AVmail: Mar. 5, 2007
Comair Sues FAA Over LEX Crash
So Comair is suing FAA because the LEX controller didn't watch to ensure that their CRJ found the right runway (AVwebFlash, Feb. 25). I doubt whether Comair will ask NATCA to testify on their behalf, since NATCA would state emphatically that this is not a controller's responsibility, and never has been. There could have been two or 22 controllers in the LEX tower that morning, and none of them would have been legally obliged to monitor the aircraft's movements after its pilots correctly acknowledged their taxi clearance.
Every day, thousands of aircraft find the right runway without controller assistance, because getting to it is the pilot's responsibility, and always has been. Otherwise, all flying would cease in low visibility, when controllers could no longer see airplanes taxiing.
Comair's action is the predictable "sue the deepest pockets" strategy of the trial lawyer fraternity, and typical of so many aviation accident lawsuits. Sadly, ill-informed judges and juries too often fall for their frequently specious arguments and award outrageous damages, from which those lawyers then pocket a healthy slice. But no prize for guessing whose airplane insurance rates subsequently rocket skyward.
Although the issues you point out will no doubt be discussed at trial, if it gets that far, the foundation of Comair's suit is that the tower was understaffed, not that the controller was obliged to watch the plane taxi.
Debunking Cirrus Accidents Myth
You state the Cirrus accident record needs to be put into perspective, and then compare it to the GA fleet (AVwebFlash, Feb. 28). You fail to mention that the fleet is, on average, 40 years old. I suspect the Cirrus "fleet" averages much less than 10 years. The record, even in context, seems really horrible. You should "put it in context" by comparing it to all 10-year-old Cessnas, for example.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Maybe I'm oversensitive this morning but I was offended by your comment in your article regarding Microsoft and Marquis (AVwebBiz, Feb. 27), where you said,
"Most of the business links between aviation and Microsoft Corp. have involved the software giant's 'Flight Simulator' program, which used to allow would-be pilots to fly their PC into Chicago's Sears Tower."
While I appreciate your sense of humor (albeit in bad taste, considering 9/11), I have to defend MSFS as more than a toy. It has personally benefited me all these years when I needed to practice a procedure, brush up my basic instrument skills or even check out the layout of a familiar airport. If you haven't flown the latest versions of MSFS, you don't know what you're missing.
As for their new software and the 10 hours with Marquis and MSO Live, I could think of a lot of ways to use the 10 hours
The problem at our local airport did not seem to fit your selection of answers (Question of the Week, Feb. 28).
Our airport staff considers GA a luxury for the wealthy. Our airport managers, etc., do the right things to protect the airport for commercial operations; however, if it was not possible to extract local money out of GA, we would not be allowed on the airport at all. The rub is we as pilots have no options as far as where we base aircraft; we need the runway and what we pay for the "runway privilege" will ultimately keep us on the ground. The proposed ATC user fees are no more excessive that the fees we are all ready paying just to keep the plane at the airport.
Don't even get me started on the fact that it is very tough to generate new interest in aviation when the airport gate is locked/guarded and personal and vehicle searches can occur.
The biggest problem at the small town airport I manage (Shell Lake, Wisc., -- SSQ) is lack of use. We are facing a badly deteriorated runway that will cost about $1.6 million to repair and upgrade. I have to ask the city council for their matching portion -- only 2.5%! However, I fully expect to be grilled for a justification for the two to three aircraft per week that use the field, and that there will be a call to close the field and develop the property.
I suspect reduced traffic counts are a problem at many smaller airports.
SSQ is a wonderful small airport with instrument approaches, good city management, etc., but has only about 12 based planes and a very inactive, aged, pilot population.
I suggest your poll should have had this also as an option.
DFW Emergency Handling
As a pilot who has operated into and out of DFW since 1977, I found no surprises in hearing the podcast (Feb. 28) of the AA757 fuel emergency. Almost without exception, the pilots I know consider this facility, along with DFW Tower, to be the worst U.S. ATC facility. Late runway switching, holding jets high on approach, ignoring a pilot's rejection of a land & hold short clearance ... not to mention the inability to handle routine weather and congestion issues .... are all just par for the course for this facility. How can such a situation continue to exist for decades?
When any pilot declares an emergency, you have the "right of way." Take it. Your only responsibility is to do what ever it takes to get your aircraft on the ground in one piece. Advise all concerned of your plan and your progress when and if able. The AAL Captain should have told the DFW tower operator, "I am in a low-fuel emergency. I am going to land 17 Center," and put it on there. Fly your aircraft! The Tower's only role is to advise you of information pertinent to your landing on Runway 17C. Any further conversation about your decision should be at the hearing.
George A. Hutchinson, Jr.
As a licensed pilot and air traffic controller I have to ask what were all the details of that situation. We heard only scraps of the recorded communication between the B757 aircrew and controllers. How much fuel did the B757 have and how fast were they burning/losing fuel? Indeed they did declare an emergency and I am not agreeing with how it was handled ... but was a closer airport large enough to handle a B757 and why was DFW chosen?
Plus controllers get additional information when an emergency is declared (e.g., souls on board, fuel, nature of emergency, and pilots desires). The fuel state of the aircraft at the time of the incident might have been a major factor in the Supervisor's decision to land the B757 on 31R even after the crew stated that was not acceptable.
Reporting all the details in this case might have made for a more accurate representation of the facts for the article and might not sling so much mud at the controllers in question.
Again I don't agree with how it was handled but I don't have all the details either.
I'm sure you are hearing from controllers about the DFW fuel emergency, but just in case you didn't get the real story ...
The problem wasn't the controllers. The problem was that the supervisor told the controller to deny the pilot's request for 17C.
A controller, on his own, simply cannot unilaterally reverse the flow at a major metropolitan airport. I work at Seattle Center and we couldn't get away with that at PDX or SEA.
DFW, of course, is in a whole 'nother league. So the controller did exactly as ordered; he told the supervisor of the problem and the request. The supervisor told the controller to deny the 17C runway.
Here's how I heard the story directly from a controller who also happens to be a NATCA safety rep:
"It was the sups decision to not go opposite flow to the traffic and to take the aircraft to 31R. However, just as an aside, the aircraft was actually coming from the NE and not due north. Coming from that direction either way you go, 17 or 31 is going to cause you to be on a base leg for the runway and it is almost equidistant ... That said, yeah, I would have given him whatever he wanted and wouldn't have cared if everyone stayed on the ground ... But if you really look at the flying miles and such, it isn't as big of a deal as it is initially made out to be ... Now, I am sure that the pilots just considered that they were somewhere north of the airport and thought that 17C was the closest runway for them (shrug), I know how things sometimes look much different from the cockpit ..."
Your podcast is irresponsible if you did not contact the NATCA local for either ZFW or DFW TRACON.
The FAA's spokespeople are known liars who will blame the controller and never mention the supervisor's role every time something like this happens.
Please do a better job investigating. Just call the union local up and ask 'em. Why would you get comment from some PR flack when you have real, live air traffic controllers available?
NATCA Rep, ZSE (Seattle)
Thanks for your note. NATCA's Doug Church basically told us the same thing after the story and podcast appeared. If it's NATCA's view that the FAA spokespeople are "known liars," that's unfortunate. We don't think saying as much reflects professionally on NATCA or its members and only raises the temperature on what's already one of the worst labor/management relationships in any industry we cover.
But here's the important point you're missing: From the user's point of view, we don't care who ordered the denial of runway 17C. To us, ATC is ATC and it's all one FAA. Last time we checked, controllers still work for the FAA, despite the us-and-them relationship between union and agency.
When we cover any company or any other government agency, we don't consider the respective unions "must-have" sources unless the issue at hand is strictly labor/management, which this decidedly was not, at least from the user's point of view.
NATCA has whatever problems it has with FAA management. Don't make them our problems, too, especially when an in-flight emergency is at hand.
AVweb wrote (AVwebFlash, Feb. 28):
"Researchers studying the impact of aging on performance found that older pilots performed better over time than younger pilots ..."
... which just proves that age and cunning will always outwit youth and skill.
David W. Brown
Your publication is looked forward to with enthusiasm. I live in Sydney and feel less isolated each time I see the latest from AVweb. Thank you for your excellent publication.