Aircraft Accidents and Reviewing History

I follow Air Disasters at @AirCrashMayday on Twitter. It’s interesting because the accidents they keep posting are ones I knew very well from my younger days. One might say that my interest is gruesome, but not true; the past teaches us many things if we are wise to listen.
For instance, Eastern Airlines flight 401 crashed in the Everglades on December 29, 1972. I remember where I was when I heard the news; it was such a huge story. A new airliner – the Lockheed L1011 – flew into the Everglades; it did not roll out of control or suffer a flameout of engines, but it flew into the Everglades.
I understand one of the major causes was unfamiliarity with a simple upgrade in technology. By bumping the yoke, the captain disengaged the autopilot sending the plane into a gradual descent. The pilots’ attention was intent on fixing a light, they did not realize the danger they were in until moments before impact.
Today we inundate pilots with technology; systems feed other systems that have ties only a seasoned engineer or mechanic would understand. Are we in danger of repeating the problems of the past?

Aircraft Accidents and Repeat Performances

It’s not often I direct a blog at any one person, but to the young man during a book signing/meet the author affair in New York asked me why recommendations aren’t enforceable and therefore are ineffective, I bow my head in shame. Not out of guilt, but out of frustration with the air carrier community not learning from the past.
Southwest Airlines just agreed to pay a $2.5 million dollar civil penalty because they … wait for it … didn’t conduct proper surveillance on their contract maintenance provider. When one considers Southwest’s certificate management office had been before Congress in 2007 for similar concerns and this was the given probable cause for ValuJet 592, Emery 17 and Air Midwest 5481, is it any wonder we are not learning from our mistakes?

To everyone Merry Christmas and safe travels during the holidays.

Aircraft Accidents and the De-Bogging

I read this morning about a Southwest 737 that found itself nose gear deep in the grass; the aircraft was taxiing to the terminal in Nashville and somehow ended up off the taxiway. Perhaps before I put this in my blog, a statement will be made to shed some light on the accident, but I want to write about the actual concept of being ‘bogged’.
One would think that an aircraft the size of a 737 – probably around 180,000 pounds empty – would be able to go Ba-Ha-ing over the grass at the edge of the taxiway with no consequences, but that’s not the case. If the grass is dry, an aircraft could, perhaps, get away with accidentally cutting a turn short or long, leaving a main tire-shaped divot in the grass or dirt. However, if the dirt is wet, the gear sinks into the mud like quicksand and becomes bogged down. According to the landing gear (two, four or six tire truck) the aircraft can become hard stuck and cannot power out.
A jetliner weighing 180,000 pounds is sure to be more than 200,000 pounds with fuel, luggage, and passengers. In a tricycle gear aircraft, all the weight is centered on the small strut points and the place that the tires (in this case, two) touch the ground. Out of the 200,000 pounds, each main gear supports approximately 80,000 pounds each, if not more. That weight sinks quickly into the mud. The bog then acts as a chock or some tire blocking device, preventing the wheels from turning and crest the well it’s made.
Another issue is the stress placed on the gear. A main or nose gear is not designed for heavy side or shear loads; instead it is designed for compression loads as the plane’s weight settles into the landing. Any rocking or sliding into a bog can rip the gear from its mounts because of heavy weighted inertia, especially with the size of the tires placing more of a pressure target.
De-bogging an aircraft is not easy and requires special equipment to raise the aircraft and move it in a direction, out. It requires special training that prevents unnecessary damage to the gear. That’s why an event like this is not easily corrected.

Aircraft Accidents and the Application

I read yesterday that there is a furor about the hiring process for air traffic controllers; it seems that several (well a lot more than several) qualified people were passed over for the air traffic controller training, including military and technical school trainees.
I don’t abide favoritism in any respect, nor do I stand for any unqualified people getting a leg up over anyone. But there is an aspect of this story that does not sit well with me. I’ve read in the story how these applicants deserve a place, but I don’t see why.
Let me explain.
I have hired people in my past; I’ve applied for all types of positions for the last thirty years; at no time should an application be placed in front of anyone who submits a better application – or resume – than anyone else.
Please remember what the application is for: air traffic controller. These positions are safety sensitive as well as security minded; they are not to be entered lightly and therefore should not be deliberated with any less tenacity. An application is the first impression; it is not to be expected by the applicant that the reviewer of the information should ‘know’ what is meant or ‘realize’ one’s experience(s). Those are not defensible arguments.
I’ve reviewed applications from people holding high degrees that read as if they couldn’t figure out a paper route application, much as less a highly sensitive application. I’ve known others who’ve applied, who left out qualifying information because the human resources person knows them by name. If I can’t understand an application, which communicates the simplest knowledge of someone, how is that someone supposed to communicate to an aircraft in flight?
Applications are important. If this is the problem and if the person(s) applying for the air traffic controller jobs did take this process a little less than seriously, my sympathies do not lie with him/her.

Aircraft Accidents and Abusing Influence

The NTSB has launched a new campaign to pressure airlines to install cameras in the cockpit of commercial airliners; the effort is supported by magazines, e.g. Forbes magazine, which the last time I checked is not an aviation magazine. This to me is abusing influence, pushing an unpopular agenda to shame the pilots into supporting the campaign.
The last thing a pilot needs in the cockpit is a set of eyes looking over his/her shoulder, recording all that goes on for permanent record. The introduction of a camera has nothing but a bad effect on the crew’s concentration, causing second guessing on decisions. The angle of video would also cast a negative influence on the atmosphere in the flight compartment.
If the NTSB wishes to use their influence, it should be for more constructively safe changes, not the latest fad inspired by non-aviation publishers.