Sunday, December 27, 2009

Arthur Wolk's Perspective: As Close As It Gets - It’s Time For Us, The Passengers, To Take Control Of Aviation Security

The Northwest Airlines near terrorist disaster on December 25th of 2009 brings back into focus just why we are in this horrible security predicament in aviation.

Before 9/11, we as a people were let down by our Government. The Bush 41, Bush 43 and Clinton administrations did not take terrorism seriously and did nothing to curb the growth of organized hatred for the United States, in spite of explicit warnings. Nothing was done after the World Trade Center bombings of 1994 to seriously address the threatened destruction of these structures. The FAA permitted knives of up to a four-inch blade to be carried by passengers on aircraft. The Immigration and Naturalization service did not have a list to prevent known terrorists from flying or from entering our country. The FBI ignored explicit warnings from at least two of its field offices that persons of Middle Eastern descent were learning to fly but not land airliners. The State Department was just too busy throwing cocktail parties to do anything useful. On 9/11 the terrorists were stopped for further interrogation because they all carried box cutters and then allowed to board because it wasn’t illegal in spite of the implications that anyone with a brain could have figured out.
So 3,000 people lost their lives and everyone remonstrated, while in Middle Eastern capitals they celebrated.
Fast forward, some guy is denied boarding on an American Airlines flight from France to the United States because he appears unstable and a day later he is allowed on. He tries to blow the airliner up unsuccessfully with a shoe bomb and now we all must take off our shoes before going through security.
Fast forward, a man is identified to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria by his father as radicalized and likely to cause harm to the U.S. and he is placed on the terrorist watch list but allowed to board an airliner in Nigeria for a flight ultimately to the U.S. The State Department does nothing. ICE, the new improved name for the old ineffective agency that is supposed to keep the bad guys out of this country does nothing. The TSA does nothing, and he is allowed to board a U.S. bound airliner with a bomb.
Now Lagos, Nigeria has been repeatedly on the U.S. State Department list of airports with questionable security anyway, yet this man who is a known risk is allowed to board, fly to the Netherlands and then board a U.S. bound aircraft with no one stopping him as a known terrorist.
Fortunately, his bomb doesn’t go off and we are spared another disaster of incompetence.
Now what is TSA doing about all of this born of the Government’s failure to do anything to protect us once again? It is going to impose more stringent security measures on whom…us. How stupid is this? What will it accomplish to keep us in our seats for the last hour of the flight because this man was said to have entered the bathroom for 20 minutes before he tried to detonate his bomb. Nothing we have done since 9/11 and nothing since each of these events have protected us from anything.
The only way to prevent terrorism on aircraft is to keep the terrorists away from the airport. Anything less will not work since our Government has proved itself again and again to be incompetent.
Here’s a further suggestion. Fire the people at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria responsible for this neglect. Fire the people at ICE who didn’t make their terrorist list a no fly list. Fire the people at the FAA who have proven once again to be ineffective. Fire the people at Homeland Security and TSA who still do not do their jobs to protect us.
We passengers are the last hope to prevent a terrorist from causing the deaths of all aboard. The Northwest passengers were lucky because had the detonator worked, they would all be dead. We are all self deputized as air marshals since the Government has failed us. We have the duty and responsibility to do the profiling that our Government refuses to do and report anyone who fits our view of a suspicious or dangerous person. If the Government won’t do it, we must help ourselves.
Lastly, we must require a background check of everyone who boards or wishes to board an International Flight. All done by and at the expense of the country who issues the passport, which then should be held fully responsible for the consequences of failing to their jobs effectively. In short, if you want to come here, you should prove that you will do us no harm.
We are at war and we still treat aviation as if it is not part of the front line in this war. We will have a disaster if we don’t start taking this risk seriously.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


American Airlines learned yet again that attempting a landing in a thunderstorm can be very tricky. This is the second such accident suffered by the carrier in 10 years when its crew landed in very heavy rain from a thunderstorm over the airport.

Here’s the problem. Thunderstorms generate very sharp changes in air current direction and velocity called wind shear. They also drop lots of rain in a short time making visibility poor and just coating the runway with sheets of water making tire traction and braking marginal. Even with the best auto braking and anti-skid, stopping distances are greatly increased. Pilots reacting to the bumps and windshear on approach add extra speed which further increases the landing distance and stopping distance as well. Put this all together and an overshoot is predictable, as occurred recently in Jamaica.

Fortunately, the aircraft left the runway at very slow speed so even though it broke into three pieces, the velocity was slow enough so injuries were not life threatening.

Interestingly, this airport had no safety areas beyond the runway ends to prevent damage to the aircraft, opting instead to use all the available real estate for the runway. Had the required 1,000 foot safety areas been in place beyond the 8,900 foot paved surface, or had EMAS (porous concrete that slows aircraft about to leave the runway) been installed, this airplane likely would have been towed out intact and no one would have received injury. One day, all airports that receive commercial service will install such safety features but until then, these accidents will continue. At this airport not only was there no safety area, there was an abrupt drop-off from the runway edge to the adjacent road and beach below, which broke the airplane that otherwise would have likely remained intact. The airport approach light system was incomplete due to a month long outage which, had it been working, would have assisted the crew in making a stabilized approach under the adverse weather conditions.

Bottom line, every pilot should once again be reminded that landing in a thunderstorm is a chancy proposition, especially on an island runway at night in very heavy rain and windshear. Holding for 20 minutes until the rain subsided would have been a better choice. There simply is no substitute for a stabilized approach and without it, landings become an unpredictable event.

American Airlines should lobby very hard for safety areas or EMAS at all airports it serves. It should also remind its flight crews that landing long and fast in the rain at night leaves very little margin left if the airplane can’t stop. All aboard this flight were very lucky.

Arthur Alan Wolk
December 24, 2009

Watch Arthur discuss the crash on MSNBC

Thursday, October 29, 2009



Recently, two events captured the news media’s attention. One was a Delta Airlines Boeing 767 that landed on the taxiway instead of the runway at the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The other was a Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 whose crew failed to communicate with air traffic control or the company dispatch for more than an hour and a half, and missed its destination by 150 miles until the flight attendant knocked on the cockpit door to ask why there was no descent for landing.

The first incident occurred when the Delta crew flew a lengthy international trip. When the Boeing 767 arrived at the airport, the runway end identifier lights were out of service (they’re the little white flashing lights that tell pilots where the runway starts) and the localizer was also shut down (the electronic pathway that guides pilots to the runway end). So, with an air traffic controller obviously asleep at the switch, the big B-767 landed on the taxiway right next to the runway. Under different circumstances, like another airplane on the taxiway, this could have been a disaster. You might ask how that could happen, but here are all the things that add up to this event.

With all of the runways at the Hartsfield, giving landing clearance to an airliner on a runway with much of its safety equipment inoperative is inexcusable. The crew should have refused the landing clearance. But the FAA has for years contributed to the problem by using confusing lighting at the airport. I have argued with the guy in charge of airport signage for 30 years but since the idea wasn’t invented in his head, nothing gets changed for the better. The runway lights are orange, both sides and the centerline. The taxiway lights are green down the centerline and blue on each side. Since the centerline of some taxiway’s are green, and some are yellow like the runway and yes some are green and yellow at the end where the runway intersects, it’s no wonder that a pilot looking at them from afar can mistake a taxiway, especially a large one, for a runway. So the flight deck crew, tired after a long flight, looks at the myriad of lights and thinks the taxiway is to the left instead of the right because there is nothing to identify it clearly and lands on the taxiway. Nothing really unsafe here as long as the taxiway is unoccupied because the taxiways at the Hartsfield are as wide as runways at other airports. If the taxiway had totally blue lights it would have been unmistakable but, no, the FAA has a better idea, keep it confusing so one disaster or near disaster after another can happen. The controller too must have been glassy eyed because he didn’t warn the Delta flight and at that hour he had nothing else to do.

All accidents and incidents have more than one cause. In this case it was the combination of no warning, no runway identifier lights, no localizer, confusing taxiway lighting, tired crew.

The Northwest flight is another near disaster. The flight departed San Diego, CA for Minneapolis. Shortly after passing Denver, air traffic controllers were unable to raise the flight by radio. Company dispatch likewise couldn’t get the flight deck crew’s attention. The aircraft flew 600 miles, passed Minneapolis and then only after a flight attendant pounded on the cockpit door, the crew turned the airplane around and landed. The cockpit voice recorder was recorded over so the cockpit conversation that preceded the turnaround was unavailable. The flight deck crew first reported they were having a heated discussion and just lost situational awareness. Then they said they were working on their laptops, a prohibited flight deck activity. The FAA’s punishment was swift and not unexpected, emergency revocation of the flight deck crew’s pilots’ licenses, a vocational death knell to this very experienced and otherwise incident free crew. It is painful to see this unfold because the crew was obviously sleeping. Had they come clean right away and blamed it on scheduling, or interruption in their circadian rhythm from sleep deprivation, perhaps a little mercy would have been shown them at least on appeal.

But never touched by the press was the fact that the Department of Homeland Security was more sound asleep than the crew. That aircraft was airborne far longer than any flight on 9/11 yet no fighters were scrambled to check on it, no steps were taken to protect cities, sensitive military or civilian installations from an aircraft that, for all the Department knew, was hijacked. Falling asleep and endangering the passengers by possibly running out of fuel is one thing but risking them being shot down is quite another. In short, everyone on that aircraft could have been dead either from a crash or a worst nightmare, being shot down for no good reason.

What we need to ask ourselves is how did the Department of Homeland Security fail us again? It demonstrates to me that we have learned nothing from 9/11 and worse, after hundreds of billions spent, we are no better off eight years later.

Now Congress, if it can interrupt its current investigation of the two concussions suffered annually in NFL play, should instead focus on why Homeland Security failed us and whether a Bugs Bunny alarm clock is needed in aircraft cockpits. More realistic however, should be the introduction of real time video of the cockpit crew steaming back to the dispatcher. This would obviate the need for a cockpit voice recorder and be a useful tool to address a growing problem of cockpit fatigue due to the boredom of automated aircraft. It would also vastly simplify accident investigation.

This week was prophetic and lucky. The fatigue suffered from having nothing to do is risky, the absence of hundreds of deaths because of it is really lucky, and the incompetence of the Department of Homeland Security may sadly portend bad things to come.

Arthur Alan Wolk
October 29, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Nine people dead and everyone is wondering how this could happen. The nut cases are out in force, shrieking that small aircraft are a menace and should be banned from New York airspace. The NTSB sent a go-team along with representatives of each of the aircraft makers and their engine builders to investigate the mid-air crash. If it had happened to anyone else, they would have sent a new hire with two weeks training.

This cause of the accident is simple and anyone who has ever flown into New York’s airspace could have predicted something like it would happen. Even though Visual Flight Rules (VFR) aircraft regularly use this airspace, if a careful pilot wants to get radar flight-following he might as well try calling the President because no one answers.

Altman didn’t have the chance to call Newark Approach Control before his aircraft was struck by the climbing helicopter

At the same time, a Liberty Helicopters tour was about to embark on a sight-seeing flight from the
30th Street Heliport and enter the same densely populated airspace, flying Southbound over the Hudson while climbing.

The helicopter pilot was climbing South in a blue helicopter that blended perfectly with the Hudson below while Steve, flying the Saratoga, was headed South.

As the aircraft converged, the helicopter gaining altitude and the fixed wing no longer in a position to see the helicopter climbing, they either collided or the downwash from the helicopter literally sucked the air out from under the airplane’s right wing. The right wing of the aircraft contacted one of the rotor blades and was immediately sliced off. The helicopter rotor, now hopelessly unbalanced, tore off, shaft and all, and the two doomed aircraft fell to the river below.

Here's a video of the crash shows that the Altman Piper was struck from the left and below by the helicopter. The video clearly establishes that Altman had the right of way as aircraft to the right have the right of way. The helicopter just crossed right in front of the Piper and it appears that unsuccessful evasive action by Altman may have preceded the collision by an instant.

Anyone who has ever flown a low wing Piper knows the visibility limitations forward and down. Why did this happen? The answer is simple. First New York must make its radar separation services readily available to VFR traffic because the concept of “see and avoid” just doesn’t work. Second, the question must be answered whether the helicopter company pilots communicate their intentions on any frequency to warn other aircraft to look for them before they climb up into the stream of traffic. There is a frequency 123.05 for this purpose that is published on the Aeronautical Charts but it is a very crowded and often garbled frequency rendering it useless for traffic avoidance. Last, the choice of blue for the color of Liberty’s helicopters makes no sense given the crowded environment in which they operate.

Nine people dead for nothing but the FAA’s failure, once again, to do its job. The FAA failed to regulate the Helicopter tour operators so they would announce their intentions or be in contact with air traffic control. The FAA failed to assure clear procedures for aircraft entering the stream of VFR traffic South and Northbound in this narrow corridor. In short the FAA created a free for all and this time instead of the helicopters crashing into themselves, which the usually do, they took another airplane along.

The media’s talking heads are frightening in their complete ignorance of both the problem and the solution. Sometimes it’s more frightening to hear them talk than it is to know the facts because they have exposure that is far greater than their uninformed views deserve. I have flown this route many, many times. It is safe when pilots fly in a straight path at a single altitude until they transit the area. It is unsafe when others climb into the flow of traffic unannounced and with no air traffic control whatsoever.

Rules of flight must exist in this corridor. Aircraft and helicopters travelling North must hug the Manhattan shore at an altitude of 600 feet or below. Aircraft and helicopters travelling South should hug the New Jersey shore and be no lower than 700 feet and below 1100 feet. All aircraft transiting the area should be talking to someone who is an air traffic controller. All aircraft climbing or descending should be required to be in positive air traffic control.

Hopefully changes for the better will come out of this. I doubt it will happen because the FAA never does anything when a few innocent people die, it waits until an airliner dies before public pressure forces it to make changes.

This accident and the unspeakable misery it has caused nine families is unforgiveable.

Arthur Alan Wolk
August 11, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Additional Details Emerge on Air France 447 Crash

As additional details about the crash of Air France 447 are released, we now know that more information than was previously reported was being transmitted in real time including speed and altitude excursions, g-forces and all system read-outs, including computer faults.

Prior to the crash, Airbus had issued a bulletin instructing all crews to be certain, by comparing to global positioning systems that their airspeeds were being properly read by the computers from the Pitot-static Tubes on the nose of the aircraft. The suggestion is that these tubes can ice up in severe weather in spite of being heated. Here’s the reality – the reason for the odd airspeed differences is that in situations of severe turbulence the airspeed variations can be large because the wind direction and velocity are rapidly changing as is the flight altitude of the aircraft. In short, severe wind shear causes rapid changes in wind direction and velocity.

The bulletin makes sense but as the information trickles in, it begins to appear that severe turbulence and a breakup is more likely the culprit – a very bad ride indeed. The aircraft must be found in order to determine just what broke first – the tail, parts of the tail or the main wing box, the wing or parts of the wing. Only then will we know if the testing to ultimate load required for transport category airplanes is both realistic and stringent enough.

This never should have happened.

Lastly, there are serious limitations on weather radar on-board, as well as on those people who must interpret it. With all of the computing power on the A-330, much weather data was available to be downloaded, not only from the on-board radar but also from ground and space-based facilities as well because the computers can make a better decision on whether and how to proceed in the face of severe weather. We need to go there.

Arthur Alan Wolk
June 5, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


There is only one level of air safety. The problem is the experience level of the people who carry out that mission and the airplanes they must carry it out in.

There is no substitute for years in the cockpit and hours in make and model to ensure safety. A pilot can’t be worried that he doesn’t make enough to eat, put gas in his car, get his uniform cleaned or pay the rent if you want him to be clear headed enough to perform optimally. The salaries are too low, the benefits non-existent, the airplanes less than fully capable for the mission and still these kids do a great job. They make more takeoffs and landings in the worst weather and work the worst hours for the worst pay. They are motivated, enthusiastic and do their best to be safe. They are however for the most part youngsters and far less experienced than their big airline brothers.

Their airplanes still have outdated deicing systems but they are expected to fly in the worst icing. They commute to work because they can’t afford to live near their base and they are expected to perform at their highest level. Their dispatch is not to big airline standards and they are expected to deliver their passengers safely no matter what the delays, no matter what the weather and no matter how many legs they have flown in the soup.

Why is there surprise when one of them crashes?

What needs to happen is closer FAA oversight…heard that one before. They need a living wage and benefits. They need airplanes that are modern and safe in every respect i.e. no turboprops. They need the authority to cancel a flight without fear of retribution, read that getting fired, for doing so.

Continental Flight 3407 is an example of what’s wrong not with just commuters but with commercial aviation. They flew an airplane with boots that everyone knows do not work safely in many icing conditions and certainly those in existence that night. They were tired. They were not fully trained to understand the limitations of their aircraft, the limitations of its certification to fly in ice and what cues they would receive that the airplane was failing them and what to do about it. Maybe they should also have been told that if anything happens their company, the manufacturer, other pilots and the Government will turn on them and blame them for something for which they were blameless.

The problem with commuters isn’t their pilots, it’s the people who regulate them, run them and build the airplanes flown by them.

Arthur Alan Wolk
June 9, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

Uncompleted Pitot Tube Modification is Only Part of Air France 447 Crash Story

At 35,000 feet, the Airbus A330, the Air France 447 plane that crashed, is only about 25 knots between cruise speed and aerodynamic stall. Thus, if wind shear and turbulence are sufficiently violent, the aircraft can stall and the air data computers will take the autopilot offline because the equipment senses an anomaly. The airplane will be thrown around like a feather and composite structures will fail because they have never been tested to ultimate load. That stall can also result in the aircraft becoming unrecoverable while it breaks up on its way to lower altitudes.

With all the computing power in an A330, sources outside of the aircraft should be used to supplement radar so that the computer can determine when it’s time to turn back.

It’s also time for certifying authorities to rethink how to test composite aircraft structures. It is no surprise that that the big thing found floating in the Atlantic Ocean was the composite vertical stabilizer separated from the rest of the airplane. Speculation is that the Pitot Tubes, which were unmodified as recommended for better ice resistance, permitted erroneous speed readings. I believe this is possible but unlikely. However, if the risk was so high, the modification should have been required before further flight was permissible.

Why isn’t anyone talking about the tail fuel tank modification that was designed to prevent explosions caused by lightning? Did the airline comply with that directive? There are a lot of questions…too few answers.

Arthur Alan Wolk
June 8, 2009

Watch Wolk discuss the issue on MSNBC

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Air France Flight 447 is down. Sadly, it is expected that all 228 aboard are lost. The earmarks are all too familiar. Severe weather and a loss of radar contact usually mean in-flight break-up and rapid descent. This would, of course, explain the lack of a distress call and automatic reporting of electrical failure and significant turbulence by the onboard real time condition reporting system.

The aircraft went down in an area called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (see picture above). This is an area where the Northern and Southern hemisphere winds and weather collide to make a perfect condition for severe convective weather. That means severe thunderstorms frequently exceeding 50,000 feet with damaging turbulence, hail, intense rainfall and lightning. On the night of the crash, this area was especially hot with thousands of miles of severe weather making circumnavigation impractical.

Therefore, the only way to get from Rio to Paris was to penetrate this band of severe weather, a daunting task for even the best aircrews flying the most sophisticated airliner. There is no coincidence that shortly after entering this area of severe weather the aircraft was lost. Whether it was due to an encounter with severe turbulence or a lightning strike that exploded a fuel tank can best be determined when the wreckage is found, and surely it will be one day.

The cockpit voice and flight data recorders will also be very helpful but the automatically transmitted data already portends the turbulence, electrical anomalies and tragic end. This is why cockpit voice and flight data recorder information should be transmitted real time to home base.

Coincidentally, an Airworthiness Directive had been issued in 2005 by the French authorities requiring float valve changes in the trim fuel tanks of this aircraft model’s horizontal stabilizers. The purpose was to avoid lightning or static electricity setting off an explosion in those tanks. The compliance time was quite lengthy and, while this aircraft was built in 2005, it is not clear whether it had the benefit of the improved floats. If it didn’t, or the fix was ineffective, a lightning strike on the trim tanks could have been a catastrophe that even the best crew would have been unable to avoid.

It is, therefore, quite possible that the old problem of airliner exploding fuel tanks has reared its ugly head again. While better fuel tank standards have been published and bantered about the industry and governments since TWA 800 exploded in 1996, none of the legacy airplanes have benefited from the new standards and this Airworthiness Directive, which aimed to chip away at the problem.

Aircraft radars have come a long way, providing flight crews with far better weather avoidance information than ever before. Unfortunately, weather avoidance is not weather penetration, but the demands of airline flying and schedules often blur the difference.

Avoidance means not going there, penetration means getting into it and avoiding the damaging weather by skillful use of the radar. The letter works most of the time but not always. Aircraft and human graveyards are full of the results of severe weather penetrations because there are limits on even the best radars. Intense rainfall absorbs signal strength and confuses returns, intense cells hide others just behind and give a false sense of security that safety is just a few miles away, when the worst may be yet to come.

Last year a computer failure pitched an identical aircraft so violently, the crew thought there was a clear air turbulence encounter. The manufacturer said it was impossible and could not have occurred. Later it appeared that indeed the impossible could happen. One out of many computers could cause a dangerous and sudden pitch excursion that might have led to structural failure. That must be ruled out in this case. While turbulence may have been the initiator, computer failure may have increased its lethality.

No one wants an accident. No one deliberately tempts an accident with a planeload of families in the back and pilots who likewise want to get home alive up front. Indeed, they are the first to go. But whether this accident is the result of mechanical failure, the failure to simply remain on the ground in the face of impassable weather or the unlikely act of a saboteur, it is nonetheless the worst of nightmares come true.

Weather. Mechnical failure. Equipment malfunction. It looks like any one of these may have played a role. Whatever the ultimate cause, with today’s technology there is no reason for an airliner accident. With the prospect that this single field of human endeavor may one day be accident free, these deaths must not be in vain.

Arthur Alan Wolk
June 3, 2009

Watch Wolk discuss the crash on MSNBC

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stop Faulting the Flight Crew for the Crash of Colgan 3407!

The flight crew was blameless for this crash and everyone investigating the crash knows it. It’s just easier to blame the dead crew than to blame the manufacturer who failed to equip this airliner with modern anti-ice equipment. The airplane suffered a tail stall as soon as the flaps 15 setting was selected and the crew did what they were taught – they reversed the procedure and retracted the flaps.
The captain, in spite of the hideous criticism for having nonessential conversations below 10,000 feet, was otherwise professional and all required briefings were carried out.

The aircraft pitch up and airspeed loss has occurred dozens of times in Cessna Caravans just before control is lost in ice. It is a pitch up when the tail loses its ability to provide required down force due to ice contamination. The airspeed bleeds off rapidly and the stick shaker and pusher react. The crew knows that the standard recovery of lowering the nose won’t work so they pull back like they were taught. Lateral control is then lost, followed by pitch control as well.

This aircraft was never certified to fly in freezing drizzle or rain and the crew, like every other airline crew, was misled into believing it was. No one is told that if the conditions are anything other than moderate – clear or rime – the airplane cannot fly. The use of outdated rubber boots, which allow the ice to accumulate before activation, aggravates the situation and just leads to trouble.

It is true that the captain was not the world’s best pilot and the first officer was a kid. Their training stunk and their non-pertinent discussions below 10,000 feet demonstrated poor judgment. However, the transcript from the cockpit voice recorder, read in context, reveals that nothing in their past or their conduct on that flight caused this accident.

No one should confuse legal liability for a crash with blame placed by investigating authorities. Legal responsibility belongs to Continental, Colgan, Pinnacle, and Bombardier and they will pay for all the losses. Blaming this crew is a hideous attempt to hide the truth. Airplanes with deicing boots no longer have a place in commercial aviation.

Arthur Alan Wolk
May 12, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

HAWKER 800 Crash in Minnesota – Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript Released

The NTSB just released a transcript of the cockpit conversations of the captain and first officer of a crash that took their lives and six others in Minnesota last summer. There were no surprises here. The flight crew flew into an area of very severe weather with the airport literally surrounded by thunderstorms that reached as high as fifty thousand feet and had spawned at least one tornado. They experienced turbulence and heavy rain as they approached the airport, which had a wet runway from a recent very heavy shower.

The crew violated the sterile cockpit rule – no non-pertinent conversation below ten thousand feet, distracted themselves by fooling with the radar tilt when they had the runway in sight, and failed to properly conduct both the approach checklist and the pre-landing checklist. Worse yet, they failed to extend full flaps, dooming their flight. Without full flaps deployed they could not activate the lift dump feature in the Hawker jet, an absolutely mandatory condition if they ever hoped to luck out and stop on a runway that was too short for this aircraft under those conditions.

The lift dump system extends spoilers both above and below the wing. Without it, the airplane doesn’t place enough weight on the wheels early enough to spin them up and allow the anti-skid equipment to work. In fact, with the engines at idle thrust, an attempted go-around was futile given the normal time it takes for a crew to react and change the aircraft configuration.

As in most aircraft accidents, there is more than one cause. Anxiety over the weather, the rough ride, the short runway, the non-pertinent conversation, and the failure to complete the checklist all combined to doom this flight. The failure to anticipate the heavy weather, the effect of water on the short runway, the inability of the aircraft to safely operate within the available runway contributed to poor decision-making by this crew. Sadly, even a crew that is well trained, skillful and has the best of intentions also becomes the victim of a combination of events that only they could avoid – a chain that must be broken if they and their passengers are to survive. It didn’t happen, and they too paid with their lives.

Every pilot talks about the near accident he has had with the bravado that only a hero (in his own mind) can bring to the discussion. The problem is that if the stars line up and the events build in an inexorable combination of troubles, one day those pilots won’t be able to tell their story. No doubt these pilots were careful, decent, well-intentioned men. Unfortunately this disaster began with faulty pre-flight planning, faulty appreciation of the heavy weather that would be at the destination, faulty cockpit crew coordination that led to the careless skipping of what for this airplane was critical to a successful landing, full flaps.

This accident will mean nothing if it doesn’t serve as a lesson to all pilots that the Federal Aviation Regulations, known as operating rules, are minimum standards. That means that even if they are complied with to the letter, they may not be enough to successfully complete a flight. The failure to meet those minimum requirements, however, is a virtual guarantee of an accident.

Regardless of what position The Wolk Law Firm must take in the litigation for the deaths of the passengers that follows this accident, all of us, including the families of those passengers who have suffered unspeakable losses, lament the unnecessary deaths of everyone aboard.

Arthur Alan Wolk
February 13, 2009

Why Turboprop Aircraft Shouldn’t Fly in Ice – The Continental 3407 Crash Reminds Us of Long-Forgotten Lesson

Continental 3407 is just the most recent example of why turboprop passenger aircraft are unable to safely fly during icing conditions.

The American Eagle ATR 72 in Indiana, the Embraer 120 in Michigan, and some fifty Cessna Caravan crashes, all demonstrate the need to reassess whether turboprop aircraft, all equipped with long outdated and discredited deicing boots for ice protection, should be permitted to be dispatched when the weather looks like ice might be experienced, as in winter clouds.

All of these aircraft have wings that have high aspect ratio, meaning they are long and thin from front to back. All of them have tiny horizontal tails and use deicing technology rather than anti-icing technology to be certified for flight in known icing conditions. In short, the manufacturers of each of these aircraft convinced their certifying authorities to approve the aircraft to fly in weather conditions conducive to the formation of airframe icing because their deicing boots (inflatable rubber boots on the leading edges) could discharge enough ice to allow them to continue flying safely.

The reality is that large airplane manufacturers gave up deicing boots fifty years ago because they knew that they don’t work effectively. By design, deicing boots assume that ice will be allowed to collect on the wings and tail of the airplane and then be shed when the boots are inflated. The flaw in that theory is that most boots do not shed all the ice; in fact, residual ice continues to build, further impeding their performance until they just don’t work well at all. Additionally, deicing boots are usually limited to five percent of chord – the distance from front to back of the wing – so runback icing which collects beyond the boot coverage is unaffected by boot inflation.

Why do turboprops use boots? Simple. Turboprop manufacturers have been slow to utilize state-of-the-art anti-icing technology like heating the leading edges of the wings or extruding glycol from the leading edges (which then runs back and keeps the wings free of ice). To heat the leading edge, one must extract heat from the engines, compromising power and increasing fuel consumption. Also, many turboprop engines just don’t have enough bleed air to use for this purpose. The TKS, or glycol system, requires plumbing, a wire mesh leading edge that needs frequent cleaning as well as glycol, which increases the aircraft’s weight.

This age-old problem is what took Continental 3407 down. The weather from a warm front that had overridden cold air at the surface consisted of rain that was falling into the cold air and becoming SLD, super-cooled large droplets. These drops, still liquid but below freezing, immediately turn to ice when they touch a cold surface like an aircraft wing or tail and then run back past the boot coverage, contaminating the airfoil and destroying its ability to create lift. What pilots are not told is that no aircraft is certified to fly in freezing rain or drizzle so if they are dispatched in such weather, they are test pilots.

In most instances the exposure to SLD is brief but for Continental 3407 it wasn’t brief enough. It encountered freezing rain, and as a result, accumulations of ice on the wings and windshield, a condition which was discussed by the crew. They activated the deicing equipment and fully expected it to take care of the encounter. What they didn’t know was that the aircraft was never certified or equipped to handle freezing rain or drizzle and that ice was collecting on the tail, aft of the boot coverage, which they could not see.
As they descended for their instrument approach, the crew was unaware that another danger awaited, the extension of their wing flaps. With the flaps up, the tail was barely able to exert a down force on the aircraft sufficient to keep the nose where the crew directed it. Once the flaps and landing gear were extended, however, the tail would have to counteract the tendency toward a down nose pitch caused by those extensions. It simply could not do that as a result of the ice contamination. Just as soon as the flaps were extended, the load requirement on the tail increased, it stalled, quit flying, and the nose of the aircraft pitched suddenly down. Ice on the wings aft of the boots rendered the ailerons less effective in controlling roll, and the aircraft rolled violently as well. The crew immediately attempted to retract the landing gear and flaps, just as they were taught to do, but they had insufficient altitude to recover and insufficient elevator authority left in the tail to arrest the steep pitch down. The aircraft struck the ground in a near vertical attitude, perhaps flattened at the last moment due to the flight deck crew’s quick thinking to retract the flaps. However, it was insufficient to arrest the descent and all aboard were killed instantly.

This accident was a duplicate of the ATR-72 and Embraer accidents of years ago and similar to many of the Caravan crashes as well.

What do all these aircraft have in common? They all have deicing boots instead of anti-icing equipment. While many of the Caravan crashes have occurred in very benign icing environments, deicing boots have repeatedly shown their inability to safely see an aircraft through winter flying conditions that can be anticipated. The accident rate and its toll on human lives are simply unacceptable. The manufacturer of the Dash 8 Q400 that was Continental 3407 knew better than anyone that boots were wrong for aircraft of this size and use. It doesn’t use boots on any other aircraft it manufactures and for good reason.

Likewise Continental knew, or should have known, that it was dispatching Flight 3407 into freezing rain and drizzle and its aircraft was not certified for that flight condition. More likely than not, Colgan Airways, the Continental contract carrier operating the flight, was likely told the Dash 8 could operate in all winter weather that could be anticipated. In fact, it simply could not.

The NTSB will investigate and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board will participate. The result will be long and expensive studies into icing once again. That’s what governments do – they study, study and re-study but they do not fix the problem. The fix is simple. Restrict the flight conditions under which turboprops can be dispatched. They are already restricted, but obviously the airlines don’t yet get it. Then re-equip all turboprops used for passenger transportation with more effective anti-icing equipment. Lastly, prohibit the extension of flaps for any landing where accumulations of ice are suspected on the aircraft. Turboprops, and especially booted turboprops, have no place any more in the transportation of people. Their time has come and gone. Good riddance!

Arthur Alan Wolk
February 13, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Continental Airlines Crash Update - The Spin Doctors Take Over

The latest from the Continental Airlines B-737 accident at Denver is the claim that a sudden gust of wind caused the aircraft to swerve off the runway. So, a pilot with 11,000 hours of flying time and a very experienced first officer couldn’t do a successful crosswind take-off in one of the simplest of all airliners? Not!!!

These same spin doctors said the B-737 accident at Colorado Springs in 1991 was caused by a sudden, theretofore never heard of, wind shear in the form of a rotor that rolled down the mountainside, followed the aircraft around the traffic pattern and rolled it over, killing 25 people.

The spin doctors were out in full force again when USAir’s B-737 rolled over and dived to the ground, killing 133 more people near Pittsburgh in 1994. Then they said that wake turbulence (a wind gust from a preceding aircraft) miles away rolled the aircraft up into a ball.

Following that, it was a faulty connection to a pilot’s altitude indicator that rolled a B-737 into the ground in Panama, though the broken wire had nothing to do with that instrument’s function, it was later learned.
Oh, and of course, it was a pilot’s suicide that caused another 737, this time in Indonesia, to roll in from altitude, killing all aboard. The co-pilot on that one was either in the lavatory or reading the paper, I guess.
Here’s the deal. The current National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is more incompetent, or politically too sensitive, than the NTSB that existed in 1991 to 1994. The government needs to throw out all the party participants like the airline, pilots’ union and manufacturers and bring back some of the investigators who reluctantly accepted my findings, and those of other experts, and concluded correctly that the rudder is the problem. While the rudder may be blameless on this one, a sudden gust of wind sure in hell wasn’t the reason for this crash either.

Arthur Alan Wolk
January 1, 2009