Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Century after first fatality, safety is in the air

Special thanks to Sulako for posting this on AvCanada. When you think how much the world relies on air travel, it is hard to imagine that it is still barely over 100 years old.

This is a picture of the accident from Wikipedia

From Yahoo News

Century after first fatality, safety is in the air

By CHRIS KAHN, AP Business Writer
Tue Sep 16, 5:49 PM ET

PHOENIX - It was called an "aeroplane," but the contraption Orville Wright piloted on Sept. 17, 1908 was hardly more than a big box kite with a motor. And unlike his famous first flight in 1903, this one was doomed.

Less than five minutes after takeoff, Wright's plane lay smashed, his passenger mortally injured, and the world got an early taste of the perils of flying. It was the first fatal airplane crash in history, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.

"The aeroplane is still far within the experimental stage," a New York Times writer lamented three days later. "The perfected machine will doubtless be different from it in everything from principle to motive power."

A hundred years later modern jets have indeed made air travel the safest way to get around. Yet, to the consternation of the airline industry, flying still generates for many the same rush of anxiety that onlookers must have felt when Wright's plane dove into the parade ground at Ft. Myer, Va.

"There's still this mystique about flying," said Ron Nielsen, a retired US Airways pilot who's found a second career counseling people who are afraid to fly. "There's a fear of being closed in, and there's a fear of dying."

It doesn't help when airlines are caught failing to follow government safety regulations, as was the case with American Airlines and Southwest Airlines earlier this year.

Anxiety levels may also rise when members of Congress accuse the Federal Aviation Administration of an inappropriately cozy relationship with the airlines it regulates. In response to reports of lapses in FAA oversight, the House passed a law in July that would force federal aviation inspectors to wait two years before taking airline jobs.

But the facts remain: In the U.S., no one has died in a commercial jet crash in two years. Before that, the safety record for airlines has been close to perfect.

According to a 10-year average of National Safety Council statistics from 1996 to 2005, only two people died in commercial airline crashes per 10 billion miles traveled.

That compares to a death rate of five people per 10 billion miles on passenger trains. And in cars, 81 people died for every 10 billion miles traveled.

Accidents in the air have become so rare that investigators no longer find common reasons why commercial airplanes crash, FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.

"If you try to say, what's the next common cause (of airline accidents) that we can address, the answer is there isn't one," Dorr said.

It took a lot of work to get to this point.

Aviation has always been an intensively reactive field, with many of its safety enhancements kick-started following major aircraft accidents.

It was this way even in 1908. A few days after the first fatal crash, Wright woke from his hospital bed and asked to see his mechanic.

"I'd like to have his view on just what happened to cause our spill," he said.

The plane was circling about 100 feet above the parade grounds during a demonstration flight for the U.S. Army Signal Corps when it suddenly dropped nose first and crashed. Wright's passenger for the experimental trip, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, was killed.

From the hospital, Wright picked through the scattered remnants of his plane and eventually decided what caused it to drop.

"Mr. Wright finds the accident to the aeroplane was due to the blade of the propeller coming in contact with one of the wires of the machine," C.S. Taylor, Wright's associate, told news reporters. A report by the Signal Corps Aeronautical Board said the propeller blade looked like it struck a wire supporting the rudder.

Aircraft safety investigations have become formalized in the years that followed. The National Transportation Safety Board, founded in 1967, deploys teams of investigators to major accidents and spends months examining each crash. It eventually recommends ways for the airline industry to keep the accident from happening again.

For example, airports were equipped with better weather tracking equipment and wind-shear alert systems following a number of crashes, including one in 1985 when a Delta Air Lines L-1011 tried to land during a thunderstorm at Dallas/Fort Worth airport, killing 135 people.

More safety improvements have followed other major accidents.

It can take months or even years before investigators come up with recommendations from a crash. But "if something happens during the investigation that really strikes fear in someone's heart, we'll send out urgent recommendations," said Bridget Ann Serchak, an NTSB spokeswoman.

Airlines also deal with several hundred new FAA air-worthiness directives each year that are recommended by aircraft manufacturers and other authorities. The FAA occasionally conducts safety audits like one that forced American to cancel hundreds of MD-80 flights this spring and submit to inspections related to electrical wiring.

Sometimes airlines will install safety features on their own. Alaska Air Group Inc., for example, recently said it will equip its entire fleet with a runway-awareness system aimed at preventing collisions on the ground.

"We realized we're flying out of some of the busiest airports in the U.S. and we saw the value of an additional safety measure," said Caroline Boren, spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines.

The systems will cost about $20,000 per aircraft to install, and Alaska's entire fleet is expected to be fully equipped with the alert software by the end of the month.

The FAA and airlines have not always worked well together, Dorr said, but increasingly they are sharing information about safety and maintenance.

That means that in the future, aircraft safety will become more automated with inspectors and airline crews contributing to the FAA's Air Transportation Oversight System, Dorr said. The system brings together maintenance and safety reports, and looks for any safety issues on the horizon.

The fear of flying may never leave some travelers, but as the industry continues to tweak its safety net, more of them may realize many fears are only in their heads.

"Everyone that I know that flies, when they get on the airplane, they're worrying about 'Will I get there on time?' Not, 'is the plane going to crash,'" Dorr said.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Seneca flight instructor lands on N.Y. highway

This was an article in today's Toronto Star. Good job to the flight instructor for getting this plane safely down. I've actually flown that Bonanza, SCZ, a number of times. Glad to hear everyone is ok. Reminds you why you practice your emergency procedures.


Seneca College flight instructor Michael Denning safely landed the plane he was piloting on a stretch of highway in eastern New York state on Sept. 3, 2008.

Pilot with two students lands safely after plane loses power over U.S.

Sep 05, 2008 04:30 AM

John Goddard
staff reporter

A Seneca College flight instructor with two students on board a single-engine plane over New York's Adirondack Mountains landed safely on a highway after the type of emergency "some people don't walk away from," he said last night.

Michael Denning, 24, said he glided the plane above two transport trucks 15 metres above the road after the engine died. He landed in the two northbound lanes of Interstate 87 with no injuries and no damage to the plane.

"When (the truck drivers) saw us they stopped, which helped us out because it blocked traffic," Denning said after getting off a bus in Montreal for a commercial flight home to Toronto.

"Luckily it happened when it did," said Ray Thatcher, emergency services director for Essex County. "This is a high tourist area ... but the main tourist season is behind us now and the fall foliage season isn't here yet."

"He did an outstanding job," said New York State Police Capt. Michael Girard. "It's a very mountainous region. It's not like you can find an open field."

"He set it down perfectly – dead centre," said Ryan Bessey, captain of the volunteer fire department from the nearby hamlet of North Hudson, N.Y., 150 kilometres north of Albany.

The students, both in their third year of a four-year program, are not being identified "to protect their privacy," said Dominic Totino, head of Seneca's School of Aviation and Flight Technology.

Denning was leading a training exercise at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, with one student at the controls of a single-engine Beechcraft F-33 Bonanza, seating four, owned by the college.

The idea was to fly from Buttonville airport to Burlington, Vt., on a flight that involved crossing into U.S. airspace, customs clearance and flying over hilly terrain.

They heard a clicking noise from the engine – "not something I've ever heard before," said Denning, a recent course graduate who began instructing last year.

The gauges showed nothing wrong. A minute later, a loud bang and loss of power prompted Denning to seize duplicate controls.

Below he saw mountains, trees and water. Then he saw the highway. At 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) the motor failed completely and the propeller stopped. He radioed a mayday call and touched down.

"It was a surreal feeling afterward," Denning said. "We were just standing there (outside the plane) making a few jokes."

Northbound traffic was rerouted for several hours until the plane was pushed to a crossover on the median of the divided highway, where it remained overnight.

Two U.S. Federal Aviation Administration inspectors arrived early yesterday to investigate the cause of the engine failure, an FAA spokesperson said.

Seneca's maintenance workers are all professionals, not students, Denning said.

"We've had these planes since 1992 and never had any engine issues with them," said department head Totino.

"They followed the way they were taught to land for emergency procedures," he said.


Here are a few photos posted on AvCanada by one of the students involved