Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Supersonic biz jet in development

New York to Los Angeles in two hours? That's what they say.

We learn from the Aero-News Network that a supersonic business jet is in development:
Lockheed's "Skunk Works" has a knack... a knack for speed. Knowing this, Supersonic Aerospace International (SAI), a Nevada aviation consortium, has commissioned Lockheed to design a 12-pax, 130-ft-long, 1200 mph (that's Mach 1.8) speed demon that could make New York to LA in two hours.

Calling it the QSST, for quiet supersonic travel, SAI says it could be ready by 2013. The "quiet" in the name comes from design changes that SAI says will all but eliminate the sonic boom associated with supersonic flight.

Lockheed Skunk Works' Vice President Frank Cappuccio says the QSST incorporates "aerodynamic shaping" and "a patented inverted V-tail." These design innovations, and a little "Skunk Works" magic, should make the QSST's sonic boom less than a hundredth of what once was heard from the world's only other supersonic commercial aircraft, the Concorde.
Since the retirement of the Concorde, there has been no supersonic passenger travel anywhere in the world. The intention is to put the QSST to work where the Concorde left off.
One aviation analyst thinks available engines and noise are the biggest obstacles to supersonic business jet development. Bill Dane at Forecast International says companies don't want to invest in an aircraft only to face operational restrictions caused by noise. (Since you asked, SAI estimates its investment in the QSST will reach $2.5 billion - that's not chump change!) But the marketing team at SAI believes they've answered those issues with their proprietary QSST technology.
Companies in several other countries are pursuing the idea of a supersonic business jet as well.

Source: Lockheed To Help Develop Supersonic Bizjet -

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Comair Flight 5191 aftermath

The tragic accident that happened on Sunday, August 27, in Lexington took the lives of 49 souls on board Comair Flight 5191. Our hearts go out to the families and colleagues of all who were aboard that flight, and we extend our sympathy to the entire Comair family.

We send well wishes to F/O James Polehinke, the lone survivor of Comair Flight 5191, and hope that he will recover fully from his injuries.

Like most people in the country -- and especially those in the aviation community -- we were glued to the television most of the day on Sunday, and also spent quite a bit of time visiting various aviation message boards trying to learn who was aboard the flight, and what might have happened to cause the accident.

By now it seems clear that the aircraft did indeed attempt to take off from the wrong runway. What is less clear, so far, is what chain of events combined to result in the ultimate error. It is tempting to speculate, but we will refrain from doing that. We hope that the NTSB will be able to piece together all of the varied bits of evidence that they collect to determine the reasons for the accident.

The NTSB findings for this accident, and for all others, will not be able to undo the damage, nor restore the lives that were lost. The best that can be hoped for is that a better understanding will emerge that may lead to changes in procedures -- on the flight deck, at airports, at ATC towers -- that will serve to prevent similar accidents in the future.

A blog post written by Ralph Hood, a columnist for Airport Business, recounts several prior accidents that resulted in new safety procedures or regulations. He says:
Accident investigation is something we do well in this country. The truth will out, changes will be made, and airline travel -- already the safest means of transportation in the history of the world -- will become even safer.
That may be true, but it is little comfort to the families and colleagues of those who perished in the aircraft accidents that demonstrated the need for changes.

We cannot count how many times we have heard pilots say that "the FARs are written in pilots' blood." Yes. And in the blood of cabin crew and passengers as well.

Source: Black Sunday - Airport Business

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

FAA hiring nearly 12,000 new air traffic controllers

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to hire more than 11,800 new air traffic controllers over the next 10 years.

In a press release issued today, the FAA said it had revised its earlier Air Traffic Controller Workforce Plan "to address anticipated retirement and replacement of air traffic controllers over the coming decade."

The agency says that the revised plan "is based on updated traffic forecasts, experience with productivity increases and actual retirements and improved mathematical models."

Here are some details:
As part of the revised plan, the FAA will hire 930 controllers by the end of this fiscal year. The President has requested funding as part of his 2007 budget request to allow the agency to hire more than 1,130 additional controllers in fiscal year 2007. The plan notes that hiring more than 2,000 controllers over the next two years will allow the agency to replace departing controllers and increase the size of its workforce by more than 200 controllers.

The plan also addresses the broader need to hire more than 11,800 controllers over the next 10 years based on the latest attrition and traffic growth modeling done by the agency. It outlines how the agency will bring on these new controllers using a schedule designed to provide adequate training lead-time and to address changing air traffic demands over the coming decade.

The agency noted that it has begun hiring and training new controllers, having already hired more than 700 candidates this year. The current pool of controller candidates from various hiring sources exceeds 3,700, which is sufficient to meet staffing needs for the next several years.
The FAA says it also has plans to improve the training of air traffic controllers, including the use of high-fidelity tower simulators, and other new training facilities.

Source: FAA Air Traffic Controller Workforce Plan Targets Hiring of Nearly 12,000 New Controllers Over Next 10 Years - FAA News

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Aviation ground crew safety issues

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Air Transport Association (ATA) are co-sponsoring a symposium about ground crew safety issues. The symposium, which will take place in Orlando on September 6-7, has the catchy title, "From Bolts to Bags - Managing the Human Factors to Ensure Continuing Safety!" You can have a look at the symposium's agenda here on the ATA website.

Rampers and mechanics tell us that they often feel like the ugly step-children of aviation. It is safe to say that when most people think of aviation workers, pilots and flight attendants usually come to mind first. The less-glamorous yet essential role of ground workers in keeping planes flying and ensuring that people and goods get to where they are supposed to go is overlooked too often. So, it's good to know that, for a few days, the FAA and the ATA will be putting the focus on issues specifically related to the safety and well-being of these workers.

An article in today's Washington Post cites some interesting figures about injuries to aviation ground workers:
While serious injuries and death occur, the most common injuries among ground workers result from heavy lifting, in many cases causing severe back strain. According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4.53 injuries and fatalities per 100 airport ground workers in 2004, the latest year for which data are available. By comparison, coal miners had a rate of 6.58 injuries and fatalities per 100 workers; in construction, the rate was 5.77.

So far this year, four ground workers have been killed or seriously injured, according to data collected by The Washington Post. In one incident, a mechanic died in January when he was sucked into the engine of a Continental Airlines aircraft at El Paso International Airport. A month later, a baggage handler for Comair, a Delta Air Lines regional carrier, was killed when he was struck by a baggage cart at the Detroit airport. Three serious or deadly accidents occurred in 2005 and two in 2004.
The article goes on to quote officials from the FAA and several airlines about their concern for worker safety, but also points out that no one agency is responsible for overseeing safety issues in aviation, a fact that sometimes results in virtually no oversight at all.
Workers complain that oversight tends to shift among agencies. After an accident occurs, the government agency that leads the investigation varies depending on the type of incident. Further, no one entity -- not the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the airline association or unions -- keeps comprehensive records of injuries and fatalities among ground workers. The involvement of multiple agencies hinders record-keeping and can keep some cases from getting the attention they need, industry experts say.

Paul Kempinski, director of ground safety for the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers District 141, said unions have urged government agencies to more rigorously monitor ground operations. OSHA "only comes out when something happens," said Kempinski, who represents baggage handlers at United and Aloha airlines and US Airways. "Something needs to be done sooner. Someone needs to be in charge of oversight."
We agree with Mr. Kempinski.

18th FAA/ATA International Symposium - Human Factors: Maintenance and Ramp Safety - Air Transport Association
Closer Eye to the Ground - Washington Post*

* registration (free) may be required before you can read this article.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Calls for broader passenger ID checks

We know that one air travel security measure entails checking passengers' names against a terrorist watch list. Now, according to an Agence France Presse article published on this morning, officials in the U. S. and Europe are seeking to "run more extensive checks on airline passengers, including credit card information, e-mail addresses and hotel reservations."
Access is sought to a database known as the Passenger Name Record, which is created by global travel reservation services and lists the names of travelers, details on cars or hotels, credit card information, contact information for the passengers and their relatives and even intimate details such as what type of bed they prefer.

US officials, under a 2004 agreement with Europe, already have access to this database -- which is off limits to European officials, but the agreement runs out on September 30 and US and European officials expect to renew it.


A spokesman for the vice president of the European Commission Franco Frattini said the commissioner plans to propose that European governments also have access to the Passenger Name Record database.
Source: US, Europe want more comprehensive ID checks on airline passengers -

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

IATA: Governments should pay for extra security

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that governments, not airport operators, should bear the cost of the extra security that has been required since the British foiled a plot to blow up airliners.

From Reuters, via
In an interview published in France's Le Monde newspaper, IATA's chief executive Giovanni Bisignani said British airport operator BAA had not been well enough prepared to deal with the consequences and more international cooperation was needed to tackle the threat of terrorism.

Bisignani said airlines faced combined extra security costs of USD$5.6 billion a year since September 11, 2001 and governments had to shoulder part of the responsibility.

Asked if governments should pay for the extra costs arising from strengthened security imposed this month, the industry group's chief replied: "Absolutely."

He continued: "Most of the security problems with which we are confronted are not directly linked to air traffic. National security comes under the responsibility of governments. They should therefore assume the responsibility for the bill."

He said there was no reason why stations and stadiums should benefit from state subsidies but not airports or airlines.

Bisignani said recent experience showed BAA needed to be better prepared.

"BAA's efforts to protect itself against such a crisis were insufficient. They were not prepared for the extra work related to security being reinforced to such a level."
Bisignani also called for more international cooperation, saying, "International cooperation was the key to last week's success. We need more of it. We need more harmonization at the international level. Terrorism is not going to disappear and the threats posed are going to change."

Source: Governments Should Pay For Extra Security - IATA -

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

U.S. resistance to Virgin America

A Reuters article says that start-up carrier Virgin America is causing "turbulence" in the U.S. airline industry, even before getting its license to operate.

The article, published on, says:
Incumbent carriers, led by Continental Airlines, have lobbied hard to keep Virgin America from getting off the ground.

Those efforts, which have slowed Virgin America's efforts to gain US government approval to start flying, show how intense competition is in the US airline industry and how fragile its recent recovery may be.

"For the first time in six years roughly, the airlines are starting to experience some profitability, and the last thing that the domestic carriers want to see is new competition," said Dan Petree, dean of the college of business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Virgin America has until Wednesday to respond to industry objections to its application for an airline license, which was initially filed last December. The US Department of Transportation then has up to 180 days to make a decision on whether to allow the airline to operate.

Continental and others have attacked Virgin America's links to British-based Virgin Group, which holds a 25 percent stake in the company, lends the airline its brand and has promised to provide financing.

The airlines say that Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which has stakes in airlines in Europe, Australia, and Nigeria, effectively controls the US airline in violation of US law, which restricts foreign control of domestic airlines.

"We have absolutely no opposition to start-up discount airlines," said Continental spokesman Dave Messing. "Our only concern is that, since we abide by US laws, our competitors also abide by US laws."
Virgin America, which says it is controlled by U.S. citizens and conforms to U.S. law, says rival airlines are trying to limit competition by brining up the foreign control argument.

Read the whole article here: Virgin America Causing US Airline Turbulence -

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Beirut airport reopens

A commercial passenger flight landed at Beirut airport today for the first time since the airport was closed late last month after being damaged by Israeli airstrikes.

A Reuters news article posted on said:
An airliner belonging to Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's flag carrier, landed at 1:10 p.m. (1010 GMT) from Jordan's capital Amman. A Royal Jordanian flight was due to follow.

Scheduled flights were expected to resume next week.

British Airways franchise partner BMED was sending a plane carrying humanitarian aid to Beirut in the afternoon. The airline said it hoped to resume services early next week, initially offering four flights a week to London.
A related Associated Press article on reported that:
MEA Chairman Mohammed Hout said the blockade had been partially lifted to allow flights between Amman and Beirut. Airport officials said full commercial traffic could resume next week.
No telling how long it will be until commercial air traffic into and out of Beirut is fully normalized, however this is a hopeful beginning.

First Flight Lands As Beirut Airport Reopens -
Lebanese Troops Deploy; Airport Reopens -

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Boeing abandons in-flight Internet service

A little over a month ago there were reports that United Airlines had begun to install in-flight wireless broadband service in the Boeing 757 aircraft in its fleet. At that time, United said that it was "evaluating several systems" for offering broadband service domestically over an air-to ground link, and internationally through a satellite link.

Looks like Connexion by Boeing definintely will not be in the running for United's on-board WiFi.

An AFP news service article published today on and elsewhere says that Boeing is abandoning its Connexion unit after it failed to win enough support from airlines.
"Over the last six years, we have invested substantial time, resources and technology in Connexion by Boeing," Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said in a statement.

"Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialized as had been expected. We believe this decision best balances the long-term interests of all parties with a stake in Connexion by Boeing," he said.

Boeing said in June that it was reviewing the future of the service, which enabled passengers on Connexion-equipped flights to access the Internet over a satellite-based broadband connection.
Only 11 airlines had signed up for the service. Most of those were Asian carriers flying long-haul.

Source: Boeing abandons in-flight Internet service -

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Northwest adds insult to injury

It's not bad enough that some Northwest Airlines workers already have been told to hit the road, now the airline is insulting them further by offering them bizarre tips on how to cope with the loss of their jobs.

A Reuters article, published in the Houston Chronicle and elsewhere tells a story so unbelievable that it made us think we had passed through a momentary time warp: We had to look at our calendar to see if it was April Fool's day!
Bankrupt Northwest Airlines Corp. advised workers to fish in the trash for things they like or take their dates for a walk in the woods in a move to help workers facing the ax to save money.

The No. 5 U.S. carrier, which has slashed most employees' pay and is looking to cut jobs as it prepares to exit bankruptcy, put the tips in a booklet handed out to about 50 workers and posted for a time on its employee Web site.

The section, entitled "101 ways to save money," does not feature in new versions of the booklet or the Web site.

Northwest spokesman Roman Blahoski said some employees who received the handbook had taken issue with a couple of the items. "We agree that some of these suggestions and tips ... were a bit insensitive," Blahoski told Reuters.
A bit insensitive?? That has to be the understatement of the year in the field of labor relations! How about despicable, demeaning, and absolutely insulting!

We'd love to know just who came up with the ideas for these "tips."
The four-page booklet, "Preparing for a Financial Setback" contained suggestions such as shopping in thrift stores, taking "a date for a walk along the beach or in the woods" and not being "shy about pulling something you like out of the trash."

The booklet was part of a 150-page packet to ground workers, such as baggage handlers, whose jobs will likely be cut after their union agreed to allow the airline to outsource some of their work, Blahoski said.

Prepared with the help of an outside company, the booklet encourages employees to manage their money better and prepare for financial emergencies.

"If you have saved some money, pat yourself on the back -- you deserve it," the booklet reads. "Take out only what you need and spend prudently."
We find this to be so outrageous, that we really, really, really want to believe it is a spoof. If it is a spoof, it's a mean-spirited one.

If it's true, this is a shameful new low in labor-management relations. Northwest employees deserve much better than this kind of condescending paternalism posing as concern.

Source: Employer advises Dumpster-diving for axed workers - Houston Chronicle

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ILS outage at LAX -- again!

Last week there was an ILS outage at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The Associated Press reported this:
Monday's malfunctioning equipment, called a localizer, acts as a beacon to guide arriving planes onto runways. It is most crucial when it is foggy or hazy. It was foggy at the airport on Monday.

The problem was compounded because one of the airport's four runways was closed for a major construction project. To compensate, one of the departure runways was handling both departures and arrivals -- and it was that shared runway that had the problem.

The localizer failed shortly before 9 a.m. PDT, and reduced the number of landings -- usually about one a minute -- to 32 an hour, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Airport authorities responded by reversing the direction of the runways so that the faulty equipment was no longer needed, bringing the number of landings back to a normal level.

Flights were forced to circle the airport, and some planes were ordered to remain on the ground at other airports, officials said. Arriving flights were held up to 90 minutes. Departures were also delayed, and several flights were canceled.

Technicians were able to repair the system shortly after noon PDT. Officials were investigating the cause of the equipment's failure.
Now there has been another, similar outage. According to the Aero-News Network:
For the second time in a week, one of the instrument landing systems at LAX went on the fritz... reducing to about half the rate of landing operations at the airport.

As was the case last week, the problem is the localizer on runway 25-Right. A spokesman for the FAA says the ILS went down at about 10 am Pacific time Monday morning, and was back on the air within 45-minutes.

Arrivals were delayed up to 45-minutes and flights within an hours' radius were held on the ground for about a half-hour.

The situation was somewhat mitigated by the weather. Unlike the first time this happened, back on August 7, the weather Monday was clear, with good visibility... allowing pilots to make visual approaches to the runway.

And, it appears, the sole technician in Los Angeles capable of repairing the ILS was somewhat closer to the airport than was the case last week... when just getting to the troubled equipment took more than two hours.
Is it me, or do these incidents just not inspire confidence?

An aviation consultant quoted by the Associated Press article said, "The FAA's complete instrument system, as we know, is somewhat accident prone. We need to do more what-if thinking."

LAX Malfunctions Raise Safety Questions - AP via
Another ILS Outage At LAX - Aero-News Network

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Official terrorism threat levels reduced

Officials in both the U.S. and Britain have lowered the official terrorism threat level in their respective countries.

In a press release issued yesterday, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) made this announcement:
Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an adjustment in the aviation threat level from RED to ORANGE for flights from the United Kingdom to the United States. There will not be any operational changes for domestic flights in the United States. Thus, the U.S. threat level remains at ORANGE, or "High," for all domestic and international flights. The ban on liquids and gels in carry on baggage remains in full effect.

Tonight, the U.K.'s terrorism threat level was changed from CRITICAL (an attack is expected imminently), to SEVERE (an attack is highly likely).

"The security measures already taken have allowed us to address an imminent threat of attack for flights between the United Kingdom and the United States. Let me be clear: this does not mean the threat is over. The investigation continues to follow all leads. In particular, we are remaining vigilant for any signs of planning within the U.S. or directed at Americans," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "We are maintaining a heightened level of security for United Kingdom flights bound for the United States and have put in place added measures for these flights even beyond the normal ORANGE procedures. The U.S. and the U.K. are now essentially at parallel security levels in aviation. Additionally, we are maintaining our heightened level of security for all flights both domestically and internationally."

While the threat level drops from RED to ORANGE on United Kingdom flights bound to the United States, passengers can expect enhanced measures to remain in place for these flights, including additional restrictions on hand luggage and gate check inspections.

Domestically, U.S. travelers should expect to see an increase in visibility and use of canine detection teams. Random inspections of bags at departure gates will continue. Earlier today, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced slight modifications to its current security procedures, which can be viewed at

DHS will continue to evaluate these security measures and will further adjust as necessary to ensure the aviation system remains secure. Travelers are urged to remain alert and vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities.
In a related move, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tweaked its policy about what can and cannot be taken aboard an aircraft by passengers:
  • Small doses of liquid medications permitted
  • Shoes removal required
  • Low blood sugar treatments including glucose gel for diabetics permitted
  • Clarifications include: aerosols prohibited, solid lipstick and baby food permitted
From the official TSA press release:
"I'd like to thank the American public for their patience and cooperation in observing the liquid, gel and aerosol ban," said Kip Hawley, TSA Assistant Secretary. "The refinements we are announcing are based on feedback from our security officers, the public and our partners. We are maintaining the same level of security while clarifying interpretations in the field. These tweaks are aimed at making a smoother process at the checkpoint."

The most significant changes to the security measures include mandatory shoe screening for all travelers and the admission of up to 4 oz. of non-prescription medicine. This refinement affords the same level of security that has been in place since last Thursday, but is intended to minimize the impact on travelers.

Travelers will continue to see an increase in visibility and use of canine detection teams. Random gate inspections and bag searches will continue. More information and further clarification on the ban will be offered via updated airport signs and in "Our Travelers " section.

TSA first implemented the ban on all liquids, gels and lotions as a precautionary measure, following the overseas arrests of a number of extremists engaged in a plot to destroy multiple passenger aircraft flying from the United Kingdom to the United States.

The nation'’s threat level remains at Severe, or Red, for commercial flights originating in the United Kingdom bound for the United States. All other flights operating in or destined for the U.S. remain at High, or Orange.
Concurrently, we learned from an Associated Press article on the news website that Britain had lowered its official terrorist threat level a notch as well, from "critical" to "severe."
The decision to drop the terror threat level to severe -- where it was at before the jetliner scheme was scuppered -- means passengers will be allowed a single, briefcase-sized bag aboard aircraft, and books, laptop computers and digital music players will also be permitted again.

Heathrow and other major London airports said they would not be able to implement all of the relaxed rules until Tuesday, but the scene at London airports was clearly improving during a drizzly, overcast Monday.

The British Airports Association said it was searching only half of passengers at Heathrow, greatly speeding up the flow. British Airways, the dominant carrier at the airport, canceled about one-fifth of its flights Monday, down from one-in-three that were canceled the day before.
The Associated Press quoted British Home Secretary John Reid:
"I want to stress ... that the change in the threat level does not mean that the threat has gone away," he said at an early morning news conference. "There is still a very serious threat of an attack. The threat level is at severe, indicating the high likelihood of an attempted terrorist attack at some stage, and I urge the public to remain vigilant."
DHS Adjusts Threat Level from Red to Orange For In-Bound Flights from the UK - U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security
TSA Adjusts Latest Ban Without Compromising Security - U.S. Transportation Security Administration
Britain's Threat Level Drops to 'Severe' -

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

The liquid bomb threat

We have to agree with this statement:
The most frightening thing about the foiled plot to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic is that both the government and the aviation industry have been aware of the liquid bomb threat for years but have done little to prepare for it.
The above is the first paragraph of a New York Times opinion piece, republished today in the International Herald Tribune.

The article goes on to review what is known about the "liquid bombs" that reportedly were planned as weapons to bring down a number of airliners over the Atlantic.
The plot apparently called for the terrorists to carry explosive ingredients disguised as beverages, and detonators made from common electronic devices like cell phones or music players. One theory is that they planned to use chemicals that are innocuous when carried separately but could be combined into an explosive mixture on board.
The writer decries the fact that "the aviation security system is virtually defenseless against such an attack."
It is distressing that, after all the billions of dollars spent on bolstering aviation security, such gaping holes remain. Yet no matter what technologies are deployed, there is always a good chance that future terrorists will find a way to evade detection.

That makes us wonder if aviation authorities may have inadvertently hit on the wisest approach in their stopgap response to this latest plot. The Transportation Security Administration banned virtually all liquids and gels from carry-on luggage - everything but baby formula and medicines, and those have to be inspected.

Some passengers have complained about the inconvenience, and many more might complain if they were not allowed to keep their iPods, cell phones or laptops with them. But forcing passengers to check most of their items and bring very little aboard with them might be the surest and cheapest route to greater security.
Unfortunately this is not the end of this story.

Source: The liquid bomb threat - International Herald Tribune

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

More TSA screeners needed?

An Associated Press article, published on and elsewhere, raises the issue of whether or not the current number of screeners employed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at airports around the U.S. is adequate, in light of the additional workload imposed on them this week.
Since Thursday, screeners have searched more carry-on luggage by hand. They also randomly checked passengers at airport gates to make sure that they hadn't bought toothpaste or drinks at airport shops after going through a security checkpoint.

The TSA, though, is limited by law to have 45,000 screeners. That's not enough to do the job right at the 450 commercial airports the agency protects, according to congressional Democrats.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security have said that there are enough TSA screeners.

Nevertheless, National Guard troops were called out at some locations to help screen passengers -- especially at gate areas -- and to "help herd crowds through security checkpoints."

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has tried to get the cap on the number of TSA screeners changed.
On July 12, the Senate approved his amendment to lift the cap as part of the Homeland Security spending bill for 2007. The House kept the limit in its version of the bill, and the two versions must be reconciled.

"It's time to put safety first and remove this arbitrary limit," Lautenberg said.
Source: Questions Raised About Airport Staffing -

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Friday, August 11, 2006

U.S. airlines still on recovery path

A Reuters article, published on and elsewhere says:
Security fears may dampen demand for air travel in the short term, industry watchers said on Thursday, after British police foiled a plan to blow up transatlantic jets, but they won't throw US airlines off their long recovery from the September 11, 2001 attacks.

It took US airlines almost five years to regain pre-2001 passenger levels, as Americans regained a taste for travel, helped on by a resurgent economy and cheaper fares. This summer, several carriers reported their fullest planes on record.

The latest travel scare may put a dent in that upswing, as the consequences of the plot unravel, analysts said, but existing concerns about record-high oil prices, an economic slowdown and global security remain more of a threat.
The article stresses the "resilience" of the worldwide air travel market.
"As we have seen after previous terrorist events -- 9/11, Madrid, Bali and London bombings -- the world will still fly," said Bank of America analyst Robert Stallard.
We certainly hope so. We'd hate to see another painful round of crew furloughs, and airline bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies of the sort we saw following the 9/11 attacks five years ago.

Read the whole article here: US Airlines On Recovery Path Despite Fears -

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Spotlight on passenger screening

From CNN:
The long lines and bulging trash cans at U.S. airports due to increased security after a suspected terror plot was uncovered Thursday had some aviation experts questioning the focus of America's air passenger screening system.

"Standing there looking to make sure no one has a tube of toothpaste is patently ridiculous, because now we're looking for objects again -- we're not looking for threats" said Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm in Evergreen, Colorado.

British police overnight arrested 24 people suspected of plotting to blow up as many as 10 jetliners bound for the United States. It is believed the suspects planned to mix a sports drink with a gel to make an explosive that might have been triggered by an MP3 player or a cell phone.

Liquids and gels of any kind were subsequently banned from carry-on luggage in the United States and Britain.

Boyd sees the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's ban as a knee-jerk reaction that leaves Americans no safer than they were before the 9/11 attacks.

"Remember Richard Reid, the guy who tried to light up his shoe on the airplane? After that we had to take off our shoes. Imagine what would have happened if he had hid that bomb in his pants," Boyd said.
Read the rest of the article here:  Terror plot spotlights passenger screening system -

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British: Plot involved 10 airliners

More details are emerging about the thwarted terrorist plot in the U.K. At this writing, the number arrested in England has risen to 24. Earlier reports said that 21 had been arrested. Some sources were saying that at least five more suspects still were at large.

British authorities said that the focus of the plot was to blow up 10 airliners while they were airborne en route from the U.K. to the U.S.

An Associated Press article on says:
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the terrorists planned to use liquid explosives disguised as beverages and other common products and set them off with detonators disguised as electronic devices.

An American law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation said it appeared the liquid to be used was a "peroxide- based solution" to be detonated by an electronic device that was not specified, but could be anything from a disposable camera to a portable digital music player. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because British authorities had asked that no information be released.

The extreme measures at a major international aviation hub sent ripples throughout the world. Heathrow was closed to most flights from Europe, and British Airways canceled all its flights between the airport and points in Britain, Europe and Libya. Numerous flights from U.S. cities to Britain were canceled.

Washington raised its threat alert to its highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States amid fears the plot had not been completely crushed. The alert for all flights coming or going from the United States was also raised slightly.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials said the terrorists had targeted United, American and Continental airlines. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

A U.S. intelligence official said the plotters had hoped to target flights to major airports in New York, Washington and California. A counterterrorism official said the plot involved 10 flights.
Source: British: Thwarted Plot Involved 10 Jets -

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U.S. carriers warn of delays

From AFP via U.S. commercial carriers said they were not planning to cancel flights to the U.K., but warned of severe delays.
All US carriers flying from Britain informed passengers of strict new limitations on carry-on baggage in line with directives issued by the British government.

"It's a fluid situation. But we have no cancellations of UK-bound flights," said Brandon Borrman, a spokesman for United Airlines.

"We are experiencing delays of at least two hours out of (London) Heathrow," he added.

Delta noted that additional security measures had been put in place for all flights bound for Britain.

"Delta continues to operate its flights from the UK to the US, although customers may experience delays due to revised check-in requirements issued by the UK's Department for Transport," it said in a statement.

All the major US carriers including American Airlines and Continental warned passengers not to bring any fluids or gels such as toothpaste on to flights departing from British airports.
We can imagine that the delays will be substantial today -- and even that probably is an understatement!
At Washington's Dulles International Airport, cardboard boxes and garbage bins quickly filled to overflowing with toothpaste and shaving cream containers.

Lines were snaking out the doors and delays were widespread. Several travellers willingly threw away their bottled water, but one woman was reluctant to throw out a 100-dollar beauty product.

British Airways cancelled all its short-haul flights due Thursday between Heathrow and other British and European cities, as well as the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Source: US airlines say flying as normal to Britain but warn of delays -

Related stories: Travelers Forced to Throw Out Liquids -
Passengers Can Expect Double Screening -

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'Mass murder on an unimaginable scale'

The Mail & Guardian Online is reporting on a press conference held in London a short while ago during which the Deputy commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police spoke in chilling terms of the scope of the plot that had been foiled:
Police said on Wednesday that a foiled plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States was "an attempt to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson, from London's Metropolitan Police, told a news conference that officers are confident the operation, which saw 21 people arrested, disrupted a bid to cause "untold death and destruction".

Speaking outside the Met's New Scotland Yard headquarters, the officer added: "We believe that the terrorists' aim was to smuggle explosives on to planes in hand luggage and to detonate them in flight."

Britain raised its security-threat level to "critical", which means it expects an attack imminently. The Home Office website showed the rating was raised to "critical" from "severe" earlier on Thursday.

Arrests were made in London, the central English city of Birmingham and the Thames Valley region of south-east England, he added, revealing that a number of properties are now being searched.

He said the police and security services had public safety uppermost in their minds when conducting the operation, urging people to remain calm and be patient with the long delays at British airports.

"We can't stress too highly the severity that this plot represented. Put simply, this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale," he added.
The article also reports on measures annouced in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security:
The US ordered its highest state of alert on Thursday for US-bound planes from Britain. The US Department of Homeland Security also said it has raised the alert to the second-highest level for all other commercial aircraft.

"The Department of Homeland Security is taking immediate steps to increase security measures in the aviation sector in coordination with heightened security precautions in the United Kingdom," it said in a statement. The threat level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States has been raised to "severe, or red," it said.

"This adjustment reflects the critical, or highest, alert level that has been implemented in the United Kingdom," it added. "To defend further against any remaining threat from this plot, we will also raise the threat level to high, or orange, for all commercial aviation operating in or destined for the United States."

In addition, the department said that "due to the nature of the threat revealed by this investigation, we are prohibiting any liquids, including beverages, hair gels, and lotions from being carried on the airplane".

The changes took effect at 8am GMT, said the official statement, adding that travellers "should also anticipate additional security measures within the airport and at screening checkpoints".
Source: 'Mass murder on an unimaginable scale' - Mail & Guardian Online

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Global flight chaos after alert

From BBC News:
Worldwide air travel has been thrown into chaos following the UK terror alert and closure of London's Heathrow airport to incoming short-haul flights.

German airline Lufthansa and Greece's Olympic suspended all their flights to the UK as airlines sought to avoid worsening congestion.

The carriers suggested that the suspensions could last several hours.

UK police say they have disrupted a plot to blow up planes in mid-flight from the UK to the United States.

The US has raised its terror alert to its highest level for commercial flights from the UK.

Lufthansa could not say when flights to the UK were likely to resume.

Among other developments:
  • Australian airline Qantas restricted hand luggage on UK-bound flights and banned liquids on flights to the US
  • The US government raised the alert level for all domestic and international flights and banned passengers from taking liquids aboard flights including drinks, lotions and hair gels
  • Flights from Israel to London airports other than Heathrow were experiencing delays, a spokesman told AFP news agency
  • Germany's Frankfurt International Airport said it could accept some flights diverted from Heathrow
Read the entire article here: Global flight chaos after alert - BBC News

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LHR closes, at least for now

Per Defense Internet NOTAM Service:
In fact, news services are telling of flight cancellations between airports in the U.K. (not just Heathrow) and airports all over the world. Literally.

Update: CNN is now reporting more extensively on airport closures.
In a statement, BAA, which owns Heathrow, said the airport had been closed to all flights not already in the air due to congestion caused by heightened security checks.

Meanwhile, with thousands of passengers already facing long delays, several airlines announced they were canceling flights to and from the UK.

British Airways said all short haul flights in and out of Heathrow had been canceled until mid-afternoon and advised passengers who did not need to travel today to stay away from the airport.

Germany's Lufthansa said it had canceled all flights to the UK due to "logistical and not security" reasons while Air France blamed cancelations on "saturation" at Heathrow, The Associated Press reported.

Alitalia, Iberia, KLM and SAS also canceled flights to London while all flights to London airports from Brussels and Athens were grounded.
Read the whole article here: Travel chaos as flights canceled -

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

London: Travel advice for passengers

The U.K. Dept. of Transport, per BBC News:
" Following this morning's police action, security at all UK airports has been increased and additional security measures have been put in place for all flights.

With immediate effect, the following arrangements apply to all passengers starting their journey at a UK airport and to those transferring between flights at a UK airport.

All cabin baggage must be processed as hold baggage and carried in the hold of passenger aircraft departing UK airports.

Passengers may take through the airport security search point, in a single (ideally transparent) plastic carrier bag, only the following items. Nothing may be carried in pockets:
  • Pocket-size wallets and pocket-size purses plus contents (for example money, credit cards, identity cards etc (not handbags)
  • Travel documents essential for the journey (for example passports and travel tickets)
  • Prescription medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight (eg, diabetic kit), except in liquid form unless verified as authentic
  • Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases
  • Contact lens holders, without bottles of solution
  • For those travelling with an infant: baby food, milk (the contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger) and sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight (nappies, wipes, creams and nappy disposal bags)
  • Female sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight, if unboxed (eg tampons, pads, towels and wipes)
  • Tissues (unboxed) and/or handkerchiefs
  • Keys (but no electrical key fobs). All passengers must be hand searched, and their footwear and all the items they are carrying must be X-ray screened.
Pushchairs and walking aids must be X-ray screened, and only airport-provided wheelchairs may pass through the screening point.

In addition to the above, all passengers boarding flights to the USA and all the items they are carrying, including those acquired after the central screening point, must be subjected to secondary search at the boarding gate.

Extra time

Any liquids discovered must be removed from the passenger.

There are no changes to current hold baggage security measures.

Regrettably, significant delays at airports are inevitable. Passengers are being asked to allow themselves plenty of extra time and to ensure that other than the few permitted items listed above, all their belongings are placed in their hold baggage and checked in.

These additional security measures will make travel more difficult for passengers, particularly at such a busy time of the year. But they are necessary and will continue to keep flights from UK airports properly secure.

We hope that these measures, which are being kept under review by the government, will need to be in place for a limited period only.

In light of the threat to aviation and the need to respond to it, we are asking the travelling public to be patient and understanding and to cooperate fully with airport security staff and the police.

If passengers have any questions on their travel arrangements or security in place at airports they should contact their airline or carrier."
No telling how long these prohibitions will remain in place!

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London: 'Plot to blow up planes' foiled

Most Americans are sleeping now, but it's still before midnight here in Hawaii. For several hours we've been watching events in London unfold.

This is a news blog, but this is the first time we have blogged breaking news as it's happening.

Here is what we know, so far:

According to the BBC:
A terrorist plot to blow up planes in mid-flight from the UK to the US has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said.

It is thought the plan was to detonate explosive devices smuggled on to as many as 10 aircraft in hand luggage.

Police arrested about 18 people in the London area and West Midlands after an anti-terrorist operation.

High security is causing delays at all UK airports, Heathrow is closed to incoming flights, and MI5 has raised the threat level to critical.

According to MI5's website, critical threat level - the highest - means "an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the UK".
Cable/satellite news channels in the U.S. all have suspended regular programming to carry continuous coverage of events in the U.K.. CNN is showing the live CNN International broadcast from London. Fox News has a live feed from Sky News. MSNBC is running a broadcast from ITN in Britain.

To be continued (unfortunately).

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Making aging planes safer

The Philadelphia Inquirer's website,, has an interesting article about experimental work being done by scientists and engineers from Drexel University in order to better understand metal fatigue in aircraft.
Metal fatigue means what it sounds like. Repeated low levels of stress weaken a piece of metal. But unlike people, metal does not recover with rest.

Fatigued metal is deformed microscopically, in ways not fully understood. Tiny cracks develop, and eventually the material can no longer carry its weight.

You can demonstrate this with the humble paper clip. Flex it back and forth a few times, and eventually it snaps.

Similarly, an airplane flexes in various ways during flight, though the impact takes much longer to see.
One type of stress is due to changes in air pressure.
On the ground, pressure inside and outside the cabin is the same. But high in the sky, the pressure inside an airliner is typically about 8 pounds per square inch greater than the outside pressure.

The aluminum skin of the plane stretches slightly as a result, said Drexel's Tein-Min Tan, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The circular cross-section of a typical midsize airliner expands an inch or so in flight, he said. The circumference returns to its original size upon landing.
The article goes on to describe the methods used to artificially stress metal airplane panels in order to study the process. This work is being carried out at an FAA facility in Atlantic City.

In addition to studying metal fatigue, the researchers are also beginning to carry out similar studies on the new composite materials of the type that will be used to build the next generation of planes, such as the Boeing Dreamliner.
Composites, typically graphite fibers in an epoxy matrix, are even lighter and stronger than aluminum. But unlike aluminum, they can't be dented, so there may be no visible signs of underlying damage.

The Drexel team is also testing composites, using ultrasound and other nonvisual damage-detection methods to see what's best.
In April of this year, the FAA proposed a rule to limit how long commercial airplanes could fly. This kind of rule, which the FAA can enact after reviewing comments due in September, signals a departure from previous thinking in the aviation industry, which held that planes are safe to fly indefinitely, as long as they are properly maintained.
The FAA proposal would place different limits on each model of airplane, depending on data from the manufacturer.

It would affect commercial planes that weigh 75,000 pounds or more when loaded. About 1,600 smaller regional jets would be excluded.

If planes were retired at the end of their current "service goals," the rule would phase out 602 airplanes over 20 years - 15 percent of cargo planes and 10 percent of passenger craft.

But the rule would allow operators to apply for extensions, so long as tests demonstrated the crafts were safe.

Most airlines have not yet commented on the proposal, and have asked for more time to review it. The National Transportation Safety Board supports the measure, but urged the FAA to extend it to smaller planes.
Read the whole article here: Drexel works to make aging planes safer,

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Thomas Cook Airlines: 'no louts'

"No loutish behavior!"

What a great slogan that would be -- even better than "no hooligans."

After a spate of bad behavior by passengers, including drunkenness, making jokes about bombs in luggage, smoking in toilets, refusing to sit for takeoffs -- and culminating with an incident in which a passenger opened the door of an aircraft while it was still moving on the ground after landing -- Thomas Cook Airlines put vacationing travelers on notice: Rowdy behavior will be tolerated no more.

An article on the U.K.-based Guardian Unlimited news website quotes a Thomas Cook spokesman:
"We are saying enough is enough. We know people are high on summer spirits going on their holiday, but a serious incident could happen.

"Everyone at the airline wants passengers to have fun, but the reckless few mean many holidaymakers are complaining about misbehaviour.

"Our Zero Tolerance policy peak summer flying applies from check-in, at the gate and onboard all flights. It will be enforced through refusing travel or diverting aircraft if necessary to protect crew, passengers and aircraft.

"All offenders will be reported to police and, if evidence can be obtained, brought before the courts."
Zero tolerance for loutish behavior. Amen.

Source: Airline declares 'zero tolerance' for loutish behaviour - Guardian Unlimited

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Increase the traffic, increase the bumps

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that 2006 international passenger traffic for the first half of the year grew 6.7%, and passenger load factor reached 75.1%, 1.2 percentage points higher than during the same period last year.

For the month of June, "passenger traffic continued the pattern of strong and stable growth seen over the past 18 months with a 6.5% expansion over June 2005. With only a 4.4% expansion in capacity, the passenger load factor reached 78.3%, over 1.5 percentage points over June 2005."

At the same time, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) noted that the nation's largest airlines "recorded a lower rate of on-time flights and a higher rate of cancellations this past June than in both the previous month and June of last year."

Also reported was an increase in the number of passengers who were involuntarily bumped from flights.
Some 16,320 passengers were refused boarding against their will on US flights between April and June, a 41 percent increase over the same period in 2005, the DOT said.


In all, the DOT said 185,368 passengers were bumped during the last quarter, with most -- 169,045 -- voluntarily giving up their seats in return for compensation. Last year during the same period, 164,670 passengers were bumped.
Of the major airlines in the U.S., Continental and Delta had the highest number of people bumped involuntarily per 10,000 passengers.

Sounds to us like a lot of headaches for customer service reps at the airports!

Strong Traffic Demand in First Half of 2006 - The Bottom Line is All About Oil - IATA News
Airlines On-Time Performance Slips in June - U.S. Dept of Transportation
More travelers getting bumped off US airlines -

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Airliner anti-missile systems

An Associated Press article published on the Airport Business news website tells us that it could be 20 years before every U.S. passenger airplane is outfitted with a system to protect it from the small portable missiles known as MANPADs (Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems).
Under a test program, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman developed systems using lasers over the past two years that still do not meet the reliability standards set by the Homeland Security Department, the report said.

"The prototype units are capable of partially meeting the Department of Homeland Security performance requirements," the report said.
Although Congress has paid for the development of such missile defense systems for commercial aircraft, it is not at all clear that they intend to spend the billions that it would cost to equip thousands of airliners in the U.S.
"Ultimately, Congress is going to determine whether it wants to support a wide-scale deployment of Manpads countermeasures to the aviation industry," said William Knocke, Homeland Security spokesman.

Under pressure from Congress in 2004, the Homeland Security Department gave Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems Plc $45 million (euro35.25 million) each to adapt military missile defense systems to be used by airlines. Military systems require too much maintenance, and too often are fired by mistake, to be used on a passenger airliner.

Both BAE and Northrop systems use lasers to jam the guidance systems of incoming missiles, which lock onto the heat of an aircraft's engine.
According to a government report recently obtained by the Associated Press, tests showed the following:
  • They can be installed on commercial aircraft without impairing safety
  • At least one company can supply 1,000 systems at a cost of $1 million (euro780,000) each
  • It will cost $365 (euro285) per flight to operate and maintain the systems, more than the $300-per-flight (euro235-per-flight) goal
  • The systems are not yet reliable enough for commercial use
In the next phase of development, the report said that the systems will be tested on cargo aircraft in real operational environments for advancements in reliability, performance, cost and ability to be manufactured.

Source: Airline Anti-Missile System Years Away - Airport Business

More Info about MANPADs:
The MANPADS Menace: Combating the Threat to Global Aviation from Man-Portable Air Defense Systems - U.S. Dept. of State
MANPADS Proliferation - Federation of American Scientists
The proliferation of MANPADS - Jane's International Security News
Comments of Capt. Stephen Luckey, Air Line Pilots Association International, Concerning Countermeasures to Shoulder-Fired Anti-Aircraft Missiles, June, 2004

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