AVmail: Jun. 19, 2006

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Reader mail this week about British Airway's 747, NATCA vs. FAA, VLJs for commuting pilots and more.

British Airway's Three-Engine Incident

AVweb wrote (NewsWire, Jun. 12):
"British authorities say flying a 747 on three engines over the polar icecap was the right thing to do and now they're going to try to convince the FAA of that. As AVweb reported, the British Airways flight from LAX to London lost an engine after takeoff and kept going until running short of fuel and landing at Manchester. The FAA has cited the airline and a hearing will be held Aug. 13."
I'm not sure where the polar icecap comes into this. A great-circle LAX to London goes no further north than 61 degrees. London is at 51 degrees. Continue on three with a 747? Right thing to do -- no doubt. Great site, by the way. Nigel Corrigan
I don't doubt the 747 can fly and maintain altitude on three engines. I am not a pilot, but I am an A&P mechanic who has worked on 747s since 1970. My question to BA and Boeing: What could happen if in the middle of the ocean a second engine was lost? Or on approach final, where for some unforeseen occurrence on the runway caused the pilot to execute a go-around and at that moment a second engine on the same wing failed? I'm sure you are aware that loss of one engine, on this plane, besides loss of thrust also means that 25% of all the other services that engine provides for safe flight such as pressurization air, generator, hydraulic pump are lost. Berge Jermakian
The British authorities mentioned are the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), who are nobody's pushover. Read their assessment of the incident here. John Stanning

NATCA's Recent Loss on Capitol Hill

I recently read the comments from FAA's latest spokesperson, Geoffrey Basye, about the average salary of the controllers and contract negotiations (NewsWire, Jun. 15). I just couldn't sit back silent anymore. The average controller doesn't make anywhere near that amount of money. If the FAA is going to lie to the public about our salaries, you would think they would stick with one amount, I've seen or heard anywhere from $166,000 to over $200,000. If we are making an average salary of that amount, I'd like to know where mine is because I'm not seeing it in my paycheck. I've been a controller for 15 years at facilities near the top of the pay scale and I do not know anyone making $166,000 a year or near that. The FAA did a great job of trying to make this whole contract about money, just like they did in 1981. (And for those reporters in the mainstream press who don't do their research, NATCA didn't even exist in 1981; get your facts straight.) The contract has a whole lot of articles in it that have absolutely nothing to do with pay. The bill on the House floor the other day had nothing to do with our salaries; it had to do with right and wrong. It was about negotiating in good faith. That bill was about not imposing work rules on an unwilling workforce; it was about coming to an agreement which the FAA doesn't know how to do, just ask every other employee group who tried to reach an agreement on a contract. This Administrator has demeaned and criticized almost all of her employees at one time or another and we've had about enough. That is what this bill was about the other day. I think the general public is smarter than to believe all of this is about money, or at least I hope it is. Veronica Stein
Since there is so much hoopla over the looming controller shortage, let me offer you my take on the matter. I have been a controller since 1983. Out of the 23 years of service to the FAA, about six months of my career was spent as a dues paying member of NATCA. The union didn't do squat for me except to go out of its way to make my life miserable. So I got out. As to why we will not have a mass exodus of retiring controllers, let's use a typical center controller to make the point. (I'm not picking on the center). He is in his early to mid-50s, been working the same sector for over 20 to 25 years, can do it blindfolded; maybe divorced, no life outside the FAA, doesn't know how to do anything else anyway, and he makes $150,000 to $165,000 per year. Would you retire? I'm not describing me. Early in my career, I tried going to the busy facility. If you don't pay dues, you don't certify; and NATCA doesn't care how short staffed the place is. If we do not allow the ATO to straighten out the mess the union has made of things, the FAA will never regain its efficiency and respectability. By the way, the agency is not without fault. I watched for years as it thoughtlessly bargained away fundamental rights that should have been carved in stone just to placate the union. Its reluctance to draw a line with NATCA in these matters empowered the union into the current militant level it is at now. But the FAA has finally realized the mistakes of the past and remains keenly aware that it is time to return to the basic tenets of its existence. In my view, that would be safety and service to the flying public. Randy Garmon

Commercial Crews At Their Best ... And Worst

AVweb wrote (NewsWire, Jun. 15):
"The pilots of a South Korean Airbus 321 who managed to land safely last Friday after the jet was badly damaged by two-inch hailstones were honored with commendations ... The airspeed indicator also was damaged, so the Asiana Airlines crew got airspeed readouts from radar controllers ... the crew of a Boeing 777 that flew silently through Eastern European airspace has been accused of napping in the cockpit ..."
I think it should be groundspeed readouts, not airspeed. Barry McCollom
Why is it when a pilot has a problem in flight, e.g., heart attack (possibly his own fault), mechanical failure, etc., and is just trying to get the left seat down in one piece, he is lauded as a hero? Why is it when people like firemen or fuel-truck drivers, who deliberately go from a place of safety in to a place of danger on behalf of others, are regarded as just a footnote? Tom Hare
I wouldn't get too excited about Vietnam Airlines not answering the controllers. Having spent over 20 years with a window seat myself, I can relate many instances where the controllers did not answer, issued the wrong frequency, had frequencies published that were no longer used or monitored and a few more problems communicating. At almost 500 kt. groundspeed, it doesn't take long to cross some countries. I had one night in South America when we flew for two hours without communication with anyone, not ATC, not the company, no VHF, no HF, not SATCOM, nothing, having made calls on every frequency we could find and even trying to get our dispatch over the sat phone. And, that was in a non-radar environment where many of the airplanes flying at night would not be seen on TCAS. I wouldn't point any fingers at the crew until the whole story is known. It is a disservice to everyone. Being tired or sleepy is one thing every international pilot lives with and battles on almost every trip. The rest rules are awful in the name of "economics." It is a testament to the crew's professionalism that we do not have more accidents due to fatigue. No one keeps any record of the number of international crewmembers who have auto accidents after returning from one of those double all-nighters. Dennis Lyons

UAVs in Civilian Airspace

Last week, I was traveling on Interstate 280 and thought I saw a Predator flying on what would be the usual pattern that a P3 Orion would fly into Moffett Field. Moffett is now operated by NASA Ames Research and I thought, "Nah, they would not be flying a UAV over civilian airspace with homes, business' and schools in the area." You can imagine my surprise when I read this issue stating the plan to fly UAVs in civilian airspace (NewsWire, Jun. 15). Keep up the good work. Ralph P. Manfredo

Pro Pilot Commuting Nightmare -- The VLJ Solution?

Your article on VLJs being used as commute vehicles for professional pilots was very interesting -- if it's for free (NewsWire, Jun. 15). The article mentioned all sorts of nightmares that pilots suffer in order to get to work. What makes these nightmares bearable is that the commute is often free (or available at a very much reduced rate), a necessity more now than ever with today's reduced wages. Once a pilot has to shell out a month's salary to get to his domicile for one trip on a VLJ, I'm sure he'll either move, or find a new career. Brooks Wolfe
You're kidding, right? Typical airline crewmembers live at a crash pad with 20 others because they have taken a 50% pay cut and they are going to be able to afford to fly a VLJ anywhere? Please! I suggest you descend immediately as you must be hypoxic. That's the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Name withheld by request

Garmin GX55 Battery

Just an addition to your article on the GX55 (Reviews, Sep. 1998). I was searching the net for blogs relating to the replacement of the internal lithium battery in the GX55 when the display begins to exhibit errors and apparent loss of memory. It would be useful for the readers to know that the internal battery is a common Panasonic BR 2/3A available at most camera stores. Pop the top lid on the GPS, and the battery lifts right out of its holder for easy replacement. Sending it off to Garmin [which is now providing support for the GPS previously sold by II Morrow -- Ed.] has been known to cost in the neighborhood of $150-$200, as I've been told. Thought ya might like to know. Jeff Moir

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