It’s easy to comment favorably on a decision on the importance of aviation safety, which was just decided by the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp., et al., when your legal life is litigating air crash cases for plaintiffs. No. 14-4193 (3d Cir. Apr. 19, 2016). However, the Third Circuit got it right and its opinion is exhaustive, well-reasoned, and most importantly, accurately represents the reality of the regulatory environment in which aviation product manufacturers operate.
Few outside the air crash litigation world know how the party system at the NTSB works. When an airplane crash happens, it isn’t just the NTSB investigator-in-charge who goes to the scene to investigate. Under NTSB rules, manufacturers’ accident investigators are invited as parties to the investigation.
Thanks to former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, a Rand Report indicted this procedure as allowing aircraft manufacturers who had litigation in mind to be the fox guarding the henhouse by influencing the accident investigation away from failures in their components. This is the reason that pilot error is virtually always the cause assigned by the NTSB for an accident.
Well, in spite of good public money having been spent on the Rand study and the lessons that were supposed to be learned from it, the NTSB has taken the justly criticized party system a step further. The NTSB now permits the manufacturers of aircraft, whose accidents it investigates, to pass on promotions of NTSB air safety investigators to senior air safety investigator status. That’s right, in order to get a promotion at the NTSB, to advance in one’s career and receive more money and stature, the promotion hinges on approval from the people investigated. Put another way, if an investigator regularly finds a defect caused an aircraft accident instead of pilot error, he has essentially no chance of promotion.
This has caused a furor among air safety investigators at the NTSB, some of whom who refuse to play ball with the manufacturers’ attempts to place the blame for every accident on the dead pilot. Unfortunately, what these guys don’t know is that the system is fixed against them. Compared to the aircraft manufacturers the air safety investigators are powerless.
Not to worry! Nobody in the air crash litigation profession relies on the NTSB reports. We do our own investigation, which is more thorough and we know more about these airplanes and why they crash than anyone at the NTSB, so good does triumph over evil most of the time.
What is sad, however, is that the good guys who want to do the “independent” air crash investigation work that the “Independent Safety Board Act” was designed by Congress to accomplish are frustrated that their zeal to be independent is frustrated by a good ole boy network of Government and industry that stacks the deck against them.
So much for the promised return to integrity in Government!
– Arthur Alan Wolk
Aircraft wings and tails have forever been the collectors of enough ice to make them quit working like wings and tails. All it really takes is visible moisture, a cloud for example, and temperatures that approach freezing. The movement of the metal surfaces through the air is often enough to lower the temperature below freezing so even outside air temperatures above freezing will allow enough ice to form to give plenty of aerodynamic trouble.
Aircraft manufacturers have historically used de-ice devices to deal with ice, at least enough of it to satisfy the FAA’s paltry requirements to certify an aircraft for flight into “known icing conditions”. De-ice devices concede that the manufacturer will allow the aircraft to accumulate ice before activation is supposed to shed the ice, hence the term de-ice.
De-icing devices are typically rubber boots that inflate to break the ice off. The inflation pressures are supplied by an engine driven vacuum pump, bleed air taken from the compressor section of turbine engines or separate pumps electrically driven. Engine driven vacuum pumps have proven to be prone to failure just when they are needed most because of heat, sudden demands that fail their internal carbon blades, general deterioration or contamination just to name a few of the many reasons for un-annunciated sudden failure. Bleed air drawn from the compressors of little turbine engines is often not enough to completely inflate the boots, the air can often becomes contaminated with moisture and causes ice to form in the inflation tubes, and bleed air drawn from the compressor means less air for the engine to develop the necessary power to climb out of icing conditions or even to provide cabin heat.
Electrically driven air pumps is clearly the better idea because the pumps are single purpose and can supply full inflation pressures regardless of aircraft altitude, cabin heat requirements or moisture.
All of these systems share the same problem. They are designed to remove ice allowed to accumulate rather than preventing its accumulation. It is the accumulation of ice that has proven to be the undoing of many pilots and their aircraft because the manufacturers have hidden a very important fact. They don’t work effectively in the icing conditions that these airplanes regularly fly in and that most pilots think are safe to fly in. None of the federal agencies have taken strong action but there has been talk for decades about the problem. Nonetheless people continue to die each icing season.
Most deicing boots cover less of the airfoil than is required to remove dangerous accumulations of ice. Most deicing boots are impacted by the lack of adequate inflation pressure especially at altitude or with cabin heat on, and many deicing boots will accumulate moisture that will affect the amount of inflation. Couple this with some very unforgiving airfoils that have sharp stall characteristics and the use of deicing boots for known icing certification can be disastrous.
Federal authorities have been uniform in blaming pilots for icing accidents. Clearly these blame merchants are either not pilots, or have never flown in the clouds in the winter. Icing is unpredictable and even when forecast occurs only forty percent of the time. To blame a pilot for a crash because he didn’t predict weather even the National Weather Service can’t get right seems unfair since for the most part pilots are unaware of the limitations of their deicing equipment as manufacturers have not been honest about the limitations.
Other Than Trace To Light Icing, Deicing Equipment In Most General Aviation Airplanes Doesn’t Work.
Neither the testing nor the equipment was ever designed to permit continuous flight in moderate icing conditions. The regulations require it but the manufacturers do not test for it and the aircraft will not handle it. Not a believer, look at the accident reports. They are replete with pilots who cannot believe their multimillion dollar aircraft can’t handle continuous moderate icing, a question they no doubt carry to their deaths.
Even the manufacturers can’t agree with either each other or the Government about when to de-ice. Some say wait until three quarters to one inch of rime ice accumulates before activating the boots. Others say, no, activate boots at the first sign of ice. Some say wait for less clear ice to accumulate before activation and others say activate the boots when such ice is anticipated. Some say don’t activate the boots on approach because it will slow the aircraft by ten knots or so and other say use the boots continuously. Some say ice bridging occurs if you use the boots too soon and too frequently and others say that’s an old pilot’s tale, dead old pilot no doubt.
Some NACA five digit airfoils, widely used in general aviation and some smaller turboprop commuter aircraft grow ice aft of the boots just because of their angle of attack in flight. Some will accumulate ice aft of the boots at the highest point of lift at twelve percent cord and others will react violently especially when the ice accumulates on the horizontal tail. Some airplanes will suffer an ice-induced tail stall for which recovery virtually no pilots have been trained. It is opposite normal stall recovery and may not be recoverable at all.
The manufacturers of big airplanes, transport category airplanes, have long recognized that the use of deicing boots is not a safe solution for the demands of air carriers who may have to fly in ice for a long time. Years ago they abandoned de-icing boots in favor of anti-ice systems. As one famous aeronautical engineer from a well known manufacturer has said: “You could not expect de-icing boots to effectively remove ice from an aircraft that had to fly from Paris to New York much of it in icing conditions so we heated the leading edges of the surfaces instead so ice wouldn’t accumulate.”
Anti-ice as it is called is the only safe way to keep modern aircraft safe in icing conditions. Heating the leading edges of the aerodynamic surfaces is the best way. In turbine aircraft, bleed air from the compressor of the engine is routed though the leading edges. It heats stainless steel strips and they will not allow the accumulation of ice. This requires lots of bleed air and that robs the engines of power and increases fuel consumption. It requires much more power than is necessary for the flight itself and typically is found in larger more powerful aircraft although it is also used in regional jets and many executive jet aircraft but sadly not all. Requiring more power means more expense to buy, greater expense to operate but greater safety is the prize. Other anti-icing options include, weeping wings which bleed glycol or other anti-icing fluids through tiny holes in a mesh leading edge, and electrically heated leading edge devices. The electrically heated leading edge devices will become more and more prolific once low weight high power electrical generators are introduced currently being developed for the newest transport category airliners.
Fortunately for jet operators, much of their flying time is above the weather including icing conditions but as many of the very light jets compete for scarce airspace and air traffic delays due to bad weather become more common, these low powered mostly de-icing equipped jets will suffer from accidents due to the limitations of this equipment. The propeller driven piston powered airplanes are simply doomed to suffer accidents in icing conditions because “certified for flight into known icing conditions” is a cruel hoax for which they are clearly ill-equipped. Small turbine propeller driven aircraft are equally hexed because their tiny engines just don’t have sufficient bleed air to do the job to inflate the boots under the most demanding of flight conditions.
The answer is straightforward. First, the Federal authorities must get their acts together and make a sensible realistic definition of “known icing conditions”. Second, the Federal authorities must ensure that manufacturers comply not only with the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law. If a manufacturer anticipates as it should that a “known icing” certified aircraft will be flown in lots of different icing conditions then it must ensure the aircraft will do it safely. Today that is not so. Third, the Federal authorities must mandate that all aircraft with a “known icing” certification be equipped with anti-icing equipment sufficient to prevent the accumulation of ice and that all power plants have sufficient reserve power to effectively operate this equipment. Fourth, the Federal authorities must carefully review prior known icing certifications and monitor new ones to ensure not that the aircraft meets the letter of the law but that it will be safe to fly in all reasonably anticipatable icing conditions. Under no circumstances should Federal authorities be allowing manufacturers to rewrite their flight manuals after certification to accommodate the reality of accidents in airplanes that never met the requirements in the first place.
Safe flight in icing conditions can’t be the luck of the draw, it must be totally predictable, repeatable and without chance. The only thing manufacturers have control over is to design and build in the capability of an aircraft to safely fly in icing conditions. A higher authority has control over the existence of and the severity of icing conditions that are likely to be experienced. Given man’s control over the former and his lack of control over the latter it is incumbent upon him, and well within the technology, to ensure that emergence safely from the latter is guaranteed.
– Arthur Alan Wolk
In a bizarre twist the NTSB, never at a loss for confusing the causes of accidents with how much it can do for aircraft manufacturers, has suggested that pilot training needs improvement to handle double engine failures at altitude.
First, double engine failures on multi-engine airplanes are illegal if a common cause can result in failure of more than one engine. In short, the airplane should never have been certified as airworthy if this could happen.
It turns out that some jet engines at high altitude, high power settings and cold temperatures can lock up and refuse to restart. This is not only a violation of the certification regulations for the engines, but also of the airplane if both of them in a two engine airplane can do the same thing at the same time.
Instead of coming down like it should have on the manufacturers of the engines and airplanes, the NTSB has instead recommended that a multi-disciplinary panel of experts be convened to discuss improving pilot training. That training already exists! It’s called glider training because when two engines quit in a two engine airplane, the pilots are flying a glider!
What airplanes and engines are the NTSB referring to? The regional jets that increasingly carry more passengers to their destinations than the “real airplanes” that we used to fly in.
This NTSB recommendation, which ignores the seriousness of this life threatening problem and does not address its cause, is irresponsible.
My recommendation is that when both engines quit and you can’t restart, the crew should thank the NTSB and the FAA for failing to exercise their legal obligations to protect those who fly in aircraft.
– Arthur Alan Wolk
Gus Fossum was a simple guy on a mission. Raised on a farm in Minnesota, he never attended high school – while still a teenager in 1924 he went to the city to study automobile engines. He wanted to become an Army pilot, but obeyed his father and instead moved to Los Angeles in 1927. He studied aircraft mechanics in 1929-30 while owning and operating an auto garage (1928-1942). He owned several planes and flew often, including over the 1932 Olympic Games. In 1943 he joined the Navy and spent the war in Hawaii preparing planes for battle. After WWII he spent the next 25 years working for aircraft companies, including Northrop and General Electric, as an inspector. Over the years he constantly was thinking of ways to improve on the things he knew. He wanted to forever end the dreaded killer of so many in aviation – carburetor ice.
Carburetor ice has been a problem since airplanes were first invented, and even today is the most frequent cause of unexplained engine failure. It has been studied for generations, and some innovative fixes by some brilliant engineers have been proposed, but none implemented by General Aviation manufacturers. Teflon coating of the throttle plate and venturi was proposed by the Canadians after their tests showed virtually ice free operation. The Teflon simply won’t allow ice to stick. The cost to implement this was $1.50 per carburetor. It never happened. Others have proposed fuel additives to prevent ice formation, and still others have recommended that all carburetors be equipped with ice detectors so a pilot won’t have to guess if his loss of power is due to carburetor ice or some other cause.
But only one invention, Gus Fossum’s invention, puts an end forever to carburetor ice and all the injuries and deaths that have come from it. Gus designed, built, and installed in his airplane a prototype small updraft carburetor, the kind that Marvel Schebler and now Precision have built since the 1940s. He carefully machined oil channels in the casting, throttle plate and throttle plate shaft so hot engine oil would constantly warm the carburetor and prevent the formation of any ice. At his own great expense of time and money, he obtained patents for the device in 1975 (3,916,859) and in 1979 (4,169,442). Manufacturing costs would have risen slightly, but in production this remarkable innovation would have resulted in a negligible increase in cost. Gus tested his amazing invention, and then tried desperately to sell the concept to aircraft and engine manufacturers. While none denied his invention was not the cure that Gus proudly proclaimed it to be, not one manufacturer would entertain the idea of using it. Gus Fossum’s invention is still not being manufactured for any aircraft – and carburetor ice deaths and injuries continue unabated.
Gus Fossum died in 1999 before his dream of improving aviation safety by eliminating carburetor ice from the litany of causes of aircraft accidents was realized, but he should not be forgotten. It takes a courageous man to put his reputation and skill on the line, face off multi-billion dollar aircraft and engine manufacturers and show them the way to save lives and them from their own product liability exposure. They didn’t listen, but we should. The Gus Fossums of this world make it a better place. His widow Helen, now 94, and family savor the memory of the simple man who just wanted to help keep everyone safe in the aviation field he loved so much.
Rest in peace, Gus.
Fourteen people killed in an aircraft that can only carry 10 has the stench of carelessness all over it. Most PC-12s can safely hold only six to nine passengers and one or two pilots. Why were there so many aboard and where were they seated? These youngsters and adults were going skiing. Where was the baggage and where was it stowed? How much did it weigh? Why did the aircraft divert? What were the qualifications and experience of the pilot? Was there a second pilot aboard?
These preliminary answers are needed to explain why this aircraft fell out of the sky nose down before several eyewitnesses. Did it aerodynamically stall because it got too slow on final approach? Did it accumulate ice when flying at altitude and suffer a tail stall when the final flaps were selected? The weather at the accident site looked good but there was an area of significant icing en route. Did the engine quit as it has a number of other times in PC-12s, dooming the aircraft to a crash short of the airport?
My calculations show that to stay within the gross weight limits, the pilot could only have put about 160 gallons of fuel aboard, less than what is required for a two and one-half hour flight plus reserves. The payload of a PC-12 is about 3,900 pounds. Seven adults weigh a minimum of 1,300 pounds. Seven children weigh about 500 pounds minimum. Baggage is figured at about 1,000 pounds total which includes skis, boots, poles, clothes, etc. Together, that comes to 2,800 pounds, leaving about 1,100 pounds available for fuel or about 160 gallons.
The flight plan was for two and one-half hours en route which, together with required reserves, would have left very little useable fuel at the time of arrival and would have explained the diversion to a closer airport. Essentially the National Transportation Safety Board needs to look at whether the fuel was managed properly, or whether the engine quit on a short final approach with the fire coming from unusable fuel that misted or perhaps there was more unusable fuel than certified.
Other questions must also be answered. Some of the equipment on board may have had a nonvolatile memory chip that could be helpful but the fire and impact may have destroyed that forever.
The PC-12 like so many other turboprops has deicing boots that inflate to remove accumulated ice. These boots have proved inadequate in many other turboprops and if runback ice accumulated on the tail or on the wings at altitude and could not be shed, the extension of flaps might have shifted the center of lift aft and caused a tail stall which would have pitched the nose down sharply as described by witnesses. Coming on the heels of Continental flight 3407 at Buffalo for similar reasons, it is long overdue that turboprops be prohibited from flying in icing conditions until they all are retrofitted with anti-ice instead of deice equipment. That way ice is not permitted to accumulate at all on aircraft that have proved time and time again their inability to fly in icing conditions safely.
This crash like most will be found to have been preventable and unnecessary. How horrible for these parents and their families!
– Arthur Alan Wolk
Continental 3407 is just the most recent example of why turboprop passenger aircraft are unable to safely fly during icing conditions.
The American Eagle ATR 72 in Indiana, the Embraer 120 in Michigan, and some fifty Cessna Caravan crashes, all demonstrate the need to reassess whether turboprop aircraft, all equipped with long outdated and discredited deicing boots for ice protection, should be permitted to be dispatched when the weather looks like ice might be experienced, as in winter clouds.
All of these aircraft have wings that have high aspect ratio, meaning they are long and thin from front to back. All of them have tiny horizontal tails and use deicing technology rather than anti-icing technology to be certified for flight in known icing conditions. In short, the manufacturers of each of these aircraft convinced their certifying authorities to approve the aircraft to fly in weather conditions conducive to the formation of airframe icing because their deicing boots (inflatable rubber boots on the leading edges) could discharge enough ice to allow them to continue flying safely.
The reality is that large airplane manufacturers gave up deicing boots fifty years ago because they knew that they don’t work effectively. By design, deicing boots assume that ice will be allowed to collect on the wings and tail of the airplane and then be shed when the boots are inflated. The flaw in that theory is that most boots do not shed all the ice; in fact, residual ice continues to build, further impeding their performance until they just don’t work well at all. Additionally, deicing boots are usually limited to five percent of chord – the distance from front to back of the wing – so runback icing which collects beyond the boot coverage is unaffected by boot inflation.
Why do turboprops use boots? Simple. Turboprop manufacturers have been slow to utilize state-of-the-art anti-icing technology like heating the leading edges of the wings or extruding glycol from the leading edges (which then runs back and keeps the wings free of ice). To heat the leading edge, one must extract heat from the engines, compromising power and increasing fuel consumption. Also, many turboprop engines just don’t have enough bleed air to use for this purpose. The TKS, or glycol system, requires plumbing, a wire mesh leading edge that needs frequent cleaning as well as glycol, which increases the aircraft’s weight.
This age-old problem is what took Continental 3407 down. The weather from a warm front that had overridden cold air at the surface consisted of rain that was falling into the cold air and becoming SLD, super-cooled large droplets. These drops, still liquid but below freezing, immediately turn to ice when they touch a cold surface like an aircraft wing or tail and then run back past the boot coverage, contaminating the airfoil and destroying its ability to create lift. What pilots are not told is that no aircraft is certified to fly in freezing rain or drizzle so if they are dispatched in such weather, they are test pilots.
In most instances the exposure to SLD is brief but for Continental 3407 it wasn’t brief enough. It encountered freezing rain, and as a result, accumulations of ice on the wings and windshield, a condition which was discussed by the crew. They activated the deicing equipment and fully expected it to take care of the encounter. What they didn’t know was that the aircraft was never certified or equipped to handle freezing rain or drizzle and that ice was collecting on the tail, aft of the boot coverage, which they could not see.
As they descended for their instrument approach, the crew was unaware that another danger awaited, the extension of their wing flaps. With the flaps up, the tail was barely able to exert a down force on the aircraft sufficient to keep the nose where the crew directed it. Once the flaps and landing gear were extended, however, the tail would have to counteract the tendency toward a down nose pitch caused by those extensions. It simply could not do that as a result of the ice contamination. Just as soon as the flaps were extended, the load requirement on the tail increased, it stalled, quit flying, and the nose of the aircraft pitched suddenly down. Ice on the wings aft of the boots rendered the ailerons less effective in controlling roll, and the aircraft rolled violently as well. The crew immediately attempted to retract the landing gear and flaps, just as they were taught to do, but they had insufficient altitude to recover and insufficient elevator authority left in the tail to arrest the steep pitch down. The aircraft struck the ground in a near vertical attitude, perhaps flattened at the last moment due to the flight deck crew’s quick thinking to retract the flaps. However, it was insufficient to arrest the descent and all aboard were killed instantly.
This accident was a duplicate of the ATR-72 and Embraer accidents of years ago and similar to many of the Caravan crashes as well.
What do all these aircraft have in common? They all have deicing boots instead of anti-icing equipment. While many of the Caravan crashes have occurred in very benign icing environments, deicing boots have repeatedly shown their inability to safely see an aircraft through winter flying conditions that can be anticipated. The accident rate and its toll on human lives are simply unacceptable. The manufacturer of the Dash 8 Q400 that was Continental 3407 knew better than anyone that boots were wrong for aircraft of this size and use. It doesn’t use boots on any other aircraft it manufactures and for good reason.
Likewise Continental knew, or should have known, that it was dispatching Flight 3407 into freezing rain and drizzle and its aircraft was not certified for that flight condition. More likely than not, Colgan Airways, the Continental contract carrier operating the flight, was likely told the Dash 8 could operate in all winter weather that could be anticipated. In fact, it simply could not.
The NTSB will investigate and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board will participate. The result will be long and expensive studies into icing once again. That’s what governments do – they study, study and re-study but they do not fix the problem. The fix is simple. Restrict the flight conditions under which turboprops can be dispatched. They are already restricted, but obviously the airlines don’t yet get it. Then re-equip all turboprops used for passenger transportation with more effective anti-icing equipment. Lastly, prohibit the extension of flaps for any landing where accumulations of ice are suspected on the aircraft. Turboprops, and especially booted turboprops, have no place any more in the transportation of people. Their time has come and gone. Good riddance!
– Arthur Alan Wolk
The captain, the first officer, and the Department of Homeland Security
Recently, two events captured the news media’s attention. One was a Delta Airlines Boeing 767 that landed on the taxiway instead of the runway at the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The other was a Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 whose crew failed to communicate with air traffic control or the company dispatch for more than an hour and a half, and missed its destination by 150 miles until the flight attendant knocked on the cockpit door to ask why there was no descent for landing.
The first incident occurred when the Delta crew flew a lengthy international trip. When the Boeing 767 arrived at the airport, the runway end identifier lights were out of service (they’re the little white flashing lights that tell pilots where the runway starts) and the localizer was also shut down (the electronic pathway that guides pilots to the runway end). So, with an air traffic controller obviously asleep at the switch, the big B-767 landed on the taxiway right next to the runway. Under different circumstances, like another airplane on the taxiway, this could have been a disaster. You might ask how that could happen, but here are all the things that add up to this event.
With all of the runways at the Hartsfield, giving landing clearance to an airliner on a runway with much of its safety equipment inoperative is inexcusable. The crew should have refused the landing clearance. But the FAA has for years contributed to the problem by using confusing lighting at the airport. I have argued with the guy in charge of airport signage for 30 years but since the idea wasn’t invented in his head, nothing gets changed for the better. The runway lights are orange, both sides and the centerline. The taxiway lights are green down the centerline and blue on each side. Since the centerline of some taxiway’s are green, and some are yellow like the runway and yes some are green and yellow at the end where the runway intersects, it’s no wonder that a pilot looking at them from afar can mistake a taxiway, especially a large one, for a runway. So the flight deck crew, tired after a long flight, looks at the myriad of lights and thinks the taxiway is to the left instead of the right because there is nothing to identify it clearly and lands on the taxiway. Nothing really unsafe here as long as the taxiway is unoccupied because the taxiways at the Hartsfield are as wide as runways at other airports. If the taxiway had totally blue lights it would have been unmistakable but, no, the FAA has a better idea, keep it confusing so one disaster or near disaster after another can happen. The controller too must have been glassy eyed because he didn’t warn the Delta flight and at that hour he had nothing else to do.
All accidents and incidents have more than one cause. In this case it was the combination of no warning, no runway identifier lights, no localizer, confusing taxiway lighting, tired crew.
The Northwest flight is another near disaster. The flight departed San Diego, CA for Minneapolis. Shortly after passing Denver, air traffic controllers were unable to raise the flight by radio. Company dispatch likewise couldn’t get the flight deck crew’s attention. The aircraft flew 600 miles, passed Minneapolis and then only after a flight attendant pounded on the cockpit door, the crew turned the airplane around and landed. The cockpit voice recorder was recorded over so the cockpit conversation that preceded the turnaround was unavailable. The flight deck crew first reported they were having a heated discussion and just lost situational awareness. Then they said they were working on their laptops, a prohibited flight deck activity. The FAA’s punishment was swift and not unexpected, emergency revocation of the flight deck crew’s pilots’ licenses, a vocational death knell to this very experienced and otherwise incident free crew. It is painful to see this unfold because the crew was obviously sleeping. Had they come clean right away and blamed it on scheduling, or interruption in their circadian rhythm from sleep deprivation, perhaps a little mercy would have been shown them at least on appeal.
But never touched by the press was the fact that the Department of Homeland Security was more sound asleep than the crew. That aircraft was airborne far longer than any flight on 9/11 yet no fighters were scrambled to check on it, no steps were taken to protect cities, sensitive military or civilian installations from an aircraft that, for all the Department knew, was hijacked. Falling asleep and endangering the passengers by possibly running out of fuel is one thing but risking them being shot down is quite another. In short, everyone on that aircraft could have been dead either from a crash or a worst nightmare, being shot down for no good reason.
What we need to ask ourselves is how did the Department of Homeland Security fail us again? It demonstrates to me that we have learned nothing from 9/11 and worse, after hundreds of billions spent, we are no better off eight years later.
Now Congress, if it can interrupt its current investigation of the two concussions suffered annually in NFL play, should instead focus on why Homeland Security failed us and whether a Bugs Bunny alarm clock is needed in aircraft cockpits. More realistic however, should be the introduction of real time video of the cockpit crew steaming back to the dispatcher. This would obviate the need for a cockpit voice recorder and be a useful tool to address a growing problem of cockpit fatigue due to the boredom of automated aircraft. It would also vastly simplify accident investigation.
This week was prophetic and lucky. The fatigue suffered from having nothing to do is risky, the absence of hundreds of deaths because of it is really lucky, and the incompetence of the Department of Homeland Security may sadly portend bad things to come.
– Arthur Alan Wolk
Nine people dead and everyone is wondering how this could happen. The nut cases are out in force, shrieking that small aircraft are a menace and should be banned from New York airspace. The NTSB sent a go-team along with representatives of each of the aircraft makers and their engine builders to investigate the mid-air crash. If it had happened to anyone else, they would have sent a new hire with two weeks training.
This cause of the accident is simple and anyone who has ever flown into New York’s airspace could have predicted something like it would happen. Even though Visual Flight Rules (VFR) aircraft regularly use this airspace, if a careful pilot wants to get radar flight-following he might as well try calling the President because no one answers.
Altman didn’t have the chance to call Newark Approach Control before his aircraft was struck by the climbing helicopter
At the same time, a Liberty Helicopters tour was about to embark on a sight-seeing flight from the 30th Street Heliport and enter the same densely populated airspace, flying Southbound over the Hudson while climbing.
The helicopter pilot was climbing South in a blue helicopter that blended perfectly with the Hudson below while Steve, flying the Saratoga, was headed South.
As the aircraft converged, the helicopter gaining altitude and the fixed wing no longer in a position to see the helicopter climbing, they either collided or the downwash from the helicopter literally sucked the air out from under the airplane’s right wing. The right wing of the aircraft contacted one of the rotor blades and was immediately sliced off. The helicopter rotor, now hopelessly unbalanced, tore off, shaft and all, and the two doomed aircraft fell to the river below.
Recently received video of the crash shows that the Altman Piper was struck from the left and below by the helicopter. The video clearly establishes that Altman had the right of way as aircraft to the right have the right of way. The helicopter just crossed right in front of the Piper and it appears that unsuccessful evasive action by Altman may have preceded the collision by an instant.
Anyone who has ever flown a low wing Piper knows the visibility limitations forward and down. Why did this happen? The answer is simple. First New York must make its radar separation services readily available to VFR traffic because the concept of “see and avoid” just doesn’t work. Second, the question must be answered whether the helicopter company pilots communicate their intentions on any frequency to warn other aircraft to look for them before they climb up into the stream of traffic. There is a frequency 123.05 for this purpose that is published on the Aeronautical Charts but it is a very crowded and often garbled frequency rendering it useless for traffic avoidance. Last, the choice of blue for the color of Liberty’s helicopters makes no sense given the crowded environment in which they operate.
Nine people dead for nothing but the FAA’s failure, once again, to do its job. The FAA failed to regulate the Helicopter tour operators so they would announce their intentions or be in contact with air traffic control. The FAA failed to assure clear procedures for aircraft entering the stream of VFR traffic South and Northbound in this narrow corridor. In short the FAA created a free for all and this time instead of the helicopters crashing into themselves, which the usually do, they took another airplane along.
The media’s talking heads are frightening in their complete ignorance of both the problem and the solution. Sometimes it’s more frightening to hear them talk than it is to know the facts because they have exposure that is far greater than their uninformed views deserve. I have flown this route many, many times. It is safe when pilots fly in a straight path at a single altitude until they transit the area. It is unsafe when others climb into the flow of traffic unannounced and with no air traffic control whatsoever.
Rules of flight must exist in this corridor. Aircraft and helicopters travelling North must hug the Manhattan shore at an altitude of 600 feet or below. Aircraft and helicopters travelling South should hug the New Jersey shore and be no lower than 700 feet and below 1100 feet. All aircraft transiting the area should be talking to someone who is an air traffic controller. All aircraft climbing or descending should be required to be in positive air traffic control.
Hopefully changes for the better will come out of this. I doubt it will happen because the FAA never does anything when a few innocent people die, it waits until an airliner dies before public pressure forces it to make changes.
This accident and the unspeakable misery it has caused nine families is unforgiveable.
– Arthur Alan Wolk
Statements made mislead the public
On January 18, 2000, the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, decried the publishing on Dateline ABC of portions of the audiotape from the cockpit voice recorder of the Cali, Colombia American Airlines crash in 1995. On that audiotape were communications among the flight crew that clearly show that they had violated the requirements of any sensible operation of the aircraft, and demonstrated further that they had no situational awareness certainly necessary for flying in mountainous terrain.
The Chairman said that Congress put restrictions on the use of CVRs for the “advancement of air safety.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Chairman should investigate further before making such statements, which mislead the public.
The reason Congress restricted the release of the cockpit voice recorder tapes was because it was lobbied by the pilots’ union after the release of cockpit voice recorder tapes from other accidents showed that supposedly professional flight crews were violating all of the rules of common sense in the operation of aircraft at critical times during the flight and immediately preceding accidents. Cockpit voice recorder tapes that were publicized revealed that pilots were talking about women, cars, sex acts, and the like at critical moments of the flight and not paying attention to their flying duties, which resulted in tragic accidents and loss of life. This was extremely embarrassing to the airline industry, to pilots who were members of the pilots’ union, and to the Federal government because no one was enforcing the sterile cockpit rule which precludes any non-pertinent conversation when the aircraft is at 10,000 or below.
The enactment of the cockpit voice recorder restriction statute had nothing to do with safety, the enhancement of safety, or anything related to safety. It had to do with embarrassment, and depriving the public of the right to know what was going on in the cockpits of airliners which they thought was strictly business.
Rather than enhancing safety, or being designed to enhance safety, the Bill to which the Chairman of the NTSB refers has worked exactly the other way. Exposing non-pertinent conversation and the ineptitude of pilots causes public awareness, public discussion (among pilots, too), and will result long-term in the enhancement of safety, rather than keeping it secret and having nobody know what really happened in the cockpit.
The law should be changed and the NTSB should be better informed as to what lobbyist it was who got the law passed in the first place.
– Arthur Alan Wolk