One of the things we talk about in the Current Topics in Aviation course I co-teach at Vaughn College of Aeronautics is how to report safety issues without being labeled a whistleblower or, worse, being fired. It’s an important issue for anyone entering a field where safety is so important and the “penalties” for being labeled a whistleblower can be high. Even the federal Whistleblower Protection Act covers only a small segment of the industry: airlines and their contractors. Some states might also have some protections for workers.
It could have happened to any two professional pilots flying a nonprecision approach, in darkness, into weather that turned out to be worse than they expected after a night of back-side-of-the-clock flying. But the NTSB’s September 9 hearing into the Aug. 14, 2013 crash of UPS Flight 1354, an Airbus A300-600, on approach to Birmingham, Ala. (BHM), proved that even crews flying heavy jets can lose situational awareness and get just as far behind on nonprecision approach as King Air crews, especially when a handful of other factors also come into play.
The FAA plans to restore its Chicago air route traffic control center (Artcc) to normal operation by October 13 following a fire that damaged the facility’s communications equipment and led to the disruption and cancellation of thousands of flights. The agency has also tasked its Air Traffic Organization (ATO) and unions to review contingency plans for major facilities in the wake of the September 26 fire, which was allegedly set by a disgruntled contract worker.
A fire, thought to have been started by an arsonist, early in the morning on September 26 immediately closed the Chicago En Route ATC Center (ZAU) in Aurora, Ill., shutting down air traffic at Chicago O’Hare and Midway International airports, as well as at a half dozen business aviation airports in the area. A Chicago flight services briefer told AIN on September 27 that ZAU will remain closed until September 30.
The Professional Airways Safety Specialists union described the damage to the center’s equipment as “substantial.”
The overall number of civil aviation accidents declined significantly between 2012 and 2013, according to NTSB data published earlier this month. However, bucking this trend were Part 135 operations, for which the number of accidents doubled during the same period.
The FAA’s September 26 approval of a half dozen exemptions for some TV and film production companies to operate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) stopped just short of complete approval of those operations in the national airspace system. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the UAS to be used in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security.
The International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) released two new safety bulletins last week focused on risk assessment and professionalism. The first, a flight/ground risk assessment tool (Frat/Grat), explains how a good Frat/Grat is intended to operate, and offers operators guidance for how to create their own. The second bulletin is called “Setting the Right Example: Flying Safely Even When No One Is Watching.”
A chartered DHC-6 Twin Otter crashed September 20 near Port Moresby-Jacksons International Airport in Papua New Guinea, killing four of the seven people aboard. The aircraft, operated by Hevilift in what was reported as “poor weather,” was approaching Port Moresby inbound from Woitape Airport, 60 miles north.
Airbus Helicopters said Protean won its 2014 Vision Zero Aviation Safety Award for development of the LZControl.com landing-zone database, a free-flight safety service for the air medical industry. Pilots using the company’s LZControl can easily access landing-zone maps and satellite images, pull down current weather and IFR information and locate site-specific contacts.
Airbus Brazilian subsidiary Helibras recently held its second “Operational Safety Days,” filling São Paulo’s Anhembi Morumbi University auditorium to its 300-seat capacity. “We’ll need a bigger place next year,” Helibras safety manager Antonio Modesto told AIN, describing the helicopter safety event as “the realization of a personal dream” with full company support.
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