Aircraft Accidents and the Absurd

Reuters published an article from an aviation psychology ‘expert’; the first absurdity is Reuters talking about aviation as if it is their specialty. The second absurdity is locating a psychology expert to speak to a random event as if it is more common. But then it goes on from there.
The ‘expert’ referenced the Germanwings 9525 tragedy, that the first officer flew the aircraft into the ground on purpose. You see days after the accident, European safety authorities dictated that there should be two people in the cockpit at all times; this is the same group of amateurs who decided to let the BEA investigate the accident instead of turning it over to law officials, or the equivalent of the FBI. People still deny that important information had been mishandled or lost from the BEA conducting an investigation it was not trained for.
But then a security ‘expert’ and a psychologist disagree on the safety authorities’ decision to keep two in the cockpit at the same time. It is more amazing to learn that this is even a topic of discussion; beyond Egypt Air 990 and Germanwings, there aren’t that many suicide jetliners that are not associated with ideology.
What we need are a lot less ‘experts’ and a lot more protocols followed. Finding the true cause of the tragedy by trained investigators into criminal activity should prevail over all the nonsense that a bored media has to offer.

Aircraft Accidents and Pushing Name Recognition

Several years ago my former colleague at the NTSB was interviewed for a magazine; the article picture they used was taken at Reagan-National airport. This colleague stood with folded arms, an airline’s jet parked behind. The article’s title boasted that this person was responsible for keeping airliners from having accidents.
The take from the photo was that this person was responsible for keeping THAT particular airline from having accidents.
A picture is worth a thousand words. In 1997 House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Bob Dole objected to a photograph then-President Clinton had put in the newspapers; it portrayed Clinton as if he were ‘teaching’ the two Republicans. A star of the Star Trek franchise had his derriere computer sculpted to make it look smaller.
It’s all about appearances.
And so it is with the flying public; when they see an airline in the background of an article about preventing accidents, they assume that the airline in the background is a dangerous airline that needs fixing; a long-lasting impression. Think of TWA and often the first thought is of TWA flight 800. Remember Pan Am? You would also remember Pan Am flight 103.
In 1984 a foreign airliner’s DC-10-30 overshot a landing on JFK’s 4-R; the aircraft came to a stop nose down in Jamaica Bay. The damaged aircraft was viewable by your humble Blogger from Rockaway Boulevard. When I drove past on my way to work the day after the accident, the airline’s logos had been painted over with black paint simply because the airline wished to prevent any bad association with the accident and their brand name. They knew the price of bad recognition.
Aviation is one of those industries where the participants can be devastated by the thoughtless shenanigans of a naïve bureaucrat wishing to expand on their name recognition. As a former member of that wonderful industry, those who depend on the paychecks from those airlines deserve better.

Aircraft Accidents and the Myth of Single Pilot

We recently saw the death of an American Airlines captain in flight; the first officer diverted the aircraft to a successful landing. Shortly afterwards a United first officer became incapacitated during a flight to San Francisco, also incurring a diversion. In Europe an EasyJet flight was cut short when the captain became ill and lost consciousness; the plane landed safely.
The good news is that the other pilot in the flight compartment landed the aircraft uneventfully – as they are trained to do. Hundreds of hours of landing the aircraft interspersed with hours of simulator emergency training guarantees the two person crews can become a crew of one in the rare case of crisis. The Earth continues to spin on its axis and the Sun persists in rising in the East; everything is normal.
But still there are those who would suggest that we are moving towards a one-man cockpit. I don’t cite these recent events lightly; I feel that we must face our mortality when making decisions of such epic leaps from today’s norms. But let’s assume that the health and well-being of the pilots can be guaranteed, that the one pilot can’t become incapacitated. Do we trust the aircraft to one pilot anyway?
Throttle back, press the rudder pedals at the toes and arm the speed brake. My question is: do we trust the technology … yet? In my first novel I spoke to the dangers of putting our lives solely in the hands of the computer. As it stands we delegate too much control to the aircraft’s computers; we trust them to diagnose themselves, to fly themselves and now to direct themselves clear across the country or ocean. Are we so complacent to the point of surrender without question?
I may find myself driving a lot more.

Aircraft Accidents and a Non-Solution

In continuation from last week, I notice that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) versus FAA controversy has geared up again; it is one thing to fight about valid points, but another to drive the same inept argument over and over again.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) began including literature in their model kits that speak to the proper safe operating of model drones; let me say that the intent is noble, but in my opinion, toothless.
In the seventies and eighties, the move to regulate cigarette use dictated that all cigarette packs – by law – must have a warning label printed on the side of each pack spelling out the dangers of smoking. It had the effect of all legislation – little to no. It wasn’t until the late nineties into the early 2000s that rules banning smoking in trains, planes, restaurants, etc. had a supreme impact on smokers, making the habit so mundane that it was easier – and cheaper – to seek nicotine patches to quit smoking.
Now I’m not recommending regulating drones to death; I am a great believer in entrepreneurship. I am also not suggesting that people should NOT be allowed to enjoy model flying. But let’s put in perspective why AMA’s literature idea won’t work: drones have the ability to be employed with catastrophic results; that is a fact, not an opinion.
The safe operation of drones in the aviation system where ingestion in an airliner’s engine; the drawing into a main rotor; or the improper violation of privacy cannot be ‘taught’ using a pamphlet that is thrown away with the UAV’s package wrapping.
No, this is something that must be taught and impressed upon the average model flyer, as well as the professional, looking to use these devices for UNLIMITED – I repeat, UNLIMITED (out of visual range) – operation. Money will have to be spent in proper education, foolproof tracking equipment, and software that will prevent the operator’s drone from being hijacked in flight. Unfortunately, the term, “You play, you pay” must be employed for true safe operation and enjoyment. The danger to others – just like second hand smoke – must be the driving force behind education and regulation.

Aircraft Accidents and a Matter of Opinion

I am not a good tweeter; I don’t do social media very well; I do not like them Sam, I am. My PR people say I must embrace them, so I do what I’m told.
I follow a pilot on Twitter and he made a comment recently saying that the commotion about laser-pointers lighting up of an aircraft cockpit is over-rated and distorted by the media; that there is no danger from it; that there are brighter man-made objects that cause worse blindness. But then he said the same thing about the threat of drones.
I wasn’t sure I read his comment right, so I wrote him to clarify. He stated that he felt that drones were a non-danger; that their threat was also a figment of an overblown imagination.
I agree with the first opinion: unless directly aimed at a fast moving aircraft precisely, it could be argued that a laser pointer is not that dangerous. But the second opinion I would beg to differ for the same reason: that a fast moving object is hard to aim at precisely – if one is aiming.
An aircraft, even during approach, is a fast moving object. Having flown in the cockpit on many occasions, my perception that other aircraft flying below or above while coming towards you is deceptive just how fast they are going; they appear to approach at an incredible rate. The beauty of that is that one, you are warned they are there; two, they are above or below you; and three, they are big enough to see with navigation lights on.
A drone is nearly invisible, especially at night. They fly on the level that the operator decides to fly it. They are big enough to introduce incredible damage to an engine. Perhaps the pilot who wrote that comment never saw the damage a chicken launched at an engine during testing can do to a compressor fan; it can be fantastic. And mark it: a drone is much sturdier than a chicken carcass.
But also include in the equation a person who cares not for the consequences of endangering people, like the laser-pointer guy or the random college shooter. Now you have a random terrorist who can cause extreme damage and possible death to those on an aircraft as well as those who the aircraft crashes on. The speeds that they meet are too fast for a pilot to react to, if they are even looking out the windscreen.
And that is no media hype.