabin is full, but only 14 percent of the people paid to sit there.
Meanwhile, back in the back of the plane, a Facebook friend -- Ben Chorn -- posted an interesting picture a few minutes ago. Here's what was in his wife's purse that made it through security and onto two airplanes.... from Billings to Denver to Minneapolis.
That's comforting. But at least they got my shaving cream the last time I flew.(2 Comments)
The National Transportation Safety Board has determined what caused the crash of an airplane a year ago in Clearwater County.
The plane, piloted by Andrew Lindberg of Farmington, disappeared while Lindberg was flying to a hunting destination to meet his father in Hallock on November 13, 2009. I wrote about it at the time:
There was no moon on Friday. It wouldn't have appeared over the horizon in Mahnomen until 5:13 Saturday morning. It would have been difficult to detect the horizon. There's also plenty of swamps and water in the area, and the air temperature was cooling. The temperature/dewpoint spread around that time was less than 2 degrees in Mahnomen. That means fog was likely forming, too.
These are conditions that are challenging for even the most experienced pilot. They would have more so, of course, for a pilot with very little experience. Mr. Lindberg got his pilot's certificate in September, according to reports.
The NTSB issued its investigation finding this week, saying Lindberg likely crashed because of "spatial disorientation," after he flew into weather conditions he was warned about:
The non-instrument rated pilot received an outlook weather briefing about 6 hours before the accident flight. The briefer informed the pilot that instrument flight conditions existed and were expected to continue with improvement expected the following day. There were no records of additional weather briefings before the accident flight. Weather and global positioning system data showed that the airplane flew into an area of instrument weather conditions about 210 nautical miles into the 290 nautical mile night cross-country flight. The GPS data showed that in the last minute of the flight the airplane turned left from a heading of about 340 degrees to 300 degrees, followed by a right turn to a heading of 015 degrees which corresponded to the last recorded position. The airplane's average groundspeed during the last 20 seconds of the recorded data was about 120 knots. The recorded cloud base heights at airports near the accident site were as low as 400 feet overcast east of the accident site with higher cloud bases to the west of the accident site. It is likely that the sustained turn sequences while in night instrument meteorological conditions resulted in spatial disorientation. The airplane impacted trees and terrain, and a post-impact fire ensued. No pre-impact anomalies were found with respect to the airplane or its systems.
This is the viral video of the day (so far). A young boy getting strip searched by the TSA:
Luke Tait, the person filming the scene, says TSA agents didn't care for the video. "He started to question me: 'Why was I recording the procedures of TSA?' 'What are your plans with this video?' " Tait told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I said it looked like something was going on; I never [before] saw a shirtless young boy getting patted down."
On its blog today, the Transportation Security Administration says the father removed the shirt after the boy set off a metal detector.
It should be mentioned that you will not be asked to and you should not remove clothing (other than shoes, coats and jackets) at a TSA checkpoint. If you're asked to remove your clothing, you should ask for a supervisor or manager.
"Right. We won't be asked to remove clothing - just our prosthetic breasts, our ostomy wafers, urine collection bags," a commenter said
Urine collection bag? CBS reports today that earlier this month a bladder cancer survivor from Michigan who wears a urostomy bag that collects his urine "says a rough pat-down by a security agent at Detroit Metropolitan Airport caused the bag to spill its contents on his shirt and pants."
Is there a better way to do this? Israel, which some people think should be the model for airport screening, profiles passengers.(5 Comments)
A United Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago made an emergency landing in Buffalo today after a window blew out on the plane.
If you ever wanted to see a good example of how Twitter can be a go-to source for breaking news, check out the tweets coming from Andrew Phelps, who is a reporter for WBUR, the public radio station in Boston. He was on the flight.
It's also a good example of the horrible customer service provided by most of the nation's major carriers.(1 Comments)
The push-back against security screening at the nation's airports seems to be increasing. An Associated Press story on the MPR site today documents the increasing frustration that pilots are having with the security rules.
"Sam," an anonymous regional carrier pilot based in Minnesota has a first-person view of the scanning procedures today on his blog, "Blogging at FL250."
All this inconvenience would be an acceptable part of my job if I felt that it serves some purpose. It does not. It's completely absurd to screen the pilots who will, in less than an hour's time, be seated at the controls of a fuel laden aircraft in flight, with crash axe within easy reach! This was recognized before 9/11 and we were allowed to bypass security. That changed in the wake of 9/11, but not due to any credible threat of terrorist acts by pilots or pilot impostors. Rather, it was believed that seeing flight crews forced to go through security would make the public more accepting of new procedures. This is exactly the sort of useless display that has become the TSA's primary stock in trade, what security expert Bruce Schneier refers to as "security theater."
Recent changes in TSA equipment and procedures have elevated flight crew screening from a mere inconvenience and exercise in stupidity to an outright violation of rights and decency. The TSA recently installed hundred of whole body imaging scanners, both of the Millimeter-Wave (Terahertz) and Backscatter X-ray varieties, in order to better detect non-metallic weapons and explosives. These machines penetrate clothing to create a nude image of the subject. Ostensibly this image is to be viewed in private by a screener of the same sex, and TSA claimed that images cannot be saved; both of these assurances have been shown by events to be false. TSA also asserts that the devices are perfectly safe and cannot cause health problems. Expert opinion is not nearly so settled, particularly regarding backscatter technology, and in any case there have been no independent studies to verify that the TSA's health claims are any more authentic than their privacy claims.
"Sam," he doesn't use his last name, is encouraging people to participate in National Opt-Out Day on November 24.
Meanwhile, a German news site says the newfangled scanners are having a problem properly scanning people who wear pleated plants or blouses. Authorities are now requiring people to undergo a pat-down even if they've been scanned.(1 Comments)
We have a little more idea what contributed to the tragic crash of an airplane with a Minnesota family aboard last week.
Luke Bucklin and three of his children were killed when their plane slammed into a mountainside in Wyoming. He had taken off in difficult weather, heading for home. His family met with the media today (photo).
Bucklin was an instrument-rated pilot, and had just completed the written portion of the FAA test for a commercial pilot rating. When it came to flying a plane, Bucklin was obviously no slouch.
But a line in the initial National Transportation Safety Board report gives a clue as to why his plane was losing altitude, when it should've been climbing to clear the mountain. I've put it in bold below:
On October 25, 2010, about 1352 mountain daylight time (MDT), a Mooney M20J, N201HF, collided with mountainous terrain near Lander, Wyoming. The airplane became the subject of a week-long search after it was lost from ground-based radio communications and radar tracking facilities about 45 minutes after it departed from Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on October 25, 2010. On the afternoon of November 1, 2010, the wreckage was located by ground searchers at the 11,100-foot level in the Wind River mountain range, Wyoming. The instrument rated owner/pilot and three passengers were fatally injured and the airplane sustained substantial damage. Instrument meteorological conditions likely existed at the location and time of the accident. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91, on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan and clearance to Pierre, South Dakota.
According to information provided by representatives from Lockheed Martin (LM) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), on the morning of the accident, the pilot obtained his initial telephone weather briefing about 0920 MDT. About 1040, he telephoned again, obtained an abbreviated weather briefing, and filed an IFR flight plan. The flight plan included a planned departure time of 1130, and a destination of Rapid City Regional Airport, (RAP) Rapid City, South Dakota. The filed route of flight was Dunoir (DWN) very high frequency omni-range (VOR) navigation facility, Boysen Reservoir (BOY) VOR, Muddy Mountain (DDY) VOR, and then direct to RAP. About 1237, the pilot used the internet to file another IFR flight plan, which again specified JAC as the origination airport. The filed departure time was 1247, and the filed route was DNW VOR, Riverton (RIW) VOR, DDY VOR, Newcastle (ECS) VOR, Rapid City (RAP) VOR, and Philip (PHP) VOR. The destination was Pierre Regional Airport (PIR), Pierre, South Dakota, and the filed altitude was 9,000 feet. Both weather briefings included AIRMETs (Airmen's Meteorological Information) for mountain obscuration, turbulence, and icing along the planned flight routes and altitudes.
The airplane departed JAC just after 1300, and was in communication with and tracked by FAA air traffic control (ATC) at Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). The first radar target was recorded about 1309, and the airplane was tracked until about 1336, when it was at an altitude of 14,000 feet. About 1341, the pilot filed a pilot report via radio, which stated that he was at 14,000 feet, and was encountering light chop, and a trace of rime icing. The airplane was re-acquired by ground radar about 1346, still at the same altitude. About 1352, the last radar target associated with the airplane was recorded, with an indicated altitude of 13,300 feet. Shortly before that, the pilot radioed to ATC that he was unable to maintain altitude due to mountain wave activity.
According to information provided by the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, ground searchers located the wreckage at an elevation of 11,100 feet on a scree slope about 6 miles southeast of Gannett Peak. The wreckage exhibited significant crush and impact damage. The right wing was partially fracture-separated from the fuselage, and the propeller blades were fracture-separated from the propeller hub. All components were located within 20 feet of the main wreckage.
The pilot held a private pilot certificate with airplane single land and instrument airplane ratings. The airplane was first registered to him in January 2010. It was manufactured in 1977, and was equipped with a non-turbocharged Lycoming IO-360 series engine.
We don't have, of course, a lot of mountains in the Midwest and it's a phenomenon that can take a pilot from the flatland by surprise. Pilots are taught to look for an indication of mountain waves by the presence of lenticular clouds, a warning sign to stay away. But in instrument conditions -- as in this case -- you don't get the visual warning.
A mountain wave often acts like a "rotor," the air spins downward, and it tends to follow the terrain on the leeward side of a mountain (click for larger view).
This overlay of Mr. Bucklin's route on an aviation sectional map lends credence to the theory. He had cleared the peak of the mountain and was on the leeward side.
The United State Airman's Information Manual carries this warning:
"Your first experience of flying over mountainous terrain, particularly if most of your flight time has been over the flatlands of the Midwest, could be a never-to-be-forgotten nightmare if you are not aware of the potential hazards awaiting ... Many pilots go all their lives without understanding what a mountain wave is. Quite a few have lost their lives because of this lack of understanding. One need not be a licensed meteorologist to understand the mountain wave phenomenon."
The manual advises that pilots should increase their altitude by half the height of the mountain. So, in theory, a safe altitude over Wyoming would've been about 21,000 feet. The plane Bucklin was flying does not have the capability to fly at that altitude.
(Photo: At table left to right is Mary Ann Bucklin, Luke's mom, Ginger Bucklin, wife and Scott Mogen is brother in law of Michelle, mother of boys killed in crash. Others are family members standing behind them. Photo by Tim Nelson)
"The Airbus 380 is designed to fly on just two of its four engines," an MPR newscast mentioned a short time ago, citing an aviation expert in the case of the Quantas jumbo jet, whose engine exploded early this morning.
But the comment misses the point and the problem. It isn't that an engine failed, it's that when it exploded, it sent parts spewing all over the plane and through the wing. Airplane engines aren't supposed to do that, because the shrapnel could conceivably -- if improbably -- cut the airplane's systems. And it's generally not good to have a hole in the wing.
Perhaps you remember United Airlines Flight 232, which lost all of its hydraulics when engine shrapnel ripped through the plane.
The BBC has a compelling interview with one of the passengers on the plane here.
And here's video, which includes the pilot's announcement to the passengers.
Ben Sandilands, who writes the Plane Talking blog, has posted some additional images.
The incident also was a reminder about how often we view the news through popular culture. Or perhaps you didn't think "Rainman," today when you heard Quantas?
There's a little more out today about last month's near collision between two airplanes departing the airport in Minneapolis. Here's the initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
On September 16, 2010, about 6:49 a.m. CDT, an air traffic control operational error resulted in a near-midair-collision between US Airways flight 1848 (AWE 1848), an Airbus 320, operating as a scheduled 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 121 passenger flight en route to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, carrying five crewmembers and 90 passengers, and Bemidji Aviation Services flight 46 (BMJ46), a Beech 99 cargo flight with only the pilot aboard,operating as a 14 CFR part 135 cargo flight en route ro LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Weather conditions at the time were reported ceiling 900 feet and visibility 10 miles.
Immediately after departure, the tower instructed AWE1848 to turn left heading 260 degrees, which caused the aircraft to cross paths with BMJ on the extended centerline of runway 30L, approximately 1/2 mile past the end of the runway approximately 1,500 feet above the ground. Neither pilot saw the other aircraft because they were operating in instrument meteorological conditions. However, the captain of the US Airways flight reported hearing the Beech 99 pass nearby. Estimates based on recorded radar data indicate that the two aircraft had 50 to 100 feet of vertical separation as they passed each other.
The US Airways aircraft was equipped with a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) that issued climb instructions to the crew to avert collision. The Beech 99 was not equipped with TCAS and the pilot was unaware of the proximity of the Airbus. There were no reports of damage or injuries as a result of the incident.
I wrote extensively about the incident here.
The Star Tribune and Associated Press, however, are characterizing the preliminary report as indicating the cause of the near-miss was a controller issuing an instruction to turn left.
"The reporter is pulling information from our preliminary report," an NTSB spokesman told me late this morning.
Perhaps the source of the problem was the single instruction to the US Air jet to turn left, but the NTSB report doesn't exactly say that.
For example, it does not mention the failure of the smaller Bemidji Aviation plane to comply with an instruction to turn left, thus setting it on a potential collision course with the US Air jet who did comply with similar instructions from another controller. And it doesn't mention the lack of communication between two controllers taking care of different aircraft on different frequencies. Technically, that could be part of an operational error, too.
An NTSB spokeswoman says all the details will be in a report to be issued in several months. That's called a "probable cause" report. Today's is a "preliminary report," which sounds conclusive, but is usually just a restating of facts already in evidence.
A local man and his three sons are missing after their plane went down in a storm yesterday as they were flying back from Jackson Hole. According to a flight plan, the family intended to stop at Pierre, South Dakota. They never showed up.
Yesterday's visit by President Barack Obama was certainly a pain in the neck for anyone flying in and out of Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.
Here's a graphical portrayal of what a half-hour of air-traffic-control chatter is like in the half hour before Air Force One arrived.
And here's what it looked like in the half hour after Air Force One entered the airspace.
Why? Because the airport shut down for more than a half hour. Landing planes were told to turn off onto a taxiway and turn off their engines. And there they sat until the president was out of the area, and on his way to the University of Minnesota.
This segment of 'chatter' between 3 and 3:30 pretty well indicates when things got back to normal, aside from the sorting out of backed-up flights arriving and departing.
Here's what it sounded like between Air Force One's pilot and controllers (I've "telescoped" the audio to eliminate dead air). At one point, the giant plane was blocked by one of the commercial jets that was "frozen" on the airport property.
(h/t: Live ATC)
(Photo: President Obama returns to Andrews Air Force base after flying from Minneapolis on Saturday night.)(7 Comments)
Because President Obama is coming to Minneapolis tomorrow, the Federal Aviation Administration has posted a 10-mile no-fly zone over Minneapolis during his stay. The exact location of the zone will change as the president changes his location.
Occasionally, some pilot will stray into the zone, get intercepted by a fighter jet, and then make the nightly news (it happened today). It's difficult to keep up with a moving zone. And quite often, the no-fly zones are thrown up on short notice, and the government isn't really very good at providing them.
Here's a map of the no-fly zones (click for large version). The small red circles are the 10-mile, no-fly zones. As you can see, they move when the president does and as a pilot, you've got to know when the zone moves. If the president decides to tarry in a spot longer than necessary, too bad for the pilot; he/she still has to stay out of the no-fly zone, even though he/she doesn't know where it is.
The larger red circle is the 30-mile zone, which has restricted airplane movements.
For the reasons cited above, most pilots within the large red circle just wait it out. But that also means that businesses that depend on flying -- flight schools, for example -- are out of business on Saturday.
And it's not just pilots. If you're within this zone and you wanted to take your kid over to the park to light off his/her nifty model rocket, you can't do that.
Why do they call it terrorism? Because it doesn't work without fear.
Two stories in the news today reveal the extent to which we've become a fearful society, just as the terrorists intended.
In North Dakota, the Grand Forks Herald reports, the reason a regional jet put down in Fargo was because there were Saudi students onboard who looked suspicious:
But in the air, once one of the Saudis visited the bathroom -- "Other passengers went to the bathroom, too." -- things began to change, de Leon said. "About 10 or 15 minutes later, I could feel the airplane was decreasing altitude, and the pilot said we should get ready to land."
"The crew had identified what I would call a 'suspicious condition' in the lavatory onboard," Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said Sunday, according to news reports.
The interesting factoid? Other passengers went to the bathroom, too. But only the Saudis were taken away.
In San Francisco, meanwhile, an airshow got some people bothered when a 747 buzzed the Golden Gate Bridge.(6 Comments)
This video is getting some traction around the Internet today because of the pluckiness of the subject -- a man in Kenya who built his own airplane over the course of a year, with the help of what he learned on the Internet. He doesn't, apparently, know how to fly.
James Fallows uses the video to remind Americans that we really don't know what it's like to be a guy in Kenya who doesn't have much, but builds his own airplane..
But in my experience -- mainly In Ghana and Kenya during the 70s, in Southeast Asia in the 1980s, and in China these past few years -- there is a cumulatively very different and very powerful experience that comes from meeting person after person like the Kenyan aviator-aspirant. That is, people whose material circumstances and range of experience are vastly different from a typical person's in London or high-end Shanghai or San Francisco, and who objectively have nowhere near the same opportunities -- but who take their own life drama and possibilities just as seriously and can dream just as ambitiously. For instance, I am thinking of a man in his 70s in a village in western China whose consuming project is a handwritten history of life in his village, from his boyhood during the era of war in the late 1930s and 1940s, through the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and onward. He is someone who wears the same pants, shirt, and jacket virtually every day, because that's what he has. He is part of "the rural poor," but he has a plan and a dream.
I am fully aware, while typing, that this sounds like pure platitude; but listen to the Kenyan inventor talk about his "boyhood interest" and see if it doesn't take on a different meaning. To tie this back to recent discussions about self-pity in America, one of the many destructive side effects of America's increasing class polarization is that people lack a vivid, first-hand awareness of the full humanity of those in different (usually "lower") walks of life.
Fallows' deeper meaning aside, it appears unlikely the plane is going to fly. He used some heavy steel parts and the engine seems pretty small. Passion is one thing. Physics is quite another. Still, here's hoping we're wrong.
Minnesota powered parachute driver Steve Russell has posted another one of his entertaining -- and marvelously relaxing -- videos from rides over a lush Minnesota. This time, however, it's a slideshow. a Former colleague Bob Ingrassia profiled him on Minnesota Today's Statewide Blog in August.(3 Comments)
Are we going to live our lives or duck-and-cover because of the threat of terrorism? You often can't do both, and a developing controversy over a bit of technology today shows why.
Last week, I "tweeted" about a new iPhone app that allows you to to point your smartphone to an airplane in the sky and see its destination, altitude and speed displayed.
Because we're so conditioned, it only took a few days for the first "terrorists could use it" response.
"Phone app that tracks planes 'is aid to terrorists armed with missiles'" the Daily Mail reported today.
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, former chairman of the Parliamentary Counter Terrorism sub-committee, said: 'Anything that makes it easier for our enemies to find targets is madness. The Government must look at outlawing the marketing of such equipment.'
The blog, TechDirt, steps forward to defend the app, while attacking the availability of the data:
The "problem" (if there really is one) isn't the Plane Finder app (which actually sounds kind of cool), but the fact that all that data is being made available publicly. Blaming the app sort of misses the point, because if the data is available so easily, you can bet those who wish to do harm with it, have already figured that out. In the meantime, the Plane Finder app itself doesn't appear to actually have that many downloads.
Yes, what were they thinking when they made such information available in the first place?
They were thinking a cool app would be one that kept planes from crashing into each other, or one that lessened flight delays, or one that would lead to less environmental damage from airliners.
The data is public for a reason. It's part of a new system, called ADS-B, which provides information about a plane and broadcasts it not only to ground stations, but also to other airplanes. It's the backbone of a new air traffic control system. It also will provide real time weather to pilots of even the smallest airplanes. Consider the number of airliners and small planes that have been lost in weather-related accidents. Compare it to the number that have been shot down by terrorists.
September 11, 2001 didn't happen with fancy gadgets and high technology. It happened because someone figured out what you could do with this tool...
... which today sells for about $8 in any hardware store in America.
Ironically, the system is a significant enhancement over the transponder system used with present-day radar. When the hijackers of 9/11 took control of the airplanes, one of the first things they did was turn off the airplanes' transponders, which robbed air traffic controllers of some information about where they were and where they might be heading. That might be more difficult with ADS-B.
|Las Vegas||$874 ($380)||$400|
|New York||$834.00 ($383)||$601.40|
|Los Angeles||$842 ($400)||$469|
The National Transportation Safety Board has issued this news release on what it classifies as a "near midair" over Minneapolis St. Paul.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a near midair collision between a commercial jetliner and a small cargo aircraft that came within an estimated 50 to 100 feet of colliding near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport
On September 16, 2010, about 6:49 a.m. CDT, US Airways flight 1848 (AWE 1848), an Airbus 320, was cleared for takeoff on runway 30R en route to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, carrying five crewmembers and 90 passengers.
At the same time, Bemidji Aviation Services flight 46 (BMJ46), a Beech 99 cargo flight with only the pilot aboard, was cleared for takeoff on runway 30L en route to La Crosse,
Wisconsin. Weather conditions at the time were reported as a 900-foot ceiling and 10 miles visibility below the clouds.
Immediately after departure, the tower instructed the US Airways crew to turn left and head west, causing the flight to cross paths with the cargo aircraft approximately one-
half mile past the end of runway 30L. Neither pilot saw the other aircraft because they were in the clouds, although the captain of the US Airways flight reported hearing the Beech 99 pass nearby. Estimates based on recorded radar data indicate that the two aircraft had 50 to 100 feet of vertical separation as they passed each other approximately 1500 feet above the ground.
The US Airways aircraft was equipped with a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) that issued climb instructions to the crew to avert collision. The Beech 99 was not equipped with TCAS and the pilot was unaware of the proximity of the Airbus. There were no reports of damage or injuries as a result of the incident.
NTSB and FAA investigators conducted a preliminary investigation at the Minneapolis airport traffic control tower on September 18th and 19th and are continuing to review
the circumstances of this incident.
In the past, when I've forwarded these reports of near mishaps, some pilots have suggested it's much ado about nothing. This is different. Fifty-to-100 feet in the clouds? That's a big deal.
To help you visualize these things, both planes took off on parallel runways, heading in the same direction. That happens all the time. Turning one plane into the path of another is highly unusual.
Update 11:55 a.m. - Here's the audio of the conversations that morning. The controller ordered the left turn -- to the south -- for the Bemidji flight as he gave the flight permission to take off. Normally, that turn would begin when about 500 feet off the ground, probably before the end of the runway. The turn would send the plane away from the parallel runway, where the US Air jet was also taking off.
A few minutes later, the controller asks the Bemidji flight if he's "in the turn." The pilot doesn't understand the question and asks for it to be repeated. It's not repeated (see note below). A minute or so later, the pilot asks to change frequencies to the departure controller and is granted the request. From the sound of things, that happened after the near miss. The controller asks, "why didn't you start the turn after departure?" The pilot's radio is nearly unintelligible.
The clearance and any conversation with the US Air plane is not on the tower tape (which I've edited and telescoped), raising the possibility that it was occurring on another frequency. I'll post that frequency tape in a moment.
Update 12:17 p.m. - As suspected, there were two planes on two different frequencies here. Here's the tape of the "departure frequency" when the US Air pilot (Known as "Cactus" because it's an Air West flight operating under the US Air colors) reports the near miss. The controller says he thought the Bemidji flight was going to go straight.
As with most disasters -- and near disasters -- this looks like the typical "chain of events," the breaking of any one of which -- repeating a question, repeating an instruction, knowing what each plan was for each airplane -- would've prevented it.
Of course, an investigation will take place, but this one isn't going to be hard to figure out. (Audio via LiveATC.net)
Update 3:08 p.m. I'll be on All Things Considered tonight to talk about this and Steven John asked me what could have prevented this. I don't have all the facts on this case so it's informed speculation at best. But as a pilot, there are a couple of things I noticed:
On the tower tape, I did not hear either a request from the LaCrosse-bound flight to change to the departure controller's frequency or an instruction to change to departure frequency. I don't know if that's even required (although I believe it is, I don't have my rulebook at work). But the tower controller asked two minutes after the La Crosse-bound flight took off whether the pilot had made the turn? That would indicate that the controller knew the guy was still on his frequency, wouldn't it?
The Bemidji pilot did not repeat the full clearance he got to take off, but he wasn't required to. Some of us private pilots like to repeat the whole thing (including the instruction to turn left), so that a controller can pick up on our mistake and correct it before it's a problem.
The departure frequency tape indicates another possible problem. This incident occurred right at that moment when a pilot makes a transition from tower to departure. In fact, as you can hear, the US Air pilot asks "what's this guy doing off our left" before the departure controller confirms that he's got the US Air flight on his radar. That's a really icky time for things to fall through the cracks.
There's also a bit of confusion from the departure controller what instructions had been given to the La Crosse-bound aircraft.
Humans make mistakes. That's going to happen. The FAA will undoubtedly be looking at ways to break the chain of human mistakes that usually are the hallmark of any aviation disaster. Handing out any discipline, hopefully, will be secondary.
Update 5:21 p.m. - Here's my interview on All Things Considered:
7:50 p.m. - Very important point to consider from Dave Pascoe at liveatc.net:
One small thing to keep in mind in your analysis (which after a very quick read I think is right on the mark) - the receivers near KMSP scan between several frequencies. One scans both Tower freqs. The other scans several Approach/Departure freqs. So blocking can and does occur from time to time. It is important to understand that just because a transmission wasn't heard on the recording doesn't mean it didn't happen (like a readback or Tower switching an aircraft to Departure).
I mentioned earlier that there wasn't a repeat on the tape of the question about the lack of a turn. My guess is that was repeated and wasn't picked up.(26 Comments)
You'll have to forgive the people who work for Duluth's Cirrus Aircraft if they're a little nervous. The recession has hammered the general aviation business in the U.S. and there has been -- apparently -- the occasional rumor that the company is either for sale or would move.
The company has shot down the "move" rumor by pointing out that labor costs in Duluth and Grand Forks are already as low as they are overseas. But the aviation Web site, AvWeb, confirms that Cirrus is looking for an "investor."
It says a group of potential investors visited the company last week from China. "All I'm trying to tell you is that this is a very good thing for jet position holders and Cirrus customers," CEO Brent Wouters said. "We're not on the verge of something quick."
"If you compare us now to 2008, when the world started coming apart and we had twice the volume, we are $90 million dollars better at the bottom line," Wouters told TheStreet.com last month. "The trajectory of the business is terrific at the bottom line, but the revenue line stinks. Even today, with a better bottom line than last year, we are still bouncing around break-even, which tells you how much money we've lost."
This Argentine air show near-disaster video is going viral. It happened the other day during an airshow. The aerobatic airplane's wing fell off...
The pilot can probably thank someone in South St. Paul. The plane was equipped with a parachute from Ballistic Recovery Systems, which is based on the city's Fleming Field.
Last month at Oshkosh, the CEO there told me 61 people are employed at Fleming Field now, the highest employment they've ever had. The factory is working three shifts, and the company has plants in North Carolina and Mexico.
But while the company has recently received $1 million a month in orders for the first time, it's only because of the defense industry. BRS makes the chutes for military aircraft. The general aviation market remains weak, he said. Duluth-based Cirrus uses the chutes in their aircraft, and they're credited with saving over 200 lives.
The chutes are no guarantee, of course. The pilot above was lucky. His plane caught fire, but the plane was close enough to the ground that it was a short trip to safety. Earlier this year, a Cirrus aircraft collided with another plane in Colorado. The parachute deployed but the plane was on fire as it slowly descended. The occupants jumped to their deaths, witnesses said.
My memory bank for aircraft accidents is pretty good, but I'm not ready to say there's never been a crash of a 737 jetliner with the death of only one person. It happened on Colombia's an Andres Island early this morning. Apparently, the plane was hit by lightning as it landed.
"It was a miracle and we have to give thanks to God," that only one person died, said Gov. Pedro Gallardo.
What are the odds of surviving such a crash? Not as good as the odds you'd be in a commercial jetliner crash in the first place (the odds are 1 in about two million). But the odds are better than you might think. According to the site, planecrashinfo.com, the survival rate for passengers in crashes where 10 or more people die is 24% in this decade, a number skewed a bit by 9/11.(1 Comments)
When the government imposed new rules and the threat of fines to thwart the kind of tarmac delays that stranded ExpressJet passengers in Rochester, Minn., last year, experts feared the law of unintended consequences. They theorized that airlines would, instead, cancel flights, leaving passengers stranded either way.
The latest data from the Department of Transportation shows that hasn't happened, at least not yet.
The only tarmac delays longer than three hours reported in June by the 18 airlines who file on-time performance with DOT involved three United Airlines flights departing Chicago's O'Hare airport on June 18, a day in which the Chicago area experienced a severe thunderstorm, the report said.
And the airlines canceled 1.5 percent of their flights in June, a figure that is the same as June 2009, before the new rules were imposed.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics released its list of chronically delayed flights. None involved the Twin Cities.(1 Comments)
As you approach the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, an electronic sign reminds you that the terrorist threat level is orange -- still -- and you should report suspicious activity.
Unless, you want to get where you're going, apparently.
The government is stepping up its "if you see something, say something" campaign to try to get normally reticent individuals to be the eyes and ears against things that just don't seem right.
For a California woman, however, what didn't seem right is that the pilot smelled a little boozey.
The Web site, The Consumerist, reports:
The 51-year-old woman was waiting to fly home to Southern California from Atlanta when she and three other passengers had a brief conversation with one of the pilots of their delayed flight. When the pilot walked away from the group, one of her fellow passengers asked the others if they had also smelled alcohol on the pilot's breath.
"A gentleman standing behind me asked, 'Did anyone smell that? It smelled a little like vodka,'" recalled the woman. "We all agreed that he did smell alcohol, but we didn't know if he had been drinking or what we should do about it."
Officials tested the pilot and found he had not been drinking. Then, Delta officials kicked the woman off the flight.
In a post today on The Consumerist, a pilot says the airline was right:
One mistake that we have AMPLE time to prevent is flying under the influence of drugs or alcohol. How do we prevent it? We just don't do it. Every pilot is well aware of the alcohol limits in aviation. The basic FAA limit is 8 hours between drinking and flying and a max blood alcohol level of 0.04%. Most airlines are more stringent than this. Do you really think a pilot who has invested years of his life, thousands of dollars, and tens of thousands of hours in the air will risk it all by having a drink before his flight? Of course not!
Bob Ingrassia at Minnesota Today's Statewide blog has the story of the flip camera that was sent aloft and -- is this any real surprise? -- was lost:
Camera? Balloons? I've got just the guy to look for the camera. Jonathan Trappe went for an 11-hour balloon ride last week after taking off from Oshkosh.
Officials are expecting about 40,000 spectators for Saturday's Red Bull Flugtag on Harriet Island in Saint Paul.
People are buzzing (from the caffeine, presumably) about the event, whose entrants include Goldy Gopher and "Favre's Wingmen."
Goldy's already predicting a 195-foot
jump fall, which would tie the current world record.
flight fall starts at 1 p.m.
There's also action upriver in Minneapolis from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. as surfers compete in the World Wakesurfing Championships. Surfing will occur north of the Broadway Bridge along West River Road.(2 Comments)
Julia Schrenkler, interactive producer for Minnesota Public Radio, time traveled to the exotic land of South St. Paul yesterday, from where she filed this report.
There's history in Minnesota. Some stories are undiscovered, and others can be found if you're willing to visit Hangar #3 at Fleming Field in South St. Paul.
The Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force tends and flies some of the aircraft that shaped history. The goals: preserve and educate. They restore, maintain and show the planes. The Quonset hangar a short distance from the Twin Cities International Airport is the home base for the flying machines and the people who love them.
The planes dominate the aircraft entrance area while maintenance tool chests are scattered around the edges. In the back are historical displays (complete with propaganda and a collection of unopened rations) and where the men in uniform were waiting.
These men aren't pilots. They're not a functional flying crew. They're re-enactors and they were willing to deliver a crash course on their passion for history.
The pursuit of historical truth
"We're research geeks," Eric Cheever said, "I've always been obsessed with history, and I read as much of it as I could." Cheever seems to favor researching mid 20th century events and explained his father's friends were WWII veterans, "To sit and hear this history from a participant - you can't get that from a history book." He explained that once he started re-enacting, his understanding of what these people did "took a quantum leap in understanding."
But you may get it from someone willing to research it, experience it, and expose you to it.
The search - and perhaps rescue - of lost information is a first focus for the group. Troy LaFaye has ten years of reenacting experience. He simply stated, "If we are not historically accurate, it defeats the point of the hobby." LaFaye carefully elaborated that this activity isn't a glorification of war, but to demonstrate the people involved in the war and life at that time suffered. It is also LaFaye's goal to share that knowledge, "A lot of people that join think it's like playing airsoft or paint ball, but the whole point of reenacting is not to go out and 'play Army' by shooting blanks - although that's fun - the whole idea is to commemorate the men and women who were involved. The purpose is to teach history to other people, like a live version of a history book."
Gearing up to be living history
Eric Cheever suited up, gives a gear lesson.
The General Accounting Office today released a report saying consumers are having a difficult time shopping for airline fares, because the different fees make it tough to do so.
The reality? It's much worse than that.
Here's an example: Over several weeks I watched fares for a flight from Minneapolis to Boston in August, because one of my sons and his girlfriend want to visit family there. Using several online services, I tracked a fare on Delta for an August flight that went from $450 in early June, to about $273 a week ago. "Yahtzee," I thought as I grabbed the credit card and started making reservations.
After hitting the "submit" button, a message in red letters declared, "We're sorry. The fare for this flight has changed." Really? At 11:30 at night?
What was really going on here? The airline had actually only put one seat on the entire flight for sale at $273; legally it could advertise a fare of $273. Once that seat was sold, the published fare went to $450. So I bought two tickets -- one for $273 and one for $450.
Just for the heck of it, I checked the price again today. It's now going for $233. But check the notation: "One seat left."
One seat left? There was only one seat at that price in the first place.
A savvy traveler who doesn't mind gambling on leaving a girlfriend stranded at an airport waiting for another flight, could game the system, perhaps, by buying one seat, waiting a day until the airline puts the single-seat up for sale at the lower price again, and then buying the second seat. And that works, unless the flight sells out and then you're stuck with two people going on vacation and only one airline ticket, which is bad for a relationship. Another option is simply to live a life of isolated loneliness, and travel by yourself.
There's nothing about this problem in today's GAO report, however (which you can find here). Instead, it appears to focus more on an issue that is more important to the government, than it is to the consumer: The airlines are using the fees to avoid paying taxes because while the revenue they derive from tickets is taxable, revenue from fees is not.
Still, the GAO report to Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-Minnesota, points out good reasons to require more transparency on fees:
GDS and travel agent representatives say that there is little incentive for airlines to disclose their fee information through the GDSs as such disclosure will increase the fare displayed to many passengers if fees are included. Airlines largely compete on fares and passengers compare fares when deciding which flight to purchase, often picking the lowest fare displayed. If one airline provided fee information and another did not, the airline that disclosed the fees would be at a disadvantage. Consequently, according to GDS representatives, it is unlikely that airlines will provide fee information or offer these services for sale through GDSs unless required to do so. In addition, trade associations are advocating that the airline industry work to standardize policies on fee disclosure and access. For example, the Interactive Travel Services Association, Business Travel Coalition and American Society of Travel Agents are leading efforts to have all fees available for sale through GDSs and to establish uniform codes for fee transactions. Similarly, the National Business Travel Association has supported efforts to make fees for services available through GDSs so that corporate travel agents can access and monitor fees when they are instituted or changed, buy services, and track them through their expense management systems
But whatever rules Oberstar's committee may propose to make it easier for consumers to compare fares, history suggests the airlines will figure out another way to get around them.
In the meantime, if you want to practice booking airline travel online, perhaps this primer will be helpful:(5 Comments)
Watching this video posted by some Minnesota sky diver enthusiasts today is a good way to think that maybe you didn't wring everything you could have out of the weekend.
That's Kristin Gast of Minneapolis checking an item off her bucket list.(1 Comments)
A group of vintage aircraft pilots were promoting a new IMAX movie the best way possible -- by taking members of the media for a ride around Washington DC today.
Then one flipped on landing and the upcoming movie wasn't the story anymore.
A Washington Post reporter was on board the plane.
NPR's Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan was on another plane, but was not hurt.(8 Comments)
On Memorial Day, owners of flying World War II aircraft are in high demand. If you're in the Twin Cities, you've probably seen some of them flying over the Capitol and various parades and Memorial Day celebrations.
Here, a T-6 returns to South St. Paul after a morning flight.
They're not cheap to fly. The use about 30 gallons of fuel per hour. A gallon of aviation fuel at South St. Paul goes for about $3.84 a gallon.(1 Comments)
Every time I write one of these "near miss" posts, I get a bucketload of email from pilots and controllers who remind me I don't know what I'm talking about and the media is exaggerating the problem, but it's undeniable that the National Transportation Safety Boad -- which does seem to know a thing or two -- is reporting more "near misses" this year involving airliners than I've ever seen.
Here's today's release, which occurred last Friday in Anchorage and involved US Airways Flight 140 from Phoenix (A319) and a cargo jet (B747):
According to the TCAS (collision avoidance system) report from the A319 crew, that aircraft was approaching ANC when, because of the effects of tailwinds on the aircraft's approach path, the crew initiated a missed approach and requested new instructions from air traffic control. The tower controller instructed the A319 to turn right heading 300 and report the departing B747 in sight.
After the A319 crew reported the B747 in sight, the controller instructed the A319 to maintain visual separation from the B747, climb to 3000 feet, and turn right heading 320. The A319 crew refused the right turn because the turn would have put their flight in direct conflict with the B747. The A319 crew then received a resolution advisory
to "monitor vertical speed" and the crew complied with the descent command. During the descent, the A319 crew lost sight of the B747. At about 1700 feet above ground level,
the A319 crew received a "clear of conflict" aural command.
One supposes one of the first questions will be why the controller directed one airliner to a heading that put it on a course with the other one.(3 Comments)
Back when we were writing about last year's infamous Northwest Flight 183 incident, in which two pilots were so distracted, they neglected to land at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, the flight's destination, several pilots wrote to say we were making too big a deal out of the situation. "It happens all the time," several writers said of the practice of browsing the Web and playing with a laptop while flying. The two pilots involved were just unlucky enough to miss their destination and get caught.
Today, the Federal Aviation Administration basically confirmed that it's a practice that's becoming more common and ordered a stop to it, releasing a safety memo to the airlines that told them to tell the pilots to close their laptops and shut off their cellphones and PDAs (at some point, by the way, will someone explain to me why we poor slobs in the back who aren't flying airplanes have to shut these things off?).(1 Comments)
Airlines are flying again, despite the ash cloud that's spewing from the volcano in Iceland. Is it because it's safe to fly or because they need the money?
You can follow the extent to which the planes are flying (or not) on FlightExplorer.com
Planes are flying into and out of Amsterdam, but at last check, the UK is a dark place where air traffic is concerned. It is supposed to reopen at 4 p.m. CT. (Update: It is now reopened)
How safe is this? Nobody really seems to know, the Associated Press reports, because nobody's ever done this on a widespread basis before.
"There are really no facts about risk. It's just how we interpret the information we have," said David Ropeik, an instructor in risk perception at Harvard and author of the book "How Risky Is It, Really?"
"This is a great example of how the pace of modern technological invention is making a lot more people nervous about just how sure science can be about anything," he said.
Watching the same people who earlier said it was too dangerous to fly now say it's safe "is just more proof that risk is a subjective idea," Ropeik said Tuesday. "It involves a lot more than what people assume it does."(3 Comments)
The politicians moved in pretty quickly when word spread that Spirit Airlines intended to charge for carry-on luggage, threatening legislation that would ban the practice. But they might have missed the other part of the equation. The airline intended to lower the cost of a ticket.
The people have spoken. "The Street" reports that bookings on Spirit after August 1 (when the policy goes into effect) are up 50%.
"Our customers get it," (Ben) Baldanza said. "The media says they don't like it, but if you are me, you see that the number of people who buy tickets is expanding. I think the outrage is from people who already pay high fares on other carriers. But our customers see the power of a really low fare with the option to choose what else they want."
There's a fair whiff of PR-writing in that comment, but it leads to a good question: Why shouldn't people get to decide what they'll pay for? Spirit's plan is (was?) to charge less for the ticket itself, because it charges for everything else. If a passenger doesn't want "everything else," why pay for it?
The article had a fascinating statistic. Spirit claims that eliminating most carry-on would save 5 minutes that each plane spends at the gate, allowing the airline to fly -- and make money -- for 15 more hours a day.
(h/t: Susan Leem)(4 Comments)
What's the problem? Capt. Eric Moody of British Airways has the answer firsthand. He was at the controls of a Boeing 747 which inadvertently flew into a volcanic ash cloud. All four engines quit and the plane dropped from 37,000 feet to 12,000 feet.
How do you announce that to your passengers? He told the BBC:
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are all doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."
Here's an interview with Moody about the incident:
PART THREE(1 Comments)
At about 11:15 a.m. PDT on March 27, the crew of United Airlines Flight 889, a B777-222 (N216UA) destined for Beijing, China, carrying 251 passengers and a crew of 17, was cleared to takeoff from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on runway 28L and climb to an initial altitude of 3,000 feet. The first officer, who was flying the aircraft, reported that after the landing gear was retracted and the jet was at an altitude of about 1,100 feet, the tower controller reported traffic at his 1 o'clock position. Immediately following the controller's advisory, the airplane's traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) issued an audible alert of "TRAFFIC TRAFFIC." The pilots saw a light high wing airplane, an Aeronca 11AC (N9270E), in a hard left turn traveling from their 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock position. The first officer pushed the control column forward to level the airplane. Both crew members reported seeing only the underside of the Aeronca as it passed to within an estimated 200-300 feet of the 777. TCAS then issued an "ADJUST VERTICAL SPEED" alert, followed by a "DESCEND, DESCEND" alert. The first officer complied and the flight continued to Beijing without further incident.The next time someone tells you that commercial airline pilots are glorified bus drivers, remind them of this scenario. Given the estimated speed of both aircraft, disaster was literally just one second away. It recalls one of the most tragic air disasters in the country, when a small plane collided with a jetliner over San Diego many years ago. What happened? Almost certainly this will come down on the small airplane pilot and an air traffic controller. No airplane is allowed within about 5 miles of an airport like San Francisco (and also Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the no-fly zone extends to the ground near the High Bridge in St. Paul) unless they've been given clearance to enter and are under the guidance of a controller. I've found the actual tape of the incident. In this tape, the tower controller in San Francisco clears the United flight for takeoff and tells the smaller plane to be looking for traffic. The smaller plane reports he has the Boeing 777 in sight, and he is told to pass behind the jet. The controller then tells the pilot of the 777 that the small plane is "no factor." She's not happy. "That set off the TCAS," she says, which is the collision warning system. (Note: I edited about 20 seconds of silence from the time the flight is cleared to take off to the time the first traffic advisories are issued.) (5 Comments)
A Marketplace headline reads that checked bag fees lead to cabin chaos.
Granted, airlines like Delta allow free checking for up to two bags that meet their size/weight requirements for International trips. If you're flying within the U.S. or to/from our neighbors like Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, you're paying per piece of checked luggage. The theory is that passengers don't like to pay, so we pack it with us, pile it on board, and jam it in overhead bins.
All that on-board baggage has the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (part of the Communications Workers of America union) calling for Congress to end the carry-on crunch. Even in the related site url: endcarryoncrunch.org. According to site, a membership survey conducted by the AFA-CWA found "80 percent of flight attendants sustained injuries over the past year due to dealing with carry-ons in overhead bins."
No word on an independent data set, but it certainly presents as an interesting (unscientific) poll and News Cut discussion.
h/t Nick Leitheiser(9 Comments)
This week National Public Radio gave a little bit of airtime to a group of women who deserve a lot of it -- the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPSs).
Lillian Yonally was one of the first group of women service pilots and NPR produced this slideshow to accompany its story.
You can find more about Ms.Yonally here.
When the war ended, the women lost their flying careers. Until President Carter came along, they weren't even allowed benefits as veterans.
Last year, MPR's Madelene Baran and Nikki Tundel profiled some of the Minnesota WASPSs.
The U.S. Department of Transportation today released its final report for 2009 on the on-time performance of U.S. airlines. One of the headlines is a drop in the number of lost bags, not surprising since fewer passengers are checking their luggage because of the spiraling fees airlines are charging.
Significant among the data, perhaps, is that regional airlines are at the top of the biggest complaints about air travel. American Eagle and Comair, for example, have the worst on-time arrival rates. Another regional airline took monthly honors for the longest amount of time sitting on a tarmac in December (4 hours). And Express Airlines Flight 2412 from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Newark, NJ is the third-worst scheduled flight in the nation for on-time performance.
Of course, most passengers don't even know they're on an Express Airlines flight since the planes are painted to look like Northwest (then) or Delta (now) airplanes. They're not, as this week's Frontline report on the dangers of regional airlines made more clear..
The Department of Transportation report is also a report card on airports. Here are the highlights from the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.
>> The most common time for a late flight is between 9 and 10 p.m. Only a little over half of flights arrived on time in December. The most common time for a delay for departing flights is 4-5 p.m.
>> Other than the flight listed above, the worst flight from Minneapolis is NW Flight 2215 to Fort Lauderdale. It arrives late 80 percent of the time.
>>1 out of 4 arrivals and departures at MSP is late.
>> Neither Northwest nor Delta had any tarmac delays of 3 or more hours.
>> Of major carriers, Southwest has the fewest percentage of complaints. Delta has the most.
Sure, we've said it before, but now Northwest Airlines really is gone.
Despite their merger, Delta and Northwest were actually separate airlines, both owned by Delta. That's why the story out of Detroit this week involved a Northwest Airlines flight, not a Delta flight.
But that's the last time that'll happen. There was no way, of course, for it to end any other way once the merger was announced. Still, when the word came officially today, it was a bit like the news that the governor won't stop the execution for some old Northwest employees. The Federal Aviation Administration has given Delta a single operating certificate for both airlines -- starting at midnight tomorrow -- effectively consigning Northwest to the ash heap of history.
Delta can now merge safety procedures including crew scheduling, aircraft maintenance, flight operations, training and other operational issues. The red tail is slowly disappearing, the DC-9s are being retired, the Northwest Web site will be shut down.
A Northwest video last year declared "the sun will never set on Northwest Airlines." But it will. Tomorrow.(2 Comments)
Former 3M boss James McNerney has a lot riding on today's planned test flight of the Boeing 787. McNerney left the Maplewood-based company in 2005 to head Boeing, just in time to preside over the troubled airplane project. Some analysts bet against the plane ever flying.
It's due to make its first flight today at 12 p.m. (Minnesota time). Boeing is providing a live Web stream. The feed also provides live communication from the cockpit to tower.
Update 1:33 p.m. - The takeoff captured via a Droid phone.
How big a deal is this in industry circles? Listen to the cameras clicking during a high-speed taxi test the other day:
This is Boeing's attempt to compete with the Airbus A380, which I filmed flying around Oshkosh earlier this year (ignore the title; it has been to Chicago once before).
Northwest Airlines was going to be one of the first customers for the new Boeing jet. But Delta is reportedly considering dropping its business.(3 Comments)
"Time to spare? Go by air!"
Is that the new mantra of the holiday air traveler, or the air traveler at any other time of the year for that matter? That's the discussion this morning on MPR's Midmorning. The guests are:
Randy Petersen: Editor of InsideFlyer magazine and founder of FlyerTalk.
Joe Sharkey: Columnist for the New York Times. He writes the On The Road column and the High Anxiety blog.
Charisse Jones: National business travel correspondent for USA Today.
Post your comments below:
We'll also be discussing whether there should be new regulations on frequent flyers. Sen. Charles Schummer has called for tightened regulations.
9:09 a.m. - Sharkey says there were no big delays during the holiday because, apparently, people booked flights earlier than usual.
9:11 a.m. - Here's a report from a New York TV station on how airlines are making it more difficult to use your frequent flyer miles.
9:12 a.m. - What sort of fares are you finding as you shop for fares? Kerri reports trying to get to Tulsa was too expensive. Sharkey says cities like St. Louis are also more expensive because airlines are pulling out of there. Coast to coast fares, however, are cheap.
Sharkey asks, "What kind of airline service are we going to demand?" It's a good question, but when's the last time people demanded -- let alone got -- airline service rather than just take what we're given?
9:15 a.m. - A caller says she had a great flight from here to Greensboro, North Carolina on Delta.
DISCUSSION POINT: A great question from a News Cut reader: Did Southwest wimp out when it apologized to and compensated the woman with the incessantly screaming child who got booted (rightfully, IMHO) off a recent flight ?
9:18 a.m. - Let's see, a caller says flying was great. Now the guests say it's not that difficult to use frequent flyer miles. Both don't see much merit to Schumer's proposed new regs.
9:20 a.m. - Caller describes buying a ticket from Denver to Hibbing using frequent flyer miles. Says it was easy and she saved $480. Life is good on the airlines.
9:21 a.m. - Peterson's secrets to using frequent flyer miles: (1) Never use your miles in the same manner as you do other travel. Typically we get off work on Friday and fly on Saturday. Not in the frequent flyer world, he says. Fly Tuesday through Thursday. Take vacation after working Monday. "It's the same 7 days," he says. (2) Know when to redeem your miles. The best time to advance notice (oh, lord, it's a verb!) your frequent flyer miles is about six months before you intend to fly.
The biggest month for redeeming miles is January. But Peterson says do it now for summer vacations.
9:24 a.m. - A listener from Bahrain asks why we put up with poor service? "We have no choice," Sharkey says. "I've been doing this column for 12 years, I've never seen people so fed up with the flying experience. I hear people saying, 'I am not flying unless it's absolutely necessary.'"
I drove back East in October. If I hadn't, I never would've known there's a Zippo Lighter museum along the southern tier of New York State. Or an RV Hall of Fame in Elhart, Indiana.
9:27 a.m. - Is bad service a trade-off for low fares? "We need to be prepared for the possibility it's going to cost more to fly," Sharkey says.
We were just talking about this in the newsroom a few days ago. Remember People Express? It was a cattle line, but you could fly to Palm Beach for lunch for something like $17. It was a trade-off and a suitable one for many people.
9:30 a.m. - Caller "Jim" from Elk River asks if "points plus miles" is a good deal. "No," says Peterson. "The most value you'll get is a penny per mile. A penny a mile is not a good value for you. Where it is a great value is with motel chains where you can use points for a motel room."
9:33 a.m. - Sharkey brings up the story of the Continental Express jet stranded in Rochester. "That's unacceptable," he says. We may have seen the last of those incidents, though, now that the federal government has hammered two airlines for that disaster.
9:37 a.m. - Charisse Jones, national business travel correspondent for USA Today, has joined the conversation. She says more business travelers are going in coach these days, or just using the phone.
9:41 a.m. "Mark" from Mendota Heights calls to say he's flown from Seattle to Minneapolis twice this month, using Delta once and Alaska once. He used "points plus cash" and asked if more of "these types of programs will come back?" He spent $100 plus 12,000 frequent flyer miles.
Peterson says "that was more infamous with Northwest WorldPerks." That program has gone away, of course. He says Delta has its own program with "dynamic pricing" where every mile that you have in your account will have a value. If you buy an airline ticket for $178, that would be 17,800 miles. "That's the new thing; airlines are looking to integrate frequent flyer miles as a new form of currency."
9:45 a.m. - A caller from Northfield mentions charter flights for business. This is becoming a controversy around here because the Star Tribune reported that Xcel Energy is using corporate jets and passing the cost on the ratepayers. In the context of this discussion, I'll point out this commentary which was published yesterday defending the practice.
9:48 a.m. This comment from Lisa below:
I have tried to use my FF miles for the holiday's with Delta/NW from MPLS to Florida to see my family, and they are charging double the miles for a ticket (up to 55,000 miles). The customer service rep told me it's my fault since I didn't book my ticket a year in advance.
Yes, that's the joy of flying right there. The love the customer service agents show you. Her full comment is below.
9:50 a.m. - Are airlines going to charge for carry on luggage? Peterson says he thinks it's just an Internet rumor. He says an airline like Spirit would try it before an airline like Delta would, especially considering this Southwest marketing campaign.
9:55 a.m. - Caller "Bill" from North Oaks calls to complain about the wait for baggage. It's also the wait for security etc. Peterson notes how long it takes to get from the B concourse down to baggage at MSP. You might as well be landing in Hudson. "It takes more time for security and baggage now than it does for the flight," he says.
9:57 a.m. - "Mike," a pilot, says airlines have to nickel and dime customers with fees because of the cost of fuel. Jones says the fees are here to stay. "As much as people complain, people are getting used to them," she says, which brings me back to the question I asked earlier. Since when do people ask for something different than what they're given from the airlines?
That's today's discussion. Continue it below.
The FAA on Friday released transcripts and audio of the communication -- or lack of it -- between air traffic controllers and the pilots of Northwest flight 188, which overshot Minneapolis last month.
What do the tapes tell us that we didn't already know? Nothing, except that the first question controllers had when they re-established contact wasn't "what happened?" It was "how much fuel do you have?" Mercifully, the flight had another two hours of fuel.
The second question was "what happened?" The answer was no different than what we've heard so far -- "cockpit distractions."
The tapes also showed it was pilots of a Northwest Minneapolis-to-Hartford flight that made contact with the wayward pilots2 Comments)
Whether it's a money-sucking waste of time or a necessary vehicle to lay the groundwork for space exploration is a debate that will continue until the U.S. gets out of the space shuttle business five flights from now.
But for pure technological artistry, nothing beats today's landing of the space shuttle on a perfect morning in Florida, as witnessed via NASA's TV feed.
It's all the more remarkable when you consider that this happened only a little more than 100 years ago.(1 Comments)