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Aviation Human Factors Industry News

February 27, 2006

Vol. II, Issue 9.

Airport worker killed on tarmac

A customer service representative for Comair who had only been on the job for about a month at Detroit Metropolitan Airport was killed Sunday. Eric Michniewicz, a Comair employee responsible for unloading and loading luggage, was struck by a beltloader at about 2:30 p.m. He was a resident of Belleville.

Kate Moser, a spokeswoman for Comair, a Delta connector airline, said Monday that the accident remains under investigation. "An accident like this is extremely rare," Moser said. Michniewicz was preparing to unload luggage from an arriving plane when he was struck on the tarmac.

He was rushed to Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, where he was pronounced dead. The spokeswoman said that due to the ongoing investigation, she doesn't anticipate any additional information will be released to the public in the near future.

She said the Comair family is "deeply saddened by this tragedy and is working with the family to support them" during their time of grief. The company employs 2,400 workers at the airport. "In our 29-year history, this is the first time we have experienced a fatal incident with a customer service representative," Moser said.

Bad taxiing causes plane to ding wing

The left wing of a China Eastern passenger airplane departing from Daegu's airport yesterday afternoon crashed into the top of a radar building while taxiing to the runway. The 160 passengers and crew were evacuated immediately, and their were no casualties. Airport officials said the pilot did not follow the designated routes to the runway; meanwhile the Transportation Ministry is investigating how the accident happened and whether or not the pilot had been drinking.

Investigators Look Into LAX Runway Incursion Incident

Tense Moments As Three Planes Are Cleared Onto Same Runway It appears to have been a controller's mistake: three aircraft on the same runway at the same time -- two of them taxiing, one of them landing. A recipe for disaster? The FAA thinks so.

Investigators are still trying to figure out the details of the Friday night near-miss. A Southwest Airlines 737 was on approach to the active runway when the controller cleared a Skywest turboprop to cross the same runway.

That controller then also cleared an Air Canada flight from Toronto to cross the other end of the active.

As the Skywest pilot was headed for the runway intersection, he spotted the Southwest flight on short final and decided on his own to hold short. The Southwest plane then passed overhead 50-feet above the taxiing Skywest regional flight, before landing about 275 feet away -- as the Air Canada flight crossed the active further down the runway.

"For reasons which we don't yet fully understand, there were two incidents within seconds of each other that were fairly close things," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. "It was pretty close. We'll be looking to find out what all happened, and how we can prevent it in the future."

LAX is one of the worst airports in the nation when it comes to runway incursions. To improve the situation -- and hopefully avoid incidents like last week's -- the Los Angeles airport authority recently approved $328 million to give planes more room to maneuver around the airport's south end.

Wrongful death suit against Chalk's, manufacturer

The three surviving children of a South Florida man who died in December's Chalk's Ocean Airways crash have filed a wrongful death suit against the airline and the companies that manufactured and maintained the aircraft, according to Haggard, Parks, Haggard & Lewis, the Coral Gables law firm representing the family.

Richard Rutecky, 63, of Broward, was one of 20 killed when Chalk's Flight 101 crashed off the coast of Miami Beach on December 19, 2005.

Richard Rutecky, Jr., of Atlanta, and his sisters Tanya Benton and Wendy Rutecky are suing on behalf of their father's estate

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, claims negligence on the part of Chalk's, products liability and negligence against Seaplane Adventures, the makers of the aircraft that crashed, and negligence against Frakes Aviation, the company that was responsible for the maintenance and repair of the aircraft.

Helios Families Sue Boeing Over 2005 Accident

Despite Reported Findings Of Pilot Error Aero-News has learned the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP -- in cooperation with the Cyprus law firm Phoebus, Christos Clerides, N. Pirilides & Associates, of Nicosia and Limassol -- refiled a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the families of victims in the crash of Helios Flight 522 on August 14, 2005. As ANN reported extensively last year, the aircraft depressurized while inflight, causing those onboard to lose consciousness.

Despite reports that officials investigating the accident have found evidence the plane's pressurization system had not been properly configured by the pilots at the time the aircraft took off from Larnaca, Cyprus -- reports that were acknowledged by the law firm in its announcement -- the law firm is targeting Boeing, manufacturer of the 737 (incorrectly referred to as a -200 model by the law firm; it was a newer -300, manufactured in 1999) involved in the tragic crash.

"While there appears to have been negligence on the part of the Helios pilots, Boeing was also negligent and shares responsibility for the passengers' deaths," said Robert L. Lieff, founding partner of the American law firm. Specifically, the law firm is targeting Boeing's use of a warning horn that the lawyers say did not give sufficient warning to those pilots that something was amiss onboard the six-year-old aircraft.

The law firm cites the following statement from Hans-Peter Graf, a former airline commander and investigator in charge at the Swiss Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau who specializes in flight operation and human factors: "The checklists that Boeing composed and recommended for the 737 aircraft made it easy for crews to take off and fly with the pressurization system set incorrectly. The alerts and warnings given to the crew were inexcusably vague and late. The design and implementation of a superior system would have cost a minimal amount."

"Thus, I am firmly convinced that Boeing and its partners played a substantial role in this crash, and they could have prevented it with a proper design of the crew alerting system," said Graf, who has been retained by the law firm for the duration of the lawsuit. Listen to an initial report on the accident, by ANN Contributor Nathan Morley In Cyprus.

The complaint also alleges that two years before the Helios accident, in 2003, Boeing communicated to 737 operators that "flight crews may not recognize the (aircraft pressurization failure) horn as an alert of excessive cabin altitude." "Boeing took no corrective action in response to this potential safety hazard other than ask 737 operators to revise their manuals," Lieff alleges. "Boeing could have eliminated the confusion from multiple uses of the same horn by using a vocal warning or a unique horn, through an inexpensive modification to the 737 pressurization warning system."

In the days following the Helios crash, Boeing did send notice to 737 operators worldwide stating the horn sounds for two distinct reasons that, one could argue, should have been obvious to the flight crew. "Confusion between the cabin altitude warning horn and the takeoff configuration warning horn can be resolved if the crew remembers that the takeoff configuration warning horn is only armed when the airplane is on the ground," the notice said. "If this horn is activated in flight, it indicates that the cabin altitude has reached 10,000 feet."

Christos Clerides, whose firm will spearhead efforts to prosecute claims against Helios itself, is working in partnership with Lieff Cabraser in representing the families in pursuing Boeing and any other U.S. manufacturers who may have contributed to the accident. Mr. Clerides stated, "I am very pleased to take this step forward in achieving justice for my clients. We intend to make sure that no responsible party escapes accountability for this horrible tragedy." Nigel Taylor, an attorney with Lieff Cabraser based in London and billed by the law firm as "one of Europe's most experienced aviation attorneys," stated, "This lawsuit holds out great hope for the victim families to get fair compensation, and we have an outstanding team in place to achieve that end."

Failed engine cylinder cited in NTSB ruling

A plane crash that killed a Sylvania Township anesthesiologist and his family 13 months ago in upper Michigan probably was caused by a failed engine cylinder and the pilot's subsequent failure to maintain adequate airspeed while attempting to land, the National Transportation Safety Board has ruled.

Fatigue cracking of an engine cylinder resulted in a loss of power to the left engine of the twin-engine Piper Aztec operated by Dr. Steven DalPra as he approached the airport in Ironwood, Mich., on Dec. 28, 2004, the report issued this week said.

The report cited "failure to maintain minimum control airspeed" as an additional cause that led to a loss of control and subsequent stall and spin.

Dr. DalPra, his wife, Colleen Morgan-DalPra, and their three daughters - Elizabeth, 15; Rachele, 14, and Giovanna, 12 - all died when the plane crashed into the side yard of a residence next to the Ironwood airport.

The left-wing engine on the 1977-built Aztec had been overhauled in 1997 but flown 345 hours after that, according to maintenance records cited in the report.

Examination of a fracture found in the engine's No. 4 cylinder head during the investigation "was consistent fatigue cracking," NTSB said.

The plane had undergone an annual maintenance inspection 17 days before the crash and been flown for about seven hours after the inspection, according to an earlier NTSB "factual" report about the crash.

Dave Kurtz, a flight instructor at Toledo Suburban Airport, said the "probable cause" report contained no surprises, based on the factual information the safety board had released Dec. 29.

The safety board also listed as "contributing" or "additional" factors:

●Dr. DalPra's failure to feather the propeller on the powerless engine.

●The pilot's need to manually lower the plane's landing gear because a hydraulic pump for the gear was powered by the failed engine, which required him to circle before landing.

●His decision to turn toward the failed engine's side during the circling maneuver.

Feathering the propeller means to turn its blades sideways so as to knife into the wind and reduce friction. Dr. DalPra, a certified flight instructor, told air traffic controllers shortly before the crash he had a "single engine and one propeller feathered."

But investigators reported observations "consistent with the propeller not being in the feathered position at the time of the accident," the report said.

The landing gear was found to be lowered at the time of the crash. The factual report of the incident said ice was found on the wings' leading edges after the crash, but the probable-cause report made no reference to ice.

It is not unimaginable for Dr. DalPra to have become so overwhelmed by the emergency that he became unaware of the feathering status of the failed engine's propeller, Mr. Kurtz said.

If the propeller stopped spinning, he said, Dr. DalPra may have noticed that without observing that he had not turned the propeller blades sideways.

"Given the workload he had, it's difficult to say how much attention span he had to devote to that prop," Mr. Kurtz said.

Ministry to require airlines to report minor problems

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)TOKYO (Kyodo).

Japan's transport ministry has worked out a draft bill framework for revising the Aviation Law that requires airline operators to report minor problems such as engine component trouble, according to ministry officials.

The revision -- planned to be implemented in fall -- is aimed at establishing measures to prevent accidents at an early point by collecting information on various problems and analyzing their causes, Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry officials said.

Under the current law, airplane captains are required to report only accidents and serious incidents such as overshooting the runway.

The ministry also plans to require airlines to report mechanical glitches and times an aircraft fails to fly at the altitude to which air traffic controllers have instructed it, according to the draft.

The ministry will work on details to determine which cases should be subject to reporting, the officials said.

As well, the ministry plans to require airlines under the revised law to compile internal rules on safety management, including a manual on reporting blunders to the ministry and within the company.

It plans to limit which companies can work on aircraft maintenance to those certified by the transport minister, amid increasing outsourcing of maintenance work overseas, they said.

Last year, Japanese airlines experienced a series of problems, with a Japan Airlines plane trying to leave an airport without obtaining permission for take-off and an All Nippon Airways plane flying at an altitude 1,600 meters higher than instructed.

 Blue Light Improves Alertness  

According to a new study published by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, shortwave light, which appears blue, immediately improves alertness and performance. The researchers compared the effects of blue and green light on volunteers during the night. Subjects exposed to blue light rated themselves as less sleepy, had quicker reaction times, and had fewer lapses of attention than those exposed to green light. While scientists caution that more research is needed, they are hopeful that these results could help workers who need to sustain alertness for long periods of time and at night. They also caution that if misused, blue light can cause damage to the eye. (ABC News, "Blue Light Could Keep You Awake and Alert" February 1, 2006).

END with thanks to jetBlue