A gentlemen who I met through this blog and I had a conversation one time; it was e-mail to e-mail, but very interesting. He and I had conducted accident investigations from opposite sides of the fence; he as a contractor-without-a-net and me, from the safety of the Board. Even though we never worked together on a particular accident, our views of persons and events paralleled each other’s in many ways; I learned that some of my views were … misguided.
I had taken umbrage with people who were making the circuits, dispelling safety advice without the personal history to support it. The truth is that anyone whose voice expounds on aviation safety should not be suppressed just because they lack proficiency to make a point. After all, who am I to put limits on what a person knows? From that I finally learned a long-time-coming lesson in humility.
But I also discovered what it was that actually concerned me. Last week I read an opinion piece written by another friend of mine; it was strictly pandering to a special interest, but worse, the opinion piece made no sense at all. In fact it flew in the face of everything my friend stood for only so many years ago. This person was no longer a voice for safety.
My friend was now a lobbyist.
I read an article today that a manufacturer is designing special glasses that will break down the effects of laser light shone into a cockpit. I agree with this direction, I really do. For one, something must be done to stop the rash of illegal behavior and two … well, anyone willing to invest money in a new idea has got my vote.
But whose rules are we playing by here? It seems to me that if we continue to escalate the responses, the counter strategies will be to find a stronger laser pointer or something even more dangerous.
This is something that must be dealt with proactively, not reactively. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that these misfits are gambling with countless lives in an airliner; it’s a Federal crime to sabotage an airliner in any way. We need to up the ante; airlines, airports and law enforcement need to brainstorm to find more successful ways and the perpetrators need to be punished severely with thousands of dollars in fines PLUS five to ten years in prison for each violation. After all, what are they doing if not trying to bring down airliners? And when they are punished, they should be held up for the whole world to see, not find their way to page sixteen of the newspaper.
Maybe my suggestion isn’t the best, but I urge anyone to top it. Let’s take the gloves off before we stand next to a smoking hole wondering what we could have done.
I firmly believe in entrepreneurship; I feel that everyone – that is, EVERYONE – deserves a shot at the Gold Medal, if not in the Olympics, then by their ideas.
However, though I hold entrepreneurship so highly, my experience dictates to me that Safety be above all else. My big concern these days is over the smallest aircraft yet – Drones. Whether or not Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) entrepreneurs are responsible for, what I’ll term: Rogue Drones, they do too little to prevent the impending disaster at the hands of amateurs with no regard for safety. Mark my words, there will be an accident of great consequence brought about by the abuse of these unmanned aerial vehicles.
As UASs become more popular, they will be harder to control. UAS entrepreneurs push for more freedoms, but the technology they try to sell as safe does not address the major concerns, e.g. Fires in the Inland Southern California region were hampered by amateur unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators getting in the way of aerial firefighters to the point that the planes were grounded to avoid mid-air collisions. Traffic helicopters have videoed UAVs in dangerously close proximity to other helicopters; one was even followed down to the UAV operator himself, who upon discovering his being taped, took off at a run, hopping through neighborhood driveways and backyards. Near misses are a daily occurrence with large commercial aircraft.
A line should be drawn; there should be no freedoms given until acceptable controls are put in place. Since many of the UAS entrepreneurs are manufacturers, this should weigh heavily upon their shoulders to fix this issue before something tragic happens because of it.
The Simpsons had an episode one time where a bear rifled through the neighborhood garbage cans for food. The town people’s reaction to this rare – albeit shocking – occurrence was to launch a bear protection defense with patrols, helicopters, etc. … for one bear, which had been sedated and donated to a zoo. The episode – naturally – turned into a circus. I don’t like making analogies for tragedy by referencing the Simpsons, but the episode’s theme was striking.
On Tuesday, July 7 an F-16 had a midair collision with a Cessna 150 over northern Charleston, SC. It was a tragedy, an unfortunate series of events that led to the deaths of two people. The details of the probable cause were still in investigative infancy, but facts never seem to get in the way of the frenzy.
By Wednesday the call went out about the enduring safety crisis of military and GA flying in the same airspace. One must scratch their head at this; there is no long overdue conversation about military versus GA as sure as there is no epidemic of first officers locking the cockpit door before diving an airliner into a mountain. The imposed frenzy usually leads to mourners being paraded for the world to see, demanding justice for their family member/victim; resolute congressmen standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the families to demand passage of a new law.
The job of an accident investigative body is not to ramp up the frenzy. It is meant to dole out information as it becomes substantiated and only if it proves an accident occurred; criminal investigations should be turned over to the proper authorities immediately. We don’t have to fix unbroken aspects of our airspace or limit private piloting for – what boils down to – an accident.
Bottom line: Stop the frenzy!
I remember back in June and July of 2002, I investigated two firefighting aircraft accidents, one in Colorado and the other in California. A Lockheed C130-A crashed in Walker, CA; both its wings separated from the fuselage during a fire retardant drop. The second was a Consolidated-Vultee PB4Y-2 in Estes Park, CO; it lost its left wing during a retardant drop.
The C130-A was manufactured in the early 1950s and the PB4Y-2 was manufactured to fight in the Pacific theater of WWII in 1944. The unusual thing about both of these aircraft was that they were considered Public Use aircraft; they didn’t subscribe to the same federal rules that regular aircraft of that size follow. As a result, the maintenance requirements of their inspection programs were way out of date; they did not have aggressive structural inspection programs and, unfortunately, did not have to. For aircraft that old and with the stresses those airframes were subjected to, the lack of a comprehensive inspection program was ludicrous. As a result, the causes of both accidents were almost identical.
Public Use applies to many types of aircraft, from fire fighters to police helicopters to State aircraft. It would be interesting to see if the rules governing Public Use aircraft have been revised in the last thirteen years.