Tuesday, October 22, 1996


Why does it take an air crash to raise the public's concern about aviation? Even though air travel is still the safest means of transportation (based on the percentage of fatalities compared to the number of people who fly), there are hundreds of accidents just waiting to happen ... and US Air 1016 was one of them. The FAA has known, for years, about the dangers of wind shear during hazardous weather conditions, and in fact, has been installing special Doppler radar systems at busier airports. However, the FAA never moves quickly enough. Charlotte-Douglas International Airport doesn't have their Doppler radar yet. The scheduled delivery for 1995 wasn't soon enough to have protected the 37 killed last week. While the FAA is bogged down in bureaucratic red-tape of its own making, pilots, who are the ultimately responsible for the safety of the flight, are denied timely information that can help prevent accidents like the one in Charlotte.

Unfortunately, the FAA's ineptitude doesn't stop there. All too often, the FAA knows about manufacturing defects that will clearly affect the safety and/or crashworthiness of airplanes. The FAA doesn't do anything about those either, or it acts too late.
Between December of 1992 and December of 1993, 13 people were killed in two airplane crashes caused by hurricane force turbulence in the wake of Boeing 757 jetliners. The FAA knew, as early as 1989, that the 757 would, sooner or later, cost lives. Again, the FAA did nothing.

Why didn't the FAA react? By mandating safe distances between aircraft, the number of flights leaving from and arriving at airports would be cut down, which would cut into industry profits.
In the early '70s, the FAA was aware that the DC-10 baggage door had a design flaw. It did not act, and 350 people were killed in a Turkish Airlines disaster.

The FAA knew if it allowed Boeing Company to glue certain airliner sections together, they would have to monitor the long term effects. They did not, and the roof blew from an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737, while the side blew out of a Boeing 747. More fatalities resulted in both cases.

The FAA knew there were service problems with the engine attachment bolts on the Boeing 747. It did not act, and two engines came off an El Al 747, killing 45 people in the Netherlands.

The FAA has known for years about flaws in various general aviation aircraft -- everything from pilot seats that slide suddenly rearward, causing loss of aircraft control, to undrainable contamination in fuel tanks which result in engine stoppage, to tails that fluttered off hundreds of times, killing hundreds of people, to engines used in helicopters which are so unreliable that the Justice Department sued the manufacturer for fraud in regard to the engine's unreliability, while the FAA continues to certify the engine safe for flight.

The list goes on and on, but the one thing is clear. It is time to overhaul the FAA from the top down, and bottom up.

The people within the FAA who want to do their jobs and are interested in safety cannot because they are overruled by managers. People with the agency who want to change things to make the FAA more safety conscious are overruled by political considerations imposed on the FAA by influence wielded by the aircraft manufacturers -- the same manufacturers the FAA is supposed to regulate.

There is even a product liability bill that would not permit the imposition of punitive damages against an aircraft manufacturer, if the FAA certified the aircraft before it was marketed. Though everyone in government calls the FAA incompetent, Congress still wants to make the FAA's approval the difference between people being compensated and manufacturers punished, and their not being held liable at all.

The FAA has the responsibility to ensure the safety of flight and to promote aviation. Aviation does not have to be promoted anymore, but safety of flight needs a lot of work. The new FAA needs to have as its sole job the enforcement of existing regulations, the streamlining of regulations to make them more effective, and the enforcement of those regulations (for a change) against those responsible to make flight safe: the aircraft manufacturers who can make the airplanes safe.

While the FAA may not put time and money into forestalling accidents until there is a tragedy, the FAA is itself a tragedy. Somebody needs to do something about its many faults before more lives are tragically and unnecessarily lost.

Friday, August 9, 1996


Aviation Attorney Again Raises The Possibility Of A Fuel Explosion

PHILADELPHIA -- August 9, 1996 -- "If you haven't found chemical residue by now, it's unlikely that a bomb downed TWA Flight 800," says Arthur Alan Wolk, a nationally-known aviation attorney, pilot and frequent media consultant about air crash causes. In fact, since the day after the accident, Wolk has consistently stated that investigators should be looking at the fuel system as the cause of the 230 deaths in TWA 800.

It was reported in The Seattle Times that the jet (flying that day as TWA 800) served a year-long stint with the Iranian military, alongside another 747 later destroyed near Madrid in a mid-air explosion -- much like the one that downed TWA Flight 800 off Long Island. It was thought that the Madrid crash was caused by a fuel system explosion. As a result, Boeing upgraded the fuel systems in 747-100s. Yet TWA Flight 800 was then a military aircraft, so the upgrades weren't required. But whether -- when the plane passed back into civilian service, it was upgraded or not -- we don't yet know. Neither do we know whether the upgrade was effective in correcting the explosion potential in 747-100s generally.

Another point persuasive in the theory that the crash of Flight 800 may have been caused by a fuel system explosion, rather than a bomb: witnesses report a long plume of fire. Some thought this was the trail of an anti-aircraft missile. It could also be seen as a stream of leaking fuel misting behind the plane just before being ignited by engine exhaust -- thus causing the explosion that downed the plane.

"It is no coincidence," says Wolk, "that in 1995 Boeing recommended the examination of in-tank fuel pumps to avoid fires which they knew could cause an explosion like TWA 800."

Tuesday, January 23, 1996


An Editorial Point of View

Why hasn't the NTSB yet reported its findings on the tail of USAir 427? It was one of the largest single components of the airplane that was found and examined, but NTSB spokesperson Carl Vogt has yet to make it a subject of any news conference.

Could it be that the FAA and NTSB would be embarrassed by their previous knowledge of rudder control problems of Boeing 737s?

After a 1991 United 585 crash in Colorado Springs, under strikingly similar circumstances as the USAir 427, the NTSB recommended to the FAA that Boeing 737s be regularly inspected for the possibility of a rudder reversal problem resulting from defects in the power control unit design. The FAA established such a program requiring an inspection every 750 flight hours until the rudder power control unit is redesigned. The USAir Flight 427 aircraft had been examined four times under this inspection program.

Isn't it curious that the NTSB hasn't made this previous rudder control concern now public? Why isn't it focusing more attention on the component that might have caused a previous and similar crash rather than focusing on irrelevant items such as the thrust reverser on the engine?

Obviously, both the NTSB and the FAA would be called to task if it turned out that their recommended and approved rudder power control unit inspection program wasn't sufficient to protect the lives of 132 additional victims.

While it is still too early to draw ironclad conclusions about the cause of the USAir crash, given the obvious similarities to the Colorado Springs crash and the history of the Boeing 737 rudder control, I suggest that some immediate steps be taken to limit the rudder authority on Boeing 737s until a new rudder control can be installed. It would be better to take such a precaution in an attempt to prevent a possible rudder hard-over in light of the fact that it could have been a contributing factor to the USAir 427 crash. Isn't it time that our governmental authorities worry more about insuring public safety than they do about minimizing the economic impact of their actions on the airline industry and those who manufacture aircraft?