Archive for March, 2009

Cirrus Chute – Come back with your shield or on it?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

You may have read of an accident at GAI, near DC, last week involving a new Cirrus SR22. The facts are gradually coming out and I don’t pretend to have all of them but encapsulated:

Weather was IMC when the aircraft took off and a door popped open. The pilot attempted to close it and unfortunately, lost control of the aircraft. Before the inevitable happened however, he pulled the parachute and the Cirrus drifted safely down into a neighborhood. There were no injuries and only minor damage to a vehicle.

There was some email traffic that was predictably critical of the pilot letting a door get the best of him. There were also some negative comments about the need for parachutes on aircraft. It might be characterized as, “Come back with your shield or on it” as was told to ancient Greek warriors. Perhaps the idea is that “real” pilots don’t need parachutes. Follow that line of thinking – perhaps we shouldn’t be putting ejection seats into military aircraft. I would like to think that we aren’t becoming quite that judgmental.

Cirrus Aircraft should be admired for the innovation they’ve brought to the market. However, I have also reminded the company marketing and management that despite all the neat things they have built into the machine, all aircraft have to be treated like chainsaws. Not many people misunderstand a chainsaw. “The great airplane chainsaw massacre.”

Stereotyping pilots who fly a particular model as being less capable is a statistically open question. In the Technologically Advanced Aircraft report we did a few years ago there were some areas that stood out. Open doors was not one of them. Weather entanglements were and the parachute did save some lives.

One additional thought on design: Low fuel warning lights have done a remarkable job of reducing fuel mismanagement accidents. Maybe it’s time we put a door annunciator into the MFD. You can’t buy a car these days without an “open door” light and chime.

Does it work in all circumstances? No. Are pilots who fly these aircraft prone to making more mistakes than those of us flying other models? What do you think?

More Lawsuit Foolishness

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Press reports last week noted that the family of Cory Lidle, the NY Yankee ball player who crashed in October 2006 while trying to reverse course in a tight Class B corridor in NY, is suing Cirrus Design for $45 million in lost wages that he might have earned. The premise is that a flight control system malfunction caused the SR20 to slam into the side of a building. The NTSB found no evidence of control system anomalies but the attorney pursuing this theory claims that the design is defective and cites several examples that, in my opinion, have no bearing.

There will likely be reference to a crashed prototype aircraft that suffered aileron binding during certification – the test pilot was lost but the problem was identified and fixed. Guess I’m confused but I thought that’s what flight test was all about. Another Cirrus, an SR22, was lost after coming out of maintenance. The flight controls were misrigged and the pilot had to pull the chute. So far, design doesn’t seem to be an issue but there are highly paid experts in many of these cases who are willing to rationalize almost anything for a buck.

Forgive me for being a bit cynical and why should we care? Short answer – because it distorts both the safety and economic equation. Manufacturers should absolutely be held accountable for dangerous design and pilots should bear responsibility for their mistakes, as painful as that might be. Even if Cirrus ultimately prevails, for the right reasons, we all lose because they have to defend the case or their insurance company may choose to settle for a lower sum because that’s cheaper than the litigation. Either way, the cost of doing business and what we pay for each aircraft significantly increases to enrich the family and the attorney even though the aircraft was not a factor in the accident.

As a philosophical point, my opinion whenever there is a design flaw, is that actual damages should be awarded to the family and punitive damages, if any, should go to fixing the problem for the rest of the fleet.

I am confused by this whole “truth and justice” thing. Opportunistic lawsuits clearly seem to be the American Way.

Your thoughts?

Controllers Save the Day

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

This was my second year in assisting NATCA to judge which of its members were worthy of the Archie League awards. Archie League was the first controller and it’s a fitting way to honor him. There were some remarkable incidents that were noteworthy on two counts.

First, I am in awe of the controllers who managed some incredibly difficult situations. If you haven’t been to NATCA’s website to hear the audio it’s educational to say the least. It absolutely shows the value of asking for help when we get in over our heads.

The President’s Award is chosen from all the regional winners as the best example of superlative controlling. This year, a tower controller from Lake Charles, LA literally talked down a new student pilot flying a Cessna 172. The pilot was having difficulty landing and controller John Charlton talked her through several visual approaches until they were both sure that the landing would be successful.

There were several instances where IFR pilots, in instrument conditions, suffered engine malfunctions or outright failures and were guided right to the runway, oftentimes in a glider that started the flight in a different category of aircraft. We are reminded of that situation with the recent Airbus water landing in New York.

In many of these cases the controllers were pilots and it clearly made the difference. The FAA should give hiring preference to pilots and it should provide salary incentive to those controllers who become pilots. In listening to some of these saves, it’s clear that the additional knowledge was critical. How about it FAA?

Finally, as in years past, the judges wondered how some pilots got themselves into such dire straits. It’s easy to second guess and judge AFTER events have played out and we, from the comfort of our armchairs and keyboards, can opine on others’ decisions but sometimes there is a strong desire to press on and you can hear it in many of the award submissions or read it in the narratives. Those pilots were fortunate that Lady Luck or Providence smiled on them.

ASF felt additional recognition was warranted that we awarded Controller Commendations to six outstanding controllers over and above the Archie league recipients.

Awards honor controllers who save lives

All we can say is “Thank You!.”