Sunday, October 31, 2010

Arthur Wolk Comments on the Close Call at Philly Airport

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — At Philadelphia International Airport on Friday morning (10/22/10), the jumbo jet was two and a half miles out on final approach. Another flight, American Airlines flight 1209 was on the ground, ready for takeoff, when air traffic controllers cleared the flight for departure.

“American 1209, the guy on final looks awfully close,” said the pilot.

And when the plane taxied onto the runway, the chartered 747 for the Phillies had to abort the landing.

“91 heavy, go around, climb and maintain 3,000, fly runway heading,” said the tower controller to the Phillies flight.

“That’s when these airplanes typically have an accident. That pilot wanted no parts of switching runways that close in, two miles in, so he declined that,” said aviation attorney Arthur Wolk. “Every airplane that time of the day at this airport was using the very same runway. That creates a problem; it’s a traffic jam.” Wolk says it appears the air traffic controller tried to do too much with too little time.

Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro says he noticed the aborted landing onboard the plane. “Oh yeah, we had to circle, circle back around,” he told Eyewitness News when asked about the incident.

A spokesman for the FAA says general guidelines call for planes to be kept three miles apart. But when the American airliner was told to move onto the runway, the Phillies’ 747 was only two and a half miles out. When told of that, the spokesman said it’s a judgment call on the part of the air traffic controller.

“I think the tower controller was enthusiastic to get two departures out before the Phillies airplane – the 747 – landed,” Wolk said. “Unfortunately, things kind of backed up in a hurry and he wasn’t able to do that.” Wolk says that’s what causes risk. “That’s to me where the series of potential errors that could lead to an incident or an accident began,” he said.

Just how safe are the skies above Philadelphia? An exclusive CBS 3 I-Team investigation has uncovered FAA reports never before made public that provide some answers. Twenty one times this year, planes in flight and on the runway at Philadelphia International Airport have come too close, prompting FAA investigations.

Aviation expert and attorney Arthur Wolk said, “So you had the potential for a three-plane mid-air for a brief moment here, and that’s really scary.” Wolk says while alarms in the planes helped prevent a crash, he’s concerned what might have happened. “That was a bad day that could have been a really bad day, a disastrous day,” said Wolk. “But fortunately, the safeguards that were built into the systems worked.”

Don Chapman, president of the air traffic controllers union in Philadelphia, said, “The controller was given additional training to resolve the issues that might have led to that.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cockpit Video Recorders Can Prevent Accidents and Assist in Analyses

Cockpit video recorders, especially in commercial airliners and aircraft flown for hire, are a vital next step in accident prevention and analyses.

Pilots have been against them because they fear that they will be used to evaluate their performance in the cockpit as well as for disciplinary action, rather than for accident investigation.

The reality is that cockpit voice recorders alone are frequently insufficient, even when aided by flight data recorders, to evaluate the human factors in aircraft accidents. Cockpit video recorders are an essential technology that has come of age.

There should be no reluctance to use the videos for training purposes and for disciplinary action as well, if dangerous behavior is observed, since flight safety is the goal.

Today's technology allows for data stream recovery in flight and is already used for trend monitoring of aircraft systems. Soon, it will be possible to have all of the necessary information for accident and crew performance analyses to be downloaded in real time as the aircraft makes its way to the destination. This will allow computers to do mechanical troubleshooting while airborne so mechanical related delay, diversion or worse can be avoided by taking preemptive action at the next stop, or even in flight.

Preventing accidents by utilizing all available tools is critical to the maintenance of the outstanding safety record of U.S. airlines and the safety improvement that can be achieved by foreign air carriers. Enhancing crew performance by evaluating it while in service can be a windfall of opportunity and help make good, safe pilots even better.

Once introduced, no pilot will think about the existence of cameras in the cockpit. They will soon become as innocuous as flight data and cockpit voice recorders became shortly after their introduction, an event that pilots also objected to for the very same reasons as are being articulated now.

Aviation safety is no accident and no step that will improve safety should be spared.

Arthur Alan Wolk

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wolk Repeatedly Warned Cessna, FAA and NTSB of Icing Problems

New Airworthiness Directive on Cessna Caravan Vindicates The Wolk Law Firm's Warnings on Known Icing

In a stunning reversal the Federal Aviation Administration has issued AD 2007-10-15 on the Cessna Caravan.

Icing wind tunnel research commissioned by The Wolk Law Firm in connection with the case of Randolph vs. Cessna revealed serious flaws in the design and operation of the deicing system of that aircraft. Experts hired by Arthur Alan Wolk confirmed that the problems ranged from the choice of wing airfoil, design of the deicing boots, flaws in the design of the inflation hardware, inadequate stall warning, underpowered engine, and complete inadequacy of the pilot's operating handbook for safe flight into known icing conditions.

After a spate of icing accidents Cessna Aircraft Company, encouraged by the FAA and the NTSB revised the Pilot's Operating Handbook to prohibit the use of flaps when airspeed reductions occurred due to unshed ice accumulations.

One of the experts working for the Wolk Law Firm, Harry Riblet, a noted designer of general aviation airfoils openly criticized the Cessna, FAA, and NTSB action and wrote to them repeatedly warning that use of the flaps could help but not cure the controllability problems with the airplane when flying in icing conditions. Riblet was ridiculed by the Government and Cessna even though his airfoils adopted for use by homebuilders around the world had proven themselves stall spin proof.

This Airworthiness Directive, with the full force and effect of law, now removes any restriction for the use of flaps in icing conditions and instead requires their use when the aircraft airspeed is reduced to 110 knots or less. It also prohibits the flight of the aircraft in moderate icing conditions for which the aircraft was originally certificated and removes the words "certified for flight into known icing conditions" from the handbook without revoking the certification entirely.

The AD requires installation of a low speed warning in all Cessna Caravans and cautions pilots that the stall warning may be completely unreliable in icing conditions.

What is remarkable about the Airworthiness Directive is what it doesn't do.
  1. It does not revoke the "known icing certification" of the Caravan which means it may still be dispatched into conditions where ice is reported or forecast.
  2. It ignores the fact that moderate icing is unpredictable so it may still not be possible for pilots to safely exit those conditions.
  3. It ignores the bad design of the deicing boots and does not require the introduction of a water separator into the system to prevent ice boot inflation line icing.
  4. It does not require that all Caravan pilots be taught how to recognize and recover from a tail stall.
  5. It does not require the installation of vortex generators on the boots of the wing and the horizontal stabilizer to delay the onset of ice induced stall.
  6. It does not require Cessna to install a stall warning indicator that is impervious to ice induced errors.
  7. It defines moderate icing encounters as a reduction in airspeed to 120 knots in cruise flight which is already in most instances a state beyond which the aircraft will be recoverable once control is lost.
  8. It further defines moderate icing as an accumulation of 1/4 inch on the wing strut which is the amount of ice accumulation Cessna requires before operation of the deicing boots in the first place even in light icing conditions.
What this AD demonstrates once again is the FAA does not understand yet the aerodynamics of the Cessna Caravan but had to do something to stem the constant series of ice related accidents with these aircraft. Instead of doing what's right and what's needed, it granted Cessna yet another reprieve at the expense of safety. More will die or be maimed next winter but hopefully this is a start to the end of this battle.