Category Archives: Commercial Aviation

See You at Airventure

If you like anything related to flying you need to be here. This clip explains why:

10,000 planes; 578,000 aviation enthusiasts; 750 exhibitors and 1,000 demonstrations. Just to name a few: 

  • C.E. “Bud” Anderson, Jack Roush, Jim Hagedorn with two Old Crow P-51s
  • D-Day paratroopers Col. Ed Shames and 1st Lt. Fred Bahlau with the C-47 Tico Belle
  • “Max Effort” Air Show featuring DC-3/C-47 formation flights and aerial displays 
  • Christina Olds with the Collings Foundation F-4.
  • The Lonestar Flight Museum’s B-17  
  • Buck & Bill Patillo with 2 P-51s, Sweet & Lovely and Little Rebel
  • World Symposium on Electric Aircraft by GE Aviation
  • Bob Hoover with the Vintage Wings of Canada’ s F-86
  • Salute to Veterans with aerial demonstrations 
  • The Douglas AD-1 Skyraider
  • Daily Air Shows and even one at night

July 26th through August 1st in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. What’s not to like?

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

You don’t have to be rich to fly but it doesn’t hurt to have bundles of cash if you’d like to travel in a style that’s hard to imagine. Well, I can imagine it pretty easily when making the 21 hour trip to Singapore.

Despite an economy that’s still rising from the ashes, there are still a small number of folks who are able to spend money like drunken sailors on private air travel.  The super luxury segment is all but impervious to economic woes and public relations gaffes. During the recent 2010 European Business aviation Exhibition, jet service provider Comlux announced it was adding six more 767’s to the fleet to “better serve our Head of State and Royal Families customers”.  This seems especially appealing if you’ve ever been in a middle seat with passengers on either side that require seat belt extenders in order to buckle up.  I’ve even had an elderly lady fall asleep on my shoulder which was plenty awkward. Say goodbye to all that since luxury air travel enables you to get a whole couch to yourself.

For those who are determined to spend even more money there’s the Supersonic Bizjet. An idea whose time may never come.  One such start up company, Aerion, is still in search of an established manufacturer to fund, develop, certify and produce it. The concept was launched in 2004.

They’ve received orders for 50 of the $80 million aircraft, priced in 2007 dollars, each backed by a $250,000 refundable deposit, but have been unsuccessful in enticing any OEM to become a partner in the “first mover” project. If and when that occurs, Aerion managers say it will take a minimum of 6.5 years and $3 billion to bring it to market.

Six years later and no manufacturer will touch this with a ten foot pole. Why? Because it’s the same as dumping truckloads of money into a gigantic parking lot and setting a match to it. Perhaps they didn’t pay attention to the economics of the Concorde which later burned up money by the plane load. (To be fair, British Airways did make money initially). Ultimately, it wasn’t economically feasible for a larger group of passengers. Why would this concept be viable for only a half-dozen people on a flight? (Even if you do have truckloads of money to burn). Oh, and there’s that little problem of a sonic boom which relegates this to oceanic flights. 

It’s an idea that’s likely to be grounded for years to come.

Dumb and Dumber

For some reason, some folks find it entertaining to point lasers at aircraft. The menace is growing despite the efforts to inform the public that it’s a Really Bad Idea. Earlier this month, some idiot targeted Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma:

During a recent night flying week, the difficult and dangerous business of learning to fly at night was made even more difficult and dangerous when three Vance aircraft were the targets of a concentrated beam of green laser light, either from a laser pointer or a laser rifle scope. All three aircraft, a T-6A Texan II and two T-38s, landed safely, but all six pilots had to report to the Vance Clinic for precautionary eye exams. All were cleared by flight surgeons.  “They were on final turns to come into the base,” said Bob Farrell, Vance’s chief of community relations. “That’s a very critical phase of flight.”……“The critical phase of flight, absolutely, is the last 1,000 feet coming in and landing. That’s when the pilots need their eyes the most.”

During 2009 there were 1,527 laser illumination incidents reported to Federal Aviation Administration, up from 311 in 2005. Through 4/15/10 there’s aleady 550 reported incidents.

 This guy is going to do four years in prison for it. Some say that that’s too severe and it’s an over reaction. I don’t. The lives of the pilot (s) and passengers in commercial aircraft are placed in jeopardy if pilots are blinded on short final. It can also cost a pilot his livelihood. An American airline pilot who’s lost his medical after his eye was struck with a laser. You cannot blink fast enough. In my view, this is no different than someone firing a rifle at a plane. A severe penalty sends a message.

 “Men are not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.” (George Savile)

h/t to Dan for the article

Close Call

A near miss (near hit makes more sense)  as a Boeing 777 came within 300 feet of a small high-wing Aeronca Chief in San Francisco. Just after wheels up at 1,100 feet, United pilots were advised by ATC that they had company. Simultaneously, the airplane’s traffic collision avoidance system, (TCAS) sounded a warning.

The Boeing plane’s automated collision avoidance system instructed the pilots to “adjust vertical speed” and then “descend” to clear the smaller plane’s path. The first officer followed those directions and the flight continued to Beijing without further incident, the NTSB said The United flight’s first officer, who was flying the 777, pushed the control column forward to level the airplane…Both crew members said they saw the underside of the Aeronca as it passed overhead, coming within 200 to 300 feet of their jet.

Not one where visibility was impeded due to the nature of the aircraft. One was a high wing with a vertical blind spot. Low wing aircraft have a few areas of blocked visibility when looking down. The Aeronca pilot must have had a commanding view of a gray monster passing underneath and I expect his pants required dry cleaning afterward. Older aircraft are not required to have radios so perhaps no radio contact was available but then he would be prohibited from KSFO airspace which surely this Aeronca must have violated. That particular area is protected from 10,000 feet to the surface.  How can anyone dawdle off into class Bravo airspace-right by the airport?

I’ve had two close calls over the years within less than 500 feet. Both times with no radio contact from the pilots of faster planes. Closure rates can be pretty quick and these were VFR “See and Avoid” situations.

TCAS:  Went from nice to have to something higher in my priority list.

Update: While this incident is unsettling, the good news is that mid air collisions are gratefully small in number. According to the 2009 Nall Report: Out of 1.254 accidents involving non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft only 11 were midair collisions. Eleven isn’t good but certainly not a leading cause.

Child’s Play

Taking your children to work usually involves observing not doing.

An air traffic controller at one of the nation’s busiest airport was suspended after his young son was permitted to give radio instructions to pilots. The controller at Kennedy Airport brought his daughter into the tower the next night. The man’s daughter communicated with pilots twice.

LiveATC founder Dave Pascoe said: “I absolutely believe that this is being blown out of proportion. This is just a completely controlled situation. A child was being told exactly what to say.” (listen to the recorded ATC exchange here)

Controlled, yes, but probably not a great idea during one of the busier times in the tower. Distractions can have consequences in this line of work. Six months ago a controller was placed on leave after his negligence led to a fatal crash between a helicopter and plane over the Hudson River. He was recorded joking on the phone with his girlfriend and failed to separate the aircraft. While I think it admirable that someone show their son or daughter what they do for a living, it’s not one of the places with a relaxed, laid back atmosphere. There’s too much at stake. I wouldn’t want an eight year old helping Dad or Mom on the flight deck for the same reason. Also, the image of a kid at the microphone isn’t likely to inspire confidence among the flying public.

Or maybe I should just lighten up. Get the kids to join in for the next conference call with company headquarters for laughs. Let me know how that works out for you.

World’s 18 Strangest Airports

Here they are according to Popular Mechanics:

1: Kansai International Airport – Osaka, Japan
The airport is an artificial island 2.5 miles long and 1.6 miles wide—so large it’s visible from space.

2: Gibraltar Airport – Gibraltar
Sometimes it’s a road and sometimes it’s a runway.

3: Madeira International Airport – Maderia, Portugal
Engineers extended the runway to 9000 feet by building a girder bridge atop about 200 pillars.

4: Don Mueang International Airport –  Bangkok, Thailand
Looks like any other midsize airport but between the two runways is an 18-hole golf course.

5: Ice Runway – Antarctica
The real challenge is making sure that the weight of the aircraft and cargo doesn’t break the ice.

6: Congonhas Airport – Sao Paulo, Brazil
“It becomes a challenge in terms of safety to just get the plane in there.”

7: Courchevel International Airport  – Courchevel, France
“You take off downhill and you land going uphill with an 18.5 percent grade.”

8: Princess Juliana International Airport – Simpson Bay, Saint Maarten
Not many airports are flanked by oceanfront property with tourists standing underneath.

9: Svalbard AirportSvalbard – Norway
A cluster of islands sitting in the Arctic Ocean. It’s the world’s northernmost airport where tourists can book tickets.

10: Juancho Yrausquin Airport – Netherlands
The 1,300 foot runway is difficult even for Cessnas

11: Barra Airport – Barra, Scotland
When the tide comes in, the runway disappears.

12: Hong Kong International Airport Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong
A 3.2 square mile island made by merging two smaller islands with reclaimed land.

13: Toncontin International Airport – Tegucigalpa, Honduras
The runway is 7000 feet long in a valley surrounded by mountains.

14: Qamdo Bangda AirportQamdo – Tibet
The world’s highest airport, more than 14,000 feet above sea level.

15: Dammam King Fahd International Airport – Dammam, Saudi Arabia
The largest airport in the world with over 300 square miles of desert.

16: Denver International Airport  – Denver, Colorado
Has a 9200-panel solar farm and produces 3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

17: Macau International Airport – Macau
A set of highways links the runway with the small island of Taipa.

18: Copalis State Airport – Grays Harbor County, Washington
The runway is located between the mouth of the Copalis River and a barrier of rocks. It’s submerged every time the tide rolls in.

My personal favorite was Meigs Field- the small island airport previously located near the city center of Chicago. It’s gone but I’m willing to give Juancho Yrausquin a try.

Death in the Atlantic

‘An Accident Like This Could Happen Again’

Spiegel has the summary.

One alarm after another lit up the cockpit monitors. One after another, the autopilot, the automatic engine control system, and the flight computers shut themselves off. “It was like the plane was having a stroke,” …

The final minutes of flight AF 447 had begun. Four minutes after the airspeed indicator failed, the plane plunged into the ocean.

Investigators have finally pieced together sufficient evidence to unravel what happened during the last four minutes of Air France Flight 447, the ill fated flight from Rio to Paris. The key culprit: Pitot tube malfunction. All three airspeed indicators gave different readings and once that occurred, the flight computer decided to call it quits.

Flying through a thunderstorm is always a bad idea but there was apparently little latitude to divert based on fuel.  Like many accidents, it involved a chain of events.  They suspected this could possilby happen. And it did.

Flying For Dummies

At last. Flying 101. For the rookie passenger. Kulula Airlines is based in South Africa and has been around since 2001 but recently introduced a new paint scheme. Now you know where the “Big Cheese” sits and an arrow points to the aircraft’s registration, as the “Secret code.” Shanair captured the details.

I can’t wait until they introduce the FAR / AIM for Dummies!

H/T to Dr. Tom

Concorde: The Pride of France

The Concorde Trial and the July 2000 Crash

Money is not a major issue, since the victims’ families accepted settlements long ago. The plane’s airworthiness is not at stake: The jet was retired by both Air France and British Airways in 2003.

The trial starts tomorrow, and most likely will continue until May. If convicted, Continental Airlines may get fined $500,000 and two of its employees will face up to three years of prison, as well as designers of the plane, who prosecutors say knew that the plane’s fuel tanks could be susceptible to damage from foreign objects,

Indeed the plane was fragile. Seven blown out tires from 1979 through 1981 including two incidents causing severe engine damage-same failure mode as the fatal crash.  However, prosecutors are determined to pin the blame on the titanium strip that fell off the Continental DC-10 which was found 20 feet ahead and 90 feet to the right of where the tire blew out. Continental officials were frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the French, including an unwillingness to share data and the immediate resurfacing of the Concorde’s takeoff runway after the crash.  Ten years later, the trial seems less about justice than assuaging national pride.

Update: The opening day of the trial included this from the lawyer for the  pilot’s family: “There are always ‘foreign bodies’ [on runways], he said. If a strip like that caused the crash, air transport should be stopped altogether”.

Birds versus Planes

Many people love birds. Most pilots regard them as something to avoid. What seems innocuous on the ground can become a projectile hurtling through the windscreen or into your turbine. According to the Associated Press, the FAA tally for all bird strikes last year could be up to 10,000 for the first time. That’s about 27 strikes every day. There were at least 57 accidents with serious damage through July 2009 and three aircraft were destroyed by birds.

That’s a lot of bird feathers. The previous high was 7,507 strikes in 2007. The increase is in large part due to increased diligence in reporting after the  famous water landing of Flight 1549 which occurred a year ago January 15th. Captain C.B. Sullenberger’s decision making was as important as his stick and rudder skills. He never would have made Teterboro. During the flight reinactment (televised on TLC) by helicopter, it was easy to see that the Hudson looked like the only option at 3,000 feet. While the FAA doesn’t want to spook the flying public, it’s hard to ignore that the bird situation is getting worse. Many airports began a more aggressive campaign to keep them away since geese, particularly, are growing in number. They’re a mess on the golf course but in the pattern, the goose can really hit the (airplane) fan. To scare them, our airport began regularly  firing propane cannons. An eye popping  surprise in the plane since up to that point I didn’t know they existed.

Not surprisingly, this has the interest of the U.S. Air Force who created  a”Feather identification program” at the Smithsonian Institution to identify species of birds that collide with aircraft by developing a new DNA database.  Carla Dove (great name) heads up the program that identifies the snarge. Profiles on bird activity and regional migrating patterns are further developed with the evidence sent from every birdstrike.

Last year, I was 8  miles out for landing when I heard a Citation Jet advise he’d lost an engine. The voice had the ice-cool confidence of Captain Sullenberger.  When the tower asked if he wanted to declare an emergency he simply replied “No-just sucked in a  bird. Confirming runway niner”.  I would have been all: “Yes -clear the place, I’d like all three runways to myself”.

Civilian aircraft aren’t built to handle a significant bird strike. A pelican brought down a Citation last year in Oklahoma City. Investigation reveled that the jet suffered damage to the wing that made the plane uncontrollable. A transport category aircraft should be able to sustain a 4 pound bird collision to the front and an 8 pound bird to the empennage. Peter Garrison from Flying Magazine calculated that a 20 pound bird struck at 200 knots is equivalent to a 420 pound object moving at 50 miles an hour. Light general aviation aircraft structures are simply not up to the task. Frequently, I’ll hear “Caution for birds in the vicinity” on the ATIS before taxiing. I’ve had to climb and descend around flocks many times during migrating season.

A bird caused a lot of trouble with a BAE Hawk military jet but this more recent video of a 757 had a happier ending.

Did anyone get the license plate of that Citation X?