April 6, 2011

A Newsworthy Week in Aviation

It's been an interesting week in aviation.

First there was the Southwest decompression that occurred after the loss of a large part of the fuselage. The crew managed to land the plane safety at an air force base and by all passenger accounts both the pilots and flight attendants dealth with the situation in a textbook manner.

The incident has now sparked a massive inspection regime ordered by the manufacturer of Boeing 737 aircraft of a certain age and model type due to fears of further metal fatigue.

(I do disagree with the use of the term "sucked out" in the article; more accurately, people would be "pushed out" by the flow of departing air)

Then we had the dramatic landing of a United airlines flight after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit. Eventually, air traffic controllers had to assist the aircraft by verbally guiding them to the airport, as the pilots could not see well enough to land. All passengers and crew onboard were evacuated after the aircraft made a safe (if somewhat hair-raising) landing back at New Orleans airport.

In a disturbing twist, the preliminary report into the crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai last year was published by the GCAA, aviation authority of the UAE. This flight also suffered issues with smoke in the cockpit & visibility of instruments. The report makes sobering reading, with a few key points being:

- Emergency oxygen systems were inadequate

- The captain was forced out of the cockpit to find alternative oxygen at a critical phase of flight

- An extremely short amount of time between the flight recorder noting the first 'fire event' in the forward main deck, and then three minutes later, a 'fire event' in the aft of the main deck cargo area. That is very rapid & sad to say probably an impossible situation for those pilots.

(You can read the full PDF file of the report here.)

Thankfully the United pilots had the advantage of daylight and the correct radio frequency to be able to communicate with air traffic control. The UPS crew could not tune to change frequency and thus had to rely on other aircraft in the area to relay messages.

The crash has also highlighted shortfalls in packing & shipping guidelines for lithium batteries, something which was of concern prior to the accident, and even moreso now. The abundance of these batteries for sale at online auction websites is no doubt adding to the problem, with many sellers totally unaware that some everyday goods are actually classified as hazardous for carriage by air.

Lastly, in an unexpected yet welcome development, investigators have uncovered further wreckage from Air France flight 447, which disappeared nearly two years ago amid speculaton and mystery as to the cause.

Hopefully this new development will finally yield the black boxes and the answers the aviation industry has been waiting for with bated breath. Once and for all we will know if it was the weather, the aircraft or something else entirely which led to the loss of the plane and all on board.

PHOTOS: SWA- AP/Ross D. Franklin, AF447- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the sleeping controller in Washington DC.


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