Friday, October 23, 1998


Aviation attorney and pilot expert, Arthur Alan Wolk, says that if Swissair's simulator studies, which claim that the crew could not have descended from 33,000' to land at Halifax in 70 miles, nor landed overweight on the more than 8,000' of runway available are correct, Swissair needs to change its emergency procedures because that's why this airplane crashed.

The MD-11, which operated as Swissair Flight 111, was nowhere near maximum takeoff weight at the time it left John F. Kennedy Airport with its relatively short 6-1/2 hour flight. The MD-11 has a range of over 8,000 miles and was making a flight of about half of that to Geneva. Therefore, its weight at the time of takeoff was more on the order of 500,000 pounds than the over 700,000 pounds for a maximum range flight.

At the time the crew first reported an urgent situation, approximately 70 miles from Halifax and at 33,000', this airplane was only about 50,000 pounds above maximum landing weight, essentially a non-event for that model airplane. The runway requirement for maximum landing weight for an MD-11 is only 6,500', leaving ample room for any excess distance required for the slight additional weight that Swissair 111 was at the time of the first urgent call to air traffic control. Swissair says in its simulator studies, the airplane could not have been stopped in 8,000'. That is impossible if the simulator was being operated properly, says Wolk.

Swissair also claims that the airplane could not have descended from 33,000' in time to land at the airport. Wolk says that this statement is absolutely false. The emergency procedure that exists for the MD-11 would bring the airplane down from 33,000' to sea level in less than 5 minutes, a descent rate that would be adequate even to land the airplane at Halifax if it started such a descent a 30 miles out, says Wolk.

If Swissair's emergency procedures are such that the crew thought they could not have descended from altitude, nor landed on the runway at the weight Swissair 111 was at the time it reported smoke in the cockpit, then Swissair's emergency procedures and training need to be changed at once.

Every U.S. MD-11 flight crew Wolk has spoken to has confirmed his opinion and calculations that there would have been no impediment whatsoever for the aircraft to have landed at Halifax in less than 10 minutes from the time the crew first reported smoke. Therefore, Swissair's flight crew could very well have been a victim of Swissair's own inadequate emergency procedures training, if Swissair is to be believed.

Investigators need to examine the emergency procedures established by Swissair in its procedures manual to see if adequate provision has been made for dealing with the very real emergency of smoke in the cockpit.

Friday, September 4, 1998


MD-11 Plane Got 4 FAA-Mandated "Airworthiness Directives" In 5 Years

PHILADELPHIA -- September 4, 1998 - Preliminary information surrounding the crash of Swissair Flight 111 in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia on Wednesday, September 2, 1998, raises serious concerns, says aviation attorney and crash investigator, Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq. Specifically, Wolk is worried about the quality of FAA oversight with regard to the plane involved -- an MD-11. "Since 1993," says the nationally-known aviation attorney, "the MD-11 has had four FAA-mandated airworthiness directives (demands for a critical examination). Inspections of the wire bundles were ordered to avoid sparks, fire and, in fact, smoke in the cockpit.

"If there are four separate areas of the airplane needing examination to avoid electrical fires, the FAA should realize that many other areas would also require inspection. I believe the MD-11 may have given warnings prior to the outbreak of fire. It is likely that the way its wiring bundles were assembled had created chaffing which resulted in sparks leading to fire," adds Wolk.

According to Wolk, who examined the four airworthiness directives, the same FAA engineer was responsible for each one. "Why didn't it occur to him," asks Wolk, "that if the airplane has four problematic areas of wiring, that it may well have four hundred areas requiring a careful examination?"

Wolk also says investigators needs to evaluate the emergency procedures that are being recommended to flight crews in the event of smoke and fire in an airplane. "Flight crews should be clearly told that smoke should always be taken seriously. Any smoke, however slight it might appear, should be considered as a potentially serious fire and warrant an emergency decent to landing regardless of the aircraft's weight. It appears that it took 16 minutes from the time the Swissair crew said 'PAN" (which is considered an urgent call - not an emergency or distress call) until the aircraft was lost on radar at approximately 8000'. This indicates that the aircraft was descending at less than 2000'/minute, which is a normal and leisurely descent, rather than an emergency one. Unfortunately, while it is hindsight, an emergency descent at more than 6000'/minute might have saved precious time and could have gotten the airplane to the airport."

Wolk summarizes, "In my view the crash scene isn't the only thing that warrants an in-depth investigation. The quality of the FAA's oversight should be investigated and, if found faulty, fixed - before yet another air tragedy that could easily have been avoided occurs."