AVmail: April 16, 2012
Letter of the Week: Proper Phraseology Critical
The recent incident involving the missed emergency call in Denver is a classic example of why proper phraseology is so critical to aviation safety. The controller is expecting to hear an initial transmission that starts with "Denver Tower" or at least "Tower" (or "Center" or "Approach") followed by the company name and then the flight number. The first transmission from the radio operator in this case was a garbled "fifty-nine twelve." I listened to this segment of the recording five times and wasn't able to understand the "fifty-nine" part until the fifth try, and I was listening for it.
The subsequent exchange only reinforces that the pilot clearly (but only) said "fifty-nine twelve" the second time but the controller was listening for a transmission that began with a company name, not a number. As a result, he was scrambling all over the place looking for a call sign ending in 12.
Factor in the issue of the rogue radio operator in the area (these incidents are unusual but happened twice in two different locations during my tenure as a controller) and one might understand how this could further confuse the controllers.
Had the radio operator in the aircraft been in the habit of initiating transmissions by stating the facility name first and/or using the company name in the call sign we wouldn't be writing this. Maybe if you are talking to a company dispatcher you can get away with flight number only but abbreviated IDs to ATC will get you in trouble eventually.
Apparently United 5912 was inside the marker when all of this occurred, but I cannot find a complete recording so as to calculate or guesstimate the amount of time that transpired between the first emergency call and the last. The reason I bring that up is because a 7700 squawk would have alerted the whole world to the location of an aircraft with a problem, and the emergency equipment would probably have been rolling by the time UAL5912 touched down.
As a retired controller (31 years), I take exception to the seeming castigation of the controller involved in the miscommunication/emergency involving UAL5912. Had the crew of UAL5912 used proper phraseology and communicated their problem to ATC, there might not have been any misunderstanding.
Their call sign was UAL5912, not "5912." As an experienced controller, I can tell you that there is great importance in using proper phraseology 100 percent of the time in order to remove gray areas and confusion. I blame the crew for introducing the confusion.
I just listened to the audio between the aircraft and controller and think there is blame on both sides for the communication failure. The pilot was not speaking in a controlled manner and was very difficult to understand. The controller failed to timely inquire on the air about who was calling and to repeat the message. There are lessons to be learned on both sides.
Regarding the "Question of the Week" on the Reno Air Races: I was in the grandstand that day, less than 100 feet from the point of impact.
The NTSB states that Galloping Ghost was doing 530 mph at the start of the accident sequence. At those speeds, there's simply no way to guarantee spectator safety in the event of a runaway aircraft. So the focus has to be on accident prevention, which seems to be the direction that the NTSB is taking.
I'm pleased that, despite the awful nature of this accident, the powers that be are pursuing a measured and thoughtful response.
D. J. Molny
I have been attending the Air Races since their inception. It was always on my mind that the last turn on the course was too close to the pits and the stands. Moving the last pylon to a position that will allow the Unlimiteds to come by the stands in straight and level versus the constant bank that they have been in while passing the start/finish pylon, would go a long way to preventing a repeat.
Air shows do not permit the momentum of the aircraft to be pointed at the spectators. Applying this protocol to the air races would be a big step towards increasing the safety factors involved for the spectators.
A huge gain in spectator safety would be to place the crowd on the inside of the turns. Had that been done no one would have died except the pilot.
You should ask a follow-up question: If respondents answered in favor of or against the air races, whether they have ever attended, attended last year, or will attend in the future. I was 80 feet away from where Jimmy hit. I am going back. I don't need the government to protect me from enjoying life.
Is it possible to make any activity so safe that nobody ever is killed? We as a society need to let go of the fallacy that we can be guaranteed not to be killed in anything we do. We as a society also need to take a step back and consider that 12 people killed in 50 years of racing is [a relatively small number]. Sometimes bad things happen despite all the precautions taken.
Sure, the odds of fatalities in the Reno crash would have been lowered had the course been 1,000 feet away, but the possibility still would have existed. So maybe the course should be 10 miles away from the spectator area. That would lower the odds further.
I love the Reno air races. My dream would be more access and less safety. Spectators should be able to use their own judgment about what is safe. Too many rules will never protect everyone from harm, and most people realize that "safety" is more for the benefit of the insurance company, not the spectators.
Flying in Europe
As a U.S. citizen and private pilot who recently repatriated from Europe to California, I feel compelled to comment on the new foreign pilot certification rules going into place in Europe.
While living for many years in Belgium and previously in France, I enjoyed the privilege of general aviation flying using my FAA PPL. Paperwork was simple, and no testing was required. Nevertheless, I worked hard to learn local charting, communications, and flight filing procedures. The GA flying community welcomed me with open arms and helped me along. As a busy professional and father, I know I would never have taken the time or expense to pursue what will now be required of foreign residents such as myself.
Pilot und Flugzeug editor Jan Brill's editorial is aggressive but correct. (I am fluent in German and can confirm it is not just the translation that is blunt.)
We should not let this pass easily. The world is now flat. Creating regional barriers rather than universal regulations is the wrong direction and astounding in this day and age. Imagine if we let EASA write the rules for the internet.
As a German pilot and CFI, I've had to cope with the new regs for the last couple of weeks.
On March 26, Germany postponed the EASA/EU-FCL implementation to April 8, 2013. Nevertheless the problem remains when flying with U.S. and Canadian licenses in different European countries respectively when using these licenses in 2013.
As the pilot community has absolutely no idea how many pilot colleagues are discriminated against by the new reg, a cross-Atlantic "world pilot" campaign may be needed.
Many German pilots won't understand this ridiculous regulatory framework and would eagerly support a united pilot network.
Kind regards from Germany,
Be sure to check out our podcast with Jan Brill today.
Way of the Future
I have a quick comment on the PlaneFinder online match-making article:
I believe that this kind of thing is critical to the future of general aviation — not just the top end, either. Aviation is obviously exciting, fun, and useful, but, more than anything else, it is a habit that can develop after some positive initial experiences.
If that makes it sound like a drug, fine — except not nearly enough people are getting hooked. As with boats in marinas, most aircraft sit around almost all of the time, yet plenty of people look at boats and aircraft and wish they were off doing that.
It seems obvious to me that we need to use our aging fleets and dwindling numbers of airfields to create the demand for new aircraft and the retention of infrastructure. A series of match-making services seems to me to be the critical factor.
For example: If you've got a four-hour drive to a meeting next month but you know there is a fair chance you can tee up an inexpensive, exciting one-hour plane ride both ways via some web site, that's how habits change.
Regarding the "FBO of the Week": I'm impressed. Here is a guy in a world of hurt needing help and gets it from everybody he is in contact with. Mr. Weimer drives 80 miles to get his oil filter, and the CFIs always know where the donuts are. It warms the heart.
Please tell us you really didn't mean that the F8F Bearcat was the first airplane flown by the Blue Angels in the story about Howard Pardue's accident.
It was the F6F-5 Hellcat.
We will certainly miss Pardue and his contributions to the warbird community. He was always such a gentleman to me and my kids at the Reno Air Races, and his Bearcat was one of my son's favorite birds.