Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pilots and text messaging

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Can enough be written about the dangerous distractions of personal electronic devices? Not when the latest news is of text messaging by an airline pilot taxiing for takeoff.

When the National Transportation Safety Board meets on Tuesday to determine what caused the fatal crash of Continental Connection flight 3407 last February, it will hear how the first officer on the flight sent two text messages from the cockpit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Immigration officials seize Haitian toddler in Florida

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Immigration officials at the West Palm Beach airport seized a two year old Haitian child being brought into the United States for medical treatment on Saturday.
The child, Mishna Prezille was flown to Florida on a private plane operated by the missionary group, Air Mobile Ministries and was in the custody of two journalists who volunteer with the charity. She was to be put into the care of a Florida physician, but immigration officers told the group when they arrived that the child had an illegal visa, according to John Torres, a newspaper reporter with Florida Today, who was on the flight.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's book, Highest Duty

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There is a genre of aviation writing, typified by Antoine St. Exupery, Ernest K. Gann, Richard Bach and Rinker Buck that focuses on the link between the machine and the person flying it. These pilots write not just about the sky around them but the space within. Chesley Sullenberger’s fine memoir, Highest Duty, My Search for What Really Matters, joins this group.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Miracle on the Hudson, not the only aviation success story

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The landing of US Airways flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River on January 15, 2009 captured worldwide attention and it remains a feel-good story. But every year there are aviation events that go unnoticed because actions of pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers prevented something bad from becoming awful.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Amelia Earhart still inspiring

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Its a good day to remember Amelia Earhart - a pioneering woman in many respects. But yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of her solo flight from Hawaii to North America. When she departed the military field in Oahu bound for Oakland, California, in 1935 she was the first to fly across of the Pacific alone. She flew a wooden Lockheed Vega at low altitude through winter storms twenty-four hundred miles and arrived 18-hours later. Earhart would set many records and break others before disappearing just two years later as she attempted to fly around the world in 1937.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Flight diversions and unsecured security

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The past few days have been busy ones for air traffic controllers who handled several flight diversions on U.S. airlines due to disruptive passengers. On Thursday, Delta Airlines flight 188 from Pittsburgh to Paris was landed in St. John’s, Newfoundland after a passenger started spouting off about Muslims. Marcus Miller who was sitting next to the man told a Pittsburgh news reporter, "You know, he kept referring to Muslims and I just felt like, if this guy snaps, we're in trouble."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Flip side of intelligence failure -- poor response

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With all the attention being paid to the intelligence failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab to board Northwest Airlines Flight 263 with explosives packed into his briefs, it is my hope that the experiences of what happened to the passengers after the plane landed be examined for what seem to be lapses in security and basic crime scene investigation. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Were Flight 253 Passengers Endangered by Federal Authorities

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A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection said that a second passenger on Northwest Airlines flight 253 was detained at the Detroit airport on Christmas, confirming accounts of at least four passengers on the flight. The episode has security experts questioning whether the handling of the passengers on the ground created an additional risk at the airport.

In the days following the attempted terrorist attack, lawyers Lori and Kurt Haskell of Detroit and Daniel Huisinga of Tennessee said that while they were being held in the baggage claim area of the airport, a K9 dog alerted police to the bag of a fellow passenger.
“One of the dogs found something in the carry-on bags of an Indian man.” Mr. Haskell said. “He was immediately taken into an interrogation room and came out in handcuffs and taken away.”
The Customs Department spokesman Ronald Smith initially said that no one other than Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was detained at the airport that day. On Thursday he said a man had been detained from another flight that arrived at the same time. In an email Thursday evening, Mr. Smith, told me he had been misinformed and confirmed much of the Haskells’ account.
“I now know that a passenger from flight 253 did have a canine alert to his carry-on baggage in the baggage area of the CBP facility. He was placed in handcuffs and escorted to an interview room where he was interviewed and searched,” Mr. Smith said in an email.
After the man was led away, several passengers said the group was moved into another room. “All we knew is all of a sudden they said ‘everybody move, we’re moving you’, said Roey Rosenblith, an American businessman living in Uganda who was also on the flight. Mr. Haskell confirmed in a phone conversation with me that passengers were told, “I’m sure you all saw what happened and can read between the lines and figure out why you are being moved,” which he said he interpreted as a reference to the passenger who had been led away by police.
According to Mr. Smith, a search of the man’s bag, proved negative and he was released. Mr. Smith declined to identify the passenger who was questioned.
Security experts meanwhile tell me they are concerned about the handling of Flight 253 passengers. “As soon as the plane landed, all the people should have been led off the airplane as fast as possible, said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and an aviation security expert with the Transportation Research Board.
In fact, when the plane landed, luggage in the airplane cargo hold was unloaded on the tarmac and searched, according to Mr. Smith but hand luggage was not inspected at all. Passengers told me it was 45 minutes to an hour before police dogs were brought into the area where they were being held.
“How do you know somebody else didn’t have something on them?” Mr. Bloom asked, calling the handling a security shortfall. “There should have been an immediate search of each individual leaving all the stuff in the aircraft for a search of what might have been dangerous.”
A former chief of staff for the Federal Aviation Administration, said “This is a big deal because of the outrageous number of security breaches that event has brought to light.” Michael Goldfarb, now a private aviation consultant said “Clearly the passengers should have been taken off the plane and all their bags searched. Most security people would say, don’t touch the scene, prudent security would be to not touch the scene."
On Friday, a European aviation expert who asked not to be identified told me that a search of the hand luggage separate from the passengers and prior to bringing it into the airport would have been reasonable, though he did not think there were specific regulations requring it.