Aircraft Accidents and the Other Shoe

2018 Photo of EasyJet Captain Kate McWilliams, 26, and First Officer Luke Elsworth, 19

There is an expression, per inc.com, that goes “Waiting for the other shoe to drop”. It related to New York City tenement living, where in apartments built on top of each other, the lower neighbor could hear his above neighbor drop a shoe after removing it, then they anticipated the ‘other shoe to drop’. It was an idiom for expecting something to happen.

Last week Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) posted a call for writers to submit papers to the Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education and Research (JAAER) where ERAU was, “… proud to announce a call for papers related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the aviation industry.” The ad continued: “This special issue will aim to publish thought-provoking scholarly and research articles related (but not limited) to race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other nascent and incipient forms of inequalities in the context of the organization of work within the aviation and aerospace industry.” This sounds like S0ci@l Ju$tice (S-J); the shoe dropped with the THUD! of a lead balloon.

Opinions and Feelings never eclipse Facts; Diversity … or better yet, the appearance of diversity, does not equal Safety and never will.

Academia means well; some ERAU professors and teachers aim to take advantage of the new craze: ‘Woke’ ness; validate it with research and make it real. Instead it resembles applying a new coat of paint to a rusted DC-4 hull. Most Academia never worked in or interviewed into the industry; they lecture from textbooks written by other Academics who, again, never worked in industry. Academia thinks Diversity is the new hope, that Diversity makes us winners, like a group of Safety-keteers.

But, ERAU’s call for Diversity articles does two things: First, it uses (exploits?) JAAER’s history of aviation research to force credibility on a tired argument with no resources for factual discussion. No honorable group has researched Diversity’s effects on Safety or Experience because Diversity HAS NO effect on Safety or Experience. By posting the inciting subject matter under the JAAER umbrella, ERAU makes it ‘believable’ to those who do not know better; it allows those with a divisive agenda another avenue to freely punish other groups of people they disagree with. ERAU may as well tell their present and future students who do not fall into any of these “race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion” groups, “We do not care about you; we will take your money, but we are devaluing your contributions to aviation because you do not fit our profile.” My opinion? Perhaps. But what is the desired outcome: Safety or Job Hand-outs?

Secondly, and sadly, this ad crushes the good reputation JAAER built, which was to present well-researched information – FACTUAL information (some that has been presented on my website); ERAU is allowing JAAER to become a propaganda machine aimed at dismissing facts for opinion.

What type of scientific method of data collection would this represent? A scientific method always begins with a question, which in the JAAER’s case would be … what? What hypothesis would be raised? How would you test the prediction? How would a conclusion be presented? What scientific data could be used? ERAU is forcing a conclusion with no provable data. How does one prove bias? Does anyone who has actually worked in aviation – not taught, but worked – these last thirty to forty years honestly believe there has been race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion discrimination on some grand scale? If so, what have they done about it before today? Why were they silent before now?

In 1995, I attended classes at ERAU’s Offutt Air Force Base Education Center in Omaha; the Director was a highly qualified woman, who ran the place. In 1997, when I graduated, she accepted a promotion to the Daytona Beach Campus. Four years later, after I received my Masters, she recommended me to the ERAU PAX River Education Center administrator who was a … wait for it … qualified woman who ran that Center. Twenty-six years ago, women were running the show in a prestigious aeronautical school; the same ERAU that now questions race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion diversity. The aeronautical school in Flushing, New York I attended for aircraft maintenance certification; that school is also run by a woman with a Doctorate. Since the mid-90s, Diversity was all over the place.

When I joined the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the black gentleman who oversaw International accidents – an ERAU graduate, since retired – ran a critical NTSB department since before 2001 when I arrived. Half the Systems and Powerplants NTSB engineers who work – and have worked – major aircraft accidents, including the present Division manager for Aviation? All women. NTSB Board Members through the years have been racially and gender diverse, as well.

What about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)? Jane Garvey, FAA Administrator from 1997 to 2002, was replaced by Marion Blakey in 2002 … after Ms. Blakey was NTSB Chairman. More than twenty-five years of aviation industry diversity and ERAU is suggesting aviation never left Kitty Hawk.

Why do we waste scorn on our co-aviation folks? Why are we willing to start battles on hills that do not exist? Suddenly airlines ‘awaken’ to Industry’s Diversity problems. Look up pictures of these ‘woke’ airlines’ Board of Directors. See who the Chief Pilot is; who the Director of Maintenance is; the CEO. Are women and racially diverse people running major divisions within these ‘woke’ airlines’ or are these so many smoke and mirror games? Doesn’t change always start at home?

What about sexual orientation? Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the Secretary of Transportation. He is also a gay man. A high-profile position run by Sec Pete, yet ERAU questions Diversity. And there is the rub … perhaps ERAU should focus less on Secretary Buttigieg as a gay man and more on him being a qualified man. Does his sexual orientation matter more than his decision-making abilities; his plans for Transportation; his leadership in times of crisis? Or are we to believe that Sec Pete’s only value is his choice in partners? Seriously, who cares who he marries? I just care about the job he does. Have we become, as a nation, so shallow that we judge people’s qualifications by stereotype?

Which leads to my second point: Safety. This recent concern for making the industry diverse as possible, while pushing Safety towards the back, is insane. I just want to understand: What factual research can show that a Black man has more flying talent than an Oriental woman or that a White woman can remove an engine faster than a Hispanic man? Where are these numbers? Where is the Math?

Perhaps actions are better identifiers. I personally witnessed these safety boo-boos. Can anyone identify the violator’s stereotype? (1) A pilot who was too busy storytelling that they busted through their assigned altitude; (2) A mechanic threw a wheel chock into a windmilling fan to stop it; (3) A pilot, first ‘hovers’ over the runway, before slamming the jet down in a near three-point landing; (4) A mechanic pins the nose and two main gears of a DC-10-30 before raising the gear handle, too late to stop the center gear from going up in the well – on the flight line – with no jack stands. None of these instances was owned by one gender or race. Safety and training failures belong to all people equally.

S-J, or whatever interpretation of it, is killing industries all over, diminishing experience with, essentially, nothing of substance. The FAA will spend millions of tax dollars to remove gender-specific language from policy and regulation. Now, ERAU has sacrificed their JAAER to ‘woke’ ness, creating a crisis where no crisis exists; ERAU wants to know why, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and other nascent and incipient forms of inequalities … prevent people of certain races, (what races?) ages (what age groups?), etc. from gainful employment in the aviation industry.

Think about this: What if the reason people do not get pilot, mechanic or air traffic controller jobs is because they lack skill? Are airlines supposed to have a 100% hire rate just to satisfy a set of Diversity numbers? How about the (pick a race, gender or age) pilot who just cannot pass the check ride? Damn the safety, we have a quota to meet. What ever happened to responsibility? When did our failures become somebody else’s fault? Why is it wrong to not hire someone because that person is dangerous, that they are a lousy pilot/mechanic/air traffic controller?

The above 2018 picture is of Kate McWilliams, 26, EasyJet A320 Captain and First Officer, Luke Elsworth, 19. It is irrelevant how ‘groundbreaking’ this picture is, how these two challenged the status quo. The priority is: “Are they qualified to fly an A320 full of passengers?” Luke was too young to obtain a bus driver’s license in London but he can fly an Airbus over it. We would hope these two have the experience to handle any emergency, but do they? Could they pull a “Sully”? In this technology age, could either of them fly on manual with engine out? Have either ever faced a real emergency? Maybe, maybe not. But be honest, what Diversity peddler would trust their grandchild’s life to a 19-year-old?

Hiring for Diversity does not work; training for Diversity does not work; S-J equality is not a tangible metric. Skill and experience are not determined by strands of DNA; they cannot be found in a Holy Book. To believe otherwise is a fool’s errand. While scholars and Academia elite may teach otherwise, there can be only one Beethoven, one Jesse Owens, one Katherine Johnson, one Albert Einstein; theirs and others’ talents and skills were unique; learned, not given. To suggest that Diversity can duplicate what came naturally to them, trivializes their contributions, cheapens them.

We, in the aviation industry, are anticipating the other shoe dropping. This stunt puts us all in danger.

Aircraft Accidents and Lessons Unlearned LI: Arrow Air Flight MF1285R

Arrow Air Douglas DC-8-63

On December 11, 1985, Arrow Air flight MF1285R, a Douglas DC-8-63, registration number N950JW, crashed on departure out of Gander International Airport, Gander, Newfoundland. The aircraft had been taking off from runway 22; it did not achieve altitude before, according to witnesses, it banked right and pitched up, all while descending down the embankment at the end of the runway.

The Multinational Force and Observers chartered the flight to bring service men and women of Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne Division back to the United States from Cairo. The aircraft had a scheduled stop in Gander as part of its flight plan, taking on fuel and catering services.

The Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) conducted the investigation, the subsequent hearing and wrote the accident report. The report stated that wing icing was the accident’s major contributor. Not mentioned were other major contributors, e.g., poor judgment and a lack of conditional awareness; the flight crew did not correctly analyze the danger imposed by ice accretion on the flight surfaces.

A look into fatigue and its effects on the crew was made by examining the research of Doctor Stanley Mohler, Director of Aerospace Medicine at the Wright State University of Medicine. Doctor Mohler applied his fatigue-rating index to the flight crew’s schedule and found that the crew’s conditions, at the time of the accident, fell into the “category of ‘may dangerously deplete physiological reserves’.” Doctor Mohler determined that the accident crew was fatigued despite their taking the flight over from the arrival crew in Gander.

An examination of the aircraft and engines determined that the number four engine was not operating as efficiently as the other three engines. However, tests and flight simulations eliminated the aircraft and engines as contributors to the accident.

The accident flight’s weight and balance records were examined and found to be safely within the mean aerodynamic chord envelope; the center of gravity (CG) was well within limits. The cargo weights were identical to those of the previous leg and the passengers did not change seating. An argument could be made comparing actual weights versus average weights, but the CG would still have been safe. The CASB had calculated the weights and found a discrepancy, but the previous leg’s CG was not retrimmed in flight, therefore the accident aircraft’s CG was not in conflict.

The CASB gave credence, in the absence of other information, to witness statements about flight controls, hydraulics, the number four engine and thrust reversers, all of which could not be substantiated. Another, a yellow/orange glow under the aircraft belly was entertained, but could not be validated as anything more than, e.g., a red anti-collision beacon reflecting off the open landing gear slave doors.

It was unfortunate that CASB Board Hearing time was wasted on issues that had little to do with the accident; not to say examining all possible scenarios was wrong, just pursuing information irrelevant to the accident. For instance, the Director of Maintenance (DOM) was asked about an uncontained engine failure that had occurred four years earlier in Casablanca and the repairs to wings and flight controls as a result. A DOM does not concern himself/herself with non-emergency items or repairs, no matter the detail; the DOM would instead be a good source for company policy and fleet problems, not individual aircraft. Missing cargo panels and Engine Hi-temp gauges received unnecessary attention; they were not found to be contributors to the accident and diverted interest away from the causes.

It was determined that icing was the likely culprit of this accident. Ice would have answered questions relating to increased stall speeds, the roll to the right, inadequate lift, even a heavier than recorded aircraft weight. The ice could have been distributed unevenly across the wings upsetting lift on one side more than the other. The aircraft, having recently arrived from the previous leg, could have had supercooled wings, which, after being newly fueled, would have added to the icing problem. Little was added by some witnesses interviewed: ramp handlers, fuelers and servicers who did nothing to answer aircraft icing questions. Oddly, the report made no mention of the flight engineer’s preflight external inspection, for he could have seen wing ice and snow accumulation from behind the wings.

In 1982, an Air Florida B737, flight 90, crashed taking off out of National Airport. Cause: Icing. At the time of Arrow Air MF1285R, the airlines were required to have deicing plans approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in their Operations Specifications. Deicing was not a new concept; at the time of this accident, airlines were already using anti-icing fluids with deicing fluids. So, why, after the disastrous Air Florida flight 90 accident, where the root cause was negligence on part of the flight crew, did this flight crew choose to fly the airplane, untreated by deicing, under a similar precipitation event?

It was interesting that the CASB did not raise a more obvious question: Was this accident due to simple negligence, military charter concerns or both? Military charters are frequent business ventures between the military and commercial aviation; my son returned from the Iraq conflict on a Continental B767 thirteen years ago. In addition, the military assures civilian lift support by engaging with air carriers in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), where the military supplements the air carrier to have access to their aircraft in time of need.

But CRAF does not work like a charter. In a charter, the airline does not work with the military, the military is the customer. And while the military and the commercial airlines are dedicated to safety, their paths to safety are far different because their missions are different. It is this disparity in safe practices that results in urgency miscommunications between the air carrier provider and the military customer.

Therefore, what is it about military charters that makes the most qualified airline personnel lose their capacity for common sense?

A load master for a B757 charter company wrote (what he considered to be) an amusing an article about how humorous a B757 captain was who, while flying a military charter, scoffed at a deicing delay and instead swept ice and snow from his wings with a broom instead of “having to wait” for the deice crew to show up in the morning. Aside from not being funny, the operational and maintenance violations were numerous beyond the captain ignoring the airline’s deicing program.

In April 2013, National Air Cargo flight 102, a B747 cargo jet crashed while taking off out of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The accident was due to unrestrained cargo, which moved aft on rotation. This same freight exceeded the cargo floor’s structural weight limits, destroying the floor’s integrity when the B747 landed in Bagram. The floor’s failure left the floor cargo locks and netting restraints useless – the cargo moved because there was nothing to hold it in place. The accident B747’s cargo bay was marked with cargo weight limits per station that normally would have prevented the accident by drawing attention to the overweight loads, but National 102’s load crews and pilots ignored these warnings.

The planes, National Air Cargo 102 and Arrow Air MF1285R crashed, but not because safety protocols were not in place. As a rule, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducts regular audits on those the DOD contracts with and the air carriers with CRAF agreements. Similar to FAA audits, the DOD audits employ Operations and Airworthiness representatives who dig into the air carrier’s policies from a safety standpoint; in fact, DOD audit findings require the FAA air carrier certificate office respond to discovered safety items of concern with how the safety issue would be corrected and how quickly. If not corrected, the contract is canceled.

However, an air carrier audit did not cause the Arrow Air MF1285R crash. Arrow Air’s deice program existed; the flight crew was familiar with the meteorological conditions and fueling issues with which icing would become a problem. Did the second officer conduct a preflight walkaround? Did the flight crew opt out of deicing in favor of an on-time departure? An airline is run on a schedule; as part of the airline culture, there is an urgency to ‘fly the airplane’, to meet the schedule and the next one.

Did time constraints for departure eclipse common sense and experience? The aviation industry will never know because the right questions were not asked. However, when entering into a lease agreement, the most important factor to be considered is safety, even when it is inconvenient.