AVmail: Jan. 15, 2007
Shortage of Maintenance Technicians
I don't believe [there is a shortage of maintenance technicians] for a microsecond (Podcast, Jan. 5). I was not an airline mechanic but I know that there are thousands out there that have been laid off from the airlines. I have to believe in the adage, "Follow the money, stupid!"
Pelican's Perch: Three-Engine 747
I've just read the "Pelican's" screed (Jan. 7) on the BA crew decision to press on to London (they didn't quite make it due to fuel considerations), and although I don't match all the Pelican's experience and qualifications, with only 43 years and 17,000+ hours including a fair amount of over-water ops in B-727s and DC-10s, I think he is too dismissive of those who think there might have been a better option than flying over 5,000 miles, most of it over water, with one engine and its generator and hydraulics pump inop.
I won't attempt a line-by-line analysis of his entire article, but would like to address a couple of "philosophy of operations" points. He seems to be convinced that the engine's misbehaving was due to a compressor stall. Maybe so, maybe no. The crew apparently decided after looking at all indicators available to them, to shut it down. In that circumstance, I agree that continuing to an ops base en route would have been a viable option, better than a heavyweight, hot-tire landing at LAX, although some might want to argue that it would only be a matter of magnitude to go to London versus Chicago. The trump in that choice is that all that distance to ORD or JFK would be over land with many alternate airports en route.
The other philosophy point that it might be prudent to consider is why do we have redundancy and other backups? The object is to have that extra engine or two in case one or more decide to go to lunch. We have that fuel reserve in case of unforeseen adverse winds or other situations (like, maybe flying an airplane with higher-than-normal drag due to having to trim for an inop. engine.) Sure, the charts and FMS are supposed to tell you exactly how much fuel and time it will take to press on to destination, but do we really want to do that, having already lost some of our redundancy cushion in the form of an engine failure? How much backup do we have to lose to decide to park it?
I respect the Pelican's opinion and his right to it, but would suggest that there is room for discussion on such a potentially disastrous matter.
Capt. Pelican defends the crew mightily, even though he admits to not knowing a lot of details. He extols them as "highly experienced, qualified professionals" and other like kudos, yet they didn't know how to get all the fuel out of the tanks and had to land short. He seems to treat compressor stalls with such nonchalance that even a broken or missing blade or two rattling around in the engine is of no real concern. We airline folks are selling safe transportation, not chances. Presumably, had Capt. Pelican inadvertently had one tire slip off the pavement during taxi, he would have continued on and took off, just because it seems to be rolling straight. That was one hell of a no-no in my airline. I'll cast my vote with fellow TWA-er [Barry] Schiff and call this incident "very poor decision-making," given the many unknowns that existed.
Paper or Plastic?
The issue should be to prevent counterfeiting (Question of the Week, Jan. 11). My old paper certificate lasted over 20 years; the "ink" rubbed off my new plastic certificate in months. How hard would it be for a counterfeiter to buff one of these new certificates blank, and then put his own information on the blank certificate? FAA needs to print the certificate data and then laminate it with clear plastic containing the hologram. Right now all the holo proves is that the counterfeiter used genuine stock!
I have several paper licenses (pilot, flight engineer, ground instructor). I got the first of these back in 1963. Except for airline annual checks, nobody has ever asked to see any of them. Why will changing from paper to plastic have any effect on security?