Archive for 2008


Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Confession is good for the soul and it’s good for aviation safety. Volunteering to the community that you screwed up gets the problem out where all can look at it and work on future prevention. Several airlines have recently canceled their voluntary safety reporting programs, known as ASAP. On the face of it, it appears that management –union relations have gotten so toxic that they just can’t accept the greater good that comes from letting someone off the hook in exchange for getting safety data that might well prevent a major mishap.

As in all these situations, there is truth on both sides with bad actors and vindictive players. It’s time for some leadership to get beyond self interest and focus on the greater good. GA has our own version of this, NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which allows anyone to point out a safety defect that they observed or may have caused. If there was a violation and the FAA found out about it, they could pursue it but they could not inflict punishment, such as suspension. There is no continuing get-out-of-jail free card here. You can only use the “waiver-of-sanction” deal once every 5 years.

Every pilot should be familiar with this program– I’ve used it a number of times myself. ASF receives regular reports from ASRS on problem areas and we often take action to see that a particular problem is taken seriously by those in a position to do something about it.

Fortunately, ASRS is very much alive and well, even as various ASAP programs fall victim to internal politics. Bottom line: the management, unions and FAA need to get ASAP working again – ASAP!

Epilogue to Verify, Verify, Verify : You’ll recall we had a really close call in Allentown, PA where a RJ nearly ran down a Cessna that had not cleared the runway. I got a nice note from reader, James Marshall, who felt that I was a bit tough on the RJ crew for “Apparently not visually scanning the runway prior to takeoff.”

He had some additional information. “They in fact did, but were unable to clearly distinguish many of the runway features due to the presence of emergency vehicles at the far end of the runway working an accident and the associated scene lighting which significantly reduced their ability to see to the middle of the runway.” It’s a good reminder that there are often confounding circumstances, another link in the accident chain, that provide additional incentives to verify when anything is out of the ordinary. It also points out the hazards of the before-the-fact analysis that I sometimes do and it’s appreciated when someone has factual information to clarify misconceptions.


Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Triangles mark end of touchdown zone at ANP.

In the December issue of AOPA Pilot I wrote about Southwest Airlines B737 sliding off the end of Runway 31C at Chicago’s Midway airport. It was a one in a million sequence of events and pointed up significant holes in the system despite a phenomenal safety record. In GA, though, we have aircraft crashing with some regularity off short runways.

John Cutcher, who’s a pilot examiner at the Baltimore FSDO and based at Lee airport (ANP) in Annapolis, MD came up with a clever idea that would mark the end of the first third of the runway. You’ll recall what your first CFI told you about always landing in the first third. The runway here is 2,500 long but only 2,170 feet are available for landing. With obstacles and a 4 degree approach path one needs to be on speed and altitude. And Annapolis has had more than it’s share of accidents – usually with transients.

A different marking scheme at Potomac MD, (VKX).

So, we’re told to land in the first third but it’s not marked in any way. John persuaded the management at ANP to paint a triangle at the appropriate point. See the picture. Not on the ground and braking by the time the triangle marks pass? Go around.

John’s proposal is to make this a standard marking on all runways less than 3,000 feet. I like the idea. What do you think?


Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Wake turbulence is one of those ever present threats that we’re all aware of but much too savvy to get caught up in. The most recent incident involved a Lear 45 on approach to Mexico City that crashed several weeks ago when it go too close to the Boeing 767 it was following. The last radar hit showed just over four miles separation when five miles is considered the minimum. The cockpit voice recorder transcript dramatically showed how quickly things can go from boringly normal to completely out of control in literally seconds. There were nine fatalities on the jet and five on the ground.

I’m personally not convinced that one mile further back would make that much difference – the main thing is not to be below the lead aircraft. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s FAA did a lot of testing on the phenomenon. The test pilot comments should be sufficient motivation to absolutely avoid the big rollers.

Danger exists not only on arrival but departure as well. I once refused takeoff clearance at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport when ATC wanted me to follow an MD80 on climb out. The Super 80 may be a pig, according to some who fly them, but a Bonanza will not come even close to out climbing one. I had asked for an immediate turn out which ATC refused, so I refused. Since I was in holding position on 9L and royally gumming up the works, the controller suddenly became reasonable and saw things my way. No penalty, no foul, just a need to understand the physics involved.

If you fly where the big guys roil the skies remember that distance, altitude (above) and alternate flight paths are your friends.

For a quick review, take the ASF quiz on wake avoidance.

Special thanks to pilot/photographer Steve Morris for the great wake picture.

Epilogue to last week’s blog on prop safety: A student pilot was was killed last week when he hastily departed a Cessna 150 flown by another student, upon fear of being discovered of flying illegally together. Note to self: Don’t fly illegally and certainly don’t attempt exit through a spinning prop.