AVmail: Sep. 4, 2006
Lexington RJ Accident
In regards to the Comair crash (AVwebFlash, Aug. 28): It seems there is plenty of talk about "what should be done to correct a problem" that doesn't exist. No disrespect to the pilots who were in charge of the Comair flight, but facts are facts. Why should the aviation community pay to have many airports repaint, re-sign and -- worst case -- redesign their taxiways to accommodate a simple case of pilot error?
I was taught to look at my DG prior to take off to verify that my heading was the same as the runway heading. If the heading was not the same, I have one of two problems. Check my compass -- I might have forgot to set my DG -- or if I have a slaved system, it's not functioning properly. Again, check the compass.
If my DG matches other DGs and my compass, I'm on the wrong runway. As a professional pilot who flies all over the country in some of the most technically advanced cockpits in use today, I know from experience that some airports are more confusing than others. Still, something as simple as looking at the aircraft's heading while taxiing and just prior to takeoff might be the best solution.
Right now, I don't really know what factors were involved in the takeoff in Kentucky --only the NTSB has access to the boxes. Perhaps the co-pilot will be able to shed some light on the matter -- maybe not. Maybe he'll tell the truth -- maybe not. Maybe he won't even be able to recall it, or recall it correctly. Who knows? But the fact remains, the pilot is the one who makes the decision to take off. As it is in the press right now, we being given the usual dance about controllers, etc. It would suit me just fine to be told "zero" until the facts are known. In the meantime, let's keep it right up front that pilots are the ones responsible for the decision to take off based on facts pilots have at their disposal, assuming the data was correct, which also means passing a reasonable amount of scrutiny by the one who will hold the yoke. Too much "low-speed chase" s*** so far.
Those in the aviation business, and particularly the safety side, know that, regardless of training and experience, human error will take place. Hard as the industry tries, the weak link in the chain of events often times turns out to be the pilot.
In this accident there may have been a weak link that was unnecessary.
After the crash sequence of events was started, the passengers and crew were still not in a completely fatal situation even at ground impact. What killed the occupants on that airplane? Fire.
How could this fire have been almost completely prevented or, at the very least, minimized? By having the fuel tanks equipped with the latest generation of foam used in the military airplanes.
It is important for those in the industry to develop the usual fixes that may or may not prevent another event like this one from occurring in the future. But they must somehow begin to look beyond this. Look at how to prevent the immediate consequences of human error. In this case, fire.
I would say it's about time for the FAA, et al., to begin a serious program to certify the existing fuel tank foam for use in air carrier airplanes and mandate its installation. Of course the outcry will be loud, it usually is. Comments such as, "It'll take too much space away from the fuel capacity!" are not entirely correct since the foam occupies about two to three percent of the fuel tank's volume. Or, "It will cost too much to install and maintain!" What will this accident cost the industry?
This foam system works. It has for years. The new-generation material does not create the maintenance problems the earlier product did (1970s version).
Isn't it about time the FAA spends our tax dollars on something beside a fuel treatment that failed on the 707?
It'll be interesting to see if the NTSB or FAA even discuss the post-impact fire and possible ways to prevent the next one from happening ... and it will.
Name withheld by request
It is difficult to fault the controller on duty. He did direct the RJ to the correct runway. It was ultimately the pilots' responsibility to make sure they were lined up on the correct runway.
Having said that, I cannot honestly say that every time I take off I make sure the compass heading agrees with the runway I'm supposed to be on. But you can bet I will from now on.
Question of the Week
As to the question of who is responsible for assuring the correct runway is being used (QOTW, Aug. 31), it is very simple: Who is gonna die if things go horribly wrong?
Air Traffic Controllers
Doesn't anyone realize that with the "imposed ATC contract" the FAA is implementing on Sep. 3, 2006, one of the changes is setting the starting pay for new-hire air traffic controllers at less than $32,000 a year? And they can expect less than $60,000 after full certification. Do you know anyone willing to accept a position at SFO International at that salary?
The fact is that most FAA facilities are understaffed. The FAA is supposed to start a hiring blitz this next fiscal year, but how many people are really going to accept a job that has such a detrimental contract?
I may be wrong but one might want to check in November or December to see just how many people are really willing to accept the offered positions and at what offered pay. Someplace like Fort Smith, Ark., may attract new hires, but the real story will be at the major international airports, TRACONS and En Route Centers that are already wholly understaffed.
I wonder how many people in Lexington think that "doing more with less" is working?
Keith L. Kizziar