From the Last Few Days: Oct 27

Northwest Airlines Flight 188

What a strange story this has become, since all of the early speculation proved incorrect.  The pilots were not discussing or napping, rather distracted by personal laptop use (which violated company policy).  The NTSB has published their initial findingsThe Wall Street Journal has step-by-step recap.  Everybody is putting their thoughts out there, including The Cranky Flier and Jetwhine blogs.  There have been jokes and the happy ending to ease people’s minds.

But, two things come to mind for me as to why this is terribly problematic.  As Matt Ziemkiewicz asked in the comments of the previous post, what if fighter jets had been deployed?  With no communication ability, the hijacking assumption was a feasible one.  I still don’t have complete understanding of why they weren’t deployed (which is a separate issue), but what if?  Secondly, I assume the company policy against this is in part due to the level of distraction understood to be likely with personal technology devices.  I think of  last year’s Los Angeles train crash with the texting engineer (via Reuters).  I feel the pilots and passengers were quite fortunate.  But, I hope the pilots are held accountable for their poor judgement.

UPDATE:  The FAA Has Revoked the Pilots’ Licenses (via NPR).

Airbags and Crash Survivability

About the time the balloon (sans boy) was landing, I was on the FoxNews website looking for more information on that saga, but happened upon a good story and video on the AmSafe test facility.  I can’t find the video again, but the related blog post is hereNPR’s story, which aired yesterday, examines the new FAA standard taking effect this week.

It requires protection of 16 times (up from 9 times) the force of gravity and AmSafe is offering airbags in seat belts as one way to achieve that.  It is all very interesting.  Good to see the standard improving.

Charter Airline Safety

Eric R. Byer on the NATA, Inside Washington Blog, has a critical response to the DOT Inspector General’s report entitled “On-Demand Carriers Have Less Stringent Safety Requirements Than Commercial Carriers.” Interesting comments on what, from their persepective, could be helpful on the FAA rule-making process.  But in Washington, is it really ever likely that we can do away with the politics?  I tend to view the reactionary rhetoric as part of the process, since most accidents, incidents or reports result in a period of that (typically before all the facts have been flushed out).

From the Last Few Days: Oct 23

This week, I had the opportunity to attend a screening in the GE Aviation Lecture series at the National Air and Space Museum.  Miles O’Brien and Patty Wagstaff were presenting a film they made about ongoing pilot training at the Kenyan Wildlife Service.  It was fascinating on many levels – the pilots, the wildlife, the poaching, the flying and training in rugged circumstances.  It was a packed house, including GE vice president of Washington operations, Sean O’Keefe.  I would have liked to have met Miles O’Brien, but it wasn’t to be that night.  His next project is with Frontline, a special on Continental Connection Flight 3407, including coverage of the subsequent legislative action.

Tough Economic Times

The recession has obviously taken it toll on the American public’s ability to use air travel the way they have in the past.  Airlines are seeing fewer passengers, cutting flights and operational expense wherever they can and are attempting to offset losses by charging for “extras.”

Last week, The New York Times ran a story on the toll the cuts have taken on one pilot and his familyThere was a letter to the editor followingMichael Moore has also taken up the topic in his new film and on his blog.  And so too, it became a topic of discussion among our members this week.  Let us all realize that this is a specialized skill set that is expensive and time-consuming to attain.  And, we entrust pilots with our lives.  Over at Jetwhine, there is a post this week asking “Who Will Fly for America Tomorrow?” Good question!

Landing Issues

Okay, that heading may be an understatement.  Monday, a Delta flight mistakenly landed on a taxiway instead of the designated runway at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  And, yesterday, a Northwest flight passed right by its Minneapolis destination.

The FAA is investigating what could have been a very dangerous situation in Atlanta (via  On the Northwest flight, the pilots claimed to have been discussing or arguing about airline policy (via NPR News and AP).  Although it has since been suggested that they may have been napping.  Since they did not have contact with controllers for over an hour, there was some initial concern that it could have been a hijack situation. Pending further investigation by the NTSB, the pilots have been suspended.


118 House members have signed a letter to President Obama encouraging the removal of user fees as a revenue source in the FAA Reauthorization Act.  The letter can be found here (via AOPA).  Business interests favor retaining the existing fuel tax structure, as it requires less administration.

A baby born on an AirAsia flight on Wednesday will get free flights for life (via Yahoo! News and AFP)!

Outsourcing Maintenance

The Business of Airline Repairs

NPR News is running a wonderfully informative special series this week on the outsourcing of airplane maintenance.  With the U.S. airline industry struggling financially in the post-9/11/01 world, this has been a trend for some time.  NADA/F has been an outspoken opponent of outsourcing this crucial work.  But this series calls attention to a newer shift.  Not only is maintenance going outside the airlines, but more recently, outside the U.S.

FAA inspects and approves these facilities, but FAA does not require airlines to report exactly which of these repair stations they actually use (via NPR).  So the stories focus a bit on federal oversight, which is of concern.  But I hope it goes without saying that the airlines themselves have a more difficult time monitoring the work done to their equipment when the work isn’t done in their proximity.  Their oversight is just as, if not more, important.  Today’s segment identifies some mistakes with US Airways planes repaired in El Salvador.

Based on the volume of comments I’ve seen so far on the NPR website and on Facebook, I understand that this is resonating with listeners and readers.  But, I suggest taking further action if this bothers you.  Contact your representation in Congress.  Think twice about which airlines you support with ticket (or stock) purchase.  The public and airline employees can make their dissatisfaction known.  Safety should not be compromised. 

UPDATE!  Part three of the series has aired on All Things Considered.  I was happy they could end on a positive note and the example of American Airlines.  The airline is establishing a new model for managment/labor relations and centralizing maintenance and repairs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  They believe it can be cost-effective, but they are asking that international facilities be subject to the same FAA scrutiny that they are.  Sounds good, AA!

Back To Blogging! HR 3371

Given the short period of time I’ve been at this, I need to find a way to better balance this responsibility when the rest of my life gets busy!   I apologize for the time away, I’m trying to get back to it!  I’ll cover the last few weeks in another post soon.

But today, I’ll acknowledge yesterday’s passage of HR 3371, the Airline Safety and Pilot Training Improvement Act of 2009.  Full text and action can be found via  Influenced by findings following the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407,  the bill addresses issues of pilot fatigue, training and licensing requirements (via Empire State News).

Executive Director, Gail Dunham, had these words for NADA/F members yesterday:

NADA/F founding members from AA3379, the commuter crash in Raleigh, Dec. 1994, first influenced this legislation [PRIA, the Pilots Records Improvement Act] in 1996.  Revisions have been made through the years, but this is a step up again.  We can be proud of our legislation and how it has grown.

More information on PRIA can be found in this 2002 GAO follow up report.