Archive for October, 2009

Laptops on the flight deck – Oh My!

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Perhaps it was the ultimate attempt at multi-tasking that proved to be so damning. That two airline pilots were computing away at FL 370 while nobody was minding the store on their Airbus flight deck is quite a revelation. As everyone knows by now, they were incommunicado for over an hour.

laptopLaptops and Electronic Flight Bags are appropriately used in flight when they are used for operational purposes and don’t interfere with the primary job of running the aircraft. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Fatigue conspiracy theorists will bet that the crew was sleep-deprived and that sounds more defensible than this explanation but we’ll ultimately find out. Either way, it’s a bad deal.

Aside from the expected media circus, let’s hope that the FAA, NTSB and congress have a sensible response. While I empathize with the two crew-members who may have used really bad judgment since they will likely be joining the unemployment lines, the airline and the authorities need not over-react. By my count, at least four rules were violated and sufficient to quietly dispatch these pilots:

91.123 Compliance with ATC Clearances and instructions.

91.135 Operations in Class A Airspace

91.183 IFR communications

91.13 Careless and reckless operation

Let me add three more aviation axioms that were ignored: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

In our hyperactive world, this should be a reminder to all that texting, even when using a laptop in the not-so-wide-open spaces of the flight levels, just isn’t smart. It’s such an extreme case one could almost let it go, but it serves as a solid case study regarding distraction in the cockpit. Think you can do it all with no degradation? The facts and science say otherwise.

05-463_FatigueIf fatigue was the problem, it broadens the discussion but why would the crew lie? That just compounds the difficulty.

This is a mess for the airlines. If this had happened to a GA aircraft, it would have been a PR disaster. You can’t defend the indefensible.

Those who live in Grass Houses….

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Grass-HousesThere was an accident last week involving a flying club PA28 aircraft that apparently slipped off the runway after heavy rains and collided with a tree. The pilot was killed and his three passengers injured. Winds at the time were reported 36012G17 – not sure of the runway alignment.

NTSB is investigating and while there might be some comments about the pilot’s decision to get into such a situation in the first place, that’s a bit premature. It’s more instructive on how web news is changing the perception of everything – GA accidents included. WBIR, the NBC affiliate, had the web writeup with this quote from the president of the flying club:

“Meanwhile, he’s (the president) upset about the impact this crash has on the Oak Ridge Flyers, the club to which Chadwick belonged, and the airport itself.

“Future pilots may think twice about flying or may have spouses that don’t want them to fly because of the accident,” he said, “but I think most of us that are here will stay and continue flying.”

Of equal concern was the nature of commentary by readers regarding the crash. It ranged from the usual blame and defense of the pilot to the idea that grass strips should be paved. Commenting pilots were perhaps more outspoken then the general public. It’s a sobering reminder that everything we, as pilots, do is increasingly in the public eye.

Obligatory Frost Reminder

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

FrostOne of the great benefits of flying is that it keeps us close to nature. In the summer it’s thunderstorms and high density altitude. In the winter it’s winds, snow, ice and frost. This is a brief reminder of something we all learned in ground school. Frost or otherwise contaminated wings do not work well and can be quite unpredictable.

Over the past decade there have been several high profile accidents involving corporate jets that didn’t have the juice to get airborne because of wing contamination. “Looks OK to me” is not a substitute for really checking wing and tail surfaces. Frost is deceptive because it’s so thin but it messes up the boundary layer flow – badly.

When I fly in frost season and can’t get into a hangar, a can of automotive windshield deicer spray works very well. It’s about $3 a can and I can usually get two defrostings . Do NOT spray on your windows – just wings and tails surfaces.

A short story – I had forgotten my deicer and had to rely on the FBO at a big airport. They tugged out a machine the size of a small boxcar, fired the beastie up and then we waited 15 minutes while it belched, barfed, shook and smoked to heat up the very expensive deicing fluid inside.

The line person blasted away with a nozzle designed for Boeings until the little Piper I was flying was literally dripping with goop. I mentioned that it was probably sufficient and just for curiousity asked how much the goop cost per gallon. Let’s just say that I could have bought enough deicer to last me for a decade.

That said, you just have to wait for the sun or pay the price. Either way – it’s far better than an attempted frosted takeoff. That could be really expensive.

Cold-FactsCheck out ASF’s Cold Facts: Wing Contamination Safety Brief.

Who’s got a frost or wing contamination story?