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Aviation Human Factors Industry News

November 22, 2005

Vol. I, Issue 2

Runway near misses prompt urgent US safety concern

By John Crawley, Reuters  | 

November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON --Aviation safety investigators, dissatisfied with U.S. government efforts to improve runway safety, urgently pressed regulators Tuesday to accelerate development of new technology to reduce hundreds of aircraft near collisions each year.

There were 324 incursions or near misses involving all types of aircraft in the year ended Sept. 30 -- about the same as the previous 12 months -- and at least 34 through the first week of November, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said at its annual hearing on its most-wanted safety improvements.

The most recent example involving two carriers, US Airways and Comair, occurred Nov. 9 in Fort Lauderdale, safety board officials said. A US Airways plane aborted its landing at the last second to avoid a Comair regional jet on the runway. US Airways Flight 1251 had clearance to land and missed the Comair plane by 100 feet.

Comair is a unit of Delta Air Lines .

"While the majority of incursions present little to no collision risk, a significant number of high-risk incidents continue to occur," said Sandy Rowlett, a deputy safety board operations chief. "There is an urgent need to reduce the hazard presented to the public by these events."

The three-member board voted unanimously to keep the runway safety issue on its priority list, and expressed frustration with the Federal Aviation Administration for not moving promptly enough over the years to develop and deploy an effective anti-collision network.


Further annoying board members was the disclosure that the FAA will slow additional delivery of its most updated runway warning system for four years -- to 2011 -- because of budget constraints.

"We need to do all we can to put pressure on FAA, airports and the industry to push for a safer system and better monitoring," said board member Debbie Hersman.

The board again pressed the FAA for a warning system that would go directly to the cockpit rather than air traffic controllers, who currently must relay runway hazards to airline crews via radio.

But the FAA said it has made progress in reducing the most serious near collisions by 40 percent over five years, and is evaluating a system of runway lights that would change color when aircraft are moving on the ground to give pilots a more immediate picture of runway activity.

NTSB staff members noted three incidents in the past six months at Boston, New York's John F. Kennedy airport and Las Vegas that current FAA warning systems did not prevent.

"Catastrophic accidents were prevented only by last-second efforts by a vigilant flight crewmember," Rowlett said. "We believe that a direct warning to the pilots would have prevented or mitigated the risk of each incident."

In the near-miss at McCarran airport in Las Vegas in September, an America West Airlines plane thundering down the runway on its nighttime take-off pulled up and over an Air Canada plane that had crossed its path.

Controllers had inadvertently cleared the America West jet for takeoff and given Air Canada permission to cross the runway at the same time. 


How Much is Enough Caffeine?  

A recent study by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in the U.K. found that drinks containing caffeine "can improve hazard perception, lane discipline and reaction times in simulated driving conditions". The study used two doses of caffeine; 40 mg (a dose similar to that of most colas) and 25mg. Energy drinks like Red Bull have upwards of 80 mg per serving.

Reaction time was improved in all tests using the higher 40 mg dose of caffeine. On average, reaction time was .1 second quicker than with the placebo control group that received no caffeine. In real world terms this translates into hitting the breaks about 10 feet sooner when traveling at 70 mph. For truckers as well as the everyday commuter, that can make all the difference in hitting an object or not. One interesting point of discovery was that even drinks with the smaller amount of caffeine led to fewer collisions during the test simulations.

While it is true that the 40 mg dose seemed to improve performance compared to the lower 25 mg dose, it is not clear that doses higher than 40-50 mg provide incremental improvements. For example, most people get all the performance enhancements they can from about 2-3 cups of coffee. Drinking 5 or 6 cups will not significantly improve performance or increase energy more. In fact, some studies show that very large doses of caffeine have a depressant effect and make people more anxious. There are also the downsides to excessive caffeine consumption such as ulcers, jitters, heartburn and indigestion.

For most shiftworkers and extended hours employees, caffeine is a way of life. Unfortunately, many use it in excess or at the wrong times. For example, a night worker coming off shift might often have a cup of coffee on the drive home, only to toss and turn in bed while the predictable effects of the caffeine keep him awake. This results in reduced sleep quantity and quality, leading to a negative impact on performance at work the next shift. Also, because the body can only process so much caffeine at once, the third can of energy drink is not only a waste of money but can lead to other health problems. Educating shiftworkers on how much caffeine is the right amount and when to time the ingestion of it can be beneficial to both the employee and the employer.


Plane’s pieces combed for clues
From Staff Reports

MANCHESTER — Federal transportation and aviation officials were on scene yesterday behind the city Wal-Mart store where a turboprop cargo plane clipped a greenhouse and crashed into a storage area Tuesday morning.

Investigators refused to speculate on what may have caused the twin-engine Embraer 110 to crash, and said it would be weeks before an initial determination was made. Yesterday, as part of routine procedure, they were taking pictures and recording observations about the crash site.

"We do this for every accident — we look at the man, the machine and the environment," said Paul Cox, a senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board who is leading the investigation into the crash.

"The airplane will go in a storage facility in Maine. If we need to see the wreckage again, we can," Cox said.

The plane crashed during rush hour on Tuesday morning, and according to witnesses, left AirNow pilot Paul Seyler-Schmidt, 32, with a broken leg and a head injury.

Seyler-Schmidt was the only one on board the aircraft, and no one else was hurt.

Officials said he reported engine trouble just after taking off, and although he tried to return to the airport, crashed short of the runway. He remained in fair condition at Elliot Hospital in Manchester yesterday, hospital officials said.

The plane came to rest just behind the Wal-Mart at 300 Keller St., just west of the intersection between Goffe’s Falls Road and South Willow Street. Yesterday, there were lots of people trying to see the wreckage. Rubberneckers slowed to a crawl in front of the crash site. Others pulled off the road and walked over to the crash site to get a better look.

Officials with United Parcel Service were also on hand yesterday, salvaging those packages that could be rescued.

Affected customers would be notified, a UPS official said. However, some packages appeared not to have made it — including some with markings indicating they contained live foods or other perishables.

According to Cox, the NTSB will finish its preliminary report on the crash in about 10 days.

That will be made available on the agency’s Web site, at www.ntsb.gov. From there, the agency will follow up with a report detailing the facts surrounding the accident, which should be released in four to six months. A final report on the incident should be ready within eight months to a year.


Nigerian air crash probe ends without answers

November 14, 2005

Lagos - Nigerian and United States air accident investigators ended their inspection of the site of an airliner disaster on Sunday but still have no idea why the plane crashed and killed all 117 people on board, an official said.

Recovery teams have yet to find the flight's data recorders, three weeks after Bellview Airlines flight 210 from Lagos to Abuja lost contact with air traffic controllers and plunged into a cocoa grove minutes after take-off.

"We couldn't find the black box. Nothing has been found which indicates the cause of the crash," Ibrahim Farinloye, spokesperson for the Nigerian federal government's National Emergency Management Agency, told AFP.

"The US experts will continue to work with the little, little part of the aircraft that we found," he said, referring to a team of American investigators from both the US government and the manufacturers of the ill-fated Boeing 737.

Asked to comment on Nigerian press reports that local experts were beginning to take seriously the idea that the jet was brought down by a bomb attack or sabotage, Farinloye said simply: "Nothing is ruled out."

On October 21 the crowded passenger airliner took off on a scheduled domestic flight between Lagos and Nigeria's capital Abuja in a powerful electric storm. Air traffic control lost contact three minutes later.

Almost 24 hours afterwards, Nigerian television journalists found the wreckage of the 24-year-old two engined aircraft on the outskirts of the farming village of Lissa a short drive north of Lagos.

Wreckage and dismembered corpses were spread over a wide area and in some cases buried deep in the ground by the force of the impact. Witnesses said that the jet appeared to have exploded in mid-air prior to plunging to earth.

More than 900 people have died in Nigeria over the past 12 years in more than 30 aviation accidents.

Since last month's fatal crash one plane has been damaged while landing on Lagos's badly maintained runway and another has aborted its take-off from Abuja after sucking a bird into its jet engine.

International airlines have threatened to cancel their lucrative Lagos flights unless the government improves safety at Lagos, where only one runway is serviceable and where ground radar is turned off at weekends.



Air drama: Jets within 100 feet of colliding


November 17, 2005

The near collision of two planes at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has federal authorities urging installation of technology to improve runway safety.



Two airplanes came perilously close to colliding at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last week, sparking an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and raising questions about the safety of the runways and how incidents are reported.

At 6:42 p.m. Nov. 9, Broward air traffic controllers cleared for landing US Airways Flight 1251, a Boeing 737.

On the runway, directly in US Airways' path, sat Comair Flight 5026, a CRJ-200 regional aircraft heading for Tallahassee.

As the US Airways flight from Pittsburgh descended, its crew members became alarmed when they noticed Comair.

The US Airways crew immediately communicated with the control tower, but got a second clearance to land, a safety official said.

Seconds later, traffic controllers realized a disaster was about to happen. The two planes were as close as 100 feet.

Traffic control alerted US Airways to ``go around.''

' `Go around' means to back up, climb [back into the air], do not land,'' said Lauren Peduzzi, spokeswoman for the safety board. ``You're talking four or five seconds at 100 feet difference. That's pretty low.''

No one was injured in the incident, Peduzzi said, and it's unclear whether passengers on either flight were aware of what happened.

It's also unclear who reported the incident.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has control over operation of airports, said Wednesday it's investigating the near collision, but spokesman Paul Turk said he wasn't certain whether the tower reported the mistake.

The Comair crew notified the NTSB on Nov. 10.

''From our viewpoint, this is an incident, this is a serious incident,'' Peduzzi said. ``Incidents like this give us concern that perhaps there were more incidents like this that we weren't aware of.''


Broward County, which operates the airport, was unaware of the Nov. 9 incident until it appeared in news reports, said airport spokesman Jim Reynolds.

''We're receptive to any ideas that FAA has to improve the safety of the airport,'' he said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association disputed the NTSB's version of the story, and said the Broward controller acted in time to order the go-around.

Local controllers are studying tapes to reconstruct what happened, said Doug Church, association spokesman. But Church said he doesn't believe the planes came that close to crashing.

''We don't want to minimize this,'' Church said. ``But go-arounds like this are fairly routine.''

''Runway incursions'' -- near misses -- happen with some frequency. Between Oct. 1, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2005, there were 29 ''serious'' runway incursions at airports across the nation, Turk said.

''Serious means that there was a real chance that the planes could have collided and one of the planes had to make an avoidance maneuver,'' he said.

Citing a recent incident at Boston's Logan International Airport, NTSB this week said it is unacceptable that it takes air traffic control so much time to notify pilots of an impending runway crash.


NTSB is urging the FAA to install technology that would detect planes about to crash. The FAA has begun that project, but is only outfitting the nation's largest airports. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood is not included, Turk said.

Currently, the Broward airport has no advanced software to avoid collisions, but does have a short-range radar system. Controllers also watch flights from the control tower, Turk said.

Runway safety software can cost millions, and would have to be paid for with state and federal grants and local dollars, Reynolds said.