Some airlines are reconsidering the whole idea of allowing seats to be lowered after numerous incidents of air rage involving passengers squashed into an area the size of a Houdini escape box.
Thankfully, some airlines have realised that this is no longer acceptable. I mean having a passenger drop their seat back so that you are pinned into an even smaller area, viz the Houdini analogy. Delta Airlines in the USA has decided that the distance a setback will be allowed to travel should be cut by half. That means instead of 4 inches, the setback will drop 2.
Very good. I like flying FlySafair because it does not allow its seats to be lowered which immediately causes friction between the thoughtless twit in front. So often in the past few years I’ve had to deal with males (almost exclusively) who seem to find it funny firing their seat backwards into your solar plexus.
In a flight to Cape Town a few years ago, the twit ahead of me actually pinned my body into my seat and I was forced to push their seat forwards. He pretended not to notice but I slowly used my knees to force his seat back to the upright position.
The game had begun. Would he escalate? He tried to but each time he lowered the seat, my well trained knees pushed back holding it upright. Eventually he gave up.
Now what I do is setup my knees at a certain angle, beyond which no seat shall pass. It’s very useful and the person gives up quite quickly believing their seat recline function is not functioning. Then everyone is happy and on we go.
The pastime known as seat fighting is surely one of the more onerous exercises to conduct in consumer class. First Class members don’t snigger, because Delta is also going to restrict the distance your seats recline too. They’re going to limit the backslide from just over 5 inches to just over 3.
Another aviation past time we know and love is the arm rest wrestle. It’s a very simple rule. The middle seat gets to choose to use the arm rests. The window and aisle seats have second bite at the arm rest cherry. It’s all about proper manners, people. The poor sod who found him/herself bracketed by two blokes with large stomachs and fat butts have first right of reply when it is the arm rest.
Back to Delta, it has begun to retrofit its 62 Airbus A320 jets to reduce the seat recline from 10cm to 5cm. First class goes from 14cm to 9cm.
I’ve always liked flying Delta. This is one more reason why.
Here’s a list of other airlines that no longer allow seats to recline:
If you’re really in the game, then purchase plastic “knee defenders” which can be picked up from the nearest cheap and lousy aircraft kit supplier.
If you’re into privacy, then the B-tourist Strip is for you. A blanket that turns into a curtain which hooks around your seat and keeps prying eyes away from your laptop/breasts.
The Hawker Siddeley Harrier, developed in the 1960s, is the first of the Harrier Jump Jet series of aircraft that could land vertically. But since then it has taken half a century longer to land one of these vertical takeoff aircraft on an aircraft carrier fully loaded with all its weapons without hovering alongside. I’ll explain.
SpaceX is landing its booster rockets back aboard floating launch pads, so what’s the big deal you ask? I suppose it’s a saving at the same time as being a wondrous piece of flying. To land a plane vertically on a heaving deck of a ship while fully armed with missiles and fuel totalling 2,000 pounds is what the big deal is all about.
Previously, the Hawker would have to jettison its payload before landing by a different method, hovering alongside the aircraft carrier. That could see hundreds of thousands of dollars being dropping into the sea if it hadn’t fired off its inventory, never mind the environmental impact over the years.
But the other big difference is that the old fashioned Hawkers would approach the ship very much as a helicopter, hover alongside, crab over the landing area, then touch down.
Russia developed a Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), but it required deck nets, which is not the same as an aircraft flying to a halt using brakes on board a heaving deck. Still, the Yak-38 “Forger” became operational with the Soviet Navy in the early 1970s and had a few technical issues. One was its incredibly high fuel consumption which reduced range after being flown vertically. While it technically achieved the SRVL, the use of nets meant it was not a true example of an autonomous landing. Nets are another form of cable which catch the plane as it arrives at normal landing speed.
The SRVL technique is far more difficult. The aircraft hovers behind the ship, then lands straight down the deck using its own brakes instead of dropping and flying at a measly 60 knots. Most general aviation aircraft are close to stalling at this speed, it is really slow.
The physics required and the skill to achieve this has taken more than 25 years of planning to get right. It’s taken longer to plan and carry out this landing than it took NASA to plan and conduct the latest Mars Landing called InSight.
And for codgers flying about like me, this story is motivational. That’s because the United States Civil Air Patrol was involved, which features mainly retired pilots who continue to fly on various duties for the nation.
CAP Maryland Wing 2nd Lt. Peter Wilson is the hero of this story, and his tale is fascinating. He was flying the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and landed on the deck of the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. What he achieved was fairly simple in terms of the goal. The land the F-35B straight down the runway, without a wire and hook, and carrying more than 2,000 pounds of weapons and fuel. It was fully loaded.
Lieutenant Wilson has been directly involved in training for this one landing since 2006. That’s when he and his family moved from the UK to Texas to be closer to the Lockheed Martin aircraft factory. They moved again to Maryland to be near the Pax River Naval Air Station.
But he started working on the project even before training formally started. For over twenty years he’s worked as a test pilot for BAE systems, and much of his time at the company has been focused on achieving the feat of a SRVL.
So on October 14 2018, he donned his kit, climbed aboard the F-35B which was fully fuelled and armed, took off in the usual way (being slung into the heavens), then flew back to the HMS Queen Elizabeth and landed on deck without a cable, braked, stopped. Wiped sweat from his brow.
As pilots, we use lights to guide is in for visual landings, they’re called PAPIs. Precision Approach Path Indicator. In the case of Lt Wilson, the PAPIs were a range of lights on board the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
There are 21 pairs of lights embedded in the ship’s runway centre line, where the pilot sees red lights marking the beginning and end of the touchdown zone. He/She must then aim at a single pair of white lights that show them where to land on the heaving deck. As the bow rises, the lights move further forward, as it falls, they move further back.
After Wilson landed, a second test pilot flew off and completed the same test successfully. The UK is now working on making this process operational which could save the Navy millions of dollars over the next few years as it flights Vertical aircraft into missions.
I flew to the US in June which is now but a distant memory except for the security search at Frankfurt airport before clambering on board a United Airlines flight to New York. The names of the accused were blasted over the tannoy for all to hear.
So let me describe the process. After clambering off an SAA plane in Frankfurt at 06h00 local time we were due to fly out to the USA at 08h00 local. We hurried to the airport train (automated) and arrived at terminal B from whence United flies. After the obligatory cup of coffee, you are checked in and a coloured sticker attached to your ticket. Which remains untorn – no stubs here.
Then various names are called as mentioned above. and mine came up. I heard that only Muslims or suspicious people were asked to step forward (at least that’s what my well traveled friends have alleged), so what’s this then?
Perhaps its because I’m from Africa I thought. Clearly suspicious. This is where the story gets a tad interesting at least in terms of process. So after joining the short queue of the highly suspicious/possible terrorist/dangerous/uncouth etc etc, a man with a Russian accent asks me if I’m indeed “Dazemoond Lat-ham”
‘Please wait there” he motions to a seat in full view of the 300 passengers about to board United Airlines. Most are trying not to look in my direction unless the security guards haul them in too. My nearest and dearest is sitting near the wifi/power charging desks charging her phone and laptop and also not appearing to stare. She carries a passport with her maiden name so we’re not easily coupled, if you excuse the phrase.
The Russian appeared just bored enough to be both careless and malignant. You know those languid security people who have one ear-hole larger than the other from a lifetime of wearing a hands free VIP bodyguard kit. In a small cubicle I could see a man removing his shoes and being subjected to some kind of body search with a strip of plaster.
Then it was my turn after a few minutes. The Russian waved at me and said “your turn” which felt a little like being asked to join the bungee jump line without a safety harness.
Inside the cubicle there were three men. They all scrutinised me as I entered their little chamber, watching I thought, for any sign of weakness then they’d pounce. One of the three was dressed in browns and fawn clothing with a black belt and he turned to me.
I tensed, waiting for the usual aggro bodyguard VIP security man fusillade.
“Hey, you look like one of the Blues Brothers” he said, and smiled.
I dress in a black suit when traveling and wear a black hat bought in Boston in 2000. It’s real wool and with the black tie, I usually am left alone on flights because people think I’m either a businessman or a rabbi. It’s the first time in years of traveling in this mode that someone has said anything about the Blues Brothers who are indelibly etched in all our minds – us 80’s people.
“Well I do play the blues” I said.
“You look like you do” he answered in a German accent. He took my shoes and waved his sticky plaster over it. Then he pulled the plaster down my clothes. I guessed he was looking for signs of explosives.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
Then he suddenly turned back into the cold VIP bodyguard and ignored me, his friend said:
“You can go”
In a British accent.
My ticket now had an extra sticker on the back which the air crew peered at with great interest when I clambered on board the A380. My nearest had taken up a seat as far away as possible (well she was on the other side of the aisle) so I asked the lovely person next to me if she’d swap seats with Nearest/Dearest.
Nearest wasn’t so happy, she’d swapped an aisle seat for a middle seat.
“Never mind dear” I said
“At least you’re sitting next to a world famous blues musician.”
Yay! South Africa has just scored first in Africa following a two week ICAO Safety Inspection. While Afro-pessimists may giggle into their mug of Eurospite and bitters, that puts us in 33rd place globally. Not too shabby. A big plus is the drop according to ICAO and the Transport Minister, in the number of non-commercial accidents. They’re down 50% with the stark numbers really a thumbs up to our training institutions – down to 72 deaths in the last year from 144 in 2012/13. The audit was conducted between the 8th and 18th of May according to information just released by the Transport Ministry and was covered in a previous blog post (see below).
So another training opportunity has arisen and boy! (or girl!) I’m excited. I’ve signed up to do CAA certified drone pilot training but its not for the faint hearted. Because its pretty expensive. To give you an idea just how expensive – its about a fifth of the price of a full pilot’s license. If you’re quick enough, a PPL could cost between R250 000 and R350 000 depending on how many hours you fly and how you compress the training. Drone training costs R50 000 and that’s before you buy the little thing. Which costs at least another R10k for the basic piece of kit and around R35-40k for a good aerial vehicle with camera/s.
Luckily in my case its about half that price because I have a PPL. Had I walked into this course without any theory in aviation, the cost would be significantly higher. But that doesn’t mean its easy. The CAA along with civil aviation authorities everywhere has now ordered pilots to be certified when your Unmanned Aerial Vehicle ( UAV) or drone is of a certain size. Being a videographer come aviator, the idea is obviously most attractive. I’ve already filmed quite a bit from the cockpit and even in a Cirrus with its low-slung wing, so that’s feasible. And we’ve also shot a few videos from a borrowed drone for a series I’m filming for SADC.
But the idea of having our own drone and using it to garner great footage within the law is a real attraction. News organisations are falling over themselves to use these inconspicuous UAV’s over protests and police action. This is a quick update ‘cos there’s a need to attend a special safety evening at the hangar and I can’t dilly dally. Look out for updates on the UAV training on this site in the next few weeks.
Yes, boring title but muo importante. The United Nations body that makes aviation suggestions that are hard to ignore, a bit like Scarface, is in the South African house. ICAO which stands for ‘International Civil Aviation Organisation’ has its safety inspection team prodding South African systems over the next two weeks. It comes at an opportune time. SAA Chairperson Dudu “Sleepy” Myeni hasn’t said a word for a few months, which is good news if you value intelligence reports, and incidents/crashes are down generally over the past two years. The team in SA are operating under ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP). Or Use Soap. To keep a clean safety record. (Groan)
ICAO also stands for ‘Improvements and Collision Avoidance’ and ‘Instructions for Continued Airworthiness’. But I digress. So what’s going to happen? Well ICAO checks to see if our Civil Aviation Authority is up to scratch, that Air Traffic Controllers are alert and bushy-tailed, that fuel is available, safety records are kept, maintenance logs are filed, pilots are doing proper training and the hangar ping-pong table has enough green paint along with a long list of other check and balances. Apart from the ping-pong table bit (which is thumb suck) this is a good thing. ICAO doesn’t make rules, it has suggested regulations that each nation follows – or doesn’t. The problem for those who ignore ICAO is their airlines crash and burn. Or they’re banned. Or both.
They’re a bit like the inspectors who used to be allowed to check on teachers before SADTU went out of its mind and decided that their so-called maths experts with english as a major shouldn’t be monitored. Therefore technical education is in a pit, but not aviation.
ICAO specifications aren’t to be sniffed at. As a signatory, South Africa has Aeronautical Information Publications that if you search online long enough you’ll find these missives. These used to be posted to pilots but since the Post office decided it would rather deliver its lower middle class staff easy holidays, the CAA no longer sends these missives. Neither does it send NOTAMS to pilots. Which is a bit of a contradiction because NOTAM means Notice to Airmen (and women). I loved receiving the NOTAMs in the post, pages of warnings about airport closing, runways being resurfaced, hangars being moved, tests being conducted. Now I read it on the hangar notice board when awaiting my flight from CDC Aviation at Lanseria.
Countries are supposed to update AIP’s every 28 days, which continues to happen in South Africa so I’ve not doubt that the ICAO inspectorate will tick that box. But that’s not all folks. ICAO standardises various items in aviation such how to define atmosphere which is at the heart of flying. Gauges and instruments need to be calibrated according to pressures, temperatures, density, viscosity and altitude (and a few others we won’t mention here). Wrong calibration can be terminal. It also codes airports. For example Lanseria is FALA and King Shaka in Durban is FALE. Just to slightly confuse the reader, there’s another bunch called IATA which has a separate code for FALE which is DUR. For Durban. Which is actually iThekweni.
ICAO is also responsible for Aircraft registration. So tonight, for example, I’m flying ZS-CTP which is the “tail number” of a Cirrus SR20 aircraft. Next time you’re bounding onto a plane between A and B, jot down the code on the tail and search online for its date of purchase, general maintenance issues, and use FlightRadar24 to check its flights over the last week for free. I look forward to ICAO stamping South Africa free and fair to fly, then having a couple of free margaritas courtesy of South African Civil Aviation Authority Director, Poppy Khoza before jetting back to ICAO-land satisfied with our systems.
If not, it could mean more than a slap on the wrist. Out of interest, the last time the USA had a safety audit was in 2008, which seems a bit odd as its one of the busiest zones in the world.
As you can see from the audit results, while South Africa lags the USA in planning specifically with regard to accidents, we’re not that far off the world’s empire state. Long may we remain of high standards as you and I clamber aboard our trusty composite steeds and are whisked hither and thither.
Malaysian Airlines has become the first operator to monitor all its planes using satellites which will track aircraft in real time – this after its MH370 flight with 239 souls on board disappeared in 2014 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The mystery of the flight continues to fascinate and horrify aviators with so many of the basic questions unanswered. Who took control of the flight? Why? Where did the plane disappear? What happened to the passengers and crew? How did an entire airliner vanish?
After some criticism about the manner of the search, Malaysian Airlines has now agreed to sign up for the live monitoring of its planes in a new system which exploits satellite and GPS technology. This is a long overdue decision and the Malaysians must be congratulated in being the first to move its monitoring to a real-time approach.
There is also good news when it comes to the search itself. We may be a little closer to the answers after the Australian Transport Board published its latest report into the search on Friday 21st April. From the report:
The only thing that our recent work changes is our confidence in the accuracy of the estimated location, which is within the new search area identified and recommended by the First Principles Review (ATSB2016), and most likely at the southern end of that, near 35°S.
While at first glance this appears to merely confirm previous analysis, there’re quite a few interesting items in the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation )Oceans and Atmosphere report which was handed to authorities on the 13th April and released publicly today. Earlier attempts at computer generated modelling were linked to the manner in which buoys floated in the ocean, and not how a flaperon would react to currents and winds. This report has painstakingly pulled this specific data into a model which scientists at the CSIRO and ATB believe has allowed for a much more accurate rendering of the location of the fuselage.
That’s because the Flaperon reacts like a sail in wind, and more so because part of the same wing structure would also glide through the water like a boat. Combine these two aspects and it makes for very interesting data. The tests found that the Flaperon would move 20° left of the wind at an average of 10cm/s and would account for the Flaperon’s arrival time of the flaperon at La Reunion in July 2015. So the report states:
The value of this revised estimate of the flaperon’s drift parameters is that it increases our confidence in the accuracy of the drift model. The earlier simulations of the flaperon trajectory were only consistent with the arrival of the flaperon at La Reunion if a chance encounter with an ocean eddy took the flaperon south. That was plausible but not particularly likely.
While the scientists warn that that doesn’t automatically mean that the debris would DEFINITELY arrive at La Reunion, they’re now confident about the site of the crash itself. It’s still a vast area 25000km/squared. Importantly, they also now know precisely where the plane WOULDN’T be based on the same modelling. It’s a bit like the ancient Arab mathematicians discovering that 0 is very important. Nothing is as important as something sometimes.
“Nothing” was what my airspeed indicator read half way along a ground roll at Lanseria last week which was a real surprise. After all the checks (double checks in my case because I’m extra cautious), power run up and physical inspection, I still had a frozen pitot tube problem on ground roll. One moment power is 2500 RPM and airspeed is coming up nicely, past 23-30knots then suddenly – ZERO!
The SR20 had accelerated quickly at first and felt good but my airspeed indicator then read “——” indicating I had stopped when it was clear we were approaching V1 speed along Runway 07 at Lanseria.
The years of training kicked in, power back, brakes on, off at Alpha 1 and report to ATC that my flight was aborted due to technical problems. He asked as per the book if I needed assistance and I said no, trouble with airspeed and returned to the hangar.
After shutting down I looked into the tube but saw nothing. An instructor Michelle Roe arrived and turned on the pitot tube heat. After five minutes steam began to blow out of the tube and it was as right as rain but I had missed the window for my flight.
While the end of this story is positive, I sat there thinking about the Air France Flight 447 in 2009 that crashed because its pitot tube that was frozen, leading the pilots to take the instrument reading as correct when the real story was the plane was falling in a flat stall straight down into the Atlantic. In my case it was daylight and I knew immediately what the problem was because after seeing the computer flight display indicate zero on speed, I looked at the backup analogue old fashioned airspeed indicator which also read zero. At that point I knew that the pitot tube was blocked. But had it been at night and at 5000 AGL there would have been problems.
If it had been at night, the only solution here would be at first try the pitot tube heat while changing to autopilot, then if the airspeed failed to reappear, to pull the CAPs lever or Cirrus parachute system. The water in the pitot tube had actually frozen on a sunny day while on the ground and accelerating – I could only imagine how difficult it was for the Air France pilots. In my case the temperature at the time was 12˙C and the dew fall had been extremely heavy in the morning. The water was dripping off the plane as I did the checks and I noted at the time (see the picture above!) that the pitot tube cover had not been used on the Cirrus overnight, even though it was parked outdoors.
Usually the thing that concerns me most is the worry that an insect had crawled into the tube. But a visual inspection indicated the tube was not blocked by a wasp or similar. I just didn’t see how much water had flowed into the tube, and during the ground roll more water must have entered the tube leading to the block.
The design of the pitot tube goes back a hundred years or more with the basic principle a comparison of air pressure inside a controlled machine vs the changing air pressure outside. That produced a number of things, airspeed, rate of climb or descent, and altitude. So had I decided to ignore the zero reading on the pitot tube and taken off, my flight would have probably entailed a violent altercation with the granite cloud.
Instead because we’re trained properly, CCT was flying an hour later quite safely.
Gone are the days. When aviation was the stuff of class and happiness, where handsome lads and equally handsome lasses leapt into machines of loving grace and invited others to join. Now we have Chicago police goons knocking out 69 year-old passengers to remove them after an airline booking error. This latest insult to pax global is not just a miasmic foolhardy disaster for United Airlines, its symbolic. We are squeezed more and more tightly into the machines that are now indispensable to modern life because we have become dependent on being whisked from A to B ASAP.
So its a dependency that leads to shareholder value and profits while negative moments occur where citizens interact with airline trolls in the form of rank and file staff suffering from delusions of grandeur. Previously the worse case scenario would be some ground crew lackey perusing a list of passengers along with a manager would pick out those likely to be least likely to sue after discovering the flight was overbooked. Then when you present your ticket for final boarding, you were told “Sorry your seat is double booked. For $800 and a free hotel stay would you mind stepping aside for this nice captain to make his way to St Louis (this being Chicago) so that he can fly another plane from there with 80 passengers.”
By the way, you can still say no. It’s up to the airline to find someone who is motivated by the cash. Legally at that point airlines can force you off, but if your disabled daughter is waiting at home and in danger that can be a very stupid thing for an airline lackey to do.
That’s before you step aboard. After you step aboard, any attempt by the airline to remove you unless you’re drunk or refusing to listen when you’re told to stop smoking or reading your Kindle is tantamount to abuse, crass stupidity and in Mr David Dao’s case, apparent assault with a deadly weapon, intimidation, libel, defamation and wanton brand suicide.
He’s 69 years old for goodness sake!
United is in deep doodoo for having a medical doctor who’s Asian of origin summarily knocked unconscious and then dragged backwards off the airliner. Like that poor pilot in Black Hawk Down, dragged by his feet through the streets of Mogadishu and the outpouring on social media has been no less ferocious. The public doesn’t like this sort of thing. We don’t like it United because it’s the action of an unaccountable dictator.
No two ways about this. Dr Dao, whatever his previous life, is going to take the airliner for a lot of money. And quite rightly. Maybe he’ll retire to a large mansion near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago monstrosity in Florida. But what about the aviation experience? It’s now the equivalent of torture for many as they are hustled through security like sardines, prodded and shoved about by aggressive bandits of airport security while they smirk.
Add to this odious practice it appears the service aboard many flights is no more. You’re thrown a bag of crisps and if you’re lucky, a bottle of warm water by a frowning/sneering philistine dressed in blue polyester and matching eyelashes.
The coast is clear for the return of the Graf Zeppelin or similar. Put me on a floating dirigible for two days from South Africa to the US as we glide across the ocean with butlers serving crisp lettuce, smoked salmon and the onboard theatre alive with options while the viewing room allows one time to take in the stars surrounded by tightly dressed beautiful people of the globe romancing and discoursing.
This bout of flying apocalypse has to be stopped. We are not chattel bottled up in the fuselage and thrown off at the destination like capitalist slaves. No, we’re the folks who pay commercial aviation shareholders their profits and I guess its time to remind those who own airlines that there’s a limit to abuse.
Seriously folks, United has three immediate problems.
Evidence A : The damages they’re going to pay Dr Dao
Evidence B: Brand damage by being the butt of constant references on memes, jifs and live social Snapchat bad PR.
Evidence C: The PR bit has already led to $1 billion wiped off their share value all because a couple of black-shirted overtrained cretins.
Big trouble in Chicago, bigger trouble on Wall Street, major issue in court despite United’s CEO grovelling. Oscar Munoz initially said staff acted in accordance with airline policy which is a bit like saying United’s next policy is enforced food poisoning. Now Munoz has changed his tune calling it “a horrific mistake” and says policies on the removal of passengers are being reviewed. Would he have said its horrific if his company hadn’t lost $1 billion in value? Perhaps not. I think something along the lines of “I am resigning” or “I have fired x” is now an urgent statement we should hear from Meneer Munoz.
In addition, if United is smart they’ll immediately offer Dr Dao money, free rides for life and whatever else he demands. If they’re dumb, they’ll obsess about the fact that he previously was suspended as a doctor, has a narcotics charge, and plays poker and decide to go the legal route against said doctor.
Social Media will take down this management team if its not careful while Dr Dao’s poker playing prowess should really scare them too.
Some airlines saw their shares rise over 5% on Tuesday 14th March 2017 as the oil price shuddered and went into a flat spin. Well, sort of. More of a steep semi-controlled descent. Unless you’re flogging the stuff, a side-slipping oil price is my preferred news aerobatic manoeuvre considering everything we consume is directly linked to the price of petroleum. In India some airlines found their share prices rising by over 5.5%, including SpiceJet, while in South Africa Comair, which owns Kulula, rose a dignified 2+%. The big story in oil is the Saudis.
After running about during an OPEC meeting in January and boasting about cutting production, they did, then again, they didn’t. Or did, but then changed their minds. We see that not only have they failed to follow up on production cut promises, they’re almost Trumpian in their duplicitous factoid release overnight. Riyadh told their pals at OPEC that it had in fact RAISED its output above the ten million barrels a day it promised it would pump. That started happening in February and reverses by 30% the cuts they’d made for a couple of weeks. No honour amongst… er .. on second thoughts.
Combine that with the increasing inventories in the US and suddenly the oil barons are beginning to look a little slippery, a little sweaty. How we like it, no? Cold-sweaty oil barons. Yes please.
Combine that too with Iraq promising to accelerate production and Iran the loose OPEC canon on the sidelines, and who knows? JetA1 back to R5 a litre? It’s global warming time and the US is about to head into summer when oil traditionally takes a small price slap downwards as the energy hungry Americans stop pouring it into their large barrels in order to heat up buildings in -15˙ weather.
Comair executives must be smiling, unless they’ve hedged on the oil price heading north then there’s going to be hidden pain in its next financial report. I’m also smiling, the cost of buying litres of fuel in order to fly the Cirrus goes down, although Avgas is still pretty expensive.
Enough of this blathering on about oil, this is an aviation blog. So let me tell you about a flight a day after a Cyclone hit Madagascar. I’ll adopt a slight pirate gaaaaaaahhhhhrrhrhr accent for this one, for it involves lashings of rain, hammerings of wind and flingings of turbulence. (Is that a phrase or something we can agree makes sense?). It was Wednesday 8th March and I was sitting on the apron at OR Tambo in Johannesburg waiting for the pilot to provide us with information about the flight 8252 to Antananarivo which locals call “Tana” and we will too. Then we were told that Madagascan airspace was closed owing to Cyclone Enowa and I was quite pleased to trudge back through passport control and home.
Back on Thursday 9th March, same time, same flight, and we were off.
But the effect of the cyclone was everywhere, including over the Mozambique Channel where we flew into thunderstorms 49 000 feet high and were truly phenomenal to observe. Note the picture at the head of this blog, with our pilot, a certain Captain Bezuidenhout if memory serves, plotting a course zig-zagging through the monsters.
We were bouncing around like the ping pong balls inside a Lottery drum before we spent 20 minutes or so descending to Antananarivo in thick cloud and rain. It made me realise just had truly insignificant we are looking up at the cumulonimbus top on the way which was roughly 17 000 feet higher than the Avro EV175 can fly.
Just to put things into perspective, the towering cumulonimbus was roughly the height of the entire Kilimanjaro ABOVE us. What little mammals we are.
When Uber appeared as if by magic less than a decade ago and rapidly emerged into the consciousness of world travellers, the establishment blanched. Here was an upstart with an app but very little else which within 5 years and with hardly ounce of capex somehow eclipsed Avis and Hertz in value. And Budget. The app economy has driven some changes since, Lyft, Airbnb and a plethora of algorithms all bustling in our hedgerows promising a beautiful future without the middle man and woman.
Another has crept into the daylight in the aviation industry. This one involves the tiny island of Guernsey off the English coast. Wings aviation which operates half-a-dozen planes and now plans to offer sales of tickets through a simple mobile application. Well about time I heard you shout as you reached for your trusty iPhone et al.
The big idea with Waves is that the amount your pay for your seat depends on demand. Surge pricing has been one of the criticisms of Uber. Journey’s that cost around $50 suddenly cost $500 based on demand. This is how the establishment protected you and I from sudden engorged greed, but it’s not something that Uber and Lyft really subscribe to. Wouldn’t you allow your prices to rocket if you could and there was little competition?
Waves is working with entrepreneur Nick Magliocchetti and plans to use a 14-seater Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX aircraft secured on lease to launch the service. The company is bending over backwards, sideways and inside out to argue its not actually competing with existing business.
Ahem. Is everyone fake-newsing or it just my cynical bone that says ja-nee, that’s bollocks? Its clearly competing because its going to try and fly a route which has an established company delivering people by air to and from the little island.
But I must tell you once more that if I had a zillion Ecuadorian shillings, I’d be thinking about launching an Uber-like service for fuel and planes in Nigeria. The only small problem for both Waves and me is the civil aviation authorities of various countries. Its all very well thumbing your nose at the San Francisco City authorities when you want driverless cars to hum around the neighbourhood, its a very different kettle of white sharks launching an Uber-like service in aviation.
There you actually do have to make sure that various rules are followed by pilots and folks who make sure the wings don’t fall off. Yet, there’s a possibility that some sort of app culture will kick off properly in general and commercial aviation. It’s not a new idea, Gotham Air launched in New York City in September 2016 offering an app and trips along the Hudson from point A to point Y for $219 where charter costs start at $1500. So there’s something there.
So time to shake off the entrepreneurial lethargy and fling ourselves at this app culture. There are a few things to take into consideration such as laws, regulations, costs, hedging on fuel, licenses, airport tax, laws, more laws. Other than that, sounds good.
According to the Aviation Safety Network (ASN), 2016 was the second safest year for international aviation after 2013 which is remarkable. There were 356 commercial aviation deaths – fewer than one a day, in spite of the much publicised accidents involving Egypt Air, a chartered Russian Airliner over Egypt, and the horrible Colombian crash which destroyed a nation’s favourite football club, Chapecoense.
But the numbers exclude the latest Tu-154 crash over the Black Sea as the ASN had concluded its 2016 data analysis. The numbers wouldn’t be so rosy, but its other trends that attracted my attention when looking at the crash data. As the ASN reminds us, “the stats are based on all worldwide fatal accidents involving civil aircraft with a minimum capacity of 14 passengers, as published in the ASN Safety Database” and closed its database analysis prior to Christmas. The worst disaster of 2016 happened on Christmas day. But more later.
The second worst accident of the year took place on November 28th a LaMia Bolivia Avro RJ85 crashed near Medellin in Colombia as a result of fuel exhaustion, killing 71. It was an incident that shocked the aviation world (and soccer world), particularly after it transpired that the captain had purposefully flown his aircraft well into what is known as the reserve fuel component and thus doomed himself and the passengers.
The ASN reports worldwide air traffic of about 35,000,000 flights in 2016 which means the accident rate is one fatal passenger flight per 3.2 million flights. To put that into perspective take a look at commercial road transport stats. In the USA for example, the number of deaths per 10 000 vehicles is 1.3 individuals. That’s roughly 12 per 100 000, or 120 per million. Extrapolating further this means there are around 360 deaths per 3 million trips in the USA alone. The WHO reports that in Africa the number of car related deaths tops 26.6 per 10 000 which is a mind-boggling 2660 per 3 million.
Still there were 19 fatal incidents which killed 325 up to mid December, a significant number but still putting 2016 in the list of safest years. We should also understand the trends and the graph shows a rapidly improving scenario. The five-year-average shows a steep decline in accidents occurring during the approach and landing phases of flight or the most dangerous part of the flight. The five year average, according to ASN, is now the lowest point in 45 years. There’s an unfortunate correlation here to the cruise and descent phase which shows an accident rate increasing 50% in the past five years.
Why? What is causing more incidents in the cruise and descent phase in the approach and landing phases? While the ASN has not attempted an analysis, perhaps we should take a look at this trend and discuss. There’s certainly enough data to use if you consider the ASN’s google doc upload here. Let’s consider the more catastrophic.
Nepal – Viking Air DHC-6 Twin Otter 400 operated by Dana Air crashes into terrain killing all 23 on board on 24th February. Pilot error was cited and what’s known as a CFIT or controlled flight into terrain occurred.
Russia – Boeing 737-8KN (WL) operated by FlyDubai crashes on its second approach at Rostov-On-Don Airport killing all 62 on board on 16th March. The cause is still being debated but bad weather and poor handling compounded an already difficult situation.
Egypt – Airbus A320-232 operated by EgyptAir crashes in the Mediterranean 200 km north of the Egyptian coast line on 19th May, killing all 66 on board. Cause under investigation but appears to show a fire or act of terror.
Russia – Ilyushin 76TD operated by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations was destroyed when it impacted wooded terrain near the village of of Rybnyi Uyan in the Kachug Region. The accident on July 1st killed all 10 on board and is another example of CFIT.
Colombia – Avro RJ.85 operated by LaMia Airlines hit a wooded hillside south of Rionegro/Medellín Airport. The aircraft carried the Brazilian Chapecoense football team for a match to Medellin – six of the 77 occupants survived the accident. The November crash was clearly pilot error and has harmed diplomatic relations between Brazil and Bolivia.
Pakistan – ATR 42-500 operated by Pakistan International Airlines was destroyed after impacting a hillside near Havelian, killing all 47 aboard on December 7th. Engine failure led to the aircraft crashing, with many questions about overloading and other possible causes.
There were 13 other fatal crashes that killed at least one person but fewer than 10 in total, and two of the airlines were on the EU blacklist.
Analysts are pouring over the data to understand why the cruise and descent phase has shown figures that are the worst in 50 years. It’s noticeable that the list of planes involved were varied, so too their ages. It’s simplistic to blame accidents on older aircraft and is just plain wrong in this case, however there is a growing list of pilot shortages in the world and most are now complaining about overwork. Tiredness played a part in the Rostov-on-Don incident according to initial reports, and one of the airlines named by reports was FlyDubai. I had the distinction of flying aboard a FlyDubai aircraft between Alexandria in Egypt and Dubai and was a little nervous after reading about some of the hiring procedures of said airline. Included was something called the “pay-to-fly” (P2F) syndrome where First Officers actually pay to sit in the second seat in order to build up hours. For an initial list of airlines using this system, head on to the Professional Pilots Rumour Network or pprune.org.
There’s now an outright call to ban this form of abuse of aviators. Ghent University in Belgium found shocking examples of this in its report published in March 2015.
More than 1 pilot out of 6, among the surveyed, is under ‘atypical’ employment conditions; i.e. working through a temporary work agency, as self-employed, or on a zero-hour contract with no minimum pay guaranteed – Ghent University Report
This has led to young and inexperienced pilots paying to be the second pilot in a plane carrying hundreds of passengers in order to build flying hours. Dangerous and as the Ghent Study found, exceedingly short-sighted.
The number of flights being managed by ATC are increasing based on world economic development. If you consider the location of these major accidents, they’re all in the third world or emerging marketplace world. Russia remains one of the biggest offenders but that’s partly due to that countries mixed recent history and pure size. However if we were to analyse Moscow’s recent aviation record dispassionately we’d find an unfortunate number of incidents occurring in their airspace.
If you think that’s a bit harsh, we have not included the last accident on Christmas morning which took place over the Black Sea near Sochi. This one has serious overtones as it was another military-linked aircraft that was involved.
A Tupolev 154B-2 operated by the Russian Air Force crashed shortly after takeoff from Sochi Airport. The aircraft carried reporters and the Alexandrov Ensemble or the official army choir of the Russian armed forces and was refuelling en route to a highly strategic Russian air base in Syria. Ninety-Two people on board all perished in what was 2016’s worst air disaster, eclipsing the Colombian catastrophe. If we added the 92 to the total killed in 2015, 2016 would still register as safer.
Thus ended a 2016 in which aviation recorded many gains but some serious questions remain about what’s leading to an increase in cruise and descent incidents. Recently I spoke to pilot from a major airline in Africa who told me a hair-raising story about climbing from a Southern African country airport to cruise level. On the way a cargo flight operated by a captain who, lets say, was inspired by cowboy antics, decided unilaterally to descend to the same flight level without clearance.
Only the First Officer’s quick thinking and persistence finally led the Captain initiating avoiding action and the 120-odd people on board were saved. But that was in cruise and the situation was caused by pilot error. Or should we say, pilot maleficence.
Safe cruising and descending people! And happy 2017.