Monday, June 28, 2010

Gary Stoller of USA TODAY reveals planes with maintenance problems have flown anyway

Planes with maintenance problems have flown anyway
A jet takes off from Indianapolis in this 2000 file photo. Since 2003, 65,000 U.S. flights with maintenance problems have taken off anyway.
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

Alerted by a brake warning light in the cockpit, the captain on a U.S. airline flight last August warned passengers he was making an emergency landing and called for firetrucks to be standing by.

The trucks weren't needed, it turned out. The Boeing 767-300 jet landed safely, the pilot said in his account to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows airline employees to report incidents confidentially and without identifying the airline or the flight.

The pilot reported that he later was told by mechanics that the incident was caused by a landing-gear wheel that was missing a part and had been installed incorrectly.

The passengers on the unidentified international flight were on a jet that should never have left the ground. Improper repair work made it unsafe to fly. It was no isolated incident.

During the past six years, millions of passengers have been on at least 65,000 U.S. airline flights that shouldn't have taken off because planes weren't properly maintained, a six-month USA TODAY investigation has found.

FAA FINES TELL TALE: Number, total show extent of problem
BAGGAGE FEES: Extra money no guarantee of better handling, tracking

The investigation — which included an analysis of government fines against airlines for maintenance violations and penalty letters sent to them that were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act — reveals that substandard repairs, unqualified mechanics and lax oversight by airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are not unusual...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jim Hilkevich, Chicago Tribune reporter, should correct statement about 767s flying themselves

The cockpit automation myth that won't die

There's plenty of blame to go around for why bad information trickles out to the public and becomes "fact"
By Patrick Smith
June 24, 2010

Illegitimi non carborundum

Picking up from where I left off ...

For the longest time I've toyed with the idea of renting out a simulator and recruiting volunteers in order to demonstrate the immense difficulty a nonpilot would have at the controls of a jet. Logistics and cost, unfortunately, would make this extremely difficult (the tab would likely be in the tens of thousands of dollars).

Recently I learned that something like this has already been done. Several years ago, researchers in Denver gathered together 112 private pilots and put them to the test in an old Boeing 737-200 simulator. Of the 112, only 23 managed to get the plane from 35,000 feet to a reasonably intact landing -- in clear weather, with instruction from the ground. Approximately 50 percent were unable to manage anything at all. Mind you these were FAA certificated pilots.

Anyway, I never heard back from Jim Hilkevich. That's the Chicago Tribune reporter who, in covering the story of the American Airlines flight attendant pressed into cockpit duty after one of the pilots fell ill, said of the Boeing 767: "In fact, the sophisticated plane, equipped with an array of computers, can fly and land by itself."

I e-mailed Mr. Hilkevich a note of cordial disagreement. I'm not sure what to make of his silence. As both an air travel writer and a pilot with more than a thousand hours of 767 time under my belt, I felt that my protest would carry some weight and credibility. Alas it was met with silence. Perhaps big city reporters don't take kindly to lowly airline pilots explaining what it is they actually do for a living. I suppose I wouldn't mind so much if not the fact that Hilkevich is the paper's transportation writer, and in that capacity, with its presumed expertise, he ought to be more careful...