A Most Unfortunate Aircraft Accident

No one challenges personal victories. A child walks despite a doctor’s prognosis, a cancer victim outlives expectations; these victories inspire.
But some deny a bad hand dealt; my mother passed from an incurable disease; she accepted her mortality; it was brave … and wise. A paralyzed man can’t compete in the Olympics, a blind woman won’t drive a car; we all should accept our limitations, both physical and mental.
There are aircraft accidents I hated investigating: those without discipline.
A person recently died in a sports aircraft accident near my home. He/She suffered from several physical ailments that likely prevented a standard pilot’s license; conditions that didn’t preclude other ways to enjoy aviation. Instead this person chose to go the sports pilot license route – limited speed and altitude, valid driver’s license and NO medical required.
The deceased (< 40) left behind a young child, a spouse, parents and siblings.
Do I question his/her tenacity or ambition? No. But I question sidelining others’ needs; selfishly chasing dreams denied by chance, DNA or God. The FAA allows these limited licenses for … honestly, I don’t know why. But to ‘pilot’ one of these fragile vehicles, taking to the skies with undisciplined arrogance like in the movie Fly Away Home or the mythical Daedalus. One doesn’t risk their own futures; many family members are left behind making excuses for an ego lost to pride, many events a growing child’s parent will miss.
And like Daedalus’s son Icarus, this person ignored life’s rules, paid no heed to the limits placed, falling in ruin to earth a final time.

Will CVRs be needed for future aircraft accidents?

The concept is being refloated – or still floated: single pilot airliners; certainly not viable before 2030. However having worked – at the time – the latest digital aircraft, it’s been the goal of many for years.
But what of the safety of air travel if this were to happen? Would aircraft accidents be reduced … or increased? Modern technology has come light years, but is it – will it ever be? – inspiring complete trust? In my book Jet Blast I questioned total technology reliance, so naturally I’m skeptical; a distrust born of experience. As an FAA inspector I’ve flown in many airline cockpits, listened to air traffic routing, and worked with aircraft technicians; these aviators rely heavily on new technologies, more with each new advance. But with accidents in Buffalo and San Francisco, are the dependencies too much? Have pilots/technicians/air traffic controllers surrendered too much authority to the computers? How much complacency has seeped into our aviation culture?
Who would lone pilot interact with during onboard crises? Would cockpit resource management exist? Can the pilot’s perspective be shared with a computer, e.g. to go-around? Conversations taken from CVR recordings would no longer be as valuable. But most importantly, do we feel smart enough to trivialize the position of a first officer as we did the second officer?

A UAV as an unintentional cause of aircraft accidents?

This past week an article came out in a United Kingdom journal about cyber-crime and its effects on aviation safety; in other words, what if someone were to pirate the controls or systems of an airliner?
I’m sure that much has been done since the fears of Y2K to assure that a computer could not go Terminator on us, taking over the controls and crashing an aircraft on purpose. For those of us who remember the Y2K fear, the belief was that computers would be confused by the transition from 99 to 00 as in 1999 to 2000.
But the computers turned out to be not so diabolical. But does the technological knowledge exist for computer geniuses to be able to – not take over a government drone – steal a drone big enough and invisible enough to fly into an engine on approach? Before September 2001, no one but Tom Clancy imagined an airliner being used as a weapon of mass destruction. I am not voicing a concern that drones are bad or a poor business investment. But how much easier would it be to use someone’s toy or business drone as a weapon? How much easier would it be to rob a drone from someone who does not employ the latest high tech safeguards?
Just think about it.

It is Supposed to Be About the Aircraft Accident

The National Transportation Safety Board came out with recommendations for the Lithium-Ion battery fires aboard the All Nippon and Japanese Airlines 787s. And though there are those staff professionals in the NTSB who are qualified, the NTSB really stepped outside their jurisdiction, to their own regret.
The NTSB has requirements for investigating an aircraft accident; Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations 830 speaks to what has to happen for an NTSB investigation to occur. Briefly, the NTSB will investigate: when an aircraft sustains substantial damage to structure, performance or flight characteristics; at least one fatality; and/or the accident takes place with the intent to fly from boarding to disembarking. Otherwise anything less belongs to the Federal Aviation Administration’s qualified staff. Why would this happen? Simply stated, the experience level and industry familiarity of the FAA far exceeds that of the NTSB.
If none of these issues affected either 787 incident, why did the NTSB investigate and why so intensely? It could have been political or pride, arrogance or ignorance; take your pick. The outcome put financial burdens on several aircraft manufacturers – not just Boeing; the others were also designing lithium-ion into their products. It cultivated fear and doubt from the flying public and belabored a ‘fix’ that should have been quicker and better engineered. Instead it dragged out because of the NTSB intrusion.
Not the NTSB’s finest hour.