Archive for the airline safety Category

Airborne Holding Pattern–Why Isn’t The Pilot Talking To Us?

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline safety, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays with tags , , , , on May 27, 2017 by Chris Manno

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I get it: flight delays are frustrating for passengers. A hundred sixty-some people want information, they want time estimates. They have connections to make, events scheduled–and for whatever reason, the flight is late.

Two scenarios determine what I can do. On the ground? Easy: brakes parked, we wait. I give updates at least every 30 minutes on the ground, usually more often. We’re not moving, we’re not burning fuel–I have plenty of time and attention to give passengers. Here’s me in that situation:

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Sitting, waiting patiently, giving timely explanations over the PA. But in the air, it’s a different story. We’re burning fuel, which is literally eating away at the time we can stay aloft. We’re in a flow of traffic, meaning we have jets both ahead and behind us on our route and we have speed and altitude constraints: can’t speed up because we’ll close on the aircraft ahead of us (“Can we make up time in the air?” Probably not, and that’s why). We have ever-changing weather both along our route and at our destination and our alternates. When we’re sent to a holding pattern, here’s me:

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I’m conducting a multi-piece orchestra that includes Air Traffic Control, flight dispatch, and our jet to include route, fuel burn, alternates, alternate weather, enroute weather, holding pattern both position and altitude (as we go lower, the fuel burn increases and thus our range and endurance decreases), and the aircraft ahead of and behind us in holding, which is in reality above and below us.

Now is not a good time to tap the conductor on the shoulder and ask, “Are we there yet?”

I can’t say what other major carriers do, but on American Airlines flights, your cockpit crew has the latest greatest technology to provide real-time information and communication. The airline has always been a leader in advanced flight deck technology (first to have both comprehensive terrain warning and windshear predictive weather avoidance guidance) and in the last year, has added live-streamed WSI animated weather radar to the cockpit assets:

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Virtually at my fingertips is the combined radar, turbulence warnings, severe weather depictions, storm tops, and direction of movement, in real-time, animated, thanks to dedicated flight deck WIFI. We already had one of the most advanced radars ever built on our aircraft, which gives details out as far as 300 miles (I find it most useful at 160 mile range), but now we can look two hours down our route, see what’s developing and if prudent, request a different route clearance to keep the ride smooth and efficient.

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In the terminal area, on board radar does an excellent job of tuning itself and, because it has GPS positioning, it screens out terrain features that might appear as false weather echoes.

Once assigned holding, our cockpit workload includes the pattern itself (we always ask for longer legs to limit turns that burn gas and aren’t as comfortable for passengers. We’re given an Expected Further Clearance time (EFC on the display below):

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So we can begin the fuel calculations to determine how long we can hold before we must divert. Here’s a definition for you: Bingo Fuel is the minimum total fuel we can have before we must either proceed to our destination or divert. For example only, let’s say 5,000 pounds of fuel is what we want to be on the deck with.

To determine Bingo Fuel, we start with the total we must have on the ground at either our destination or our divert alternate. Add to that the amount of fuel it takes to get to your alternate, which is a different amount from that which would be burned if you diverted from the holding pattern rather than from an approach at your destination.

My airline has instantaneous navigation and fuel computations at our fingertips:

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Here is the fuel I’ll land with if I divert to Philadelphia, leaving holding now (the “D” after KPHL means “directly from holding”) which is 13.2 (13,200 pounds of fuel). Subtract 5.0 Bingo Fuel and that leaves 8,000 pounds available until we either have to land at our destination or alternate. Why is JFK arrival fuel less when it’s actually closer to our destination Newark? Because we’re holding well south of New York, so Philly is closer.

But there’s more to consider. What’s going on at Philly? Once again, our state-of-the-art cockpit resources have instant answers:

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A touch of the screen brings up current conditions at our destination and alternate. But there’s still another fuel consideration: how do I preserve Bingo Fuel after leaving holding and flying to the destination and completing the approach–then diverting? That number will be different depending on where you’re holding in relation to your destination, plus where your alternate is in relation to your destination. That’s signified by the “M” after the airfield, instantly calculated by our nav system:

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Of course, that number will be more restrictive because of the fuel burn required from our holding pattern location and our destination. The two figures (M and D) must be constantly monitored to be sure the M option is even possible, but there’s a catch: as you descend in the holding pattern, fuel burn will increase–and all of those fuel figures will change.

So, the conductor (captain) is sorting constantly changing data streams and at the same time, communicating with Air Traffic Control and Flight Dispatch but there’s a third stream that’s complex and must also be tacitly monitored: what are other jets doing? If those ahead of us get a further delay, we know we will too. If someone diverts, where are they going, because if too many go to that airport, there may be further holding.

What’s the ever-changing weather doing at our selected alternates and if needed (fairly typical), let’s set up numbers and weather for another divert alternate. Can we extend our holding based on the proximity of another suitable alternate?

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What approach are they using in real-time at both our destination and our alternate, and what is happening in real-time at our destination? If we can split our attention seven ways (Air Traffic Control, Dispatch, weather, fuel burn, destination and alternate weather), we can monitor the destination approach control frequency and see how long the final pattern (think: fuel burn) is so as to determine a more realistic enroute and approach burn to preserve the ironclad Bingo number.

Given all of that information coming in, communications going out, calculations being done and ever-changing, plus flying the 70 ton jet smartly, safely and efficiently–this is not a good time to tap the conductor on the shoulder and ask, “are we there yet?”

I’ll make a PA when we’re released from holding, or if we divert. But now that you are aware of what’s actually happening during a very routine airborne holding pattern, you can understand why I barely have time to drink my already cold airplane coffee, much less talk on the PA. We have the absolute best inflight equipment in the airline industry and the tightest, most consistent crew coordination in the world, so now is the time to let us work for you.

Rest assured that we’re doing everything humanly possible to get you safely to our destination.

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The REAL Captain’s Guide: How To Fly That Crap Weather Approach.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, fear of flying, flight crew with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by Chris Manno

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First, let’s define “real” captain. I don’t mean “real” in the sense of physical, tangible, bad-layover-clothes, mouth-breathing captain, although I’ve been one at a major airline for 25 years and counting. You’re “real” as a captain on Day One when you’re turned loose with the rating.

What I mean by “real” is as in, “get real.” That’s because we know there are several things you face as captain with the dogshit weather approach. First, there’s what you’re told. Second, there’s what you know. Finally, there’s where the reality plays out: from the final approach fix inbound at 180 knots across the ground. There’s stuff you need to do to be ready for that.

The first item, “what you’re told,” includes the OpSpec that allows you to do what you’re about to do: fly a big jet with a lot of folks–including your crew–into minimally adequate weather for landing. OpSpec includes a minimalist element (what’s the least we can send you into the most challenging weather?) that allows airlines to earn revenue for what you’re about to do.

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What you’re told also includes the prevailing weather at the time they told you, which is nowhere near the time at which you’ll actually fly the approach. If I sound like a captain who’s had that detail bite him in the ass–it’s because I am.

So, here’s the BTDT viewpoint that goes beyond the classroom and the manuals. Not interested in stuff beyond the books? Don’t need the BTDT captain viewpoint? Please close this blog page now. No harm, no foul. Best of luck.

Okay, still here? The others gone? Good.

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First, your approach starts in the chocks before pushback. No, I don’t mean “be the dork who starts stressing or worse, briefs the approach before engine start.” Rather, I mean be the captain the FO can rely on as soon as you sit down. Stay the hell out of his way as he (or she)  works. Respect–but check–the setup of the cockpit for takeoff. You ain’t perfect, so don’t expect your FO to be, and let him (or her) know YOU can be counted on as a team member to be sure you both do well from the first checklist. That’s what you want later: a collaborative, respectful environment where your FO knows you’re relying on each other step by step. The FO needs to be looking for and free to point out your screwups.

Second, “what you’re told” versus what you know can be tricky. Weather forecast versus delays you’ve seen versus altitude restrictions and the list goes on: variables, unreliables, despite “what you’ve been told.” But what everyone knows is this: fuel equals time. When that sixth sense picks at the back of your brain saying we might could use more fuel–you really do so get it before release. If you’re wrong (trust me, you won’t be–the only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire) then you land with more time options. But if you’re at minimum fuel you’ll have to tear the seat cushion out of your ass after landing because your butt cheeks ate it up like horse’s lips do while you stressed about weather delays.

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Finally, downwind. If you’re flying, relax: you’re not that asshole captain showing how it’s done (okay, you really are) but rather, you’re doing what you know to your core you’re damn good at. So, be humble, be quiet, be methodical, procedurally correct and do exactly what’s called for. Show your FO how you want the approach flown.

FO flying? Even better: relax, back up everything done, think ahead of the jet and while you do, let the FO do the flying exactly as it’s supposed to be done. Getting slightly off track? Guide back to best practices with suggestions, positive affirmations and last resort–LAST RESORT–directive, which sounds like “Let’s go ahead and ____” or “I’m not comfortable with ____.”

Remember, if what you’re told hours ago before takeoff matches what you encounter at the final approach fix, that’s a coincidence. You fly “real” based on what you know, which includes every experience and subsequent intuition derived therefrom–apologize to no one, get the fuel you need and decide for yourself if OpSpec minimums are adequate to meet the challenge facing you in realtime. We don’t fly on paper, on a spreadsheet, or on a chart of minimums page. Remember the horse’s lips/seat cushion metaphors: get fuel, think ahead, respect your FO, believe what you know (school of hard knocks) and fly smart, conservative and REAL.

Then, from Final Approach Fix to touchdown or go-around, you’re smart, confident, safe, and real. No one can ask you for more and as captain, you cannot do anything less, nor accept anything but the best you can do, by leading, coaching and most of all, being real.

Fly safe, compadres.

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Air Travel: What You SHOULD Worry About.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airlines, airport, blog, cartoon, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, passenger, pilot with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

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There’s seldom a day that passes without some type of media headline regarding an air “scare.” But the news stories are mostly about minor hassles such as a divert or a passenger disturbance, maybe even turbulence injuries for the unwary passengers who won’t keep their seatbelts fastened.

Whatever. Most of what’s reported as a “scare” isn’t worth a second thought. That said, there are things you should worry about. Here’s my Top 5 list:

  1. Fatigue: Your crew has been browbeaten into the longest flight duty period allowed with the shortest rest period possible. That’s due to effective lobbying by the airline industry hellbent on reducing crew costs–at all costs. Rest periods have been shaved to the bare minimum for pilots, and there’s no rest minimum stipulated by the FAA for the cabin crews responsible for your safety in an emergency. The airline industry has  relentlessly and successfully lobbied the FAA and congress to resist any rest requirements for flight attendants. So, they have none, often working a 12 hour day with only 8-9 hours off for sleep, food, and getting to and from work. That’s a bad idea, cost-driven, that makes little sense.
  2. Unrealistic Flight Schedules: Airlines have stretched the planning of flights to use the minimum number of aircraft on multiple, interlocking segments, often planning a single jet for 5 or more flights in a single day. The unspoken prerequisite for such an operation is an unavoidable fact that airline planners know–but ignore. That is, system variables such as aircraft maintenance, weather, Air Traffic Control and airport delays are the rule, not the exception. So, if your flight is three segments into that jet’s day, the chances of your arriving on time is reduced significantly. There’s not a certain probability that one of those delay factors will occur in an aircraft’s day–it’s guaranteed.
  3. Pay Restrictions: Overtime pay is taboo among airline planners, despite the havoc wrought by such a restriction. For example, if your aircraft has a maintenance problem requiring a mechanic to repair a system or component within an hour of maintenance shift change time, that repair will wait at least that final hour has expired just to be started. Why? Because no licensed mechanic can do half of the work, then have the work finished by an oncoming mechanic who must put his license on the line for work he didn’t do. The answer is, overtime for the mechanic required to work beyond a scheduled shift to complete work that will let you depart on time. That choice has been made: the answer is, no overtime.
  4. Oversales: That’s a direct result of restricted capacity, meaning, airlines have trimmed schedules and thus seats available to the bare minimum required–but they’ve sold more seats than they have in stock. Rain check? That works in a retail operation selling “things,” but not for a business selling transportation. How does that work for the time-constrained passenger with a business meeting scheduled or a resort already paid for?
  5. Manning: Every student taking Business-101 will tell you that personnel management dictates some overlapping duties if personnel costs are to be contained: you must answer your coworker’s phone if they’re out sick. That doesn’t work in the cockpit, or the cabin. And yet, crew manning has been pared to the bone, requiring a “perfect operation” (see #2 above) which airline planners all know never happens.  So, pilots with mandatory maximum duty hours run up against FAA mandated limits and very often there are no spare pilots–because hiring and paying pilots is a cost item airline planners minimize regardless of the price to be paid in delayed or cancelled flights. That price is paid by passengers and as often, by crews.

Those are my Big Five, the only “scary” things that you are likely to see in air travel. They don’t make the news, probably because they aren’t “news,” but rather, just the sad result of spreadsheet dollar-driven choices already made before you even get to the airport.

Have a good flight.

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Drunks on a Plane.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airport, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Drunks on a Plane

By Chris Manno

I’ve been a captain at a major airline for almost 25 years now, and one sad but preventable liability remains unaddressed through all of my thousands of flight hours: drunks on a plane.

When I hear of intoxicated air travelers disrupting a flight, beyond the risk to others aboard, the first thought that comes to my mind is a three-pronged failure by airports, airlines and ultimately, passengers.

The problem is real, and dangerous. Every law enforcement professional will tell you that a domestic or public disturbance is compounded by the involvement of alcohol. Judgement is impaired, self-restraint is diminished and behavior becomes aggressive, often violent.

As in such violent encounters that police are called to manage, the incident itself is basically a flash-fire touched off by an accumulation of stress factors and fueled by alcohol.

And there’s failure number one: if anyone should be aware of the emotional tinderbox that is air travel, it’s airport management who administer the lines, delays, security hassles, baggage problems, diversions, crowding, and even automobile traffic. Yet airports will not give up the cash flow that alcohol sales at the airport supplies.

They witness daily the human pressure cooker of jet lag, sleeplessness, dehydration and uncertain, typically inadequate rest and nourishment that is typical for a passenger mix from time zones far and wide.

That is a total failure of prevention, fueled by equal doses of looking the other way, and a reluctance to give up revenue from alcohol sales at airport bars and restaurants. Airport managers know better, but choose revenue over passenger safety.

Ditto the airlines: they realize that it’s not possible for flight crews and even ground service staff to assess passenger intoxication levels. Typically, crews and agents see enplaning passengers only briefly as they board. Worse, there’s no way for crews in flight to know how the typically high cabin altitude (usually equivalent to the high altitude of Mexico City) will intensify intoxication effects in passengers — nor do many passengers themselves. Add to that the unknown (at least to crews) wild cards of other medications or other behavioral disorders in passengers and selling intoxicants on board seems like an untenable risk.

Any other business serving alcohol could be held criminally or civilly negligent for not having able-bodied staff (read: bouncers) to handle aggressive, intoxicated patrons or worse, for not calling for law enforcement to handle such volatile situations. An airliner in flight has no ability to remove intoxicated passengers, no able-bodied staff to manage such cases and worst of all, no access to law enforcement help when such dangerous incidents play out on board. And yet, they still sell alcohol in flight?

Finally, passengers themselves are a major part of the problem. In 2016, the twin issues of passenger compliance with crew instructions and acceptance of personal responsibility are at an all time low. There’s always someone else to blame — usually the airlines — for transgressive, often violent behavior in flight. Fights break out over an armrest; add alcohol to the volatile mix and the short fuse of temper burns hot.

We’ve heard the tired arguments justifying alcohol sales in airports and on board flights: it’s all about personal freedom, relaxation, choices, and socialization — basically, the dead and buried arguments that smokers used until the nineties to justified that ugly blight in the terminals and in the air. Somehow, smoking in airports and on board went extinct in the last century, and air travelers are none the worse for the loss.

If airlines, airports and passengers themselves are serious about safer, more secure and less violent flights, alcohol needs to fade into the same extinction that removed smoking from airports and airliners.

Airports, airlines and most passengers are aware of the risk involved in alcohol and air travel. Now it’s a question of who will finally do the right thing for everyone involved and ban alcohol sales in airports and aboard flights.

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Airliners in Weather: What the Hail?

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, aviation weather with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2015 by Chris Manno

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Recently, a Boeing 787 and an Airbus 320 made headlines with dramatic photos of hail damage to the radomes and leading edges of the airfoils. That type of news story prompts the question from friends, family and passengers, “Can’t pilots see hail coming?”

My answer is threefold: yes, no, and it’s not that simple. Let’s take each part in order.

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On a normal flight, the above outside view would be depicted like this on a cockpit nav display:

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The magenta line is our filed flight path–where Air Traffic Control (ATC) expects us to be. To simplify for the sake of brevity, green areas are precipitation, red, convection, meaning uplifting air.

So yes, we can often see it coming because we know that convection can heave massive amounts of moisture upward with great force, into altitudes where the temperature could easily be -35C or less. This flash-freezes the moisture into ice pellets, with the size determined by variables of speed and temperature. I’ve felt and heard the sizzling sound of such particles impinging on my aircraft at over 40,000 feet–they’re fairly tiny and mostly innocuous at high altitude–not so in the lower, denser air.

Regardless, here’s where the “no” of my tripartite answer comes in. Like the ill-advised New Year’s Eve tradition some gun owners have of celebratory fire, what goes straight up comes back down–but the question is, where?

An enormous volume of hail spewed from the top of a thunderhead will get caught up in the winds aloft and they vary from near zero to over 100 mph. It’s not unusual for wind to blow a hail storm ten or more miles from the core of the thunderhead that lifted the moisture in the first place.

At night, the lightning may be obvious, but storm contours are not.

At night, the lightning may be obvious, but storm contours are not.

Can an you see that on radar? Maybe. Normally, you have the radar looking ahead, not up. What was a clear path, suddenly may be filled with hail, even miles away from the original source.

Which brings me to “it’s not that simple.” Both of the recent hail damage incidents occurred at low altitude, and by that I mean below 20,000 feet, which is a complicated area: jetliners don’t cruise that low, so the airspace is filled with a conflicting mix of climbing and descending aircraft. ATC does a fantastic job of sorting the mix crammed into often constrained airspace. But the problem is, that doesn’t leave much room for deviating around weather.

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In fact, with so many aircraft being managed on a particular frequency, it’s extremely difficult to even get a course change request to ATC. Add to that a ground speed often between 200 and 300 miles per hour and you have a dilemma: yes, you can see some weather threats, no, you can’t see all of them and avoiding weather and other jets in crowded airspace is simply put, not easy. Things change rapidly, virtually by the minute, and we’ll cover many miles in that time.

I can’t stress enough how versatile and responsive ATC is in managing tight airspace filled with dissimilar aircraft on assorted routes and changing altitudes. But as the mix becomes more dense, this high-speed Rubik’s becomes an outlandishly devilish puzzle.

In the cockpit, know that we’re using every means at our disposal to detect and track weather. We gauge the wind effect out of the top of a storm, we plot a course upwind of effects, we pass along what we’ve found to ATC and other aircraft.  Count on the reality that everyone on the ground and in the air is doing everything possible to avoid or, in the worst case, escape from bad weather.

Even the fact that only two aircraft out of the thousands in flight that day made the news with hail damage is good news in itself: pilots and ATC are pretty good at handling weather. Still, there’s only so much room and little leeway to detect and avoid hail.

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That’s the real news, and the good news far outweighs the bad: flying to Philly yesterday, I can’t compliment both ATC and the dozens of other pilots in the air for sharing information about clear passages, turbulence and new routings. I don’t know how Center and Approach do it, but the responsiveness and quick reaction is amazing.

I’m especially grateful that my airline has made installation of cutting edge radar technology in my cockpit a priority: yes, it’s expensive, but they want me to have the best, most current weather picture as I approach a front with you on board.

Our newest radar–which I’m glad to have available–displays three dimensions, is linked to our nav system so it always knows exactly where it is and thus screens out ground clutter and geographic features, and displays a predictive movement of hazards. It’s always on, scanning for potential problems and will pop up on cockpit displays if it detects something even if we’ve selected another depiction.

So there you have it. Yes, no, and it’s complicated–those are my answers to the question, “Can’t you see hail from the cockpit?” The big-picture view is that we’re all working together to stay out of the headlines. I’ll be flying to LaGuardia and back tomorrow and the fact that you WON’T read about my flight underscores everything I’ve just said.

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Airliners vs. Drones: Calm Down.

Posted in air travel, air travel humor, aircraft maintenance, airline, airline cartoon, airline cartoon book, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2015 by Chris Manno

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Much ado has been produced by the media about the hazards of drones flying in proximity to airliners, but I’m happy to report: it’s much ado about nothing.

The hazard presented by unwanted objects in an aircraft’s flight path is nothing new. In fact, each year hundreds of bird strikes are dutifully and without fanfare reported by airline pilots as is required by law.

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What’s new is the opportunity for media and aviation “pundits” to claim more screaming headlines by overstating the drone hazard. First, consider the typical, average weight of the plentiful waterfowl populating the bird sanctuaries neighboring JFK, LGA, ORD, DFW, SEA, PDX, LAX, SAN, DCA, SFO, BOS and most Florida airports to name but a few. The weight varies from the 10-13 pound goose to the heavier seabirds like pelican which can weigh up to 30 pounds.

Although the the media and some wannabe aviation pundits claim there are “drones of 50-60 pounds,” the fact is, the new, popular hobbyist drones are marvels of lightweight miniaturization, weighing a fraction of that.

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Now, consider the exposure: while the new hobbyist drones begin to enjoy an increasing level of retail sales, the bird hazard numbers literally in the millions. By sheer numbers alone, bird conflicts and even bird strikes dwarf the number of drone “sightings” by airliners, but they’re simply no longer news.

Plainly stated, the traveling public–and thus the media–understand the exposure, accept it, and like the National Highway Traffic Safety traffic death toll, ignore it.

Trundle out the “new menace” of drones and heads turn, headlines accrue, news ratings uptick, and those who know little about jetliners begin to smell fear.

So let’s even go beyond the hazard and foresee and actual impact with a drone. I once flew from Pittsburgh to DFW with duck guts splattered all over my cockpit windscreen after hitting what maintenance technicians estimated to be a ten pound duck. There were two primary consequences I had to deal with.

What are the chances of encountering a drone? A duck?

What are the chances of encountering a drone? A duck?

First, I had to look through duck guts for two and a half hours. They partially slid off, but most froze onto the window at altitude and stayed. Second, the crew meal enroute was less appetizing with the backdrop of frozen duck guts. That’s it.

None of the birds went into either engine. No aircraft systems were affected. Nobody (besides Pittsburgh tower) knew until after landing when we filed the required reports.

This is a pretty good predictor of what might happen if the rare, statistically minute chance of a drone-aircraft collision were to occur: likely, nada.

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Yes, there always the potential for engine damage when a “bird,” man made or real, is ingested by an engine. Nonetheless, of all the birds–man made or real–populating the skies around every major airport, drones are a minuscule fraction of the whole group that air travelers sensibly overlook day to day.

So why not focus on that reality rather than the shrieking media and aviation “experts” offering unlikely and often, absurd “what ifs?”

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The answer is, the latter sells news, while the former undercuts the self-appointed aviation experts in and out of the media.

So the choice is yours. You can embrace the misguided drone hysteria served up by the news and “experts,” or apply the same logic you do to every daily hazard–including the drive to the airport (over 32,000 traffic deaths in 2014)–which is: drive carefully, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Anything else is much ado about nothing.

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The Half Truth of Mary Schiavo

Posted in 9/11, air travel, airline, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airport, airport security with tags , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2015 by Chris Manno

The Half-Truth of Mary Schiavo

Mary Schiavo, former Department of Transportation Inspector General and a frequent critic of airline security, made headlines recently with remarks that flight crews nationwide consider inflammatory, untrue and ultimately, disingenuous.Ms. Schiavo alleged that Known Crew Member (KCM), an advanced security program that currently validates airline crew members’ identity from a national data base, then allows them airport access without further search, creates a security risk for air travelers. But the fact is, Ms Schiavo is aware that the KCM program is the best and most technologically advanced solution to a problem she faced–and never solved–during her tenure as head watchdog at the Department of Transportation.security-den1The KCM database matches crewmembers employment and security certification with a current photo that is kept updated by each airline and the TSA. This is a face-to-face scrutiny and validation even more advanced than the widely acclaimed Global Entry program designed to efficiently certify the identity and security of air travelers entering the United States.

Schiavo knows that airports in the United States are small cities in themselves, comprised not only of the wide-ranging flight support activities required to handle transport aircraft, but also to meet the needs thousands of passengers transiting these facilities daily.

There are food service, passenger service and retail facilities in each airport, mostly on the “secure side” beyond the security screening checkpoints. Thousands of employees performing duties at airport passenger service, retail and restaurant facilities must move in and out of the secure side of the airport and Schiavo is well aware of the access systems such as keyed or electronic access doors for that purpose in every airport.

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Never has the 100% screening of all airport workers been considered practical or feasible and therefore alternative employee modes of access have of necessity been standard in order to allow passenger screening with reasonable wait times.

But that’s only the “front of the house” security theater that Schiavo knows co-exists hand-in-hand with a wide open back door access at every airport: vehicles ranging from semi tractors pulling forty-foot trailers to dump trucks and bulldozers are waved onto the airport ramps near fueled and taxiing aircraft daily with only a cursory glance at an identification badge. Thousands of those identification cards alone are deemed sufficient to allow flight line access to contract workers from construction, repair and most frequently, food and retail merchandise delivery, never mind the non-stop caravan of catering trucks wandering the flight line largely uninspected.

Meanwhile, KCM is the only security program assuring that crewmembers are who they say they are and have current and valid access credentials. Crewmembers are but a fraction of the multitudes granted airport access, yet they are the only group whose identity and legitimacy is positively verified. This, after background checks, random drug tests and no-notice personal items inspections by the TSA.

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The irony is, Schiavo singles out those crewmembers and the most secure, updated, state-of-the-art security access program for unwarranted, alarmist sound-bite criticism. If anything, KCM should be the model for all airport access programs. The worst part of her criticism, however, is her allusion to the September 11th hijackings, implying that “Known Crew Member” is in any way risking another such a tragedy.

Certainly, the former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation knows all of the above. That she chooses to mislead the traveling public on such a crucial issue is both disingenuous and deplorable, and her September 11th allusion is unforgivable.

Here’s another perspective on Schiavo’s comments, from a veteran flight attendant. Just click on the photo.

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