The Aircraft Accident Circus is Back in Town

A Germanwing’s A320, flight 9525, after achieving cruise altitude out of Barcelona, tragically crashed into the French Alps. The investigation team is burdened with several mysteries: why radio silence for several minutes? Why the aircraft casually lost altitude and crashed? Due to damage to the FDR and CVR, what information can eventually be collected, if any? This can mean only one thing:
The Idiot Circus is in town – Bring on the Accident Expert Idiots!
Theories and speculation will now be the order of the day as dozens of ‘aviation safety experts’ – some of whom may actually know what they’re talking about – will beat the stuffing out of every possible cause, from terrorism to space aliens. And they will do this at the expense of the emotional stress of the victims’ families and the forward movement of the investigation.
Some day we will learn that these clowns are only feeding a media’s blood frenzy and that they are causing more harm than good.
God bless the victims and God bless their families. May common sense prevail and let us mute the Accident Expert Idiots and let facts prevail.
NOTE: Before this was placed in my Blog, the announcement came today that the first officer allegedly crashed the aircraft on purpose. Our prayers go out to all those who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Now, however, the terrorist ‘experts’ have started in with grassy knolls and conspiracy theories. And that did not stop the Speculation Circus yesterday, nor did it prevent the Idiot Experts from fueling the media’s frenzy and creating more havoc for the victims’ families. For once, can’t we be responsible adults and let the facts play out, give the grieving process a chance to take effect without piling on with unnecessary speculation?

Aircraft Accidents and Misinformation

One constant that prevails in any investigation or news story is the need for transparency, or the lack thereof. I recently had issue with the WSJ’s Op-Ed department to the point of cancelling my subscription; I feel they’re refusing to print any unmanned aerial vehicle opinions divergent to the pro-UAV stance; I see no proof to the contrary.
What does this have to do with Aircraft Accidents? Allow me to explain.
The WSJ published articles blaming the FAA for dragging its feet in approving UAV regulations. They published Op-Eds from entrepreneurs in the UAV industry, again, slamming the FAA for ‘hobbling’ UAV businesses. A recent Forbes article criticized the FAA for wasting time and resources on UAV company videos, which it may have been viewing to determine if there were any safety violations. On the surface, these articles seem to be trying to promote the UAV industry’s side, shining a light on what it believes is an arrogant bureaucracy.
Instead what these contributors are doing is what most people do when they have no argument: they bang the table. The UAV (or UAS) industry is not being hampered by the FAA; until the UAV industry understands the problems they face, their future likely will continue to be mired in postponements. Acceptance of UAV rules must be approved by more influential entities through the Notices of Proposed Rulemaking system. Entities, e.g. the Airline Pilots Association, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, et al, consider UAVs a danger to the aviation community. Why? Because of the rash of irresponsible behavior on the part of many UAV operators that threatens aviation safety and causes …
Aircraft Accidents.
And it seems they have just cause for concern. An irresponsible UAV operator landed a UAV on the White House lawn; numerous reports have been filed of UAVs being flown close to airliners near major airports, e.g. LaGuardia, JFK, etc. On March 16, 2015, KIRO-TV in Seattle reported a UAV operator in Spanaway, WA, flew his UAV over a television helicopter, the whole event caught on tape by its sister report helicopter; I watched the video. You can bet FAA inspectors and the local police watched it too. The videoing helicopter managed to track the errant UAV down to its operator and back to his house.
The danger posed by flying a UAV over the helicopter’s main rotor cannot be emphasized enough. If contacted, the toy – flying at 1500 feet, 1100 feet higher than allowed – would have caused a catastrophic failure of the rotor resulting in the deaths of the pilot, his cameraman, and anyone unfortunate enough to have been below the helicopter when it crashed on them. Furthermore, it was over a residential neighborhood at the time.
The UAV industry has an enemy; an entity that is standing in its way of progress. As Walt Kelly’s character, Pogo once opined, “We have met the enemy, and he is us;” that enemy is its own self, the few irresponsible members of the UAV industry. They must police their own or this community will never be accepted as a serious business dedicated to safety. By not maintaining a professional following, they can blame the FAA, ALPA, NATCA, etc. all they want, they will continue to be dismissed as negligent, all for the sins of a few. I’m a conservative; I believe in entrepreneurship; and I believe government should not stand in the way of progress. That being said, in my opinion, the WSJ and other news organizations are crippling the UAV industry by avoiding honest feedback to their customers.
I can’t be more transparent than that.

Aircraft Accidents and Chocolate

Last month I participated in a panel discussion; I love talking aviation, especially the aspects of it I’m not as familiar with. During the Q&A, one questioner debated about information showing trends in aviation safety, how following the bouncing dollar sign can illuminate gaps in the safety net, thus preventing accidents. But is that realistic?
I’m sure that today everything can be reduced to a number; whether the number of hurricanes can affect the environment or how much chocolate is too much. But I’ve found the aviation industry is far too complex; its diversity is too unpredictable; the integrity of such an enterprise is not so easily catalogued.
Aviation is multi-faceted; the more one digs into, say, an airline’s structure, it’s like the Lernaean Hydra: when you cut off a head, two replace it. There are so many complicated levels to track, each feeding into another facet.
I remember the bean counters at my old airline, Brand X, tried to dictate man-hours for conducting maintenance. They averaged man-hours for specific tasks performed on, e.g. a B727 main gear lube. Something as common place as a gear lube is impossible to nail down to a time. Why? Because, for one thing, the gear lube task card includes visual inspections, which, on an old bird like a B727, is an adventure in the unexpected.
Ironically, the attaching of specific accomplishment times to a task card would have a counter-effect: it would force an up-and-coming mechanic to perform the task in the allotted time, thus missing out on identifying discrepancies found during a closer examination of the gear.
Did I just collapse my own argument? Can trend data be obtained by analysis? Perhaps, perhaps not. I don’t think it was how the questioner meant to make their point. Take the chocolate question above: How many conditions can you introduce that play havoc on the data? Is the test subject allergic to chocolate? Are they diabetic? Is it semi-sweet, dark, or milk chocolate?
Trust me, aircraft maintenance is a lot more complicated than chocolate.

Accidents Beyond Aircraft Accidents

An American Airlines aircraft mechanic died this week in Dallas. It is still unclear (at this writing) how the professional died, but his passing reminds us that an active ramp is a dangerous environment to even the most seasoned professional; whether you’re a mechanic, a cargo handler, fueler, or pilot completing a walk-around.
An active ramp makes the streets of Manhattan pale in comparison. According to the type of ramp (cargo or passenger) the amount of traffic is daunting. Unlike a street corner, the traffic can come from any direction; it arrives silently because many are required (rightfully so) to wear hearing protection; it comes invisibly when ramp lighting, rain and snow confuse visual perception.
But the ramp is not the only danger; activity to one’s left may divert attention away from a jetway or crew stairs not mated to the aircraft, leaving a gap to step through. The need to expedite a flight can lead to serious injury or death: a victim’s yells unheard over a pushback tug or a running APU’s/main engine’s droning.
In my past I personally knew a mechanic who was crushed to death. In another incident a mechanic was crippled under the main gear wheels of a wide-body airliner. There were others, and not just mechanics.
This unfortunate event reminds us … all of us, that awareness is life. Vision should be 360 degrees along the X, Y and Z axis. Listen, listen and then listen some more; be constantly aware of your surroundings. My condolences go to the family of the American Airlines mechanic who died. And for all of us working aviation, let’s be careful out there … please.