Monthly Archives: December 2011

Holiday Reading List

Ace at Oshkosh

 

If you read this blog you are probably an aviation aficionado so I will therefore turn you on to some of the better aviation literature available. Amazon delivers in 3-4 days so if you need a last minute “stocking stuffer” it can arrive before Xmas. Many of these books will also be available at your local “brick and mortar” book stores and will likely be available as an EBook. In no particular order the suggested books for the 2011 holiday season is as follows:

  1. Rules of Engagement by Joe Weber: An adrenalin-pumping, scintillating account of the air war over North Viet Nam and carrier operations in the gulf of Tonkin. Guaranteed to get the pulse-racing with descriptions of combat encounters, the author has also woven into the mix  a poignant love story with the fighter-pilot protagonist showing his soft side. The transition from down-and-dirty combat to touching love scenes is a nice touch. Joe Weber’s other Southeast Asia war novel is titled, Targets of Opportunity. (www.joewebernovels.com)
  2. Squawk 7700 by Peter Buffington is a great expose’ of the life as a pilot with the regional air carriers. It points out that the low pay and poor working conditions of the “commuter pilot” can be nearly draconian. It is an eye-opening revelation of the dark-under-belly of commercial aviation as it extrapolates on the brilliant investigative journalism done by PBS and Miles O’Brien in the Frontline special, Flying Cheap. (www.squaw7700.com)
  3. For the granddaddy of aviation investigative reporting one must read The Real Unfriendly Skies by Rodney Stich. This book takes the reader back about a half  century and points out the despicable practice of “pencil-whipping” pilot training records and the good-old-boy mentality that pervaded the airline environment, resulting in numerous fatal airline crashes. Author Rodney Stich was a training captain and FAA examiner who dedicated himself to ridding the airline environment from unscrupulous management that put the profit factor well ahead of the safety factor. The reader of this book will find out how difficult it can be for a whistle-blower who is trying to do the noble thing and will cast an ugly shadow on numerous government agencies.
  4. On the other side of the spectrum, the aviation reader can tune into aviation comics with Chicken Wings by Michael and Stefan Strasser. (www.chickenwingscomics.com). The award-winning Chicken Wings comics are published in many aviation journals. Another source of good laughs is Please Wait to be Seated by Martin Leeuwiss.
  5. The Great Santini by the great renowned writer Pat Conroy is a classic story of the macho military man alienating his children with DI tactics at the dinner table. This moving story of a father-son relationship was made in to a movie of the same name. Both the book and the movie are don’t-miss items.
  6. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is an enduring classic that enshrines aviation as a morally-enhancing experience that transcends the aviator to a mythical level. It is a nice premise but as the cliché goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.” Nonetheless, it is a pleasant reading experience.
  7. Fate is The Hunter by Ernest Gann is an aviation classic that nearly every airplane book reader has enjoyed. If you have not read it, I suggest that you put it on your list.
  8. The Rogue Aviator: in the Back Alleys of Aviation  by Ace Abbot was recently deemed (by the author) to be “one of the greatest aviation stories ever told.” It covers a lot of bases in the world of aviation and is both informative and humorous as well. (www.therogueaviator.com)
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Alec Baldwin vs. Flight Crew (Baldwin KO’ed)

Did birds cause this or was it a cellphone?

Since Alec Baldwin was recently thrown into the recycle bin for airline passengers, the mainstream media folks have begun to capitalize on this issue by challenging the need to turn off PEDs (Personal Electronic Devices) for takeoff and landing. This opens up the much-needed discussion regarding this contoversial issue. The FCC and the FAA have been negligent in that they have engaged in only a very minimal amount of rudimentary testing. As a result, no double-blind, quantifiable science is available to provide a definitive answer to resolve this issue.

However, the April 13, 2006 issue of Aviation Week has an article titled “Are Personal Electronics a Threat To Aircraft.” This article indicates that, based on a very limited amount of anecdotal evidence, there is a possibility of electronic interference of cell phones and other devices that emit RF emissions to cause navigation signal anomalies during flight. While there still has been very little research to evaluate the effects of electronic gadgetry in the cabin of commercial airliners having a definitive detriment to airline safety, it is probably a good idea to err on the side of caution and continue to follow the edicts of the flight crew, and turn off the PEDs.

An additional consideration regarding PEDs inthe cabin is the possibility of an EMP transmitter. EMP stands for Electro Magnetic Pulsing. These EMP critters are the real deal when it comes to dangerous transmissions of invisible electonic signals that can wreak havoc. Even Newt Gingrich, a self-proclaimed intellectual, has pointed out that the threat factor of EMPs should be dealt with as a national security issue.

In lieu of the electronic games for entertainment on your flight I would suggest the nearly obsolete concept of reading a book made of paper. My reader review data indicates that The Rogue Aviator: in the Back Alleys of Aviation  by Ace Abbott would be an excellent choice.

Tired Pilots Crash Airplanes

The previous posting made mention of the pilot flight and duty time changes which remain in limbo as they have for the past 2 and 3/4 years, much to the detriment of commercial airline safety. Luckily, there were no fatal accidents with commercial airlines during this period, but the proposed rule changes that were suppposed to be implemented on August 1, 2011 are now in a holding pattern with not apparent EFC (Expect Further Clearance). As nearly everyone in the Westrern Hemisphere knows the last fatal airline crash in the U.S. was in Buffalo, NY on February 12, 2009 (Continental 3407; operated by Colgan Air) and pilot fatigue played a major role in that fatal crash that killed 50 people.

As we get into the busy Holiday travel season, flight crews will be stretched to the max in many instances and they will be dealing with all of the adversities that come with winter weather operations. Pilots, please show deference and be extra vigilant during this most dangerous time of the year. We are in the process of bringing home the troops (primarily from Iraq) so I am going to attatch a study and discussion of the tired pilot problem in the military, (and with military contract flights).

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Capt. Craig Gatch’s 11-day schedule, traversing 36 time zones, caught up with him as he touched down in Baltimore on May 6, 2009, ferrying 168 U.S. soldiers home from Iraq.

His World Airways Boeing DC-10 bounced then slammed onto the runway, damaging the jet beyond repair, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. One person was severely injured.

Gatch told investigators he hadn’t slept well in four days while flying more than halfway around the world — fatigue that contributed to the accident, the safety board ruled.

Eighty-seven percent of U.S. troops flown around the globe are carried by charter airlines, led by World, under military contracts. U.S. rules allow these carriers to set pilot schedules that wouldn’t be permitted for commercial airlines or the military’s own pilots, putting troops at risk, said Bill Voss, president of the Arlington, Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.

The charter companies’ practices put “machismo” ahead of“science and risk management,” Voss said in an interview.“Our soldiers may be expected to be heroes on the battlefield, but we shouldn’t be relying on heroism flying them back home again.”

The charter carriers’ trade group opposes a Federal Aviation Administration proposal to limit pilots’ flying time, saying it is too expensive. The proposal would cost the 13 member carriers $3.7 billion over 10 years and require them to hire 42 percent more pilots, according to the National Air Carrier Association. The Arlington, Virginia-based group represents firms including World, a unit of Global Aviation Holdings Inc., and closely held Omni Air International.

Military Pushback

As many as 81 percent of current charter flights would be“infeasible” under the proposed rules, according to an Air Force study the trade group submitted to the FAA arguing against the changes.

Charter operators should be exempt from the new rules as they’d be too disruptive to the military, Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an Armed Services Committee hearing April 7. Air Force General Duncan McNabb, then head of the U.S. Transportation Command, testified that he agreed.

Limiting pilot hours “may not be the best course of action,” Cynthia Bauer, spokeswoman for the Transportation Command, which oversees the charter contracts, said in an e-mail.

A New Rule

The same study showed 88 percent of flights would be allowed if airlines added bunks to allow pilots to sleep during lengthy flights while backup pilots fly, according to the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing more than 53,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada, and the Teamsters, which represents pilots at World and Omni.

The final rule was supposed to be completed by Aug. 1. The FAA missed that deadline while the proposal was under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The White House hasn’t said when it will release the new rule or what its final form will be.

Airline trade groups, unions and others have continued to lobby the OMB to alter the FAA proposal, according to the FAA’s public docket.

“We should have one level of safety for all air carriers that transport passengers and military personnel,” Capt. Lee Moak, president of the pilots association, said in an e-mail.

Pattern of Fatigue

Congress ordered the FAA to rewrite pilot work rules after 50 people died in a Continental Connection crash near Buffalo,New York, on Feb. 12, 2009.

The NTSB, while ruling there wasn’t enough evidence to blame fatigue for the crash, found both pilots hadn’t slept well before the flight and raised concerns about the effect of pilots’ commutes to work.

The agency blamed fatigue at least in part in three out of the five formal aviation-accident reports it’s issued this year. The crashes killed 10 people and seriously injured two.

“Flying more hours and getting less rest may increase efficiency and profits, but in the long run it will cost you as errors increase, safety margins are eroded and accidents are more likely,” NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman said in an e-mailed statement.

Responding to the mandate from Congress, the FAA last year unveiled its proposal, which would change a system that lets military-charter companies operate under less-strict rules than those for commercial airlines.

Rules ‘Hodgepodge’

For example, these charter carriers, which often ask pilots to commute long distances to position them around the world, can send them on commercial flights in coach without providing for rest time once they arrive. Scheduled airlines must count the time on those flights as work time.

Federal law also allows charters to pick the sections of the regulation that require the least amount of pilot rest.

There’s no scientific basis for this “hodgepodge” of rules, the FAA said in its proposal. The causes of fatigue –lack of sleep, working during the night and lengthy shifts –are“universal,” the FAA said.

Existing rules “are exposing flight crew members to undue risk,” the proposal said. Pilots should get at least nine hours of rest instead of the current eight-hour minimum, the agency said.

‘Unbelievable’ Schedules

Work days for crews without backup pilots or access to on-board rest facilities shouldn’t exceed 13 hours, compared with today’s 16-hour limit, the agency proposed. The work day would be cut back to as little as nine hours if a pilot was working at night or making multiple landings and takeoffs.

Troop-transport crews for charter airlines “are worked much, much harder” than U.S. military pilots operating the same types of flights, said John Herron, a former Naval Reserve commander who’s now business agent for Teamsters Local 1224, representing pilots at Omni and other contractors.

“The kind of schedules these guys operate under are unbelievable,” Herron said.

Military charter flights are safe, A. Oakley Brooks, president of the National Air Carrier Association, said. “It’s a non-problem looking for a solution,” Brooks said of the proposed rules in an interview.

The industry doesn’t oppose work-rule changes, Brooks said. It objects to the FAA proposal because the agency didn’t do enough research on the charter industry or consider its requirements to fly long distances, sometimes into dangerous countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Top Contractor

The $3.7 billion cost estimate cited by the 13 airlines in the charter carriers association is almost three times the FAA’s projected price tag for the entire airline industry.

The military spent $4.5 billion in fiscal 2010 hiring charter companies, according to Bloomberg Government data.

Global Aviation Holdings Inc., which owns World and NorthAmerican Airlines, is the largest such contractor, it said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

It reported $812.9 million in revenue from passenger flights in 2010, or 50 percent of expenditures by the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. Global, based in Peachtree City,Georgia, operates under one-year contracts that require it to have an on-time performance rate of 95 percent.

Sick and Tired

Gatch’s schedule on the trip that ended in Baltimore would have violated the FAA’s proposed rules at several points, a Bloomberg analysis found.

On May 3, after flying from the U.S. to Hong Kong and then to the Philippines, he began a four-day swing across three continents during which he became ill and had limited opportunities for rest, according to NTSB records.

On a flight from Guam to Honolulu, Gatch and his co-pilot, Kirby Lottridge, got sick from what they suspected was bad food, they told the NTSB.

They were on duty for 16 hours, 41 minutes that day, according to NTSB records. The FAA’s proposal would limit crews without on-board rest facilities and backup pilots to 13 hours of duty.

Gatch wasn’t feeling well during his 9-hour, 34-minute rest period in Honolulu. He napped at a Waikiki hotel during that time. “The overall rest was less than satisfactory,” an NTSB report said, paraphrasing Gatch.

He and Lottridge took a commercial flight to San Franciscothat night, arriving before dawn. After being on the road for more than a week, the pilots needed to wash their clothes, which cut into their rest period, they told investigators. Afterward, they had about six hours to rest before heading back to the airport to catch a flight to Germany, the report said.

16-Hour Trek

After more than 16 hours of flying in coach and a layover, they arrived in Leipzig on May 5.

The pilots had 12 hours, 35 minutes off duty, according to NTSB records. Under the FAA proposal, they’d be required to have a rest period equal to the duration of flights to get to work –or more than 16 hours in Gatch’s case.

That night in Germany, Gatch “was affected by flip-flopping the time zones and awoke during the night but fell back asleep,” the report said.

On the flight back to Baltimore on May 6, Gatch told investigators, he didn’t feel rested “but his feelings were not unlike those he experienced on similar flight schedules so that it just felt normal,” the report said.

Gatch, whose address is not listed in his FAA pilot’s license, could not be reached.

Steven Forsyth, a World Airways spokesman, declined to discuss its schedules or the accident. He referred questions to the carrier association’s Brooks, who said he wasn’t familiar with the accident and couldn’t comment on the pilots’ work hours.

The Air Force directed questions about the accident to the NTSB.

’Chronic Fatigue’

At least three other U.S. military-charter crashes have been linked to fatigue, including the Dec. 12, 1985, crash of an Arrow Air jet in Gander, Newfoundland, that killed all 256 people aboard a troop-transport flight.

The pilots’ schedules in the days leading up to the accident probably caused “chronic fatigue,” the Canadian Aviation Safety Board said in a report.“These factors included short layovers, night departures, multiple time-zone travel, and a flight-hour accumulation of almost 57 hours in the previous 10 days.”

The U.S. NTSB blamed fatigue in part for a Feb. 16, 1995,crash of an Air Transport International DC-8 cargo jet headed to Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts. All three crew members died.

Investigators also cited fatigue in the crash of a military-charter flight at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Aug. 18, 1993. The Connie Kalitta Services DC-8 jet was destroyed and the three crew members were seriously injured. The crew had been on duty for 18 hours and awake for more than 24 hours, the NTSB said.

Rules Unchanged

The rules governing troop-transport pilots’ hours haven’t changed since those two accidents, nor have their schedules, said Herron, the Teamsters official and former military pilot.

He cited a schedule earlier this year on Omni. After flying from the East Coast to California, the pilots were given 11 hours off before making a series of flights to Europe, he said.

Herron declined to provide the days and locations of the flights, saying pilots at the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based carrier fear they’d be fired for revealing their schedules.

Omni declined to comment, Ladonna Brauchle, a spokeswoman, said.

Against Military Rules

A schedule such as Gatch’s, while legal, pushes the bounds of human performance and threatens safety, according to Greg Belenky, director of Washington State University’s Sleep and Performance Research Center in Spokane.

“It would be a difficult trip for anybody and it would almost certainly impair performance,” Belenky said in an interview.

It also wouldn’t be permissible under the military’s rules for its own pilots.

Air Force and Navy pilots must receive at least 12 hours off before reporting for duty in most cases. Gatch got less than 12 hours rest three times during his trip, including on two of the three days before the accident, NTSB records show.

Air Force rules also prohibit work-related interruptions to rest periods. Gatch woke early in Germany the morning before his flight to review the weather and to check on other crew members, he told investigators.

“The military is totally complicit in this,” Voss of the Flight Safety Association said. “They knowingly contract for these flights that they could not legally fly themselves.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

Want to save this for later? Add it to your Queue!

 

FAA Chief Humiliates The Aviation Community

The often-maligned FAA has now been given another black eye as the big boss, Randy Babbit, was arrested for DUI in Fairfax, Virginia. As an aviation icon who was a pilot at Eastern Airlines before he became the president of the pilot’s union, ALPA, and then went on to what is probably the most important aviation job in the world, FAA Administrator. A check ride evaluation form that evaluates a pilot’s competence and determines if he/she is competent has a final square that supersedes all of the other aspects of the check ride. That square is designated as JUDGEMENT, and it trumps all else.Randy Babbit failed dismally in the judgment evaluation and it reflects poorly on all pilots everywhere.

Randy Babbit entered aviation in the glory days of the commercial airlines. Unfortunately, the concern for showing up for that 0600 departure with a little residual alcohol left over from the previous evening was not too uncommon. The airline pilot profile was a fun-loving, social animal who enjoyed the bright lights. As most people are aware, that perspective has been significantly revamped and all but a few of today’s airline pilots are very responsible regarding time between “the bottle-and-the-throttle.” Captain Babbit, as he was frequently referred to, apparently had a relapse back to the good times at the bar during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

There is also a strong possibility that he had a “drinking problem” that finally reared up its ugly head. There is also a strong likelihood that the incredible pressure of such a high profile and demanding job resulted in a need to release a little pressure by diving to the bottom of the whiskey bottle. Regardless of the reason, which is for sure imbedded in a complexity of causal factors, it is a sad chapter in the wonderful history of aviation. This incident will also result in further delay of the much-needed and delayed revision of the pilot flight and duty time regulations that allow tired pilots to jeopardize airline safety.

Sweet Nostalgia; When pilots and “Stews” would have fun together

The recent AMR bankruptcy that will have an unfavorable effect on most of the American Airline employees was briefly set aside on Sunday, Novembe 4, 2011 as two American Airlines F/A’s stopped at my book signing location and after a brief bit of bantering  a photo op session ensued. The front cover of the “Rogue” has a photo of flight crews frolicking on the ramp at Georgetown, Guyana and we complimented that with flight crews frolicking on Concourse D at MIA.

This playful excursion was enhanced when I was able to engage an American Airlines 767 pilot in a nostalgic discussion regarding the joys of flying the 727. As Captain David (last name unknown) so aptly stated, “It was the last “stick-and-rudder airplane for most airline pilots,” as the high tech cockpits rendered the old “steam gauge”/fuel-sucking airplanes to be obsolete.

For more commercial aviation nostalgia you can access an article written by Ace Abbott in the July/August issue of Airliners Magazine. It features a restored Eastern Airlines DC-7 that is now being flown aound the country and it is available for rides for a resonable sum. It also frequents many air shows. Ace’s article is titled Sweet Nostalgia.

AMR Chapter 11; Bigger bonuses for the execs:

The AMR Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings created nostalgia and up popped a photo of an Air Atlanta Boeing 727 from the glory days of the hope-springs-eternal era of new and exciting start-up airlines. It was also an era of rapid oscillations between the aviation penthouse and the aviation outhouse.

In the ’80s and ’90s the Chapter 11 bankruptcy was the norm in the airline business. Some were legitimate but many were created by greedy entrepreneurs “taking the money and run” as was the case at Air Atlanta. With the larger “legacy” type airlines the Chapter 11 procedure was often a result of company CEO’s and execs getting gargantuan bonuses and salaries until the coffers were empty. The standard theme would then result in pay cuts for the flight crews in particular, even though pilot pay was not the factor that caused bankruptcy.

In a Congressional sub-committee hearing on aviation shortly after the Continental Flight (Colgan Air) 3407 tragedy, “Sully” Sullenberger informed the Congressmen that inadequate airline pilot salary was a major problem and if it were not dealt with, airline safety would be diminished. It now appears that airline safety will be headed south as the American Airline pilots head for FEDEX or anywhere that they think they might be able to find some job security with reasonable salary and benefeits. Less experienced pilots are more prone to crashing airplanes!

Will the already severly underpaid American Eagle pilots take a hit? Many of them are already living in their cars or utilizing the food stamp program for survival. For further illumination of this situation,  I suggest reading Squawk 7700 by Peter Buffington, and/or go to PBS.Org and pull up a Frontline special with the title Flying Cheap. Ace Abbott, author of The Rogue Aviator; in the Back Alleys of Aviation provides anecdotes from his dubious record of five airline shutdowns/ Chapter 11s in a seven year period.

While I express my empathy and condolences to the AA pilots I suggest that a great antidote would be reading The Rogue Aviator. It will give you a peek at the “other-side-of-the-tracks” and the fact that you are not there will leave you in a state of gratitude. Meanwhile,”‘keep your airspeed up in the turns” and “check-six” for plundering airline management folks.