Archive for July, 2012

Oshkosh, Fatal Accidents, a Chute Pull, and a Final Judgment

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

It’s the week of the annual AirVenture Extravaganza. What’s new? What’s different? What’s the same? You’ll hear that from all the usual sources, so I won’t repeat here. As always, with such a large aggregation of aircraft in such tight quarters the opportunity for mishap is increased. The NTSB will have a massive presence this year in forum presentations to help pilots get their minds right. Maybe they’ll come up with a new angle.

The week had a rough start with two fatal accidents involving experimental amateur-built aircraft and one fatal involving a Cessna. No details to report and no way of knowing if they had any connection to the show.

Cirrus had a successful chute deployment that resulted in no serious injuries to the aircraft occupants after an engine stoppage; again—not related to Oshkosh.

This week at the AOPA tent in Oshkosh, the Air Safety Institute is demonstrating a mobile app version of the ASI Flight Risk Evaluator. Aside from the fact that it’s mobile, when delivered later this fall the app will streamline the decision-making process. Once loaded with personal and aircraft information, you will only need to put in the departure time and destination airports. The app will then auto-load weather and airport data to provide the pilot with a red, yellow, or green assessment with some educational insight. In the accident situation listed below, I can assure you that the assessment would have been bright RED!

More good news for Cirrus was that the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court decision to overturn a $16.4 million verdict against Cirrus and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation. Briefly, a VFR pilot took off into scattered night IMC in an SR22 and crashed. The pilot had recently purchased the aircraft and had taken the factory training. The contention was that the training contract syllabus stated that pilots would be trained in using the autopilot to escape inadvertent flight into IMC.

That syllabus particular item was left unchecked—hence the lawsuit. The Supreme Court said, “An airplane manufacturer’s duty to warn does not include a duty to provide training to pilots who purchase an airplane from the manufacturer. A pilot may not recover in tort against an airplane manufacturer when the duty owed to the pilot by the manufacturer was imposed only by contract.” The court pointed out that there were ample warning and instructions elsewhere in the POH and in the training classes.

Despite the positive outcome, this is a Pyrrhic victory—the suit cost millions to defend, there are two families that are left fatherless with the desire to find someone at fault other than the deceased pilot, and GA is not enhanced in the view of the public—despite the misuse of the equipment. We should continue to educate strongly about VFR into IMC and not oversell GA’s transportation utility to new pilots.

Interference from Row 9

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

I’ve been somewhat skeptical about electronic device interference with avionics, but a recent ASRS (NASA report) shows there may be some credibility to at least securing cellphones while airborne.

A CRJ flying at 9,000’ received an EFIS COMP MON caution message:

“Flight Manual directs pilots to slew compass to reliable side. It was apparent neither side was correct with the Captain’s, Mag Compass, and First Officer’s headings all different. We were cleared direct to a fix. Multiple attempts were made to match the headings with only temporary results. The Captain elected to hand fly while the headings mismatched. While the FMS was taking us in a direct line, with the wind shift while hand flying the aircraft ended up 4 miles south of the original ‘direct to’ course. ATC called and asked if we were going direct, I told them we are having heading problems and asked how our heading looked. He told us 10 right and direct when able. On this trip we flew this same aircraft for 9 legs and did not have this problem on any other flight. In the past I have had similar events with speculation that cellphones left on may contribute to the heading problems.

The first Officer made a PA announcement asking everyone to check their cellphones and the flight attendant walked through the cabin. Sure enough, in Row 9 was a phone in standby mode—not airplane mode. The passenger said he didn’t know how to program that so the flight attendant showed him and as soon as the phone was secured, all the avionics worked perfectly.”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on GA aircraft where there were laptops open on board, and of course iPads/tablets, with no problems. Of course if it’s in the cockpit, one had better be dividing attention appropriately—that means not near any airports while VMC, and listening up for ATC calls. We might remember some pilots who missed the destination by a few hundred miles while fooling with a laptop. But that interference was mental, not electronic.

I’ve been on GA flights with passengers whose phones were most surely not secured, and there have been no anomalies. However, it probably just means all the links in the electronic accident chain weren’t quite in alignment. As we learn more about the hardware and its interference profile, there’s the opportunity to either provide better shielding, or just shut the blooming thing off!

We did manage to live reasonably full lives before the cell phone, although the Twitterati might dispute that. Let me put it this way—being momentarily out of contact beats whacking the ground because the nav instruments were confused by phone jabber. Has anybody else had a problem with electronic device interference?



Thunderous week – again or still?

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Avoiding the Storm

I don’t know if it’s global warming or just good old summertime, but the amount of convective weather and the vehemence of it seem to be increasing. In any event, I had an interesting experience on the airlines last week. My return flight from Denver to Baltimore was delayed due to storms over the arrival gates into the DC area. Flow control and SWAP routes (Severe Weather Avoidance Program) were obviously in effect. The concept is both brilliant and simple. It also makes me wonder how NextGen will solve the problem of 98% efficient airspace that loses 30% of its capacity to weather for three hours—seems like delays are inevitable, although you wouldn’t know that by press releases and position papers about how the new system will solve all things ATC.

Our flight was not even boarded when the delay was announced about an hour beforehand. No point in putting more aircraft aloft and into a narrow corridor between storms than what the system can handle. It’s something that GA pilots could ponder. Airline dispatchers and the FAA’s Command Center in DC coordinate, and voila, a plan is conceived to get everyone where they want to go—it just may not be when you want to get there. Wonder if that could be worked into our flight planning software, and perhaps Flight Service could help the VFR types?

Sitting in a window seat aboard the Airbus 319, it was obvious as we approached the area. The captain asked everyone to sit including the flight attendants (I’m always amazed at the fools who then decide they just have to visit the loo). We were in and out of the clouds, even above FL350, and the maneuvering began. Long story slightly longer, after landing I spoke to the captain walking through the terminal and complimented him on not hitting a single bump. He laughed and said the beast looked bad on their onboard radar. Of course, I had to tweak him a bit about not having datalink weather in the cockpit of one of the most advanced airliners.

I’m sure FAA management has a good reason for not allowing airlines to use Nexrad weather on iPads (which they do allow now on the flight deck). Perhaps it’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to “certify” it to the Nth degree. We can be forever grateful in GA “that we don’t get all the government we pay for” (per Will Rogers), although GA’s plate is probably overflowing in that regard.

Not Avoiding the Storm

Early returns (with the usual caveats about preliminary accident speculation) show that a King Air and a Piper Lance were lost last week in Texas and Mississippi due to in-flight breakups near or in thunderstorms—despite all the warnings of the Air Safety Institute’s Storm Week coverage on AOPA Live and the online courses.  If anyone has some better ideas on how to help a few pilots understand that deliberately flying in the good ol’ big ones is neither life prolonging nor career enhancing, I’d love to hear it.