Aircraft Accidents and the Continuing Threat

A video has been circulated showing a UAV hitting a Southwest Airlines’ left winglet. The amateur video-prankster obviously feels people are as incompetent as he/she. For one, why is someone operating an electronic device during climb when they are supposed to turn electronic devices off? Second, the aircraft is climbing at a climb-angle of about fifteen degrees and the UAV descends at the exact same angle, only negative fifteen degrees to the zero-horizontal plane, to hit the winglet. Amateurs!

But it does remind us of a concern that was echoed in Saint Cloud, MN, this week on KARE news in Minneapolis/St Paul. A helicopter pilot spraying for mosquitos had to divert away from a drone that was in her airspace. The KARE-TV reporter said that the local FAA office has about two hundred drone sightings a month where the drone violates an aircraft’s airspace.

According to where a drone strikes a helicopter or even gets pulled into the rotors if too close can be catastrophic. Fixed wing aircraft have their own dangers when drones threaten their flight. With serious business entrepreneurs trying to get the rights to operate drones from the FAA, they still have to deal with amateurs that have no concern for life or property.

Some amateur will cause an accident someday, it is inevitable. When that happens, all hell will break loose.

Aircraft Accidents and the Clock

As per the Aspen times, via Curt Lewis, on June 4, 2015, the NTSB released its Factual report for a Learjet 60 accident that occurred three years before. The accident occurred at Aspen-Pitkin County airport on June 7, 2012 and – thankfully – all six humans and two dogs aboard survived, uninjured. The probable cause: the jet skidded off the runway due to low-level windshear, despite the tower warning of the condition ten minutes before the mishap.
It was most likely investigated out of the NTSB’s Denver office, which means one or two investigators for a non-celebrity accident. These investigators are not paid as much as Washington investigators, but their workload is incredibly higher. All this considered, why would it take three years to determine the cause?
In 1996, TWA 800 crashed in Long Island Sound with a loss of 230 souls. It took four years for the report to be adopted, but there were numerous circumstances that were specific to this accident that played havoc with the investigation: Missile theories, 16 months of FBI co-control, the great loss of life and recovery of inaccessible fuselage sections 130 feet below the ocean surface. Yet with all this, the report still posted within four years.
In contrast, in 2003 Air Midwest 5481 crashed in Charlotte airport; all 21 people were lost. The final report was adopted thirteen months later in February 2004. There was testing conducted, interviews and a fuselage that required re-assembly, but the accident was concluded in just thirteen months.
The Aspen accident had several advantages: the crew members survived, the airframe survived, mostly intact, and the passengers survived. Investigators had access to an intact fuselage and engines, undamaged by fire, inflight break-up or salt water. Air traffic controllers were accessible; mechanics could speak to the aircraft’s integrity; and the pilots could lay out their flight.
As I mentioned, the Denver office – like all the NTSB Field offices – is over-worked and improperly recognized. I’ve worked with the field office investigators and they are great at what they do; they do wonders with limited resources, time, and, in some cases, experience. They also recognize when they are overwhelmed and need help, especially in specialties like air traffic or jet piloting.
So what took so long to find a cause when jets are making regular landings in like conditions every day? The findings would have been helpful two years ago. Could the problem lie in … Washington headquarters?

Aircraft Accidents and Recommendations

I remember an episode of the original Star Trek (Court Martial), Doctor McCoy isolated everyone’s heartbeat with a device in order to find a missing crewman. Before he isolated everything, everyone’s heartbeat combined broadcast on the speakers was so much ‘static’ or ‘noise’; you couldn’t hear yourself think.
Alan Levin of Bloomberg Business wrote an article this week about the FAA ruling out cockpit redesign recommendations. The NTSB felt that, concerning Malaysia Airlines MH370, it was vital for the FAA to redesign black boxes, make it so they could not be disabled or turned off. The FAA nixed that idea, saying, “There appears to be no safe way to ensure recorders cannot be intentionally disabled while keeping the airplane safe from electrical failure that could become hazardous.” Furthermore, the FAA also rejected another recommendation by the NTSB, one concerning Germanwings 9525, to add video cameras to the cockpit; the FAA added that cameras add no compelling evidence to an investigation.
With the recorder recommendation, this would be a clear violation of FAR 25.1357 (a) which dictates the need for circuit protective devices, e.g. circuit breakers, for each electrical system. The video camera question? As I wrote in a yet-to-be-published article in AMT magazine, the placement and feasibility of cameras is impractical and the benefit, non-existent.
I just wish some of these recommendations were better thought out; that they would not drown out real solutions with all the unnecessary static they produce.

Aircraft Accidents and Promising Change

Twelve years ago I investigated the Air Midwest 5481 accident in Charlotte. The most heartbreaking part of accident investigation is being unable to fix the problems that led to the accident to begin with. It was not that the Federal Aviation Regulations were incorrectly written; they were ignored, and that led to the accident. Furthermore, past lessons of other disasters never influenced the industry to change the way they do business.
But regulations aren’t the only way to fix the broken system. Policy for regulators can also be changed quicker and less expensively. The policy changes mean inspectors in turn push the operators to shore up their practices. The FAA drives the train and steps in to play the adult in the room, requiring changes that operators would otherwise be hesitant to make.
The Air Midwest 5481’s recommendations that we put forward have resulted in several policy changes that increase the effectiveness of required inspections and how consistent the operators become. It isn’t government intrusion; instead it is clarification. With these changes industry now has clearer guidelines on doing business.