Aircraft Accidents and Controlling Air Traffic Control

As part of a $16.4 billion funding bill, the US Senate Appropriations Committee called for a banning of any Congressional financial support aimed at privatization of the FAA air traffic control system.
That doesn’t seem very fair. As I’ve mentioned before, the FAA (and DOT) is/are in the business of oversight. They’ve deferred the development of NextGen systems to industry; all the equipment and testing is conducted by the private sector; all the investment is made by the private sector with subsidies from the Federal Government. It is time to consider letting the air traffic control system be run like a business and if the FAA wants to conduct surveillance and oversight, then they would be doing their jobs, as opposed to self-policing.
Besides, can you think of one movie that when the government took over the reins, everything didn’t fall apart? No, huh? I rest my case.

Aircraft Accidents and Ab-Initio

Ab-Initio means ‘from the beginning’. In the words of Charles Dickens, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the …” blog I am writing (Sorry Charles). JetBlue is about to embark on a practice that many in the Asian and European nations have been following for years, perhaps decades: an Ab-Initio program. What it means is that JetBlue will take zero-time pilot candidates and train them to be JetBlue pilots via their specially adapted Ab-Initio program. They will become full time future flight crews.
Now, to be honest, I, your modest blogger have felt a need for this in the mechanic ranks for decades myself; taking A&P certificated graduates and train them in the ways of the airline’s or Repair Station’s policies and procedures. The window for that benefit is closing; the mechanics with experience are retiring in larger numbers; the knowledge they possess will be lost forever.
Which brings me to why I have a concern about the JetBlue program. Training a group of students to become the future pilots for JetBlue will capture the best of JetBlue’s culture. But, just like with the mechanics, the experience of the past is being lost; what remains: the experience of the pilot instructors who will teach these folks will also be limited to the newest equipment, e.g. Airbus A320s and Embraer E190s – late model digital aircraft.
What will be lost is the chance to train them to fly an airplane, not to babysit an airplane that flies itself. Will these cadets be given all they need to know to fly an airliner? Will they be given all the tools they require to react to any given emergency? I would hope so, but, to be frank, I doubt it.
And that’s what we’ve come down to: training to be less than what’s required.

Aircraft Accidents and a Lack of Understanding

The government is at it again; they are nothing if not consistent. Senators are trying to enforce rest requirements on cargo airlines that are required for passenger airlines. The regretful part of this is that cargo airlines do not operate anything like a passenger airline. Furthermore, the argument for more government involvement is hampered by this example of government naiveté.
Cargo airlines operate most of their flights at night; the overnight variety often start their flight in an out-station, fly direct or one-stop to their hub. At the hub, the freight sorts take several hours before the flight crew is sent back out to the field. According to their bid, they will either return to the hub during four of the seven days or layover for more than twelve hours.
A passenger airline will operate flights through an eighteen-hour day. The routes can cover any number of airports with short layovers. The difference between the two types of air operators is like comparing a bus service to a freight truck; each has its own priorities and each meets schedules that are vastly different.
Unfortunately, our elected officials cannot see what is obvious to others; a lack of understanding is what accidents are all about.

Aircraft Accidents and Helicopter Investigations

You know, you can always tell the non-headquarters (Washington, DC) NTSB investigators; they wear the NTSB jacket, hat, and shirt as if it forgives them the cover charge at Billy-Bob’s Pizza and Barbeque. I wore my NTSB outfit at an accident site one time – one time – and the FBI chief told me to, “take that [stuff] off; you look like an idiot.”
I’m not trying to disparage a fellow agent of safety, nor would I ever trivialize or sensationalize the tragedy of lives lost. But in this world of 24/7 news and fast service one must understand the difference between the Headquarters’ investigators and those in the ‘field offices’.
A friend of mine sent me an article about a recent sight-seeing helicopter crash; the lead investigator spoke about the NTSB having results ‘within a year’. A year? The helicopter in question crashed in an accessible area, a model that is fairly common, one engine, inspected regularly under a standard maintenance program, the pilot well-trained and current. At most an investigation like this should take one week to analyze and finalize the report, recommendations submitted, case closed.
I’ve sat in on headquarters meetings where the topic of whether to investigate or not depended on numbers, specifically victim numbers. Unless you were JFK Junior or a US Senator, the numbers would dictate the need for an investigation. A cargo airliner, for instance, means a crash only claims two to three pilots so we’ll give it the least effort as possible – as will the media. Unless the cargo 747 pancakes in on a crowded interstate or flies through a warehouse, the media won’t care. So why should we?
But let’s be fair, the ‘field offices’ are not under the same schedule that the wonder boys and girls at headquarters are under – the field is much more demanding. Many NTSB field folks I knew came straight out of school, private pilot license ink still wet; they are thrown into a world with neither the experience to know true from false, the knowledge to know analog from digital, or the training to know GA from airline. They work with manufacturer reps who could sell ashes to the devil and are intent on protecting their company. Their Inbox looks like the Tower of Pisa and is probably stacked just as high. And nine out of ten wouldn’t know a helicopter from an egg beater.
A year? It’s not surprising nor is it cynical to say that we look at the media’s reporting of, e.g. Germanwing’s 9535 and FlyDubai 981 and we say, “Oh no, the press has said the pilot was suicidal, used poor judgment, or on drugs; the aircraft was dangerous, the media said so and if you can’t trust the media …
My question is: How did the media get hold of that information in the first place?
What I will say about the field investigators is they show better discretion than the headquarters wonder children. Maybe they don’t show good fashion sense, but they are steadfast; they are not as quick to judgment and certainly treat the victims as … victims, not a number. And they do the best job with what their limited experience gives them. A year is still way too long; maybe headquarters should lend them a hand.