Hi, I’m Bruce Landsberg and welcome to the Leading Edge. We’ll discuss safety-of-flight issues, procedures, techniques, and judgment. With the convective nature of Internet misinformation, and so much content that is over weight and out of balance, you need an experienced and trusted source. So, strap in and let’s go fly!

Criminalizing Accidents?

August 6, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

fla_crash_on_beachThere was a heart-breaking event in Florida last week when a Piper Cherokee landed on the beach after the engine stopped, for as yet unknown reasons. The pilot, maneuvering to land, apparently failed to see a young father and his daughter walking along the shore. Both died in the forced landing although the pilot and his passenger escaped uninjured. The pilot claims he saw no one, but a web vigilante flash-mob formed within minutes calling for charges of manslaughter to murder and the banning of personal flight.

A few of the comments:

“Private aircraft have to be banned. Hundreds crash every year and people on the ground [get] killed. They also are responsible for all the air traffic congestion in the skies.”

“That incompetent idiot of a pilot needs to go to jail for murder. He walks away without a freaking scratch but kills an innocent man and gravely injures a little girl? He deserves to rot in prison.”

“These pilots are crazy. One landed on the same highway twice in one week. This pilot should have tried to put the plane down on the water to avoid killing someone on the beach as he did.”

“The pilot was clearly intoxicated.” (There was no evidence to support that assertion.)

The verbal stoning goes on for pages. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Guess that conflicts with what passes for free speech these days. Culpability will be determined soon enough, and then the issue of negligence will be determined.

A legal definition of negligence is “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Cornell Law School goes on to explain, “Five elements are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence: the existence of a legal duty to exercise reasonable care; a failure to exercise reasonable care; cause in fact of physical harm by the negligent conduct; physical harm in the form of actual damages; and proximate cause, a showing that the harm is within the scope of liability.”

The distinction between criminal and civil negligence is more nuanced. Wisegeek.com says, “Civil negligence, according to many law systems, is the breach of a duty to care. Someone who is found guilty of civil negligence is found to have not acted in the way a reasonable person would in the same situation. The negligent act must result in injury or loss, and often falls under tort laws. Criminal negligence is different because the defendant is accused of intentionally acting in reckless fashion without regard to the safety of others, and as such, the offense falls under criminal codes.”

Leaving legal complexity to the specialists, a couple of thoughts come to mind. None have any basis in fact because the facts are not yet known. Running out of fuel might be considered a criminally negligent act but failure of a mechanical part might not. Then again, it might if the part were known to fail and was required to be fixed. The devil is in the details, and we won’t have facts for at least a year.

The first comment in this web diatribe is more dangerous than it might appear because it contains a minute element of truth: There are hundreds of GA crashes per year. But on average, less than one tenth of one percent involve any injury to innocents on the ground. Based on a percentage of estimated flights, the number is immeasurable and irrelevant except to those who are tragically involved. Wonder how automobiles would fare if a similar standard of care were applied? This calamity is the perfect example of a low probability, high consequence event. The critical difference between innocence and guilt lies in how well we practice the art and science of safety. Perhaps our ability to communicate those efforts is vital as well.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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Moving Wx Into the 21st Century

July 30, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

IMG_0016PSsmActually the weather has moved quite nicely into this century on its own accord, but some of our forecasting products have not. For example, the venerable FA—that’s the area forecast. It’s produced by the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Center (AWC) in Kansas City and is firmly rooted in the middle of the last century. The FA is supposed to fill in the blanks between all the airports with Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs). It’s well past time for an upgrade. But you need to VOTE—we’ll get to that.

The area forecast speaks in general terms about what you might encounter in the gibberish of teletype because the number of characters is constrained by some long-ago formatting requirement. (Note—the teletype is unlikely to make a comeback.)

The FA is not very precise and extremely time-consuming for the AWC forecasters to build—something on the nature of several hours per shift. Here’s another bit of aggravating trivia: When you reach the man-made boundary of the FA the weather stops, and the forecaster for the adjacent area has to weigh in—with often a different view. It’s my observation that weather isn’t affected by gerrymandering nearly as much as politics is.

The FAA and NWS want to replace the FA with some newer and more intuitive products.

But wait! How to determine if an alternate airport is required, and how to choose one if there is no TAF for the places in question? A friend writes, “I couldn’t agree more in terms of the report itself being delivered in an outdated format; however, …my concern is not having access to some key pieces of information contained in the Area Forecast within the suggested list of alternatives (e.g., ceiling information, cloud tops, etc.). I also haven’t been able to reconcile how one would meet the alternate airport regulatory requirement for IFR flight if not operating to an airport served by a TAF in the absence of an FA.”

Let’s start with the last part first: FAR 91.169 requires that an alternate airport be designated unless weather conditions are at least at, or better than, the 1-2-3 rule (one hour either side of the ETA, a forecast of at least 2,000’ ceilings and 3 miles visibility) based on “…Appropriate weather reports or weather forecasts, or a combination of them….”

The same wording applies to selecting an alternate, if one is required (the forecast required weather is different: 600’/2sm and 800’/2sm, depending if it’s a precision or non-precision approach).

My interpretation is that there is no requirement for this to be an FA. Between integrating nearby TAFS, airmets, sigmets, pireps, and the prog charts one can determine whether an alternate is required or not.

A quick comparison…

An FA reads like this:

“NRN HLF…BKN090 TOP 120. OVR LAND AREAS VIS 3-5SM BR. 14Z SCT080 BKN CI. 18Z BKN060 TOP FL180. SCT -SHRA. OTLK…VFR SHRA.SRN HLF…BKN100 TOP 150. OCNL VIS 3-5SM BR. 14Z SCT060. 18ZBKN060 TOP FL180. SCT -SHRA/ISOL -TSRA. CB TOP FL320. OTLK…VFRSHRA.”

Note that it doesn’t say anything about IFR.

Here is the graphical airmet for the same time. The time blocks can be selected from the drop down box:

Graphical Airmet

Here is the prog chart showing some MVFR:

Prog chart cropped

This is a regional TAF plot showing everything from LIFR to MVFR in the Michigan area:

TAF cropped

Finally we could get into the forecaster’s mind if desired:

(FOR THE 06Z TAFS THROUGH 06Z WEDNESDAY NIGHT)

ISSUED AT 1122 PM EDT TUE JUL 29 2014

NOT TOO MUCH CHANGE IN MY THINKING, EXCEPT I ADDED SOME MVFR MIST IN THE TAFS AROUND SUNRISE AS WINDS ARE LIGHT AND TEMPERATURES SHOULD BE GETTING CLOSE THE DEW POINT. THE SHORTWAVE FROM SOUTHERN CANADA SHOULD BRING A BAND OF CLOUDS THROUGH THE CWA TOWARD MORNING BUT IT WILL NOT LAST LONG…. ONCE THE SECONDARY COLD FRONT COMES THROUGH SKIES SHOULD CLEAR. ONLY A FEW AFTERNOON CUMULUS CLOUDS ARE EXPECTED.

We could then take a look at the specific TAFs if desired, but my interpretation on all this is that VFR flights will have to wait a bit and IFR flights that have destinations in the affected area will need an alternate. None of that detail is picked up on the FA.

Why is it important to save forecasters’ time? After all, they’re on duty anyway. GA needs better forecasts and much better accuracy on the size and depth of airmets and the ability for them to be updated quickly via pireps (that’s our job to provide them). If the forecaster is busy creating the antiquated FA, those higher priority tasks often don’t get done. We get “Cry Wolf” airmets too often and sometimes don’t get warned when the wolf really is there. Think of this as we’re not losing the FA, we are gaining much better products.

The Air Safety Institute participated with an FAA and NWS advisory group to look at improving the overall weather dissemination process—it’s arcane, even boring at times, and absolutely essential. Your input is requested by Monday, August 4—do it now by submitting your comments to: kiley@avmet.com. Comments can be very brief. (If you wish to mail comments, please send them to: Federal Aviation Administration, NextGen Aviation Weather Division (ANG-C6), Attn: Richard Heuwinkel, 800 Independence Avenue, SW , Washington, DC  20591.)

Our view is that the FA has served well and needs to retire!

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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Media Bogusity and Truth

July 22, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg
ID-100179230-blog

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and media must rake muck even if it’s wrong. Facts, apparently, are no longer required. The New York Times, which once proclaimed “All the news that’s fit to print,” has now switched to “All the news that fits (our preconceived notion) we print.” Last week the NYT printed a poorly researched op-ed that tried to equate GA’s safety record to the airlines—again. This follows USA Today’s so-called “investigative report” several weeks ago that cited this invalid comparison. We’ve written about this bogusity many times (a new word I just coined—derived from Bogus).

Rather than refute the NYT point by point, which AOPA President Mark Baker did immediately in a letter to the NYT editor, let’s try a different tack: News flash…GA is NOT the airlines, and the most dangerous part of the trip is NOT the drive to the airport!

GA is not as safe as the airlines—(except where we fly multiengine, multi-crewed turbojet aircraft—that record is as good as or better than the airlines). Light GA accidents (light GA is where most of the crashes occur) result from pilots’ misjudgment/poor skill. Did the system fail or the individual? Were pilots not aware of the risks they were taking? In most cases I believe they were. Listed below is an ASI safety education program for each risk area (and in many cases there are additional safety courses, publications, videos, and case studies covering a particular risk topic). No other personal activity goes to the effort GA does, in general, and the Air Safety Institute, in particular, to lay out the risks. No other activity is as heavily regulated, and it’s almost impossible to crash without breaking some specific or common sense rule.

  • VFR into IMC?—What part of cloud don’t you understand?
  • Thunderstorms?—Shredded airframes and extreme upset await.
  • Ice?—Most light aircraft do not fly well in it.
  • Stalls?—It’s angle, not speed. Failure to understand this geometry is to not understand the essence of flight.
  • Gas?—Gotta have it.
  • Takeoff and landing?—Minimum safe runways lengths must include a margin well beyond what the test pilots found in certification. Try the ASI 50/50 solution.
  • Weather?—It’s what you see—not what was forecast.
  • Old aircraft?—Not that much of a problem, but like all things they must be maintained, and there are too many examples of shoddy maintenance and deliberate shortcuts by owners.
  • Buzz jobs?—Totally dumb—’nough said!
  • Decision Making?—For obvious reasons.
  • IFR Procedures?—ASI offers eight courses dedicated to IFR charts, regulations, procedures, and more.

Our fatality numbers have improved by about 40% over the last two decades—something that’s lost on media and sometimes on the regulatory authorities in the rush to do what they do. There is less flying, so the rate reduction as near as we can measure it isn’t as much—but it is lower. In comparison to other risky activities, GA losses are small and innocents are seldom involved (but let’s strive not to have any).

So why all the attention? See the opening sentence. We’re pushing back and you can too. Note the bulleted list, train regularly, and help fellow pilots understand that arrogance or ignorance is not life-prolonging.

We can do better–GA can be safer. Death and destruction are poor selling points and bad for business—this is true in motorcycles, skydiving, personal watercraft, ATV riding, skiing, and mountain climbing. But in any performance activity there is a natural accountability—something that’s missing in too much of today’s journalism, which is all about sell—not truth.

Does GA’s training system have some holes? It does. We should be, and are, working to address that. But show me any human activity that doesn’t. Risk management unfortunately doesn’t equate to risk elimination. The airlines are a business: and for a business it’s about money. But for us: it’s about being as safe as you choose to make it—your life, your passengers, and our collective reputation ride on it. Do it well!

Want to help? Make a contribution to the AOPA Foundation Image program.

Bruce Landsberg,
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz