Archive for October, 2013

Politics and Safety—Santa Monica

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

SSGN Poster_BLUE_smallWhat follows is my op-ed piece scheduled to appear in the Santa Monica Mirror on Friday, October 11. All pilots should be interested when politics start to trump safety and operational considerations. We understand the problems at SMO caused by decades of poor zoning—there are strong viewpoints on both sides. There are also legal considerations and binding contracts. That is a battle for AOPA. The Air Safety Institute will stick to safety by presenting a safety seminar in Santa Monica at the end of the month for area pilots:

“While an aircraft accident that results in a loss of life is an obvious tragedy, it should never become an opportunity to score political points with wild speculation. But that quickly became the case in Santa Monica last week.

Led by Airport Commission Chairman David Goddard, one has to question the motives and sense of decency of those who are so anxious to close Santa Monica Airport that they will rush out in front of television cameras even as the wreckage is still smoldering.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, “Goddard estimated that the crash site was about 150 feet from residences. Had the plane not hit the hangar, it could have gone up an embankment and gotten over a wall before slamming into homes, he said.”

A key word there is “estimated” and dealing in hypotheticals of what could have happened is absurd before the NTSB firmly concludes probable cause. Goddard is perhaps the only airport commissioner in the nation intent on closing his own airport with innuendo.

What is factual is that the Sept. 29 aircraft accident was entirely contained on the airport, causing no harm to those living nearby. The airport is separated from homes by trees, an uphill embankment, a hefty brick wall, and a road.

The exaggerations did not stop with Goddard. Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Bonin was quoted as calling for the airport to close, saying that “There have been more than 80 crashes related to this airport since 1982.”

Records show otherwise. Contrary to L.A. Councilman Bonin’s claims, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data shows there have been 38 accidents since 1982, 25 of them contained on the field itself. And, there has never been an off-airport fatality associated with aviation activities in recorded history.

emas_runwayWhat is even more disturbing than airport and city officials taking advantage of this accident to further their political agenda, is their refusal of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) offer to install aircraft arresting material. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) called for the FAA to install an engineered material arresting system, or EMAS. It is collapsible material placed at the end of runways that slow or stop aircraft in an emergency. The FAA offered to install EMAS at Santa Monica, numerous times. The city has rejected all such offers. If they are truly concerned with safety, why not?

Incidentally, Rep. Waxman is again calling for more safeguards. We think it’s time the city accepts the FAA’s offer.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is keenly aware of the concerns that involve airports and communities. We work with airport communities on a daily basis and we understand full well the concerns of those who live near airports. But other cities and residents have found workable solutions that allow their airports to continue to thrive and contribute to the community’s well-being. So can Santa Monica.”

Get Lost and Get Found

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

passenger_safety_briefing_card-1Back in 1972, U.S. Representative Hale Boggs’ aircraft went missing in Alaska—never to be found. A law was passed mandating that most aircraft be equipped with an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that met a technical standard order (TSO). The boxes were moderately expensive and the performance left something to be desired. The automatic activation switch worked way too well on hard landings and didn’t always fire off when needed. The number of survivable crashes where someone was actually saved as a result of the ELT was presumably very small.

Some years ago a technical improvement came along. The 406MHz ELT was better, BUT in a recent landmark accident involving Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, it didn’t work either. Faulty mounting disabled the unit and several lives were lost that might not have been if the survivors had been found sooner. The Air Safety Institute created a special passenger briefing video at the request of the NTSB to help pilots properly inform their passengers on exits, emergency equipment, and any special communications gear that might be available.

There has been debate regarding whether the ELT mandate should require a 406 on board. AOPA’s Regulatory Brief on ELTs explains AOPA’s position. If you need more detail, you can read AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman’s letter to the FCC.

An active AOPA member of the search and rescue (SAR) community, who flies all over Alaska for his business, likes the 406 units but doesn’t think they should be mandated. He does feel that 121.5 units provide a false sense of security since they are not actively monitored. In a recent accident he spent hours searching for a downed aircraft with no luck. The assumption—the aircraft has one of the older 121.5 units.

As explained to me, the regulation does NOT allow for 406 Personal Locator Beacons (I carry one), Spot, or Spidertrack satellite trackers. These devices leave a “breadcrumb trail” and an alert goes out when they STOP sending. They don’t depend on activating under extreme conditions or surviving fire, impact forces, or drowning. They’re not perfect (uncertified), but the certified units have not performed perfectly either. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

These devices would be viable alternatives at a much lower cost to the current TSO’d fixed mount unit. Rather than require a certain technology wouldn’t it be much better to suggest a performance standard? We don’t care how you get the results—just get them. Specifying a particular technology dooms the whole enterprise to obsolescence pretty quickly.

When flying in remote places, Alaska for example, one might choose a more robust tracking system, along with filing a flight plan. Couldn’t hurt.

The Air Safety Institute is able to bring you educational tools such as the Passenger Safety Briefing video and online safety education courses through contributions from generous pilots through the AOPA Foundation. If you value these programs to help keep us all safely flying, please consider a contribution today.