Thursday, April 28, 2011

All Airplanes All the Time - Happy in the Golden Triangle

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Storms in the so-called Golden Triangle, the corners of which are New York, Atlanta and Chicago have caused a lot of air travelers to hunker down at the airport, or return to wherever they came from with plans to try to fly tomorrow. Meanwhile, here in the heart of it all, I'm happy as the proverbial pig. Why? Because I'm coming off a week-long airplane extravaganza in Oklahoma and now I am stranded at Chicago O'Hare International Airport

ATC - Kinda' High Tech/Low Tech and Always Will Be

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ATC simulator at FAA Center in Oklahoma City
Just a few days after taking the Flight Safety Foundation to task for publishing what can only be considered outrageously inaccurate statistics in 2007 regarding airport ramp events, I have to commend the Foundation's present boss for his excellent commentary today on the future of air traffic control in the United States. William Voss, writing for CNN, does the seemingly impossible, explaining the nation's air traffic control system and its hot subtopic, Next Gen, in a way that ordinary users of the system can surely understand. Then, like a good controller, he takes them to the next sector, explaining that high tech is good, but the low tech human is and will remain a key wild card in the system.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Southwest Depressurization Puts Pressure on Boeing

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NTSB phot
Well we are just a coupla' aviation writers riding a bus together in Tulsa, Oklahoma today and talking about how Southwest Flight 812 zipped open in flight on April 1st, when suddenly our collective memories zeroed in on what could be a coincidence, or could be something more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How Alarming are Airport Ramp Accidents?

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Etihad destroyed in Toulouse photo- Bureau d'EnquĂȘtes et d'Analyses
If there's one thing you can count on in aviation it is that every aspect of it is a lot more complicated than you think. In a recent post on ramp accidents, I cited a Flight Safety Foundation report which gave some pretty alarming numbers. 

In the May 2007 issue of Aerosafety World, the Flight Safety magazine used numbers from the International Air Transport Association to estimate that there were twenty-seven thousand ramp accidents each year in which 240,000 people were injured. A number of readers have since told me they thought the numbers, which have appeared in other aviation magazines since the article was published were just too high. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Take Your Seats Controllers, The Movie is About to Begin

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Photo courtesy FAA
When the call came in to the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center that the soundtrack to the movie Cleaner was being broadcast on the radio frequency, here's what the FAA supervisor had to say to the two men watching the film. 
(I paraphrase because I was not there to hear it myself.) "If you are going to watch a movie, don't transmit it on the frequency at the same time." He then walked back down the hall to his office.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh, the Horror of Being an Aviation Writer

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I have this image in my brain and I can't shake it. There's a man seated at a giant pipe organ, he's wearing morning coat with tails and he is pounding furiously. His fingers fly across all three levels of the keyboard. He's pumping the pedals with his feet, turning the pages on the sheet music, the music swells, the room is shaking. It's sooooo scary. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A380 Collision Mirrors Plane vs. Plane Bout From Years Ago

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See the previous post on this subject here

Stand by because in a matter of minutes, you may start seeing photos from the latest airport ramp event; a catering truck that clipped the wing of a Southwest 737 at Bradley International Airport this morning. Until then, and proving once again that there's-no-such-thing-as-a-new-accident in aviation, I invite you to view the photos of this week's A380 collision with a Delta Connection CRJ at JFK airport.  (Alright, alright, here's the video too.) 

Photos courtesy NTSB
It ain't pretty, but if it looks like something you've seen before, perhaps that's because you have. A remarkably similar photo appears in the May 2007 edition of Aerosafety World the magazine of the Flight Safety Foundation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Play Ball! Opening Season for Airport and Baseball in Japan

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Mainichi Daily News
There was a real and a metaphorical cry of "Play Ball" in Sendai, Japan today.

At the heavily damaged Sendai Airport in the heart of the earthquake-hit region, Japan Airlines Flight 4721 marked the new opening of the airport to commercial service at 8:00 this morning. Two hundred miles to the south, the Sendai Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles baseball team played and won the Pacific League's 2011 season opener.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jumbo-sized Bump and Grind at JFK

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See the update on this subject  here and here

It's not a fair match when the world's largest passenger plane bumps into a tiny regional jet, which explains why people on the A380 that was Air France flight 7 felt only a slight dip when, on the departure taxi from JFK, the wing of the Airbus hit the tail of the regional jet. 

In the Delta Connection Bombardier CRJ700 that was also taxiing, it was a startlingly different story. At 500+ tons, the Airbus is 14 times the weight of the CRJ. The energy of the Airbus hitting the commuter, put the Comair in a 90 degree spin.  See the amazing video here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sendai Airport Before, After and After Again

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See the update on this post here

Before and after photos are a universal technique for showing what words can only attempt to convey and the official photograph of beautiful Sendai Airport in Miyagi Prefecture in northeast Japan is the classic "before".

It has been replaced in the minds of aviation aficionados by the heartbreaking image of "after"; after March 11, 2011, after the tsunami flooded the airfield, after it swept service equipment, airplanes and cars around like toys, after seawater raced through the terminal sending travelers and airport workers fleeing to the roof of the building. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Technology and the Reliable Constant of Human Error

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One can be dazzled, as I was, with the presentations of airplane manufacturers Airbus and Boeing as they describe the latest and greatest features on the A380 and soon-to-fly B787 to the annual meeting of the European Society of Air Safety Investigators meeting this week in Lisbon.

There’s a phalanx of tools that will help investigators; data recorders with thirty three hundred streams of information, redundant recorders, triggered transmission of flight information to ground receivers, post-flight condition reports that can provide information on up to 64 previous flight legs. And that’s not even talking about the “passenger comfort” improvements like lower cabin pressurization, larger windows and can you believe it, turbulence control on Boeing’s Dreamliner? We could have used a little of that at our riverboat dinner last night as we sailed on the beautiful and slightly choppy Tejo. (Wonderful. Thanks Netjets!)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Madeira an Island and an Airport Awaiting Thrill Seekers

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For someone whose recent travel schedule has included doing time at crowded airports like JFK, Narita, and Frankfurt, what a treat to arrive at Madeira's International Airport outside of Funchal. From its exceptional runway (more about that shortly) to its floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean, this is an airport that announces to travelers "you have arrived someplace special."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Air Crossing of South Atlantic Then and Now

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LISBON - The Fairey single engine float plane is displayed as if taking off over the Tejo River. But when Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral departed Lisbon in the first crossing of the South Atlantic by air in 1922 they were not flying in this particular airplane. Their historic feat was only accomplished in a three airplane relay, the first two planes were lost along the way. But in such perseverance is aviation history (and aviation safety) made.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Skylight on Southwest Flight Not Unique

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Yes, I'm trying to take a few days off for fun before the beginning of the European Society of Air Safety Investigators conference in Lisbon, but what could I do when I saw the news story? Another aging Southwest Airlines 737 pops a hole while at cruise altitude? A skylight in an airliner is bad enough the first time.

Friday evening, while at 36,000 feet, Southwest Flight 816 from Phoenix to Arizona developed a suitcase-sized tear in the upper fuselage about 45-minutes after takeoff. The hole was big enough to bring the cabin altitude, normally maintained by the pressurization system to around 8,000 feet, to above 10,000 feet in 45 seconds. This causes the passenger oxygen masks to drop. But even when passengers quickly don them, it can also cause a lot of discomfort. (Read more than you'll ever want to know about depressurization events on 737s here.)