Month: December 2009

AS CLOSE AS IT GETS
It’s time for us, the passengers, to take control of aviation security

The recent Northwest Airlines near terrorist disaster brings back into focus just why we are in this horrible security predicament in aviation.

Before 9/11, we as a people were let down by our Government. The Bush 41, Bush 43 and Clinton administrations did not take terrorism seriously and did nothing to curb the growth of organized hatred for the United states, in spite of explicit warnings. Nothing was done after the World Trade Center bombings of 1994 to seriously address the threatened destruction of these structures. The FAA permitted knives of up to a four-inch blade to be carried by passengers on aircraft. The Immigration and Naturalization service did not have a list to prevent known terrorists from flying or from entering our country. The FBI ignored explicit warnings from at least two of its field offices that persons of Middle Eastern descent were learning to fly but not land airliners. The State Department was just too busy throwing cocktail parties to do anything useful. On 9/11 the terrorists were stopped for further interrogation because they all carried box cutters and then allowed to board because it wasn’t illegal in spite of the implications that anyone with a brain could have figured out.

So 3,000 people lost their lives and everyone remonstrated, while in Middle Eastern capitals they celebrated.

Fast forward, some guy is denied boarding on an American Airlines flight from France to the United States because he appears unstable and a day later he is allowed on. He tries to blow the airliner up unsuccessfully with a shoe bomb and now we all must take off our shoes before going through security.

Fast forward, a man is identified to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria by his father as radicalized and likely to cause harm to the U.S. and he is placed on the terrorist watch list but allowed to board an airliner in Nigeria for a flight ultimately to the U.S. The State Department does nothing. ICE, the new improved name for the old ineffective agency that is supposed to keep the bad guys out of this country does nothing. The TSA does nothing, and he is allowed to board a U.S. bound airliner with a bomb.

Now Lagos, Nigeria has been repeatedly on the U.S. State Department list of airports with questionable security anyway, yet this man who is a known risk is allowed to board, fly to the Netherlands and then board a U.S. bound aircraft with no one stopping him as a known terrorist.

Fortunately, his bomb doesn’t go off and we are spared another disaster of incompetence.

Now what is TSA doing about all of this born of the Government’s failure to do anything to protect us once again? It is going to impose more stringent security measures on whom…us. How stupid is this? What will it accomplish to keep us in our seats for the last hour of the flight because this man was said to have entered the bathroom for 20 minutes before he tried to detonate his bomb. Nothing we have done since 9/11 and nothing since each of these events have protected us from anything.

The only way to prevent terrorism on aircraft is to keep the terrorists away from the airport. Anything less will not work since our Government has proved itself again and again to be incompetent.

Here’s a further suggestion. Fire the people at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria responsible for this neglect. Fire the people at ICE who didn’t make their terrorist list a no fly list. Fire the people at the FAA who have proven once again to be ineffective. Fire the people at Homeland Security and TSA who still do not do their jobs to protect us.

We passengers are the last hope to prevent a terrorist from causing the deaths of all aboard. The Northwest passengers were lucky because had the detonator worked, they would all be dead. We are all self deputized as air marshals since the Government has failed us. We have the duty and responsibility to do the profiling that our Government refuses to do and report anyone who fits our view of a suspicious or dangerous person. If the Government won’t do it, we must help ourselves.

Lastly, we must require a background check of everyone who boards or wishes to board an International Flight. All done by and at the expense of the country who issues the passport, which then should be held fully responsible for the consequences of failing to their jobs effectively. In short, if you want to come here, you should prove that you will do us no harm.

We are at war and we still treat aviation as if it is not part of the front line in this war. We will have a disaster if we don’t start taking this risk seriously.

– Arthur Alan Wolk

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REPEAT LESSON: Landing in thunderstorms is dangerous

American Airlines learned yet again that attempting a landing in a thunderstorm can be very tricky. This is the second such accident suffered by the carrier in 10 years when its crew landed in very heavy rain from a thunderstorm over the airport.

Here’s the problem. Thunderstorms generate very sharp changes in air current direction and velocity called wind shear. They also drop lots of rain in a short time making visibility poor and just coating the runway with sheets of water making tire traction and braking marginal. Even with the best auto braking and anti-skid, stopping distances are greatly increased. Pilots reacting to the bumps and windshear on approach add extra speed which further increases the landing distance and stopping distance as well. Put this all together and an overshoot is predictable, as occurred recently in Jamaica.

Fortunately, the aircraft left the runway at very slow speed so even though it broke into three pieces, the velocity was slow enough so injuries were not life threatening.

Interestingly, this airport had no safety areas beyond the runway ends to prevent damage to the aircraft, opting instead to use all the available real estate for the runway. Had the required 1,000 foot safety areas been in place beyond the 8,900 foot paved surface, or had EMAS (porous concrete that slows aircraft about to leave the runway) been installed, this airplane likely would have been towed out intact and no one would have received injury. One day, all airports that receive commercial service will install such safety features but until then, these accidents will continue. At this airport not only was there no safety area, there was an abrupt drop-off from the runway edge to the adjacent road and beach below, which broke the airplane that otherwise would have likely remained intact. The airport approach light system was incomplete due to a month long outage which, had it been working, would have assisted the crew in making a stabilized approach under the adverse weather conditions.

Bottom line, every pilot should once again be reminded that landing in a thunderstorm is a chancy proposition, especially on an island runway at night in very heavy rain and windshear. Holding for 20 minutes until the rain subsided would have been a better choice. There simply is no substitute for a stabilized approach and without it, landings become an unpredictable event.

American Airlines should lobby very hard for safety areas or EMAS at all airports it serves. It should also remind its flight crews that landing long and fast in the rain at night leaves very little margin left if the airplane can’t stop. All aboard this flight were very lucky.

– Arthur Alan Wolk

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