Category: Commentaries

Runway incursions still happening. FAA’s Latest Solution More Lights   The problem of runway incursions has been around for as long as there are runways.

But at big airports, especially at night, the problem has been more frequent and more dangerous.

Big airports have radar to tell the tower where airplanes are on the surface and many pilots now have GPS that tells them where they are, but runway incursions still happen.

The FAA’s preferred solution is to throw money at the problem in the hope that it disappears. So the FAA has spent billions changing colors, adding colors, adding lights, changing lights but the problem persists.

Let’s see why.

All taxiways have yellow lines drawn down the centerline. Put your nose wheel on it and your good…well not really.

Some taxiways have green lights imbedded on top of the yellow lines. Follow the green and you are good…well not exactly.

Of course the taxiways are marked on each side by blue lights so stay between the blue lights and you are okay…well no.

 

Then there are the big painted circles that are invisible at night with the runway number painted on them on the taxiway.

 

And there are the flashing red/yellow lights at the end of the taxiway and entrance to the runway.

 

Does that mean stop, caution, both or just another cool set of lights.

Of course the lights for the taxiways are yellow with black letters and for the taxiway you are taxiing on the background is sort of yellow and black with black letters.

 

Now the FAA has been adamant that all pilots be taught to follow ATC instructions. So adamant has the FAA been that instead of using English terms as required by International agreements, they have chosen to alter the language to throw in a little linguistic confusion. Traditionally, that means forever, the FAA said that “Position and Hold” meant enter the runway and stay put until “Cleared for Takeoff.”

Every pilot on the planet knew this term.

But, so everyone could be confused and eons of training and experience thrown to the wind, the FAA had the bright idea of changing the well-worn phrase to “Line Up and Wait.”

Now, if there is no line this phrase makes no sense and there could be no line because only one aircraft is allowed on the runway at a time. But, we pilots have come to learn it and abide by it, senselessness or not.  Which brings me to the latest goofy FAA expenditure called “Runway Status Lighting Systems.”

The FAA had the bright idea, bright red in fact, to add a new set of lights to the confusing array of lighting and painting color symbiology.

On the taxiways adjacent to the active runway are red lights imbedded into the tarmac. If you are cleared onto the runway and the lights are red, you are to disregard your ATC clearance stay put and ask what’s up.

Once you are cleared to Line Up and Wait, assuming the red lights are off or you have been instructed by ATC to disregard them, after you line up or are cleared for takeoff there are another set of imbedded lights on each side of the Runway Centerline. If they are lit you are not to takeoff, but to ask ATC whether it really means cleared for takeoff or something else. Meanwhile, other aircraft that may be landing on the same runway will no doubt be going around until this is all sorted out. If you are making an intersection takeoff, you will never see either set of status lights so you are doomed.

 

Well done once again FAA. You have spent tens of millions of dollars to add more confusion to the process, guaranteed more runway incursions, and worse now told pilots to disregard ATC instructions when these lights are lit, which they may or may not see.

Over and Lights Out!

Arthur Alan Wolk

5/30/19

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It seems incomprehensible that American Airlines and Southwest Airlines can refuse to ground their B-737 Max 8’s while the rest of the world grounds theirs in the face of two accidents that have claimed the lives of nearly 350 people.

There would not be enough money in the world to pay the punitive damages claims that either airline would have to pay in the event one of their Max 8’s dived into the ground because the MCAS failed again.

Today Boeing announced a software fix that reduced the control authority of the MCAS so the elevators would still be able to allow the crew to pull out of a dive induced by runaway stabilizer trim and added a comparator so if either Angle of Attack sensor disagreed, the system wouldn’t work. This is a good first step but the airplane should never have been certified by the FAA without those features in place. It has a single point failure, one sensor operated the system at a time, and this emergency system alone created a worse emergency.

Do American and Southwest’s Max 8’s already have the software or some version of it that the International carriers do not have? If so the culpability of Boeing would be worse, if that’s possible, but the FAA would also have to be complicit which would explain why it rushed to defend Boeing and the decision of American and Southwest not to ground their fleets. If American and Southwest have a revised MCAS and they remain silent about it, they are morally corrupt for remaining silent.

There is no evidence that the U.S. carriers’ aircraft are any different than those sold overseas but something is driving this arrogance in the face of certain disaster.

Arthur Alan Wolk

3/12/19

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Boeing has announced and the FAA has agreed to software changes to the MCAS system, the anti-stall system suspected in causing 300 deaths in the last 4 months on the Boeing 737 Max 8.

The Boeing announcement says the enhancements include updates to “the MCAS flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.”

Yet just yesterday the FAA issued a certification of continued airworthiness for the 737 Max 8 claiming to the world that in spite of the two recent accidents, the airplane is just fine. That’s funny, an Airworthiness Directive addresses safety of flight issues and one is already issued on an emergency basis and the software enhancements are included in the second to be issued in April. Other changes are likely to be mandated as well.

So the B-737 Max 8 is so safe that over 300 people are dead and it needs to be changed to keep flying yet the FAA hasn’t grounded it until the “enhancements” are introduced.

Other U.S. carriers who operate the Max refuse to take it out of service. What will the FAA say when another one goes down, this time in the U.S., “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims’ families.”?

This is politics as usual and the FAA is covering up its embarrassment for having certified an airplane with an emergency system that causes its own emergency. The 737 Max 8 will one day be fixed just like the 737 rudder was after six accidents years ago, but right now until it’s fixed it should remain on the ground.

The FAA is useless!

Arthur Alan Wolk

3/12/19

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Two crashes within a few short months of each other, hundreds dead, experienced crews aboard each and a known absent control redundancy? This airplane needs another look by embarrassed regulators.

The Boeing 737 MAX is a further lengthened version of the most popular airliner ever conceived, the 737. But the differences in the MAX are more than just size. The MAX is so stretched that a control intervention system, The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, was included that figured into the crash of the LIONAIR JT 610 crash in Indonesia. In that crash, an angle of attack sensor malfunction was implicated as well as a failure by Boeing to provide adequate differences training materials (documents to advise flight crews how operating the MAX differs from other 737s).

While LIONAIR maintenance and pilot error was charged by Boeing, as it always does after an accident, it turns out that normal emergency techniques for this control system malfunction do not work.

It appears now that absent proof that foul play or a different mechanical malfunction brought this airplane down, this Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX accident must be a trigger for a Special Airworthiness Review to see if the regulations for certification were not given short shrift.

For example, the Federal Aviation Regulations require control system redundancy so no single failure can cause a crash. In the new MAX design, there are two angle of attack sensors but only one supplies the needed critical information to the flight control computer at any one time. That may be a violation of the redundancy requirement and both systems operating properly with a comparator of the health of the two should have been required.

But there appears to be an ugly side to this aircraft. The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System in the MAX pitches the nose down when the a system senses an angle of attack higher than required for normal flight or one that would result in an aerodynamic stall. Since the system is a required control system for dispatch, by making only one angle of attack sensor required and indeed used at a time, Boeing hedged on the likely failure of two AOA’s at the same time and got it certified.

Now the FAA, the agency that certified the aircraft will fall all over itself to deny that the MAX doesn’t meet the regulations but it said the same thing when three B-737s crashed from a rudder control problem that the FAA denied existed. More than 600 people lost their lives while the FAA defended its actions and stood in Boeing’s shadow until the NTSB reluctantly and due in part to the work of Arthur Alan Wolk required a reliably redundant rudder control system.

Until the cause of this latest crash is determined, the MAX should be grounded and a bottom up review made to see how this new band aid system fails, how its failure can be annunciated to the flight crew and how it can be stopped once it runs away.

It is no coincidence that both aircraft crews lost control close to the ground and unless something else is quickly identified as the cause, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System must be a suspect. Something about the MAX’s design required this unheard of mechanical intervention in the normal control of the Boeing 737, literally taking control away from the crew so the airplane doesn’t crash. The fact that it is known that this supposedly lifesaving system may itself cause a crash makes a careful re-examination of it appropriate before 600 people are lost instead of the more than 300 dead already.

Arthur Alan Wolk 3/10/2019

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No lawyer in the world has as much experience with the Boeing G 737 Control System malfunctions as Arthur Alan Wolk of THE WOLK LAW FIRM. The crash of Lion Air Flight JT 610 is beyond a tragedy for the 189 souls aboard. It is a disgrace.

The Boeing 737 MAX is equipped with a flight control system designed to prevent the crew from
accidentally stalling the airplane. It’s called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System” In
this instance stall means aerodynamic stall or the airplane quits flying not engine failure. The incidence of airliner crews accidentally stalling their airplanes is almost non-existent except when in the unlikely
event the flight control system malfunctions and misleads the flight deck crew into mis-handling the emergency. This occurred over the Atlantic during an Air France Flight to Paris from Buenos Aires some
years ago. All aboard were killed so every aircraft manufacturer was on notice that the systems were getting too complex and confusing even for experienced flight crews to master.

Boeing airplanes have traditionally avoided the use of computer interventions which take control of the
aircraft away from the flight deck crew and the Boeing 737 MAX is the first time Boeing has departed
from that control system design philosophy in the Boeing 737 type. The MAX system literally uses two
Angle of Attack sensors which feeds information to a horizontal stabilizer trim system that will force the nose of the aircraft down if the angle of attack (the angle between a line down the middle of the
fuselage and the air it is flying through) gets too steep. This system inexplicably uses only one of the two angle of attack sensors so it has a built in single point failure in the event that the one it is using fails.
The computer senses that at that angle even if incorrectly measured due to a malfunctioning angle of attack sensor, the airplane is approaching or will approach stall and trims the stabilizer nose down to prevent the aircraft from stalling. The problem is that the system won’t allow the crew to disable it in a timely way if at all and it will take control away from the crew all the way into the ground or ocean. In fact since the system only works when the airplane is in manual flaps up condition, lowering the flaps
would have disabled it but nobody in the cockpit knew that because Boeing didn’t tell them.

In the instance of the Boeing 737 MAX, there was nothing in the FAA Approved Flight manual to advise
the crew of this anomaly or how to deal with it and nothing in the differences training (the training of flight deck crews in one type of B-737 to know what’s new or different about the MAX) to cover it.
Therefore the Lion Air crew was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place trying to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it.

There is no question that Boeing knew about the issue and the potential failure mode because it designed and built the system. It was obligated to create a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis so the various potential failures could be addressed. It also knew it had a responsibility under the Federal
Aviation Regulations to design the system so it could be flown by pilots of ordinary piloting skills, without the use of excessive strength and the system must be able to be overridden by the crew using
ordinary strength and easily disabled it if it malfunctions.

Boeing was required to supply the FAA with a Flight Manual, that only the FAA can approve, which gives the crew all the necessary information to deal with emergencies and abnormal conditions and under no circumstances is one emergency allowed to create an even wors emergency. Clearly the FAA didn’t read it, didn’t understand it, didn’t flight test it and just rubber stamped it.

This Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System was malfunctioning on four flights before the
accident flight. The flight deck crews reported the malfunctions and Lion Air maintenance people claiming they used the manuals that Boeing supplied, troubleshot the squawk and claim they fixed the system as instructed. The problem is that this malfunction could not be effectively troubleshot on the ground as the angle of attack sensors typically fail in the air. That’s why each succeeding flight deck crew had the problem again. In addition the system cannot be effectively troubleshot by the methods the maintenance personnel were given in continuing airworthiness manuals that Boeing was required under the Federal Aviation Regulations to provide with all means necessary to maintain the aircraft safe for flight.

Many other types of jet aircraft have a single switch that will allow the crew to disconnect the entire
trim system. But because this was a stall protection system, often the means to disable it is more complicated so the protection is not lost. Clearly the crew of Lion Air JT610 was unable to disconnect or disable the system and the nose was pitched down in ever increasing amounts such that even tugging as hard as they could the crew could not overcome the dive to eventual oblivion. The very fact that the crew could not disable or override the system makes the system itself a violation of the same Federal
Aviation Regulations.

Arthur Alan Wolk litigated the Boeing 737 rudder malfunction accidents, United 525 in Colorado Springs,
Co. and USAIR 427 in Aliquippa Pa., for nine years successfully settling the cases of the many passengers he represented after proving, in spite of Boeing’s denials, that the rudder control system was flawed. It
has since been redesigned. Wolk proved the rudder control system defective not only to the NTSB which was mesmerized for years by Boeing’s denials but to Boeing and its insurers as well.

The rudder in the Boeing 737 also had a single point failure and there was no mention of a procedure to counter it in the FAA approved Flight Manual. The regulators don’t regulate and the manufacturers do not comply with the regulatory requirements.

No one is more qualified to litigate Lion Air JT 610 than Arthur Alan Wolk and The Wolk Law Firm.


Arthur Alan Wolk can be reached at the office 215-545-4220 or on his cell 610-733-4220.

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I have recently reviewed a number of discount fuel contracts, usually for jet aircraft, and imbedded in them is a surprise about which most owners and their pilots are completely unaware.

Every one of the contracts I read require the aircraft owner to release, indemnify and hold harmless not only the discount fuel company but also the FBO who supplies the fuel from everything, whether negligence or not and regardless of the consequences.

So if an FBO mis-fuels your aircraft or puts fuel full of contaminants in your airplane and you crash, you will be surprised, no doubt posthumously, that you have voided your insurance coverage by agreeing to relieve the FBO of any responsibility and on top of that have no remedy against either the FBO or discount fuel company.

What’s worse is the hold harmless provisions also make you liable for the FBO or discount fuel company’s attorneys’ fees. That could run into the millions of dollars and that won’t be covered either.

Oh, and in case you haven’t thought of it, the release, indemnity and hold harmless also means that when the fuel truck takes your right wing off on the ramp, you have agreed to release, indemnify and hold harmless the discount fuel company and FBO for that too.

When your insurance company gets wind of the contract you signed, without asking whether it wished to assume the release, indemnity and hold harmless you agreed to, the first notice you get will be a declination of coverage.

I brought this to the attention of a certain aircraft owners and pilots group who were touting the benefits of the discount fuel deal and all of them hadn’t ever read the contract they signed nor had they sent it to their insurance companies to incorporate into their policy as contractual liability. None of them cancelled the contract either. Be assured that when the sad event occurs, they will be the first to complain.

Aircraft insurance is not like the one on your car. It has lots of provisions that can trap an aircraft owner into no coverage. This one is easy. No contract to save a few cents on a fuel purchase is worth the loss of coverage.

Arthur Alan Wolk

December 3, 2018

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Finally waking up after its year and half long nap, the FAA decided to follow the lead of the manufacturer and order an immediate inspection of certain CFM-56 engines that power Boeing 737 aircraft.

The Emergency Airworthiness Directive which should have been issued days after the uncontained failure of the fan of another Southwest Airlines B-737 over the Gulf of Mexico in 2016, requires inspections of certain engines which have accumulated 30,000 cycles, off and on equal one cycle, and repeated inspections every 3000 cycles.

Engines which have accumulated 20,000 cycles must be inspected by August.

That tells me that the manufacturer already had the data to support the Emergency A.D. and that the extended time period requested by the airlines to comply with the long proposed A.D. here in the U.S. was even more unwarranted and outrageous.

Nothing has been said about reviewing the engineering and testing data on the engine nacelles which have proved themselves incapable of containing such engine failures, a very dangerous design flaw.

This accident and the break neck speed that it took the regulatory authorities to get moving once again demonstrates that from an engineering standpoint no one has to die or be injured before an airplane is fixed or a safety problem is identified, but the business model of the airlines and the attitude of Government makes it necessary that there be deaths or injuries before they are willing to do anything in a timely manner.

There needs to be a change of culture in this industry because one death is too many when it could have been easily prevented.

Arthur Alan Wolk

April 21st, 2018

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The death of a beautiful wife and mother did not have to happen. When she boarded Southwest Flight 1380 in New York she could not have known that both the airline she trusted, the FAA, part of the Government that is thought of as the watchdog for flight safety, and the NTSB the independent government agency that’s supposed to investigate accidents and make Safety Recommendations had ignored explicit warnings that a disaster was in the making.

In 2016, a Southwest Boeing 737 suffered a similar fan blade separation while over the Gulf of Mexico. It landed safely in New Orleans. The fan blade was found to have suffered a fatigue failure and while exiting the engine nacelle it too destroyed much of the front of that device that is supposed to contain such disintegrations. It didn’t.

The French manufacturer of the CFM-56 engine that powers all Boeing 737NG aircraft issued a Service Bulletin requiring airlines to perform ultrasonic inspection of the fan blades based upon time in service and the European Authorities felt the chances for loss of life was serious enough to issue an Airworthiness Directive that required all EU based airlines to perform the Service Bulletin. Our Federal Aviation Administration, always asleep, and always too little too late, is still fooling with a similar Airworthiness Directive for U.S. based airlines but hasn’t yet ordered the inspections. The manufacturer of the aircraft, The Boeing Company, did nothing to determine why uncontained engine failures were not “contained” by the very device that’s supposed to contain them.

While airlines are required to perform Service Bulletins, it is clear that Southwest, the airline that suffered the in-flight emergency in 2016, didn’t feel it was urgent enough to accelerate inspections on its own aircraft even after suffering the near tragic event that just as easily could have cost the life of its passengers and crew.

More than a year and a half later, with nothing done in the face of the events that warned everyone, the airline, the FAA, the manufacturer of the airplane, that a time bomb, the fan blades could explode, be uncontained, and bring down an airplane, Southwest 1380 killed a passenger.

Every airplane telegraphs its intention to fail long before it happens. An accident is no surprise, it’s always a consequence of the people in charge who fail to act quickly enough.

The death of this lovely woman is beyond a disgrace, it is unwarranted, it is the result of a total absence of care, a gross abuse of a system that was supposed to protect the flying public.

Touting that there had not been a fatality since 2009 in U.S. airline operations, the FAA and NTSB were lauding their own skill and job performance while ignoring the hard facts. They failed in their duties and without some coercion from Government airlines do as little as possible.

The Service Bulletin gave the airlines too much time. The Airworthiness Directive gave the airlines too much time. The FAA is incompetent and the NTSB should have issued a Safety Recommendation after the 2016 incident and didn’t.

To learn more, see my TV interviews about the incident.

Arthur Alan Wolk

April 19th 2018

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Two beautiful families on vacation in Costa Rica were killed along with their guide and flight crew when the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan crashed on takeoff on December 31, 2017 in Nandayure, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica.  The NTSB, en route from the United States along with representatives of Cessna, the airplane’s manufacturer and Pratt and Whitney Canada, the engine manufacturer, mentioned high winds as perhaps playing a role.  That disturbing statement shows how the NTSB will immediately seize on nothing to set up its conclusion that the pilots were to blame for this accident.

This is the dilemma of aircraft accident investigation when the NTSB is “assisted” by only the companies most likely to face legal liability for this tragedy.  Any trained accident investigator who looks at the immediate aftermath of the crash can see the smoke rising straight up. That belies any assertion of high winds. Moreover, a Cessna Grand Caravan will not crash just because of non-hurricane force winds; which, in fact, will make it climb better not worse.

This appears to be a tragic case of engine failure which while not common, is not uncommon either. The causes of that failure vary, but generally in the P&W PT-6 engine it is likely to be a pneumatic fuel control malfunction, provided there is no catastrophic failure of internal engine components.  The actual investigation which will be much more thorough will be done by the lawyers and their experts who represent the occupants of the aircraft. Critical will be the preservation of the wreckage before it is manhandled into uselessness by the “official” investigators.

This awful tragedy, that has deprived the world of young vivacious people who have contributed so much to our society already, must be carefully investigated and the cause learned because a single engine aircraft that carries so many people must not be allowed to have another engine failure that takes so many lives.

The Wolk Law Firm grieves with these families and hopes that out this hopelessness some good can come.

Arthur Alan Wolk

1/2/18

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Technology is changing rapidly in aviation.

  • The old 6 pack design has given way to the glass cockpit.
  • Computer screens have replaced round dials.
  • Electric airplane instruments have replaced unreliable gyroscopic instruments.
  • GPS navigation is the norm while old style VOR’s and ILS approaches are being phased out.

To effectively litigate airplane crashes it is vital that your lawyers are well versed on advanced cockpits and the airplanes they are installed in.
The future causes of airplane accidents are not just because of stubborn reliance on antiquated engine technology but failures of the glass technology that often disappear after the accident. Knowledge of this technology is vital to solving the puzzle of why airplanes crash.

The Wolk Law Firm has two Airline Transport rated pilots, a former Naval Aviator who is also a flight instructor, another multi and single engine rated pilot and they are supported by two of the most sophisticated aviation lawyers in the country.
We are even rated with the unusual Airplane Transport Pilot certificate for seaplanes both multi-engine and single engine and type ratings in jet fighters and this Eclipse EA 50 twin jet which flies for the firm. We are current in the Air Traffic Control System and we know the regulations, the procedures and the art of flying airplanes.

Our experience which totals thousands of hours as pilot in command is vital to quickly and effectively investigate and determine the causes of even the most baffling airplane accidents. There is a reason the Wolk Law Firm is regularly consulted as on air experts after an airplane crash, it’s because we consistently provide reliable, well founded views on why airplane accidents happen. We are proud of the work we have done over nearly 50 years. We have raised a thousand children and been responsible for safety improvements in both general aviation and commercial aircraft.

That’s how The Wolk Law Firm has earned its reputation as the standard against which other plaintiffs’ aviation law firms are judged.
We hope that one day airplane crashes will be a thing of the past but until they are, we will be here to help.

 

Arthur Alan Wolk

December 23rd, 2016

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