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Aviation Human Factors Industry News

January 03, 2005

Vol. II, Issue 1

Exercise: Keeping at it

Exercise shouldn’t be something you do only when you want to drop those 10 extra pounds or prepare for the charity road race. To be successful, it has to be thoroughly integrated into your lifestyle; it should be something you do as routinely as eating, sleeping, and taking your morning shower. Unfortunately, that can be difficult, as you may already know. The information below may help you stay on course when your motivation starts to flag:

Make it personal. Your first step on the lifelong path to healthy physical activity is to identify what works for you. Think about what kind of activities suit your lifestyle, time constraints, budget, physical condition, and likes and dislikes.

Make it fit. For most people, time constraints are a major problem to overcome. Start planning your exercise sessions by making a detailed schedule of your week. Look for ways you can work in blocks of exercise. Can you get up half an hour earlier every morning for a walk? Would this mean going to bed earlier? Be realistic. In addition to the time you schedule every day, look for ways to add bits of activity and recreational exercise—an extra lap around the mall when you’re shopping or a Saturday morning bike ride. After the first week, adjust your schedule in places where it may not be working.

Set some goals. Set a long-term goal, and break it into weekly or monthly targets. For example, to drop 25 pounds in a year, you’ll need to lose just over 2 pounds a month.

Reward your efforts. Meeting your exercise goals, even short-term ones, is cause for celebration. It reflects your commitment to improving your health. Find ways to pat yourself on the back; rewards that don’t involve a high-calorie treat will make you feel best.

Getting back on track. Even the most dedicated exercisers sometimes go astray. Almost anything can knock you off track: a bad cold, an out-of-town trip, or a stretch of bad weather. That’s why it’s critical to learn how to reclaim your routine. If you’ve been away from your routine for two weeks or more, don’t expect to start where you left off. Cut your workout in half for the first few days to give your body time to readjust.

The bigger challenge may come in getting yourself back in an exercise frame of mind. Try to keep confidence in yourself when you relapse. Instead of expending energy on feeling guilty and defeated, focus on what it’ll take to get started again. Once you resume your program, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will begin to feel natural.

Alaska stands by baggage contractor

Despite evidence that a baggage handler’s error led to an emergency landing Monday at Sea-Tac Airport, Alaska Airlines said Wednesday it won’t cancel its controversial baggage-handling deal with the worker’s employer.

"Menzies has been very responsive to our concerns," Alaska spokeswoman Caroline Boren said of Menzies Aviation, the baggage-handling contractor. "Together we and Menzies are taking steps to ensure this incident won’t happen again."

Alaska and Menzies said Wednesday that they immediately sent baggage handlers and ramp workers to a special three-day retraining session, in part to emphasize the importance of reporting any run-ins between equipment and planes.

An Alaska flight bound for Burbank, Calif., was forced to make an emergency landing Monday after a sudden cabin depressurization as the MD-80 jetliner was climbing through 26,000 feet.

The depressurization was caused by a foot-long gash in the plane’s fuselage near the baggage compartment, which authorities say was the result of an earlier ground incident in which a baggage-handling vehicle hit the plane.

The damaged metal from the MD-80 will be part of the training sessions to show workers what can result in apparently minor accidents.

In other developments Wednesday:

• Menzies suspended the baggage handler who authorities say drove the baggage-handling vehicle that hit the plane Monday. The person’s name and the length of suspension were not announced.

• The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have launched investigations into the incident.

• A Tacoma aviation expert said passengers weren’t in critical danger during the episode, due to pilot training and the design of the airplane.

Alaska said it was standing by its baggage-handling contractor, whose employees replaced 472 union baggage handlers that Alaska fired in May.

Menzies has acted on virtually every suggestion the airline has made to improve the baggage handlers’ training and accountability since the incident, Boren said.

Menzies Aviation’s tenure as a replacement for Alaska’s own baggage handlers has been marked by controversy.

Alaska’s on-time arrival rate dropped sharply, its lost baggage claims rose steeply and its customer satisfaction rating dived after the contractor took over from Alaska employees in May.

The number of reported run-ins between baggage-handling equipment and planes also has increased, from 11 last year when Alaska employees were still on the job to 13 in a comparable period this year. No other major flight incidents occurred due to the reported run-ins.

Former Menzies workers have said the company was not training workers well and that worker turnover was steep.

Alaska and the contractor, while admitting early problems, say the company and its workers have grown increasingly adept at doing their jobs as they get more experience with Alaska’s hub operations at Sea-Tac Airport.

Alaska replaced its union workers with Menzies’ after its own workers rejected a new contract offer that would have reduced top-scale baggage handler wages, imposed new medical insurance costs and altered the workers’ pension plan. The Menzies contract reportedly saves Alaska about $13 million yearly.

NTSB investigators said a dent in the plane’s fuselage caused by the on-ground vehicle incident expanded into a gash as the plane’s interior was pressurized.

Menzies said the baggage handler failed to notify airline authorities of the run-in.

NTSB spokesman Jim Struhsaker said the baggage handler reported the incident happened during a heavy rainstorm, and the baggage handler thought the impact had caused no damage.

Some passengers aboard Monday’s Flight 536 said they were concerned by the deployment of oxygen masks, the subsequent descent to a lower altitude and the necessity of an emergency landing.


Passenger Jeremy Hermanns, a marketing manager, described a loud rushing noise he likened to "a leaf blower in your ear."

But an aviation safety expert said Wednesday there was little possibility the incident could have turned into a disaster.

Tacoma aviation safety expert John Nance said the pilots aboard the flight handled the situation well.

"From an aeronautical standpoint," he said, "the chance of this depressurization causing fatalities was virtually nil."

Aircraft are designed to absorb such damage, he said.

There is little chance, for instance, that the crack could have grown so far that the plane’s structure was threatened, said Nance, a retired commercial pilot and now a popular author.

Gashes will advance only to the next line of rivets securing the plane’s skin to its framework.

Nance said some news reports sensationalized the incident and its potential for harm.

Pilots repeatedly practice how to handle a sudden depressurization incident, and the Flight 536 pilots handled the incident accordingly, he said.

The first concern of pilots encountering such a problem is securing their own oxygen supply so they don’t lose consciousness, Nance said.

Then the pilots descend to a lower altitude where oxygen is more plentiful before bringing the aircraft back to earth.

What was alarming was that the run-in wasn’t reported to authorities before the plane took off, Nance said.

The emphasis in airline safety should be in preventing anything that would compromise any of the redundant safety features of an aircraft, he said.


The vice chairman of Alaska Airlines’ pilots union said the airline’s pilots are deeply concerned.

"Anything that compromises safety – for ourselves, our crew, or our passengers – is unacceptable," said Paul Emmert. "When it’s a situation that easily could have been avoided, it makes it that much more so.

"Finding out what happened, why it happened, and, most importantly, how to keep it from happening ever again is paramount as far as we are concerned."

FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said the agency’s investigation will determine what steps are necessary to see that another incident doesn’t occur. "It looks like Alaska and Menzies are already doing many of the things the FAA is likely to recommend," he said, referring to the baggage handler retraining sessions.

The NTSB investigation is likely to be fairly straightforward, said the agency’s Struhsaker. The safety board’s job is to determine the incident’s cause.

It’s already clear, Struhsaker said, that the run-in was the likely cause of the gash.

Holding the key to the doomed Helios flight

The flight data animation for the doomed Helios Airways jetliner that crashed into a ravine outside Athens last August, killing all 121 onboard, is in the hands of the Greek air-accident investigating team.

Aviation experts say the sophisticated flight data recorder should answer at least some of the questions that have perplexed investigators.

Because so much about the crash doesn't add up, the digital flight data recorder, or DFDR, takes on greater importance as investigators piece together evidence. They’ll add this information to clues from the wreckage pattern, autopsies, radar tapes, witness reports and photographs taken by fighter pilots who trailed the doomed Boeing 737-300.

The recorder that Boeing installed in the tail of the plane in 1998 records 128 kinds of data, according to the company. That's more than has been extracted from most black boxes in past accidents.

In effect, the data gleaned from the DFDR can reconstruct the doomed flight, chief Greek investigator Akrivos Tsolakis told the Sunday Mail.

Popularly known as the ‘black box’, the plane's flight data recorder has been analysed by the French Accident Investigation Bureau, which has compiled an hour-long CD. It should clear up questions about whether the cabin lost pressure and, if it did, how quickly it was lost and how high the plane was flying when that happened.

The recorder should also tell investigators when the plane on autopilot; when it was controlled by humans and when it was out of control.

The plane lost radio contact with the ground roughly 30 minutes after takeoff from Larnaca. Fighter pilots who intercepted it reported that the pilot was not in the cabin, the co-pilot was slumped over the controls and oxygen masks were dangling from the ceiling. That led to the initial conclusion that the cabin had suddenly lost pressure at a high altitude, which would have quickly incapacitated everyone aboard if they didn't have another source of oxygen.

But then Greek officials revealed that the fighter pilots saw someone at the controls and that passengers were alive when the plane crashed.

That person has since been identified as 25-year-old steward Andreas Prodromou, believed to have tried to save the plane before it crashed at Grammatikos, near Marathon.

According to reports, the flight data animation contains some chilling sounds, such as the "Mayday, Mayday" uttered by Prodromou during his frantic efforts. He is also heard opening the cockpit door.

There are some questions the data recorder won't answer, though. It won't tell investigators whether the radio was working, or who was at the controls. It won't say who was in the cockpit, where the pilot went or why.

That's why the cockpit voice recorder, or CVR, is an invaluable tool, recording Prodromou’s pleas for help as well as minute details such as the pilots’ seat movements and chatter, even the pushing of buttons.

The CVR has also revealed the vain attempts by other airborne planes to contact Helios ZU522 while it was circling above the Greek island of Kos, as well as the approach of the two Greek fighter jets.

The investigation into the crash is due to be completed early next year. So far it appears the accident was caused by a number of different factors.

The predominant theory is that cabin decompression led to hypoxia – or low oxygen in the blood – causing the crew to pass out.

It is believed that before the doomed flight,
maintenance crew who had conducted a pressurization check left the control in manual instead of automatic, so the aircraft did not pressurize as it gained altitude. But the crew failed to notice the setting in their pre-take-off checks, and the post-take-off checks require no further confirmation of the pressurization control selection.

In the Helios case, when the audible cabin altitude alert sounded, the crew thought it was an erroneous configuration warning because the sound is identical. According to Tsolakis, the pilots’ "subsequent mindset and actions were determined by this preconception until hypoxia overcame them as the aircraft continued to climb."

Tsolakis reiterated to the Sunday Mail that the findings of the investigation should be ready by February or March, at which time they would be handed over to a Greek prosecutor. A news conference will then be held to brief the public – most of all the anxious relatives of victims – on what
caused the horrific accident.

"What I can say is that the investigations are on track, but I urge everyone to have a little more patience. We’re almost there," he said.

Error found in plane manual

Just eight months after the Federal Aviation Administration announced a completed review of maintenance manuals for Beechcraft 1900s, the plane's manufacturer has issued a correction because of a backward illustration.

The tail section of the Colgan Air plane that crashed off Cape Cod is loaded onto a flat-bed trailer in South Yarmouth on Aug. 28, 2003.
(File photo by Vincent DeWitt)

This is the latest in a series of manual revisions that Raytheon Aircraft Co. has issued since two Beechcraft 1900Ds crashed in 2003, one in Charlotte, N.C., and one on Cape Cod, killing 23 people.

In both crashes, errors were found in Raytheon's maintenance manuals during the crash investigation. And in the Cape Cod case, a backward illustration was cited as a factor in the crash.

Last month, Raytheon sent out a safety notice explaining that an illustration in the maintenance manual for installing a rudder trim forward cable was backward.

The rudder trim is on the tail of the airplane and acts almost like power steering. Using the bad illustration as guidance would reverse the gear, meaning a plane would turn left when the pilot intended a right turn.

According to Raytheon, the error was discovered during a check after maintenance.

The FAA will continue to monitor revisions, FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said.

Twenty-one people were killed in Charlotte in January 2003; two pilots were killed off Cape Cod in August 2003. Both planes had recently undergone maintenance.

After the two crashes, the FAA began to review maintenance procedures for the Beechcraft 1900, 1900C and 1900D aircraft, Duquette said. The National Transportation Safety Board later made the same recommendation.

A March 2005 FAA letter about the completed examination of flight safety entries mentions the same manual version that is under revision once more.

''I can't believe they found another one after all they went through,'' said John Goglia, a former NTSB member who investigated both Beechcraft crashes.

Raytheon spokesman Mike Turner could not provide the number of revisions that have been made after the crashes because he said they were not tracked.

At least seven corrections

But as of February 2004, there had been seven corrections and one change made as a result of the crashes.

''The safety of our aircraft is our utmost concern and we continuously review our manuals and procedures for improvement,'' he wrote in a prepared statement. ''Aircraft maintenance manuals are constantly changing based on input from operators in the field, product improvements and new FAA requirements.''

Turner declined to answer further questions because of pending litigation.

As of December, there were 255 Beechcraft 1900, 1900C and 1900D aircraft registered with the FAA. Colgan, a US Airways express carrier, locally flies trips between LaGuardia and Hyannis and Nantucket, carrying a maximum of 1,330 passengers weekly in and out of the area. Seasonal flights to Boston are also available.

Meanwhile, a federal judge last month dismissed Colgan Air from two lawsuits brought by the family and loved ones of pilot Scott Knabe and first officer Steven Dean.

The two reported a control problem after takeoff and crashed off Point Gammon. Skipped maintenance steps, a faulty manual and lack of pilot checks contributed to the crash, according to the NTSB.

Dean's wife, Yisel Dean, filed suit in January claiming wrongful death, negligence, breach of express and implied warranty, gross negligence and unfair or deceptive acts and practices. Knabe's girlfriend, Lisa Weiler, filed a similar suit; both have been combined into one case.

Gross negligence claimed

The claim against Colgan was for gross negligence. It was denied because Dean asked for punitive damages, which are allowed in Texas where the pilot lived but not in Massachusetts where he worked and was entitled to workers' compensation, District Judge Patti B. Saris said.

Negligence, breach of warranty and unfair and deceptive practices still stand against the plane's manufacturer, Raytheon Co., and assorted subsidiaries. Turner declined to comment on the lawsuit.

''The opinion was thorough and conclusive and definitively decided that issue, however the case goes on because there are several defendants still in the case, including the manufacturer of the aircraft and the providers of the maintenance manuals with erroneous maintenance instructions,'' said attorney Mary Schiavo who represents Dean and Weiler. ''We will very vigorously press on.''


A jury trial has been set for September 2006, according to court documents.

In another lawsuit, Colgan was not so fortunate. The airline, which flew 667,960 passengers last year, sued Raytheon for damages it incurred for the loss of its airplane and associated costs. In the suit, Colgan attorneys cited the faulty manuals as reasons for the litigation. Raytheon countered that Colgan's maintenance crews and pilots were to blame.

A federal judge dismissed the case last week. Colgan spokeswoman Mary Finnigan did not return calls seeking comment.


END - Lets Be Safe Out There