Thursday, May 21, 2009

FAA wants to fine Gulfstream International Airlines for safety violations

Gulfstream International AirlinesThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it is proposing to fine Gulfstream International Airlines, Inc. for several violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). A $1.3 million civil penalty is proposed for the alleged violations by the Florida based carrier, including "improper scheduling of flight crew duty time, and the installation of unapproved air conditioner compressors and improperly maintained vent blowers on the airline's fleet of 27 BE-1900-D aircraft."

From an FAA press release about the alleged violations:
An FAA review of the airline's electronic record-keeping system for tracking crew duty and rest time revealed that Gulfstream International did not accurately input the proper data from its manually generated hard-copy aircraft logbook records into the electronic system. The discrepancies resulted in scheduling crew members in excess of daily and weekly flight time limitations.

During a June 2008 inspection, the FAA determined that the airline had installed unapproved automotive air conditioner compressors on its aircraft between September 2006 and May 2008. Following the FAA inspection, the airline grounded all of the affected aircraft and replaced the units with approved aircraft air conditioner compressors.

In the course of a July 2008 inspection of Gulfstream International avionics and component shops in Fort Lauderdale, the FAA discovered that the airline had installed improperly maintained vent blowers on six planes between January 2008 and June 2008. Following that inspection, the airline replaced the blowers with properly maintained units.
Gulfstream International Airlines has 30 days from the receipt of the civil penalty letter to respond to the FAA.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Alaska Airlines pilots approve new four-year contract

Alaska Airlines logoAlaska Airlines pilots have a new four-year contract. A large majority of the membership of the pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), voted to approve the tentative contract agreement that was reached last month. Terms of the new contract are retroactive to Apr. 1, 2009.

ALPA reports that 95% of eligible pilots voted. Of those, 84% cast their ballots in favor of the new agreement.

According to ALPA, the new contract includes pay increases of nearly 12% for captains and 16–29.5% for first officers, effective April 1, 2009. It also includes a signing bonus, retirement options for current pilots, and work rules that provide increased flexibility for the pilots. Pilots hired post-ratification will participate in a 401(k) program with a 13.5% company contribution.

“This pilot group, along with pilots across our industry, have watched our pay, benefits, job security, and quality of life erode since 9/11,” said Capt. Bill Shivers, Alaska MEC chairman. “While this contract doesn’t restore everything, it does provide increases in pay and improvements in our work schedule and retirement flexibility while allowing our company to remain poised for success. We believe this is a positive step toward repairing the relationship between this pilot group and our management so that we can work together to achieve a company culture where everyone succeeds and prospers together.”

Alaska Airlines pilots had been working under an arbitrator-imposed contract since May 2005. That contract had cut their pay by as much as 35%.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spirit Airlines pilots vote to authorize strike

Spirit Airlines A319The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents the pilots at Spirit Airlines, announced that they have been authorized by the pilots to call for a lawful withdrawal of services if stalled negotiations do not result in a new contract. Translation: a strike has been authorized.

ALPA says:
Of the nearly 95% of the eligible pilots who responded to the ballot, 98% voted in support of a withdrawal of services, if required. This authorization comes after two and a half years of fruitless negotiations and repeated contract violations by the company. The National Mediation Board (NMB) could release both sides into economic self-help after the expiration of a 30-day cooling-off period if it concludes that further mediated negotiations will not produce an agreement, at which point a strike could ensue.
“When we started negotiating, this pilot group was certain that the process would result in a fair contract,” said Capt. Sean Creed, chairman of the Spirit pilots union. “However, management’s refusal to abide by our current contract, followed by a demand for $5.3 million in concessions while announcing expansion plans, has destroyed this confidence and forged the unity demonstrated by this vote.”

“If this company put even half as much effort into trying to negotiate a fair agreement for its pilots as it did in developing crude advertising, we would have a new contract,” Capt. Creed continued. “This vote clearly shows that this pilot group is completely fed up with this approach and is now prepared to do whatever it takes to get the fair contract we deserve.”

[Photo Source]

NTSB Animation of the Colgan Air accident near Buffalo

On February 12, 2009 a Colgan Air Dash-8 Q400, operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407, crashed while on approach to Buffalo, NY. As a part of its investigation of the accident, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) produced a three-dimensional animated reconstruction shows the final two minutes of the flight, which has been posted to YouTube by airboyd.

From the description of the video:
During the approach, a pitchup motion occurred, followed by a left roll and then a right roll. During these maneuvers, both the stick shaker and stick pusher were activated, and the speed decreased. After further pitch and roll excursions, the airplane entered a steep descent from which it did not recover.

The animation shows excerpts from the flight data recorder (FDR), the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) transcript, recorded radar data, and aircraft performance data. It does not depict the weather or visibility conditions at the time of the accident. The animation does not include audio.

The upper portion of the animation shows a 3-D model of the airplane and the airplanes motions during the accident sequence. In this area, selected content from the CVR transcript or other annotations are superimposed as text at the time that the event occurred. All times (in eastern standard time) are shown on the right side of the screen.

The lower portion of the animation depicts instruments and indicators, which display selected FDR or calculated parameters. The instruments and indications are shown in three sections, which are (from left to right):
  • Airspeed, airspeed tape, low speed cue, attitude indicator showing pitch and roll attitude, altitude, altitude tape, rate of climb, and heading
  • Stick shaker and stick pusher indicated as text, control wheel/column icon depicting the control wheel (rotating right or left) and control column (moving up or down) inputs, and an indicator showing rudder pedal inputs
  • The power lever and condition lever as indicators, the flap handle selection as an indicator, and auto pilot status and gearhandle position indicated as text
Excerpts from the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) transcript also appear.

Here is the animation video:

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Colgan Air Flt 3407 on Aircrew Buzz.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Federal jury rules in US Airways pilots' dispute over seniority issues

USAPA logoA federal court jury in Phoenix ruled yesterday in favor of six America West pilots who brought suit against the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), the union that represents the pilots of US Airways. The jury was tasked with deciding whether USAPA has been fairly representing all of the more than 5,000 pilots of the merged US Airways, i.e., those who worked for America West prior to the 2005 merger, as well as those who worked for the 'old' US Airways.

The underlying issue is a dispute over seniority arising from the merger of America West and US Airways in 2005. US Airways pilots have favored merging the seniority lists based on date of hire. Former America West pilots rejected this method: since the 'old' US Airways had been in business much longer than America West, a seniority list based on date of hire would necessarily favor US Airways pilots.

The seniority dispute eventually went to arbitration about two years ago. The arbitrator devised a blended seniority list that put several hundred senior US Airways pilots at the top of the list, and then ranked the rest according to a ratio based on their status at the time of the merger. Furloughed US Airways pilots were put at the bottom of the list.

Then last year, the pilots voted out the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) as their collective bargaining unit, and formed a new independent union, USAPA, to represent them. ALPA had represented the pilots during the arbitration. Not surprisingly, the vote to certify USAPA was close. Of the 5,238 pilots eligible to vote, 2,723 voted for USAPA and 2,254 voted for ALPA.

Once certified, USAPA proceeded to press for seniority integration based primarily on date of hire. Most former America West pilots wanted the arbitrated method for seniority integration to be used.

Six former America West pilots ultimately filed the civil suit against USAPA, claiming the union was not fairly representing their interests. Yesterday the jury agreed with them by finding USAPA liable in the Duty of Fair Representation lawsuit.

USAPA plans to appeal the decision. In a press release issued yesterday after the jury's decision was announced, Mike Cleary, president of USAPA, said that the union "intends to appeal the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the United States Supreme Court."

“While USAPA would have, of course, preferred to prevail in the current setting, thereby allowing the pilot group to come together and work towards an improved contract, we fully expected and planned for this contingency,” said Cleary. “Again, given the facts of law, we are very confident of our ability to prevail eventually, in proving the absolute right of a union to bargain over the complete terms of its members’ working agreement. Having so planned, our legal team is already working on an expedited appeal and stay of any proposed injunctive relief.”

Pilots at the merged carrier have continued to work under separate contracts since the 2005 merger. A major stumbling block to negotiating a unified contract has been the contentious dispute over seniority integration.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript from Colgan Air Flight 3407 released by the NTSB

NTSB logoPublic hearings got underway yesterday regarding the crash of a Colgan Air Dash-8 Q400 near Buffalo in February of this year. The hearings are being held in Washington, DC at the Board Room and Conference Center of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Yesterday was the first of three days of hearings about the accident flight, which was operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407.

Among the documents released by the NTSB yesterday is the transcript of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) from the accident flight. The CVR transcript documents crew conversations throughout the flight, as well as radio transmissions between the flight deck and various ground facilities, and sounds from inside the cockpit.

A number of news media outlets have quoted excerpts and snippets from the CVR transcript in articles about the accident. Sadly, these have been presented out of context in several instances. I encourage anyone with an interest in this accident to read the entire transcript, which is available for download from the NTSB website.

I understand that the NTSB website has been very busy since the beginning of the hearings. If you are unable to access the CVR transcript directly from the NTSB site, here is an alternative source:
Note: The present hearings are a part of the ongoing investigation of this accident by the NTSB. It will be some time before a final report is issued. Determination of probable cause will be a part of that final report. Until that time, all interpretations by the news media of the data released so far should be considered with a certain level of skepticism, as they are based on incomplete information.

UPDATE: I'd like to draw readers' attention to two particularly interesting articles related to information that has emerged at the NTSB hearings about the Colgan accident.

For a former Q400 pilot's view of events during the final minutes of Flight 3407, have a look at Sam's thoughtful analysis: Thirty Seconds of Silence, on Blogging At FL250.

Then see journalist Joe Sharkey's article about the issue of pilot fatigue (and a bit about regional pilot pay), with reference to (and quotes from) testimony given at the NTSB hearing: Blaming the Dead Tired Pilots for Colgan Air Buffalo Crash, on Joe Sharkey At Large.

Both articles are well thought out, and each makes several points that should not be overlooked. They are well worth the time it takes to read them.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Colgan Air Flt 3407 on Aircrew Buzz.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Japan Airlines Boeing 747 vs Baggage Container

Earlier today at Los Angeles International Airport, the number one engine of a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400 had a run in with a metal baggage container -- or maybe it was the other way around. The baggage container reportedly was "sucked into the engine" as the aircraft was preparing to depart.

Here's what the Los Angeles Times reported about the incident:
The accident occurred about 1:30 p.m. when Flight 61 to Narita, Japan, pulled back from Gate 101 at the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Airport officials said the vacuum created by the air intake of the left outboard engine was so strong it pulled the empty container off a baggage cart that was either parked or driven too close to the aircraft.
Not surprisingly, that airplane did not go to Tokyo today.

Here's the video:

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Delta proposes early retirement plan to ALPA to counter 'pilot staffing overage'

Delta Air Lines logoDelta Air Lines has too many pilots. That is the gist of the reason why the carrier has proposed "a pilot retirement incentive program" to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents Delta's 12,000 pilots.

According to a letter from the chairman of the Delta unit of ALPA to the pilot membership, the proposed pilot retirement incentive program is "designed to address what management perceives to be a current pilot staffing overage." The letter to the pilots from Lee Moak, chairman of the Delta Master Executive Council (MEC) of ALPA, was reprinted in today's Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The letter says that the proposal was presented to the union's Negotiating Committee late last month.
Under the terms of the proposal, active pilots who have met certain age and length-of-service metrics would be eligible to participate in the program. Participating pilots would receive a severance payment, medical and dental benefits for a limited period of time and retiree travel benefits.
The Negotiating Committee plans to meet soon with Delta management to begin discussions regarding the proposal. The number of pilot jobs Delta is seeking to eliminate was not specified.

Separately, the Negotiating Committee also is engaged in discussions with management about details relating to Delta's recently announced closure of the 747-200 categories (both in Anchorage and Minneapolis) and the Anchorage base.

Earlier this year, Delta Air Lines offered a voluntary buyout program to reduce staff in conjunction with a capacity reduction. Delta pilots were not eligible for that program.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Public hearing on the crash of the Colgan Air Dash-8 near Buffalo slated for next week

NTSB logoThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold a three-day public hearing next week on the February crash of the Colgan Air Dash-8 near Buffalo, New York. The hearing will begin on May 12, 2009 in Washington, D.C. There will be a live webcast of the hearing (details below).

Readers will recall that the accident occurred on the night of February 12, 2009, when a Colgan Air Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 (registration N200WQ), operating as Continental Connection flight 3407, crashed during an instrument approach to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport (BUF), Buffalo, New York. The aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and post-crash fire. The accident killed all 49 people on board, and one person on the ground.

The NTSB has announced that a public docket will be opened at the start of the hearing. The public may view and download the docket contents on the web under the "FOIA Reading Room" at at that time.

From the NTSB Advisory announcing the hearing:
The information being released is factual in nature and does not provide analysis or the probable cause of the accident.

The docket will include investigative group factual reports, interview transcripts, Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) transcripts, Flight Data Recorder (FDR) data and other documents from the investigation.

In addition, docket items that will be used as exhibits during the public hearing will be available on the website under "Public Hearings".

The hearing, which is part of the Safety Board's efforts to develop all appropriate facts for the investigation, will cover a wide range of safety issues including:
  • Icing effect on the airplane's performance
  • Cold weather operations
  • Sterile cockpit rules
  • Crew experience, fatigue management
  • Stall recovery training
An agenda is posted on the Board's website,

The hearing will convene at 9:00 a.m. on May 12, 2009 at the NTSB's Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, D.C.

A live webcast of the proceedings will be available on the Board's website at

For directions to the Conference Center location, or for more information about the webcast, see the NTSB Advisory about the hearing.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Colgan Air Flt 3407 on Aircrew Buzz.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Air Tahoma Convair 580 fatal crash in Ohio: NTSB Preliminary Report

Air TahomaThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Preliminary Report containing new information about the investigation of the fatal crash of an Air Tahoma Convair 580 (CV-580) freighter in 2008. The new report supplements previously released information about the crash, and includes a transcript of the accident aircraft's Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). Among the factual findings from examination of the wreckage: the aircraft's elevator trim cables were reversed.

The accident happened just after noon on September 1, 2008, shortly after the aircraft (registration number N587X) had departed from Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK), south of Columbus, Ohio, en route to Mansfield, Ohio. The aircraft impacted terrain minutes after takeoff as it was attempting to return to LCK. The aircraft was completely destroyed, and all three crew members on board were fatally injured.

The new NTSB Preliminary report about the Air Tahoma CV-580 accident says that "the accident flight was the first flight following a maintenance Phase 1 and Phase 2 check, which included flight control cable rigging as part of the check. The flight was also intended to provide cockpit familiarization for the first officer and the observer, and a training flight for the first officer." The captain was a CV-580 Check Airman for employees of Air Tahoma Inc.

Possibly the most salient finding, arising from inspection of the wreckage: "The on-site inspection of the accident airplane revealed that the elevator trim cables were reversed. As a result, when the pilot applied nose-up trim, the elevator trim system actually applied nose-down trim."

The CVR transcript, included in the new report, indicates that both pilots struggled intensely, but unsuccessfully, to achieve nose-up trim in the moments before impact. At several points the CVR transcript notes "sound similar to the trim wheel motion" recorded by the Cockpit Area Microphone, until the captain declares, "there's nothing anymore on the trim." The pilots' dramatic struggle to control the aircraft proceeded for another minute and seventeen seconds, until the aircraft impacted the ground.

By the way, the accident flight was not recorded by the Flight Data Recorder (FDR). The NTSB report says:
The accident airplane was equipped with a switch in the cockpit to provide power to the FDR. Selection of the FDR switch was a checklist item that required the pilots to select the FDR switch to ON.

The CVR tape indicated that the pilots skipped over the checklist item that called for the FDR switch to be selected to the ON position. The CVR recording indicated that there was no discussion between the pilots concerning the FDR switch, whether it should be in the ON or OFF position.

The panel that contained the FDR switch was not located in the wreckage.
The investigation is ongoing.

Here is the link to the Preliminary Report: NTSB ID: CHI08MA270


Monday, May 04, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines pilots' union makes substantial donation to Hawaii Food Bank

Hawaiian Airlines pilotsHawaiian Airlines pilots recently made a significant contribution to the Hawaii Food Bank. The pilots' union delivered about 3,475 pounds of canned goods and other food items to the Hawaii Food Bank, along with a check for $1,595.

The pilot' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), collected food items and money during a two-week food drive that began April 16, 2009. The donated food included individual items brought to collection centers by local pilots, as well as a truckload of bulk food purchased for the food bank by ALPA.

“In tough times like these, we are all one ohana when it comes to taking care of each other,” said Hawaiian Master Executive Council (MEC) Chairman Capt. Eric Sampson. “We are proud of our pilots for stepping up to help their neighbors, and pleased ALPA was able to assist the food bank in its important mission of serving Hawaii’s hungry.”

Sampson said the pilots had hoped to donate at least 1,200 pounds of food, but they more than doubled that goal, winding up almost 3,500 pounds of groceries to give to the Hawaii Food Bank. The cash donation included $595 contributed by individual pilots and a $1,000 donation from the Hawaiian MEC’s special projects fund.

In 2007 the Hawaiian MEC created a fund for special projects, including philanthropic purposes throughout the islands. The first major gift from the fund was a $5,000 donation for children’s cancer research in 2008. The food bank delivery is the first major donation in 2009 for the fund, which is organized and supported by the pilots and is not affiliated with Hawaiian Airlines.