Aircraft Accidents and Discipline

“When I was your age …” Every generation tells tales to make their trials more of an overwhelming challenge to the following generation. Our parents did this to us; we did it to our children. I had a particular favorite; my Uncle Frank from Miami, told my young New York cousins, who complained about taking the bus to school, that he used to walk five miles to school in Miami … uphill … in the waist-deep snow … both ways. Yeah, right. As if anybody actually walked in Miami.

These teaching moments were to prevent a worst-case scenario, to stop our children from turning into live versions of the first four kids to drop out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory tour. Parents fought bratty behavior with endless supplies of guilt, like when I gave my disruptive child the Malocchio – the Evil Eye – guaranteed to stop a child in mid-naughtiness. It was a parental tool for teaching Discipline, because guilt, in proper proportion, was an effective persuasion.

Discipline may be subject to point of view. Per dictionary.com, Discipline has twelve definitions. The first, a Noun: ‘Training to act in accordance with the rules.’ With children, this means training them to be respectful of others. In aviation, Discipline is also crucial. Respect for the Pilot in the left seat; the lead on the repair; the Flight Attendants in the cabin. In the news lately, passengers harass Flight Attendants for irresponsible reasons, e.g., not wearing masks on the flight. There are those who question if masks even work, but … that … is not the point.

To begin with, Flight Attendants warrant our respect; their training and selflessness demand it. Providing drinks and blankets? That is not their purpose. They stand between the passenger and injury or death. Second, to bully, to verbally or physically assault a flight attendant is against Federal Regulations, aka the Law. Per Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 121.580 – Prohibition on interference with crewmembers: “No person may assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft operated under this part.” PERIOD! End of story! FACT: Flight Attendants are crewmembers. Interference includes disobeying an order, arguing and/or bullying for any reason, especially in areas of safety. Another FACT: The Federal government can impose fines of $5000.00 or more per person per event or imprisonment; the only caveat is that the airline has to press the issue because, unless the federal agency imposing the violation is present, the airline’s flight Crewmember has to file the charge and the airline must back their Crewmember.

Whether one agrees with the masks or not, it is an airline mandate, along the lines of ‘No Shirt, No Service.’ It is the airline’s right, a business decision. Each ticket sold is a contract; ‘We, the airline, will transfer you from Point A to Point B, but our rules must be complied with.’ Flight Attendants may be enforcing airline rules – the mask rule may not be Federal Law – but Title 14 CFR Part 121.580 still applies: Flight Attendants’ directions must be obeyed. Consider this: when purchasing a ticket, mask mandate rules are made clear. No one is coerced into purchasing the ticket; it is free will. If the purchaser understood the mandate prior to purchase, then too bad, so sad – wear the mask! If I am on that flight, I will have the Flight Attendant’s back.

The eleventh definition of Discipline, a Verb, states: ‘To bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control.’ The twelfth definition, also a Verb, states, ‘To punish or penalize in order to train and control; to correct or chastise.’ Control? Punish? Penalize? Hmm, Discipline suddenly takes a dark turn, a whole new personality. Suddenly, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

There is conversation in the industry that access to flights and services will be limited if a pending passenger has not received the virus out of China (VC) Vaccine, e.g., a Vaccine Passport. Even more concerning is that members of the mainstream media, aviation circulars, social media and celebrities have taken it upon themselves to bully, to coerce others to get the Vaccine, labeling those who do not as ‘unpatriotic’, ‘selfish’ and ‘irresponsible to their neighbors’ needs’. Considering the medical acumen of these judgmental people, the proper reply would be, “Sticks and Stones …”

This name-calling falls under the eleventh and twelfth definitions of Discipline: chastising and punishing others. Federal Regulation, aka the Law, does not support this mindset; this goes well beyond anyone’s rights and powers who are not medically trained and factually driven to make such a demand.

Many of my friends have taken the Vaccine. I do not add or detract from their decision, nor judge their actions to protect themselves or their families. That is not my point. People who do not feel the Vaccine is in their best interests are being pressured and … that … I do take issue with, because it is not the aviation industry’s place to pressure these people.

There are numerous reasons for people to avoid the VC Vaccine. Facts show the virus fear is exaggerated; the death tolls do not reflect true numbers; the Vaccine is untested; religious reasons; Constitutionality issues; the Administration’s flip-flops on taking the Vaccine. Aside from the obvious, with all the media’s contradictions and the present Administration’s reversals, who would take this Vaccine? Why would the airline industry push it? Why the rush; why the urgency? What is the principled response?

This Vaccine obsession begs each of us to question: If the Vaccine is as effective as we have been told; if the Vaccine is the success the media says it is, how does one who was vaccinated contract it from the non-vaccinated? More virus cases have been discovered due to improved testing; that is good news, because assuming the reports are factual, how many have actually died from the VC and … only … the VC? How many, then, need the Vaccine? It makes no sense; it is like asking where to bury the survivors.

It is unbelievable that those of child-bearing age and younger – those unaffected by the VC and its effects – quickly roll up their sleeves; that they do not question any Facts. Instead, they gamble their futures on fear and emotion. What about those with autoimmune disorders or other patients that cannot take the Vaccine. Are they unpatriotic? Irresponsible? When is the Choice to not take the Vaccine, respected?

When the Vaccine first came out in limited supply, I asked my doctor if I should take it. He said, “No,” for two reasons. His first reason was that I (and I quote), “… was not a Vaccine candidate.” My annual physical verified I was at my optimum weight. I do not drink, smoke, take non-prescribed drugs; I exercise regularly; take zinc and assorted vitamins. At 60 years old, he took me off my prescribed blood pressure medication – I did not need it anymore. The second reason: my Doctor said the Vaccine was untested; my wife’s Doctor said the Vaccine was dangerous; our friend’s two children – both General Practitioners – said, “Avoid the Vaccine.” Who, then, should give me medical advice? Four experienced doctors or airline managers and media editors with no medical training? What is the principled response?

It seems strange to have aviation executives pressuring customers through guilt to take a drug that cannot be untaken. The Vaccine cannot be removed once received; it cannot be filtered out of the blood; it is a forever vaccination. Who knows this Vaccine’s effects on Americans in the future? Its effects on pregnant women; their unborn children? How do we know? How will the aviation industry be impacted when we learn all the yet-to-be-discovered side-effects? Imagine designing an airliner with the attitude of, “We will build it, fly families in it and, only then, check to see if it is safe.”

States, like Oklahoma, require those wanting the Vaccine to sign a waiver, acknowledging the VC Vaccine is Experimental; that the government is not liable if the Vaccine causes injury or death. What is an Experimental drug? In 1987, my Mother died from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a progressive neurological disorder that traps an alert mind in a crippled body. In 1985, she volunteered for an experimental drug program to test a cure, knowing that the drug would not restore her limbs or prolong her life – she would still die. Life Insurance would not cover her death because the experimental drug could backfire, hastening the ALS. Mom took the experimental drug, anyway, hoping to save future generations. That … is what an Experimental drug is.

We have fast tracked this Vaccine, processed it, labeled it, assumed its safety, administered it, all without any United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Does the FDA no longer play a part in our safety? The FDA website states: “The FDA must regulate and approve new prescription drugs before they can be sold to the public.” The FDA works with pharmaceutical companies to test and approve what we consume. Do we not need the FDA anymore? Imagine the Federal Aviation Administration no longer requiring tests and approvals before a new aircraft is certified.

And, what about Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug that was recommended – and prescribed – by doctors to combat the VC? FACT: Hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved drug, yet it was shelved while an unapproved VC Vaccine was distributed. Does this make sense? Is this principled?

Aviation safety demands clear thinking, logical applications and, yes, Principles. Aviation people know this, live this every day. The aviation industry’s future depends on careful analysis and, yes, unpopular ideas. Aviation Accident Investigations depend solely on Root Cause analysis to correctly determine unsafe aviation issues. Perhaps some feel that the VC Vaccine is a roll of the dice; an absence of discipline; a false hope; even a from-the-hip reaction to Probable Cause. Some view it as, “Maybe it will fix it, or maybe it will blow up in our faces. Let’s pull the pin and see!” If the Vaccine proves to be not what we were told, was our reaction undisciplined?

Aircraft Accidents and Lessons Unlearned XLIX: Three Elizabeth Accidents

Three Accidents in Elizabeth, New Jersey

Between December 16, 1951 and February 11, 1952 – a fifty-seven-day time span – Elizabeth, New Jersey became the center of unwanted attention, indeed the unwanted recipient of tragedy. The three Elizabeth accidents were unique to each other for their Root Causes. However, as dissimilar as the accidents were from each other, positive outcomes could not have come about if not for the coincidence of location and the briefness of time.

On December 16, 1951, a Miami Airlines (no recorded flight number) C-46F aircraft crashed soon after takeoff. The accident was investigated by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), who could not determine causes, Probable or Root. At two and a half miles from Newark Airport (EWR), the aircraft descending to 200 feet, the wings rotated ninety degrees to the ground. With almost zero forward speed, the aircraft plunged, striking a home and a brick building before it came to rest on a bank of the Elizabeth River.

On January 22, 1952, American Airlines flight 6780, a Convair CV-240, crashed on approach into EWR; the cause was undetermined, but believed to be engine or propeller related. The weather that afternoon at the airport was: ceiling at 400 feet; visibility three-quarters of a mile; light rain and fog. The aircraft, during final approach, stayed left and high of the glide path, eventually moving right of the glide path. At five seconds after the last approach advisory, American 6780 disappeared, “…  from both the azimuth and elevation screens of the ten-mile precision scope.” American 6780 crashed in the city of Elizabeth, at the corners of Williamson and South Streets; the aircraft’s descent led to impact with buildings.

On February 11, 1952, National Airlines flight 101, a Douglas DC-6, crashed following takeoff out of EWR. The climb-out was normal until the point the aircraft passed the Newark Range Station where it was observed to, “… lose altitude suddenly and veer slightly to the right”; this was blamed on an in-flight reversal of the number three propeller at high power and the subsequent feathering of the number four propeller. These conditions, plus the low altitude at which they occurred, made recovery impossible. The Captain reported to Controllers that the aircraft lost an engine and was returning to the field. The aircraft struck an apartment house near the intersection of Scotland Road and Westminster Avenue in Elizabeth.

With three separate operator accidents occurring within ten miles of each other and in such a short period of time, the focus naturally turned towards the common factor: air traffic control (ATC). However, all three CAB accident reports eliminated ATC as a suspected cause early in the investigations. ATC’s procedures were normal, they did not deviate from routine operations. Neither aircraft was misdirected; ATC did not err, blindly routing an aircraft into an inescapable trap. Finally, moments before each crash, conversations were routine; the language and directions showed no elevation in urgency; ATC maintained communications until the aircraft discontinued transmissions.

Today, commercial aviation accidents involving buildings are rare. Air France 4590 hit a hotel because the pilots had no directional stability to veer; American 587 fell onto a Belle Harbor, New York neighborhood; Emery 17, fighting to maintain longitudinal control, struck a wingtip on a building, short of the runway. In each instance, the aircraft struck the building(s) as a consequence of the accident’s root cause having already occurred; impacts with the buildings were unavoidable.

If the three accidents occurred in separate states or isolated cities – not localized in Elizabeth – the accidents’ consequent effects, namely the building strikes, may never have been noticed. These confined ground events came to President Truman’s attention, who asked military strategist and B-25 pilot, James Doolittle (famed orchestrator of World War II’s Doolittle Raid) to examine the Elizabeth accidents and report on the hazards of United States’ airports operating in close proximity to civilian communities. Doolittle’s report, The Airport and Its Neighbors, co-written with Charles F. Horne, Administrator of Civil Aeronautics and Jerome C. Hunsaker, Department Head of Aeronautical Engineering for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was submitted on May 16, 1952. It was a study to, “… recommend action to alleviate certain immediate problems inherent in the present location and use of airports …” Their aim: “…  to propose policies and procedures designed to insure sound and orderly development of a national system of airports, to safeguard the welfare of the communities and to meet the needs of air commerce and the national defense.”

The report was broken into six sections: Part I, The Airport and Its Neighbors; Part II, Aviation – a National Asset; Part III, The Airport as a Local Problem; Part IV, The Airport as a National Problem; Part V, The Airport in the Community Plan and Part VI, A Survey of National Airport Policy. It was published when Hawaii and Alaska were not yet States; the Chicago Convention convened only six years prior and jet airliners began replacing piston aircraft, needing longer, more sturdy runways. It was essential to lay out the changing situation.

The first four Parts introduced aviation as a necessity of commerce. In the 1950s (up to the early 1970s) airlines were regulated; ticket prices made flying a luxury and aviation safety was a work in progress. Aviation was fueling business and providing jobs. The authors confirmed that aviation was a permanent fixture; as the new kid in town, commercial aviation would establish itself, much like air cargo in the 1970s and unmanned aerial vehicles today. Aviation was dependent on airports; very few airlines, e.g., Pan Am, landed at marine terminals, like LaGuardia’s. Airport proximities to housing and manufacturing were a growing concern that, like Elizabeth, demonstrated the need for solutions.

Parts Five and Six spelled out a need to plan for development; not to leave airport futures to chance but to practicality – and safety. Research for Planning, Airport Responsibilities, Zoning and other strategies were necessary to reconcile airport expansion with civilian population growth. In the 1950s, suburbia was still a young concept; the report was concerned more about the demands of the times: cities.

In the report, the point of community encroachment was made, “Many communities are approaching an impasse arising from limitations to safe operation on existing airports combined with a physical inability to improve or extend them because homes or factories have been built close to the runway ends;” even sixty years ago real estate was getting tight. During the War, airfields sprouted up amidst communities. As the report stated, airports of every size and purpose created closer ranks between airports and nearby communities. Military facilities and ground obstructions were not the only congestion; aircraft approach and takeoff lanes got closer as well.

The commission made two suggestions for zoning: “(1) That certain extensions or over-run areas be incorporated in the airport itself, and (2) that larger areas beyond such extensions be zoned for proper authority, not only to prevent the erection of obstructions that might be harmful to aircraft, but also to control the erection of public and residential buildings as a protection from nuisance and hazard to people on the ground.”

These last five Parts of the report were the justification, the arguments. The tactic of the report was generated in the second section of Part I: The Recommendations. Doolittle, Horne and Hunsaker wrote twenty-five Recommendations for the President to act on in his Federal capacity and to sell to the forty-eight states and assorted territories. These recommendations established the direction both airports and neighboring communities would take, including the control of airspace over these areas. Airports would now be certified; air traffic control would be improved.

The first recommendations spoke to the funding of airports, government responsibilities; took more practical approaches to planning and what airports needed to operate safely near communities. The second group of recommendations focused attention on airport zoning, namely what could be built, how high and how close to airports, with special emphasis on runway approach/departure paths. The third set of recommendations addressed what affected safe flight, such as: crosswind equipment, runway lengths, air navigation aid installations, raised circling and maneuvering minimums. The fourth recommendations set concentrated on airports’ effects on neighboring communities, e.g., minimizing test flights; limiting commercial and military training over congested areas; focusing on noise reductions and training pilots to decrease nuisance factors. Recommendation 25 attended to the transition of helicopters in civil use.

The report brought airport concepts decades forward; even though airports would evolve over the next sixty years, the foundations of airport safety were outlined in The Airport and Its Neighbors. Today, there are several airport categories: Commercial Service (Non-Primary and Primary Service), Cargo Service, Reliever and General Aviation (National, Regional, Local, Basic and Unclassified); some are controlled, some are not. They progress, changing with the times and technology. But they owe their valuable role to tragedy. A reminder that when we learn what needs … what must … what demands to be learned, we make effective changes that improve safety for years to come.