Every airline has an N.O.C. (Network Operations Center), that functions as the entity that in effect keeps the airline running smoothly on an hour-to-hour basis. Almost everything that happens to an airline passes through the N.O.C. and is noticed by the personnel there who decide if action should be taken.

I am a Flight Dispatcher who has worked in N.O.C.s for over eleven years now and am qualified to comment on airline operations and uncover the behind the scenes activities that "keeps 'em flying". This should be of interest to travelers and airline enthusiasts alike.

Readers will also find industry news and rumors here as well.

All of the opinions and comments on this blog are my own and do not reflect on the policies and procedures of my current or former employers.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Test Post

This is a test post for a new program where I can recommend products and services that I am familiar with.

How it works is that if a reader is interested in an item, a click will take them to the vendor for more information.

I have been a model aircraft person all my life I thought I would start with a couple.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Back From the Dead

I haven't posted here for a long time but I am going to reactivate this blog for several reasons most of which I am back in the US market and can keep my finger on the pulse of the largest commercial aviation market in the world. I just could not do that to the extent I wanted to from my former overseas position.

Stay tuned, more stuff to come!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Continental Airlines/Concorde Accident Trial

Continental Airlines is being tried in a French court to determine if they were responsible for the crash of Air France flight 4590 in 2000. Five people have been charged with manslaughter in connection with the accident.

To me this looks like the French authorities are trying to find a scapegoat. Apparently, a strip of titanium fell off an engine enclosure from a Continental DC10 that took off minutes before the ill-fated Concorde departure. The nosewheel tire of the Concorde struck the piece of metal at 200MPH which blew out the tire sending chunks of rubber into the wing fuel tank. The resulting fire brought the SST down in the French countryside within two minutes of the beginning of its takeoff roll from CDG .

While it seems easy to hold Continental Airlines' maintenance liable for the alleged oversight that allowed the piece of metal to be on the runway in the first place, there seems to be much more to the story and plenty of blame to go around.

I just happened to be driving home this afternoon when I heard a BBC interview of a retired senior British Airways Concorde captain. He was saying the Concorde has an automatic system that shuts off refueling when the tanks are 85% full, leaving an air pocket, presumably to allow for fuel expansion when the aircraft sits on the ramp for awhile in a hot climate. That makes sense.

The retired captain went on to stay that for some unknown reason, the crew of Air France 4590 decided to override that feature and fill the tanks to the brim that day. Maybe they were departing soon and figured the extra fuel would be burned off not long into the flight. Maybe the weather at the destination, KJFK. was forecast to be bad and they wanted holding fuel. Who knows?

Air is compressible and liquids are not. Because the fuel tanks were full there was not a cushion of air in the fuel tanks of AF4590. When the ~10 pound chunk of rubber from the disintegrating tire struck the bottom of the Concorde's wing, a hydraulic pressure wave was produced that continued from the point of impact to the seams of the tank which burst and spilled fuel onto the electrical systems. The resulting spark caused the fatal fire. It was determined that the tire fragments never penetrated the underside of the wing.

So IF the Continental DC-10 had not shed a part on the runway, and IF CDG airport made sure its runways were debris-free, and IF the crew of AF4590 had not overriden the refueling policy and filled the tanks up, then maybe there would be nothing to talk about here.

Like most aviation accidents, this one was a result of many seemingly unrelated minor factors. To hold Continental Airlines solely responsible is irresponsible in itself.

The sad result of this accident besides the lives lost was the hastening of the end of service for the Concorde. In my opinion, it was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed and it served well. In today's environment, capacity and economy rather than speed is the design objective and it makes for some really boring aircraft. We may never see the likes of the Concorde again.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Disaster Averted!

Photo from CRW Facebook

A few days ago, a US Airways Express CRJ 200, operated by PSA, narrowly escaped disaster when the crew decided to abort a takeoff from West Virginia's Yeager Airport (KCRW) in Charleston.. You can see by the skidmarks that heroic efforts were made to stop the aircraft. Thirty passengers and 3 crew were aboard. All survived.

This may seem like a routine incident that may have flattened a few expensive tires and bruised some egos, but what is not apparent in the photo is that the nose of the aircraft is a mere 100 feet from a precipitous 1000 foot drop down to the suburbs below. You see, Yeager Airport is built on a high plateau and two of its runways end abruptly on ledges of granite.

KCRW is a challenge anyway. Because of the aircraft carrier-like runway ends, the surrounding mountains, high field altitude, short runways and frequent bad weather, it is one of the most demanding airports for airline flight crews in the USA. I have dispatched many flights into and out of there and I always checked conditions two or three time before I released a flight in or out of this airport. Especially in the winter. I am not saying it is a bad or unsafe airport, but extra care has to be taken by all involved because of the design.

Aerial view of KCRW from CRW Facebook

In the photo, runway 23 runs from left to right. The PSA jet attempted takeoff from runway 23 travelling from the left and ended up a hundred or so feet from the cliff at the end of the runway at the right of the photo.
Click the photo to see the expanded view.

So what happened? I am not an accident investigator but there are two factors involved here. One bad and one good.

The bad factor is that a perfectly good aircraft was unable to stop before it reached the end of the runway. When each flight is planned, many factors are considered such as temperature, payload, runway length, thrust, barometric pressure and runway contamination among others. These parameters are entered into flight planning software which produces a flight release with information the crew can use to determine what they can expect the aircraft to do under the particular circumstances from takeoff to cruise to landing. The flight releases I produce are all customized to that particular flight and no two are exactly alike. It is a precise science.

One number that is produced is called V1. Simplified,V1 is the speed (KIAS) that if below it and an engine is lost on the takeoff roll, the takeoff is aborted and aircraft must be kept on the runway and a safe stop on the runway surface is assured by the performance numbers. If the critical engine is lost on the takeoff roll above V1 speed, it is mandated that the takeoff be continued and a go-around be initiated as it is assumed that is the safer action than aborting the takeoff and attempting to stop on the remaining runway.

In other words, below V1 speed, stay on the ground and hit the brakes. Above V1 speed you are assumed to have too much energy to stop on the pavement and it is safer to leave the ground and return for an emergency landing. V1 is a go/no go hard rule.

If birds were involved as in the Sully Hudson River incident and there is a dual flameout, then all bets are off if there is no engine power left to continue takeoff.

So what happened at KCRW? That's for the NTSB to figure out. All I know is that the aircraft should have stopped short of the end of the runway or continued aloft depending on the speed at the time a problem was detected by the crew and the decision was made to abort the takeoff. Its all in the numbers. Something different happened in this case.

The good factor and hero in this story is the Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) that was installed at the end of RWY 23 a few years ago. EMAS is like one of those gravel filled runaway truck lanes one sees on steep downhill grades. The transition from hard asphalt to sloppy gravel slows the big rigs down fast.

EMAS works the same way. It has a substance like gravel below a thin layer of concrete. When an aircraft rolls over it the fragile concrete crumbles much like pie crust and allows the landing gear to sink into the more frictional material below slowing the plane at a huge rate. Both aircraft and passengers end up none worse for the wear. The system worked as advertised.

Which is exactly what happened at KCRW. If not for the foresight of someone in the Aviation Authority of Charleston, WV to invest in this technology (and it is not inexpensive) there would be 33 fatalities at the bottom oft that cliff right now. Way to go!

Note the EMAS symbol at the end of RWY 23 middle left.

Below is an airport that is in bad need of an EMAS overrun. This is KSGU in St. George, Utah. It is built on top of a volcanic mesa with steep drop offs at each end of the runway. I used to live there and flew in and out of that airport many times. Each departure and arrival was an adventure! A new replacement airport is currently being built on flatter ground northeast of the city.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why Pilots Are Not Asked To Design Flightdecks......

Just some photo editing fun, but you know its true!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

More Bankruptcies

Mesa Airlines is the latest in a long list of domestic airlines filing for bankruptcy lately. Chapter 11 in this case so the carrier may remain operating while negotiating debts with it's creditors unless a judge orders a complete Chapter 7 liquidation.

This is unusual as Mesa is a regional airline that does most of its flying for major airlines under contract and until recently, the regionals have been somewhat insulated from the industry's woes. Mesa also has independent operations in Hawaii.

When airline deregulation came to pass in 1978, the playing field changed forever for the major airline companies. Competition was much more fierce for the same territory. Commuter airlines sprang up to provide an inexpensive feed to the majors' hubs. These airlines usually flew 10 to 20 passenger turboprop equipment on short journeys from smaller markets that the majors could not afford to send DC-9's and B-727's to anymore.

In the mid '90s, Bombardier of Canada introduced the Canadair Regional Jet.(RJ). This was a small passenger jet that carried 50 passengers up to 1500 miles. The aircraft looked like a small DC-9, was quiet, comfortable and was as fast as any other passenger jets flying at the time. For some reason, the majors decided to pass on what could have been an economical replacement for their current inefficient smaller jets.


The commuter airlines saw an opportunity, now that the majors turned up their noses at the small jet, to offer a more attractive service to the majority of passengers who thought anything with a propeller was a relic from WWII. The major airlines saw advantages of letting the commuter airlines operate these jets on the thinner routes that they could not make money on. The pilot unions at the major airlines set a maximum of about 80 passengers that the regionals could accommodate on each of  their flights.

In a few years, the commuter airlines became regionals as the majors relinquished more and more domestic flying to them. Now a passenger who buys a Delta ticket to get from KJFK to KMIA may never actually step foot on a Delta owned and operated aircraft or deal with any Delta ground personnel. It is all done by the contracted regional airline. The planes are painted the same as the major partner and most passengers will not know the difference unless they see the small logo of the regional near the embarking door...Operated By: XYZ Airlines.

It is all set up to be a seamless experience. The regionals do not have reservation agents or advertising departments. They depend on the major partner to provide passengers. All the regional does is provide an aircraft, crew and in some cases ground people to move the bags and man the gates. The majors were more than glad to turn over the less profitable routes to the regionals. The regionals could do these routes for less money because they flew more efficient aircraft and paid their employees less.

It was a sweet deal for the regional airlines, too. In almost all cases the majors agreed to pay the regionals on a "fee for departure" basis. This means that no matter if the flight was empty or full, the regional would get paid the same by just showing up and departing as agreed. The majors paid the fuel bills too! This guaranteed income is why many regional airlines flourished when the majors were tanking.

So if the contracts are so favorable to the regionals, why is Mesa filing for bankruptcy? Several reasons come to mind. First: there are a lot of regionals out there bidding for the same flying from the majors. The majors usually choose the lowest bidder. Some regionals will bid unprofitably low to keep their piece of the pie in hopes of a better future.  Second: the 50 seat regional jet is no longer a money maker with oil at ~$70/barrel. The regionals with a large fleet of 50 seaters are at a distinct disadvantage to those that have the newer 70 seat variation. Third: there is talk that the majors will force the regionals to accept more "at risk" flying which means the the regionals will shoulder more of the burden depending on passenger loads and will share more actual gains or losses with the major partners.

Mesa Airlines is a victim of all three reasons and then some. They have a large fleet of unprofitable 50 seat RJ's, many which are already parked in the desert. Mesa's past performance has been lacking so they have to be a low bidder and they do not have the cash reserves to weather too much at-risk flying. Mesa has also had costly failures in China and Hawaii. I have nothing against Mesa, but they do have a certain reputation in the US airline industry.

The regional airline business is changing, it is no longer the cash cow it used to be. It's to the point that the majors can't afford to pay the regionals enough to stay profitable but cannot afford to lose the passenger feed the regionals provide. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess,  but I fear it will not bode well for the traveling public in the long run.

I just read where bankruptcy is just around the corner for Japan Airlines, big news when a legacy such as this company throws in the towel!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For......

I have been reading a lot of comments from frequent flyers rejoicing the new "Three Hours and Back to the Gate" rule recently thrust upon the airline industry by the US Department of Transportation in response to some highly publicized events involving passengers being kept on planes for lengthy times.

The new rule basically states that airline companies must allow passengers to deplane if an on-ground delay exceeds three hours. In addition, the airline must provide snacks, water and sanitary conditions when delays pass two hours. Under the new regulations, the airlines would face a fine of $27,500 for EACH passenger that was inconvenienced in this way. On the surface, this sounds great, let's punish the bastards!

As one that would rather take a severe beating than spend hours sitting in an airplane on the ground going nowhere, I have to look at the unintended consequences of this new rule and who are the real bad-guys that cause these delays to happen, hint: it's not the airlines!

Airports with a finite number of gates, bad weather occurances, air traffic control congestion and security issues all contribute to air travel delays and the relatively small percentage of flights where passengers are held simmering on the tarmac for hours are unfortunately unavoidable. It comes with the territory and no amount of rules and fines on the end user-the airlines-are going to change that fact. The airlines are victims of the system as are the passengers.

Believe me, as an airline employee working in operations, a high priority is to minimize delays because they disrupt the rest of the system down the line. One flight delayed for a few hours for any reason screws the rest of the day due to connections, maintenance requirements and crew duty time limitations. Each day is efficiently planned with very small tolerances for outside influences and many things have to work right to accomplish the holy grail of on-time performance in a safe manner. All of this effort is made to provide our passengers what they bought the ticket for...to get from A to B within the expected time we promised.

I have read comments from what seem to be not-so-frequent flyers about how the evil airlines hold them "hostages" onboard during these delays. Nothing can be further than the truth! We WANT you off the plane at your destination, we WANT the next flight to depart on-time, the crew WANTS off the plane, they are hungry and tired too. To think airlines desire to keep passengers onboard any longer than is absolutely necessary is absurd. A plane that is not in the air is not generating revenue.

Imagine being aboard a flight from ATL-ORD, your plane is 23rd in line on the taxiway from departure. The three hour rule kicks in and the crew has to return to a gate to let you off. What if there is no gate available? Big problem, you will remain onboard until there is. Even if there is a gate, the time to deplane and reboard will be much longer than if the flight had remained in line for departure.

So the unintended consequences of this new ruling is that airlines will be cancelling more flights if there is a chance that outside influences will lead to a delay. This will ultimately lead to more passengers inconvenienced as the airline will seek to avoid the fines. As a passenger experiencing a delay, are you ready to resign yourself  to spending another night at your departure city because of the three hour rule or would you want the airline to keep trying to figure out a way to get you home? Less than 1% of the flying public has experienced more than a three hour delay on the ground, hardly a justification for this new misguided regulation from the DOT. Many more than that 1% will be negatively impacted by the law. Ticket prices to select problem destinations can conceivably rise in anticipation of the new fines. Everyone OK with that?

However, I agree that  passengers aboard an aircraft experiencing a long delay should expect at least basic services such as food, water and sanitary facilities. It is inexcusable for the airlines not to provide these as they know that long delays are possible at certain locations and in foul weather situations. This is an airline's responsibility to its customers to make them as comfortable as possible when things go sour. Every contingency cannot be forecast, but an effort must be made.

Airlines are a favorite target of consumer groups and regulators, but those people have to realize that we try to do the best we can in a very difficult and ever changing environment. Flying folks all over the world is a complex endeavor, it is not a perfect science and "shit happens" sometimes and everyone will not have a flawless experience

Note: there are some cool vintage aircraft in the photo at the top of this post!