On December 21 in Washington, D.C., the FAA announced a new, more stringent rule on pilot flight duty and rest requirements for passenger carriers operating under Part 121. When Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo nearly three years ago, attention was cast upon the working conditions of regional airline pilots. This led to the stricter rule which requires pilots to have a minimum of 10 hours of rest before each flight duty period, which is an increase of two hours over previous rules. Additionally, the final rule limits the number of hours a pilot can fly weekly and monthly. Lastly, it extends the length of consecutive hours off in a seven-day period from 24 to 30. Before each and every mission, the pilot needs to sign off on a form saying that they are stable and capable of safely flying the aircraft. If the pilot is ever too fatigued to fly, it is their responsibility to let the carrier know.
The only exception to this new regulation is all-cargo carriers. The reason which was given stated that “their compliance costs significantly exceed the quantified societal benefits.” FAA officials have disclosed that the projected cost for cargo operations is $306 million (with one fatal all-cargo accident costing anywhere between $20 and $32 million). This exception has caused an uproar from flight safety organizations who have challenged the FAA with a petition to review this rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
In a no-brainer, easily achieved 87-8 vote, the US Senate passed a new FAA reauthorization late Thursday night. Worth $34.5 billion, the bill must be sent next to the US House of Representatives to be voted on. As you can imagine, the House will likely pass the bill with ease as well, as the bill is viewed as a simple, bipartisan decision.
Resulting in the creation or saving of 280,000 jobs, the bill’s objective of job creation and industry stimulation is one that both parties have agreed is a cause worthy of fast action. The FAA has already been granted an extension on funding which will expire on March 31. The rapid movement taken by the Senate and likely again by the House in the coming weeks is a direct result of the impending deadline. Once passed by the House, the bill must signed by President Barack Obama in order to be put into effect.
The bill features funding for some long-awaited projects, such as a GPS-based radar system and modernized air traffic control system. Replacement of these centuries-overdue infrastructures is vital to improving the quality and reliability of our nation’s air travel for both airlines and private jets, as well as overall economic growth. Additionally, through the bill’s loosened restrictions on Washington Reagan National Airport’s perimeter, a greater number of long-range destinations can be serviced from the DC area. By taking advantage of the already limited number of slots at National, airlines will now stand to benefit from shifting frequency from somewhat saturated, redundant regional flights.
Look for this bill to pass, and pass quickly. And when it does, keep an eye out for aviation construction and improvement projects across the nation!
Last week, the FAA approved the use of the Apple iPad within aircraft cockpits across America. So long as the device is used as a secondary, backup resource to long-reliable paper options, pilots may choose to reference the iPad for various flight needs. Apps such as ForeFlight’s Mobile 3HD and Hilton Software’s WingX allow pilots to check weather conditions, plan flights and view aviation charts, among a host of other resources.
By utilizing more intuitive pinch-zoom and swiping gestures, pilots can more carefully hone in on specific details they’d like to check. By reducing their entire flight bag to a 9.5” x 7.5” screen, pilots have the option of clearing up what can be a cluttered cockpit consisting of large maps, charts, and binders of reference materials which are used every flight.
Additionally, pilots can choose to load Google Earth or other satellite-based apps to view terrain at an unfamiliar airport. While 2D paper references are reliable and trustworthy, the iPad’s ability to provide simulated 3D views may be the next greatest advancement in private jet charter safety.
by Jennifer Anderson
The pilots of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 overshot their destination airport, Minneapolis, by 150 miles on October 21. They blamed a distraction, but there is speculation they had nodded off. The near miss prompted transportation authorities to recommend screening operators for sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that can leave a person fatigued even after a full night’s sleep. The recommendation sidesteps a more common factor in accidents and near misses: pilots, drivers and workers in general are often sleep deprived because of over-long work hours and poor shift design.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) advised screening commercial truck and bus drivers and merchant ship pilots for sleep apnea, after making similar recommendations for airline pilots and train operators earlier in 2009.
USA Today notes that NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, which collects anonymous safety reports from pilots, outlines several dozen cases of pilots falling asleep. In August 2006 one captain reported falling asleep along with the co-pilot while preparing to land at Dulles International Airport near Washington DC.
The crash in February 2009 of a Continental Connection flight near Buffalo in New York state, which killed all 49 onboard and one person on the ground, is linked to sleep-deprived operators. One of the two pilots is believed to have been awake all night before the flight, and the other was known to sleep occasionally in the crew lounge at Newark Liberty Airport.
KCAU-TV, an ABC affiliate in Iowa, listed other factors responsible for sleepy pilots in its report about the Flight 188 overshoot. These included little rest and low quality sleep in cheap, noisy motels, poor diets, and dehydration because of a stream of coffee refills and the dry atmosphere of the cockpit. KCAU-TV noted that with the poor economy, more airlines are trying to squeeze in more flights with fewer pilots.
Certain shift patterns increase the odds that an employee will be dozy on the job. Reshaping these patterns to enhance sleep quality represents an ergonomic way to reduce the safety risks from fatigue-impaired operators.
The FAA is expected to release new regulations on pilot work limits in 2010. "I don't think many regular company employees would be able to work 16 hours a day, five days in a row," David Zwegers, director of aviation safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida told Time Magazine. "The more [airlines] cut on personnel, the more of a burden they put on crew members." However, Zwegers is reluctant to speculate on whether sleepiness accounts for the Northwest pilots’ overshoot. "They have the cockpit recorders, so everything will come to light soon."
Experts quoted in Time say that even without a sleep disorder there are many reasons why one or both of the Northwest pilots might have nodded off. Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit group working to lower aviation accidents, explained that modern aircraft give flight crews very little to do during the straight-and-level portions of flight. According to Voss, US airlines should consider allowing a technique common in some parts of Europe called "controlled cockpit rest," during which one pilot can take a brief nap to stay alert after notifying the rest of the crew.
The "controlled cockpit rest" represents another ergonomic measure to improve the alertness of pilots, and could be modified to fit in many workplaces where dangers lurk when operators become drowsy.
Late last month, the FAA signed a three-year deal with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association valued at $669 million. A new contract for Natca had been a top priority of the Obama administration after years of impasse in negotiations with the union that represents about 20,000 employees.
The deal will elevate the union's influence on aviation policy and signals a growing role for public-employee unions at other federal agencies.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called it "a good sign" for labor, given that it is the first major deal reached between a large employee union and a federal agency since Mr. Obama took office.
More talks between labor and government agencies are coming, Mr. Gage said, including at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Justice. Union advocates also hope to secure collective-bargaining rights for more than 40,000 employees at the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security.
"We're hoping to influence these agencies more and more," Mr. Gage said.
But critics said it is an overly generous pact that is giving the union too big a role in shaping federal policy. Rep. John Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, characterized the controllers' pact as a "huge boost" and said he has "several concerns" related to the controllers' union's role -- suggesting, for instance, that controllers might resist technological upgrades that would threaten jobs.
A Natca spokesman said that Mr. Mica's concerns are misplaced and that controllers have been among the biggest proponents of modernizing air-traffic technology.
Natca's ability to negotiate with the FAA over pay rates is unique. Most federal employee unions have their pay rates set by Congress and can bargain only over work rules.
But Natca, under the new contract, got a pay increase. The FAA says the average annual cash compensation for fully certified controllers will rise to $157,990 in 2012 from $142,101 now. The FAA estimates the average pay for fully certified controllers will rise by at least $14,906 over three years and less-experienced controllers could see an average pay boost of at least $27,358 during the three-year period.
The union says average cash compensation for fully certified controllers will decline over the next three years as higher-paid controllers retire and are replaced by lower-paid ones. The union also says the FAA has saved more than $1 billion in labor costs since it imposed pay cuts on controllers in 2006.
The new contract also contains articles that ensure greater union participation in technical and procedural changes as well as implementation of the new satellite-based air-traffic-control system, Natca says.
The head of the FAA, former Air Line Pilots Association leader Randy Babbitt, said the FAA will benefit by involving the traffic controllers more closely in shaping policies, such as redesigning the congested airspace above New York City and transitioning to the new air-traffic-control system, which could reduce delays and accommodate increased air travel in the decades ahead.
"The agreement is about a lot more than the money," said Mr. Babbitt, who has worked with both Republican and Democratic administrations. He served on an FAA advisory panel throughout George W. Bush's administration, and last year, in the wake of scandals involving Southwest Airlines Co. and AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, then-Transportation Secretary Mary Peters appointed him to an internal review team that examined the FAA's safety-oversight programs.
In recent years, Natca officials said, tension with FAA managers led many veteran controllers to retire, increasing the proportion of the less experienced in control towers. FAA's most recent data show that the number of serious errors made by controllers declined to 328 in the year ended Sept. 30 from 346 during the previous year. The number of serious runway incursions -- events where planes or other vehicles on tarmacs get too close together or nearly collide -- declined to 12 in the year ended Sept. 30 from 25 the prior year.
The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are still investigating an August midair collision between a small plane and a tourist helicopter over the Hudson River that killed nine people.
The NTSB, a separate agency not covered by the labor pact, has criticized the "complacency" of air-traffic controllers at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport at the time of the crash. The FAA has suspended two employees there, but the agency has said their actions didn't contribute to the accident.
Air-traffic controllers and the FAA have had rocky relations for nearly 30 years. President Ronald Reagan's decision in 1981 to fire striking air-traffic controllers jolted labor relations in the public and private sectors for years.
Relations between the union and the FAA were strained again during the latter years of President George W. Bush's administration. In 2006, the FAA imposed some pay cuts and more stringent work rules after negotiations on a new contract hit an impasse.
By Christopher Conkey
This weekend, Boston's Logan International Airport expects to nearly finish the first runway in the nation repaved with an environmentally friendly material called warm-mix asphalt.
The asphalt is heated to a lower temperature than normal, burning less fuel and emitting less carbon. Airport operator Massport says on this project that means a cut of 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
The last batch of the asphalt will be laid on Runway 9/27 this weekend, though the runway won't reopen until later this year. The $12.5 million project began in July.
Some European airports have used warm-mix asphalt, but it had to pass Federal Aviation Administration testing before Logan could use it.
Crowded skies and exhausted pilots are a bad mix, the airline industry and pilot unions agree, but they're struggling over what to do about it.
The airlines want to schedule some pilots with less-taxing flights — fewer takeoffs and landings — but for longer, not shorter, hours in the cockpit. The unions say they won't agree to more hours for those pilots in exchange for fewer hours for pilots who fly as many as a half dozen short flights a day or take off at odd times.
That was the main sticking point in an otherwise harmonious effort over the past month and a half to rewrite flying-time rules that in many cases are a half-century old and predate recent scientific findings concerning fatigue. The advisory committee on pilot fatigue was expected to deliver its recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration late Tuesday.
Committee members said the FAA had asked them not to make their recommendations public.
By Joan Lowy - The Associated Press
With environmental protection measures giving rise to the number of birds, federal safety officials in the US have called for the construction of planes that can withstand attacks by 8-pound creatures.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), current airframe design standards were devised in the 1970s and need to be strengthened to meet the demands of skies shared by birds and aircraft.
A Tuesday NTSB vote recommends that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ensure that the airframes of tomorrow be able to withstand a collision with a 4-pound bird and that the plane tails be able to withstand the impact of 8-pounders.
The recommendation comes in response to five people losing their lives in Oklahoma on March 4, 2008 when a business jet collided with a flock of white pelicans, which can weigh up to 30 pounds.
According to investigators, striking the pelicans caused severe damage to one wing of the Cessna Citation 500 and knocked out the power in one engine. They further pointed out that the plane could have continued to fly using its other engine, but not with the wing damage.
In another incident last January, US Airways Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson River after it struck a flock of Canadian geese following takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport. It was dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson" when all 155 people aboard survived.
The risk of bird-aircraft collision is on the increase. On one hand, populations of most large avian species in North America have been increasing due to environmental protection. The species now have average weights double or triple current airframe impact standards. On the other hand, air traffic has increased dramatically which means more planes and more large birds sharing the skies and increasing the crashing risk.
In a report on the on-demand Part 135 charter industry issued last week, the Department of Transportation Inspector General (IG) concluded that the “FAA does not effectively target inspections to higher-risk on-demand operators” nor provide enough inspector oversight of charter operators in comparison with Part 121 airlines.
The IG suggests that if Part 135 on-demand and Part 121 regulations were similar, then some notable accidents might not have occurred.
While the IG audit notes that “the number of fatalities from on-demand operations makes it imperative that FAA take action to address these issues,” the IG was not able to analyze Part 135 versus 121 accident rates to support its concerns. The IG audit, said the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association, does not place “enough emphasis on the inherently-more-risky 135 environment."
Much of the flying is done in foul weather, on demanding schedules, in relatively unsophisticated aircraft, with a single-pilot. And according to National Air Transportation Association president Jim Coyne, “The IG largely conducts an apples-and-oranges comparison. Part 121 is very homogenous with regard to the types of aircraft and operations. Part 135 contains every possible mission profile and includes single-engine pistons up to large cabin jets. Of course the requirements are going to be different."
- By Matt Thurber - AINonline
WASHINGTON — Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Randy Babbitt has announced the appointment of David Grizzle as the new FAA chief counsel.
"David Grizzle has top-level experience and I'm looking forward to having him on the team," Babbitt said. "He understands the challenges of leading a diverse, international organization, as well as the complex interaction between governmental processes and our ultimate stakeholders, the American people."
Grizzle comes to the FAA following a 22-year career with Continental Airlines, Inc. From 2005 to 2008 he served as senior vice president of customer experience, where he was charged with developing and implementing new operating strategies and improving product deficiencies and services. From 1986 to 2004 Grizzle served in many other leadership positions at the airline, including senior vice president of marketing strategy and corporate development, where he headed up a group of 150 finance, planning, operations and marketing professionals.
From 2004 to 2005, Grizzle was tapped by the U.S. Department of State and took leave from Continental to serve as the transportation and infrastructure coordinator and attaché for the Afghanistan Reconstruction Group, Kabul, Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, he worked with the FAA and other government organizations to accelerate reconstruction efforts for air and surface transportation projects as well as power, and telecommunications.
Prior to his career at Continental, Grizzle served as vice president of administration and general counsel for New York Air, Inc. from 1984 to 1986. From 1978 to 1984 he practiced law at several New York-based law firms, including as a partner at Kellner, Chehebar, Deveney&Grizzle from 1983 to 1984.