AVmail: Jan. 29, 2007
Comair Crash in Kentucky
All the obvious reasons have been given for this accident (AVwebFlash, Jan. 22). However, I think the root answer lies in the fact that the regional airlines have a big rush to get pilots in the left seat. In most all cases, pilots are qualified based on paperwork, but in many cases they are not experienced enough to handle the left-seat responsibilities. Even the pilots themselves think they should be upgraded to the left seat after only a year or two serving as a first officer. The truth is it takes longer to make a seasoned pilot for the left seat.
As a corporate pilot for 30 years, I know of a former co-pilot sitting in his first class for a regional airline. The director of training came in during the first day and announced that everyone with 1500 hours and an ATP written completed and passed would become captains at the conclusion of their training. He called me that night and said he was glad he didn't have the 1500 hours.
As a 40+ year pilot with airline, military and corporate experience including training/check airman status, I would like to add my two-cents to the Comair crash discussion. In doing research for my book "False Security: The Real Story About Airline Safety," I found a plethora of data to back up my real-world experience regarding pilot fatigue.
Given the duty-time start for this trip and the typical regional-airline pilot's schedule, I believe the investigators need to look at and give proper weight to fatigue as the primary contributing factor in this crash.
Yes, it appears the pilots made at least three big mistakes: distracting conversation during taxi, not checking runway alignment with aircraft heading and ignoring the lack of runway lights. However, pilots don't like to make mistakes. The big question should be: What caused them to make these mistakes?
In my opinion, all of us concerned with aviation safety must speak up for what we know is the biggest contributor to pilot mistakes -- fatigue. As we all know, pilot error is now the most-prevalent cause of aviation accidents. Fatigue is the biggest contributor to pilot error.
Therefore, airline and corporate managers need to be put in the spotlight whenever they force their crews (either through duty regs or management pressure) to fly when they are fatigued.
Fatigue has been largely ignored by the powers-that-be because of the economic impact of doing what's right. This is the same economics-versus-safety fight that pilots have been fighting since the dawn of commercial aviation. The battle for safer duty-time regulations could quite possibly be the last major one in our quest for safer skies. Let's win it.
As a controller at Dulles Tower, I appreciated the comments on FAA staffing (AVwebFlash, Jan. 22). One key item that the FAA tries to cover up with improper use of the word, "controller" is the status of trainees. My son is a new hire at Washington Center. I love him dearly but to call him a controller who is "replacing a retiring controller with 25 years experience" is wrong. In two to three years, he will be replacing a controller who retires at that time -- not now. FAA is behind the curve; its imposed work rules have reduced the transfers of quality controllers to high-density facilities, etc.
The only area in which FAA keeps spending with no restrictions is hiring new supervisors and adjusting their pay upward. At IAD, we have seven supervisors and 32 full-performance controllers plus another 10 positions and two contract trainers -- almost 20 staff/support positions! Few ask the FAA why this situation occurs. The waste of money in the system is just the financial problem. The lack of controllers at many facilities is not a joke, is not a union myth and is happening quickly. Ask the controllers who are on six-day weeks or working combined sectors. FAA has failed to address these problems and simply blames controllers and the union. There is no accountability for FAA management.
Controller Radios and Distractions
As I understand it from controllers at DAB, the now-removed wx radios (AVwebFlash, Jan. 25) were purchased by the tower manager with money from the Coke fund. As to what wx is available to controllers, we see six levels of weather echoes, which could be anything from mist to a severe downpour.
Here at BHM, we are in the middle of an antenna raising project and for another five weeks minimum we are using Center radar. That means no radar wx returns at all, no LLWAS alerts, no microburst information or wind gust info. In fact, when a pilot wants the current winds I have to move to the clearance delivery position to read it off the AWOS computer. The only information available is at the supervisor computer in the back of the TRACON/CAB with limited Internet access. So to tell you what the weather is, I have to get up from my radar scope, walk around the desk to the back of the TRACON, and pull the info up on the computer. Who's distracted now?
For the FAA to say radios in the operating quarters are distracting is just more b.s. to make our lives uncomfortable. We can't have radios, but answering the telephone, dealing with Airways Facilities Techs working on equipment, enduring alternately frigid (67 degrees) and toasty (87 degrees) temperatures in the Tower, supervisors giving "required" on the spot corrections and no radar below 3000 - 2000 feet aren't distractions? I'd rather have some soothing AC/DC on the radio any day!
Red Sprites and Blue Jets
If readers are interested in red sprites and blue jets take a look at my Web site, and check out the "What's Up There" page. Have any pilots reported seeing these things? I would like to know about their sightings.
Otha H. Vaughan, Jr.
Stumping For User Fees
I got a real kick out of the first sentence in your first article (AVwebFlash, Jan. 25), which said, "The FAA needs to build a modern airspace infrastructure, and 2007 will be a critical year in building a new financing system to support it, Mary Peters, the new Department of Transportation Secretary told..."
My message to Mary Peters is simply this: Can anyone in their right mind trust the FAA to build a modern airspace infrastructure and a financing structure to support it when the FAA has demonstrated it can not even account for $5 billion in assets as reported in the findings of a recent Agency audit? In my opinion, such negligence is nothing short of criminal and someone needs to be held accountable.
In view of this, I would strongly urge Ms. Peters to reprioritize and spend her time and efforts investigating this situation prior to proposing her veiled attempt to pacify the airline lobby groups at the expense of the general aviation community.
David R. Pohl