Sweeping the Dirt Under the Carpet…

Why the European Union is blocking access to safety records?

On an unexpected, not so transparent move, the European Union will begin blocking public access to the aircraft incident reports – MOR’s – Mandatory Occurrence Reports that were previously released under the Freedom of Information Act.

To understand it better, these Incident Reports include all ground and flight operations of an aircraft such as an aircraft collision with a vehicle or a building, runway excursions, bird strikes, loss of control, extreme turbulence, near mid-air, ATC conflicts, or any other event that is not a catastrophic crash.

In the U.S., the NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board provides public access to all incidents and accidents reports through their website, these reports include all occurrences and are considered a valuable tool on the learning process of every professional pilot.

Some guy sitting behind a desk took this decision on benefit of who? Airplane manufacturer? ATC? Government? The argument is that public gets scared if they read the bad news. This is totally untrue, millions of persons around the world take an airplane everyday to go on a business trip, vacations, etc., knowing that is the fastest way to go from one place to another. Same as millions of persons take their car and use the roads knowing that car accidents still are have the highest score on human life loss.

Remember the old saying? “Learn from others mistakes, you wont live long enough to make them all yourself” Absolutely true, prevention is rule number one in aviation, but unfortunately 100 % safe does not exist, precisely because we are humans. And as humans prone to errors.
Those errors have contributed to form the foundation, for example, of CRM – Crew Resource Management.

Up until now only incidents or accidents reports that involve military or government aircraft, police, etc., are keep sometimes confidential for national security reasons. All events that involve civilian aircraft, either private or of public transport must be reported and investigated to know the causes of the occurrence and avoid it happen again.

We don’t need only a tragic occurrence or a catastrophic crash as a source of information for prevention. Thousands of small events that happen everyday feed the basket of information used by everyone involved in aviation to develop safety procedures.

Many people considered aberrant this initiative from the EU is already taking actions to stop it.

We all hope this big step back never happen.

Capt. Ivan

Life Goes On…..

….long time away from here, life and events go very fast. My last post at Cockpit Chatter was last year. Not easy to keep writing on a regular basis, specially when schedules are tight and work is hard.

Sometimes an event can hit you like a hard slap in your face and make you feel that you have been lucky to survive up until here. Can make you think that better be careful, try to learn from other’s mistakes and approach every flying day with a learning attitude or next time you may be not so lucky.

Carlos was not a good pilot, he was an extraordinary good pilot. Retired from a major airline, he flew all kind of jets during his career. Good sense of humor, addicted to teach to the first one showing interest in flying, he gave more than once some flight tips that I still use today. A guy capable of flying a Boeing 727 in the morning, a single engine Cessna in the afternoon and a helicopter at the end of the day. Being the kind of guy that cannot stay home after retirement he became a hangar rat flying everything that was within reach and sharing his knowledge with the young generations.

But he was also addicted to fly on the edge and when you fly always on the edge even a small mistake can end everything. The water of the lake was too close from the helicopter’s skid to react on a timely manner.

See you in the clouds someday Carlos, we will always remember you and your harmonica on the ATC frequency.

On the other hand everything is Ok, same news, little lessons learned from recent accidents. US airlines continue blaming the pilot’s shortage on the 1.500 hrs. requirement, not assuming that even working in a McDonald’s you get more salary than flying an airliner. The aviation industry tries to squeeze their expenses as much as they can on an sector where profit margins are very slim.

None wants to go to the root of the problem, because solutions involved mean development and training, in other words: More investment.

Autopilots are blamed on poor pilots performance. Good criteria, understanding and skills are obtained only through experience. How can you define three professionals stalling a perfectly airworthy airliner on a beautiful sunny day? Since the moment we became fixed wing pilots we all knew that speed and altitude is life. Seems that some people seated on modern aircraft cockpits still need to understand this.

Life goes on…

Capt. Ivan

Running Under Pressure: Lufthansa Announces “Random Medical Checks”

The unexpected can happen? Sure it can. Now Lufthansa is considering random medical checks for pilots, to help prevent any future disaster like the Germanwings crash that killed 150 people.

In a recent interview with a german newspaper, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr announced medical checks for pilots could be introduced, which in terms of the surprise factor would be similar to doping tests for sports men and women.

It is suspected that Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot deliberately crashed a plane in the Alps in March. Until today its unclear why he did so.
Andreas Lubitz, 27, is thought to have suffered some sort of mental breakdown. Prosecutors in Duesseldorf found evidence of “an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment”. They found torn-up sick notes at his home.

Germanwings is a budget airline managed by Lufthansa.

He said that in certain cases a doctor might have to be released from the duty of confidentiality, to reveal concerns about a pilot. Random checks might for example detect a drug that the pilot had concealed from his or her employer.

Since the disaster Lufthansa and other airlines have ruled that there must always be at least two people in the cockpit.

It is interesting to know what selection criteria would be applied for these “ramdon medical checks”.

Air accident investigators have staged a test flight to reconstruct conditions on board the Germanwings Airbus A320 which disintegrated on a mountainside in the French Alps after being put into a controlled dive.

The German tabloid Bild says experts flew an identical plane, which took off from Hamburg and returned there after flying in German airspace. It took place on 12 May, a spokesman for Germany’s crash investigation authority BFU said.

French investigators say they hope the reconstruction will help them analyse sounds recorded in the cockpit of Flight 4U 9525. The flight copied the various altitudes, speeds, the cockpit door locking mechanism and pilots’ breathing noises.

Capt. Ivan

AUTOMATION: Do We Really Need Someone in the Cockpit?

The recent Germanwings disaster has once again reminded us that human pilots are not always failsafe. One only has to look back as far as 2012 to find examples of unruly pilots being subdued by passengers, and of course 9/11 highlighted the extremes of hijacking. With such incidents, the question is inevitably raised as to whether it is feasible or desirable to have commercial flights that do not require a human pilot.

Mary - Missy - Cummings is the Director of Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.  She was a Navy Officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, one of US Navy first female fighter pilots.  She is currently an associate professor in the Duke University Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials.  Alexander Simpson is a postdoctoral associate at Duke University working in the Humans and Autonomy Lab.

Mary – Missy – Cummings is the Director of Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University. She was a Navy Officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, one of US Navy first female fighter pilots. She is currently an associate professor in the Duke University Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials. Alexander Simpson is a postdoctoral associate at Duke University working in the Humans and Autonomy Lab.

With the development of new automated technologies, the workload in the cockpit has been dramatically decreasing – so much so that pilots self-report only touching the controls for about three to seven minutes during a typical flight. In fact, there exists a standard approach category (CAT III) in which the pilot does not touch the flight controls during approach and landing. This category most commonly exists during severe weather (e.g., heavy fog), which creates the most difficult conditions for approach and landing. If left to human pilots with physiologic limits to vision and reaction times, these landings could not happen.

And while there are cases of heroic pilots saving aircraft in emergency situations (most notably the US Airways Hudson River landing in 2009), human pilot error is responsible for 80 percent of all accidents in military and commercial flights.

Given the central role human error plays in most aircraft accidents, and the fact that intentional malicious acts like those in the Germanwings incident are possible, it is relevant to ask what can be done in terms of automation to improve safety, as well as to reduce costs.

Many airlines and government organizations, including NASA, have already been investigating reducing the number of pilots on a standard commercial flight from two to one. World-fleet-wide, over a 20-year service life of an aircraft, this move has possible savings of $6.8 trillion.

From a technical standpoint, even current commercial aircraft are able to fly themselves through most or all phases of flight. Large drones the size of commercial aircraft routinely fly themselves from takeoff to landing, including conducting emergency landings when equipment fails.
Moving to single-pilot operations (S.P.O.), however, is very different from moving to pilotless aircraft. The idea of having no human pilot in the cockpit to deal with emergencies would likely not sit well with passengers. The concept of “shared fate” comes into play here: People are more comfortable with the idea that pilots in control will try their hardest to save their own lives, and thus save the lives of everyone on board. Given this psychological need, passengers will likely be resistant to the idea of having no pilot on the plane.

There are other reasons to maintain airline staff on board beyond flying the aircraft. Providing services and dealing with unruly passengers are just two of the items that require employees who are seen as a legitimate authority and keep order.

Because of this, what we may see is a transition of roles for the pilot and other staff on board commercial passenger aircraft. Instead of having a dedicated pilot, attendants may be required to be certified as pilots to allow them to both provide services in the cabin and be able to take over for the automation in the case of an emergency. The idea that one or more people on board are able to safely fly and land the aircraft may be enough to encourage acceptance of moving more and more functions to automation.

The shift to pilotless commercial passenger aircraft is not imminent, although commercial cargo does not suffer from the same limitations and will likely become fully automated in a shorter period of time.

The transition to single-pilot operations, however, is likely. Recent technological advancements in automation and the amount of money that could be saved by applying this technology make it a logical choice. The potential savings, coupled with both intentional and unintentional human error, will continue to motivate research and development in support of S.P.O., which will ultimately make for safer and more cost-effective air travel.

By: Mary Cummings and Alexander Stimpson; Former F-18 Pilot, U.S. Navy; Researcher, Duke University Humans and Autonomy Lab.

Video Cameras in the Cockpit. Another Lost Battle?

The debate over video cameras in airplane cockpits has just begun and is heating up, after a list of high profile aviation disasters raised authorities concerns over available information to accident investigators.

According to the Wall Street Journal, ICAO is planning a big push this year to install video cameras in airliner cockpits, although the discussion over the additional technology will likely take years; the regulation will ultimately fall into the hands of individual countries.

Airline pilots and unions have long opposed cockpit video cameras, arguing that images or footage may be used not only with the purpose of an accident investigation. Pilots fundament that the information provided by the CVR – Cockpit Voice Recorder and the FDR – Flight Data Recorder — neither of which collect visual information — is enough to carry on an investigation. Other concerns are that the cameras may be also used for routine monitoring of pilots.

Last week, Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, stated in front of a Senate panel that in the crashes of SilkAir Flight 185 and EgyptAir Flight 990 in 1997 and 1999, respectively, information from cockpit cameras would have been able to confirm the suspected pilot suicides. Instead, both investigations turned up inconclusive despite strong evidence of a deliberate crash.

Capt. Ivan

FAA – Boeing 787 Software Bug Can Cause a Complete Electrical Shutdown.

The FAA – Federal Aviation Administration issued an AD – Airworthiness Directive to warn over a software bug that causes a complete electric shutdown of Boeing’s 787 and potentially “loss of control” of the aircraft.
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In the latest of a long line of problems plaguing the Dreamliner, which saw the company’s fleet grounded over battery issues and concerns raised over possible hacking vulnerabilities, the new software bug was found in plane’s generator-control units.

The plane’s electrical generators fall into a failsafe mode if kept continuously powered on for 248 days. The 787 has four such main generator-control units that, if powered on at the same time, could fail simultaneously and cause a complete electrical shutdown.

“We are issuing this AD [airworthiness directive] to prevent loss of all AC electrical power, which could result in loss of control of the aeroplane,” said the Federal Aviation Administration directive. “If the four main generator control units (associated with the engine-mounted generators) were powered up at the same time, after 248 days of continuous power, all four GCUs will go into failsafe mode at the same time, resulting in a loss of all AC electrical power regardless of flight phase.”

Should the electrical shutdown happen at a critical phase in flight such as take-off or landing, or while manoeuvring in the air, the loss of control could be catastrophic.

The FAA considered the situation critical and issued the new rule without allowing time for comment. Boeing is working on a software upgrade for the control units that should rectify the bug.

“The airworthiness directive action addresses a condition that only occurred in the lab. Simulated testing determined that this condition is possible in cases where an aeroplane’s power is left on for more than eight continuous months. No airplane in the fleet experienced that condition,” a Boeing spokesman told the Guardian.

According to Boeing’s records, all of the 787s currently in service have been turned off and turned on again as part of maintenance. The FAA’s directive mandates action recommended by Boeing on 19 April.

“If there is a definitive record of a powercycle within the last 120 days, no operator action is immediately required. Operators will perform periodic power cycling at scheduled intervals until incorporating a software update. Boeing will issue in the fourth quarter of 2015,” said the Boeing spokesman.

Capt. Ivan

Meet the New ANA’s R2-D2 Dreamliner

An airplane painted to look like R2-D2 could be part of the promotion for the soon to be released Star Wars 7 – The Force Awakens.

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ANA – All Nippon Airways B787 Dreamliner R2-D2 Project

Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has unveiled plans for a Boeing 787 Dreamliner decorated to look like R2-D2, the small round robot of the saga.
The “Star Wars” themed plane is due to start flying international routes this fall, the airline announced.

The “Star Wars Project” includes a special ANA website that plays the iconic theme song and features videos and photos of the plane.
The promotional tie-in comes ahead of the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

This isn’t the first time a movie has teamed with an airline for a flying billboard. Air New Zealand painted several Boeing 777s and 747s for “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies.

With 34 Dreamliners and 49 on order, ANA operates the world’s largest 787 fleet and was the launch customer in 2011.

Late last month, Boeing announced ANA had finalized an order for three 787-10 Dreamliners, valued at approximately $900 million.
The order makes ANA the first airline in Asia to operate the entire family of 787 Dreamliners.

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Nose view of the R2-D2 – ANA’s B787 Project

Capt. Ivan

…..a nightmare.

Tonight I feel anger.

I am in my hotel room in the south of Thailand. I started writing a technical article about the locking mechanism of the cockpit doors and problems we have seen in the past with this security device.

During my commuting flight to Krabi I wrote about statistics and events that involved this door, standard procedures when a pilot leaves the cockpit, etc.

But now……who cares?

I just read on the news that there is a high degree of suspicion that the GermanWings Flight 4U9525 First Officer deliberately locked out of the cockpit to his fellow Captain to later commit suicide crashing the airplane into the French Alps.

There have been other guys in the past that did the same thing.

I just wonder myself. What goes through the head of a human being to execute such a terrible plan? I say “terrible” because honestly I can not find words to define such action.

Poor passengers and crew, useless fighting those final terrible moments to gain access through a door that is specifically designed keep out of the cockpit to anyone. None wants to talk about this, maybe because in our mind we try to deny this nightmare. But is real, is there, it happened.

Our common sense says if you are decided to terminate with your life, go ahead, but do it alone. Not everyone thinks the same.

I hope the industry can find an effective, prompt solution to avoid this to happen again.

I remember tonight a young pilot, many years ago seeing its passengers board his first flight as a Captain. Like on almost every flight there were women, men and children. And some moms holding their babies on their arms. I thought, all these people is under entire responsibility, I must do everything right and try to improve everyday as much as I can.
Since then I have felt through the years the personal satisfaction of every completed flight.

How can be possible? I wish it were just a bad dream…

I must fly tomorrow. Good nite.

Capt. Ivan.

Air Asia 8501 – A Tragedy Already Seen?

Meanwhile Indonesian investigators are extracting information from the black boxes of Air Asia Flight 8501 to get the answer of the plunge into the Java Sea, killing all 162 aboard, senior government officials are suggesting the Airbus A320 stalled at high altitude. There are growing fears on the aviation industry that the crash will share troubling similarities with other recent aviation disasters, in other words, pilots who lost control of an otherwise flyable airplane.

Air-traffic-control readings, along with data gleaned from Flight 8501′s black box recorders, recovered by divers last week, suggest the Airbus A320 experienced an aerodynamic stall at high altitude. About 40 minutes into the flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, the pilots requested permission to deviate from their route and climb from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid an approaching storm. Their request wasn’t immediately granted, however. The plane’s radio transponder later showed the plane veered off course and began ascending rapidly before radio contact was lost.

“The plane may have climbed in the last minutes at a speed beyond normal limits. After that, it stalled. Why did it stall? I don’t know,” Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said this week. Meantime, the Wall Street Journal, citing sources close to the investigation, said the A320′s stall-warning alarm could be heard on the cockpit voice recorder as the pilot and co-pilot struggled to regain control of their plane.

Aerodynamic stalls occur when the plane’s wings lose lift, usually because the aircraft is flying too slowly or climbing too steeply. It’s not unlike a waterskier who begins to sink once he or she stops moving. In order to resume flight, pilots need to point the nose of the aircraft down to regain airspeed and restore lift to the wings. However, as past accidents have shown, it can be difficult for pilots to recognize what’s happening—alarms shriek in the cockpit and the plane becomes difficult to control—and they may not always respond correctly. Such “loss of control” accidents have been blamed for causing more than half of all aviation fatalities in the past decade, marring an otherwise enviable industry safety record.

Of course, exactly what transpired aboard Flight 8501 aircraft won’t be known until investigators release their full report, although some preliminary details are expected to be made public next week. The pilots may have experienced severe turbulence or found themselves caught in violent updraft caused by the bad weather. There could have been mechanical problems with the instruments that rendered the plane un-flyable. The plane’s black box voice and data recorders should yield further clues, if they haven’t already.
What is known, however, is that, once the plane began to climb rapidly—reportedly faster than the A320 is designed to do—the pilots’ ability to manually control their airplane, if that’s indeed what they were trying to do at that point, would have become vastly more difficult. As the air becomes thinner and colder at higher altitudes, the speed at which a plane can experience an aerodynamic stall rises while the speed at which it hits the sound barrier falls. Fly too fast and the aircraft will experience buffeting, too slowly and it will fall from the sky. “Flying an airplane manually at those altitudes is like trying to balance a ruler on your fingertip,” says Sunjoo Advani, a Netherlands-based expert in flight simulation, who spent the past six years heading an international team that rewrote the rulebook on training pilots to deal with stall emergencies.

An eerily similar sequence of events led to the loss of Air France Flight 447 back in 2009. The Airbus A330 was a few hours into its overnight flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, when the pilots flew into a line of thunder clouds, common near the equator. The pilots lost their speed readings when the plane’s exterior sensors, called pitot tubes, iced over, the investigation later revealed. As the plane bounced through turbulence, the stricken pilots, inexplicably, put the plane into a climb, causing it to stall. Despite alarms sounding repeatedly in the cockpit, the pilots failed to recognize what had happened. They fought to regain control for three and a half harrowing minutes as the plane fell in total darkness. All 228 aboard died.

The shocking Air France disaster galvanized the industry, coming as it did on the heels of two other deadly stall accidents: the 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y., (50 dead) and the 2009 crash of Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 on approach to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport (nine dead, 54 injured). Advani was tapped to lead a team of global experts to investigate whether there were gaps in pilot training programs that needed to be fixed. They found that pilots receive most of their training about stalls and manual recovery techniques early in their career—it’s essentially Flying 101—but most of their ongoing training, usually performed in simulators, tended to be focused on managing the plane’s complex auto-pilot systems, which do most of the actual flying in a modern aircraft. In the case of an approaching stall, pilots were being trained to power up the engines and maintain altitude, which is fine if the aircraft is merely approaching its stall speed, but can actually make matters worse if the plane is on the cusp of the real thing or cruising at higher altitudes.

The group suggested a revised approach in late 2012. It re-emphasizes the importance of manual flying skills and, where possible, makes use of small aerobatic airplanes in addition to simulators. The idea is to better train pilots to recognize what a stall looks and feels like, and how to avoid dangerous situations that could lead to them. It also teaches pilots how to react more decisively when faced with a stall emergency: Point the plane’s nose downward until the wings regain lift. While the new approach might initially run counter to a pilot’s basics instincts—the last thing anyone wants to see when falling out of the sky is the ground hurtling toward him—Advani says it’s necessary to re-train pilots’ brains, since pitching the nose forward to pick up speed, as if on a roller coaster, may represent their only chance for survival. ”It is a significant change to how we train pilots, in that it encourages manual flying, rather than always relying on the automation,” Advani says.

The new training regime has already been adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization and has been signed into law in the United States, although it won’t actually be implemented there until 2019. In Europe, meanwhile, regulators plan to publish new rules on upset prevention and recovery training this spring. In 2013, Transport Canada sent an advisory circular to airlines that instructed pilots to focus on reducing the plane’s angle of attack (point the nose down) if faced with an aerodynamic stall.

Some airlines aren’t waiting to be told what to do. South African Airways, for one, spent more than a year retooling its training program and retraining its instructors, with the costs being offset by the airline’s insurer. It began retraining its pilots this month. “The release of the accident reports regarding Air France, Colgan and Turkish Airlines made us realize that we need to address the shortcomings of advanced automation—a decrease in manual flying skills by the average airline pilot,” says Brad Bennetts, the program’s project manager. He adds that, so far, the South African Airways pilots who have undergone the new training sessions claim the sessions have “greatly improved their confidence to fly the aircraft” in both normal flight conditions and when things get hectic—which, it should go without saying, is when a pilot’s steady hand is needed most.

Capt. Ivan

  •   GDL 39