F.A.A. Urges Commercial Flights to ‘Exercise Caution’ Over Persian Gulf

A US reviewer initially lost us a lot of sales for our second edition taking offence at our piece on how a fabulously expensive US warship designed to fight World War III found itself larking around with Iranian gunboats and in the process shot down an Iranian airliner on a scheduled flight. (The loss of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was just possibly a consequence of this.)

Interestingly, it was not so much the captain’s decision to fire that was the problem, but the circumstances, in that he was at the time chasing Iranian speedboats (mini-gunboats) with a billion dollar ship to claim combat experience when he shouldn’t have been.

In fact, our account was accurate, as Australia’s “60 Minutes” TV program confirmed.

The original all-in-one second edition of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings has a detailed account (See extract). [Note: Large print edition does not have detailed accounts of military actions.]

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President Trump and the MAX

In early comments on the Boeing 737 MAX disasters Donald Trump tweeted that airliners were becoming too complicated (Click here).

The problem with that is that the 737 MAX in many respects is not a modern airliner. It is based on design work done in the 1960s and is not a fly-by-wire aircraft with an integrated control system.

The article to which we supply the “Click Here” link explains this.

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Sukhoi Superjet Crash–Passengers collecting luggage raise death toll

There have been a number of fiery evacuations with passengers bringing their their hand luggage with each time everyone getting out, though sometimes injured.

In the Air France overrun at Montreal it was touch an go with one passenger blocking an aisle as he unpacked his bag. Passengers on the British Airways 777 that caught fire at Las Vegas had large bags, but fortunately the aircraft had only been half full.

British Airways 777 Las Vegas

The Sukhoi Superjet Crash in Moscow (Click Here) is an example of how dangerous taking your luggage can be for others. Perhaps part of the problem is that people exist in a bubble–say at the front of the aircraft in relative safety unaware of the severity the fire at the back or of the possibility that an explosion may engulf the whole aircraft in seconds.

There have been many suggestions regarding ways to stop people collecting their luggage including the locking of the overhead bins, though this would have to be automatic and have some facility to deal with a fire in the bin, say caused by a lithium battery. Ensuring passengers have essential items such as medication in a mini-bag would help. Confiscation of luggage taken in an evacuation might be a help but difficult to put into practice world-wide. Making passengers criminally liable for deaths or injuries would be difficult to prove in court.

Here is the end to our piece on the “Miracle on the Hudson” from our book Air Crashes and Miracle Landings:

Comparison with Ditching of Ethiopian Airliner

The media immediately contrasted Sully’s ditching and its perfect outcome with the imperfect one by Captain Leul Abate, the Ethiopian Airlines pilot who ditched his 767 off a beach, with one wing snagging the water and the aircraft spinning around before breaking up, with many lives lost. (A number of passengers were trapped due to premature inflation of their life vests causing them to float upward in the water-filled cabin.)

[Described earlier in this chapter.]

However, the two ditchings are not comparable:

1.  Abate was coming down in the sea with waves;

2. A hijacker was grabbing at the controls;

3. With no fuel left, electrical power was only being provided by the ram air turbine (RAT), a wind-driven generator;

4. With only minimal electric power for the most basic instruments and controls, he could not use any flap and was therefore traveling much too fast, with the aircraft difficult to control.

However, like Sully he did well to come down somewhere where boats could come to the rescue of survivors.

A Very Close-run Thing

Only when one looks closely at the photos of the occupants of the A320 perched precariously on its wings does one realize what a close-run thing it was. The aircraft could have sunk deeper; there could have been jostling, with people falling into the water and dragging others with them.

Again, Sully did great—going twice up and down the cabin to check everyone was out and telling rescuers to first save those on the wings. But had the bird strike occurred a little earlier, with the aircraft not quite so high, he would not have been able to skirt the George Washington Bridge and come down at a shallow angle on the Hudson, let alone at a point where rescue craft were at hand.

It was a miracle—call it what you like—that Sully’s great feat was capped by the perfect rescue, thanks to an almost unbelievable combination of factors and, not least, diligence—and nothing went seriously wrong, as it so easily could have.

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737 MAX sales will recover but another crash like DC-10 could be…

Boeing 737 MAX deliveries will surely regain momentum, though it may take time to get approvals from the various regulatory authorities now that the FAA has lost its sheen.

Airlines, in particular low-cost-carriers, have put so much investment in the 737 and are not in the main going to move to Airbus, even though they may suggest the possibility to get better terms from Boeing. In fact, Airbus would not be able to ramp up production very significantly.

Parallels with the DC-10

However, there are some parallels with the sad history of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Design was rushed in order to compete with the Lockheed’s L1011 TriStar.

In 1972, a DC-10 flying along the border between the US and Canada almost crashed when it became almost uncontrollable when a cargo hold door blew out with the result that the pressure differential between the passenger cabin and the hold caused the cabin floor to buckle.

The hydraulic lines and cables to the tail were attached to the underside and damage to these was what was making the aircraft difficult to control. Fortunately the floor had been reinforced to support a piano for an inaugural event and the pilots were left with just enough control to bring the aircraft back to the airport with good airmanship, adjusting the power of the low-slung engines to raise and lower the nose.

Within three weeks of the Detroit/Windsor scare, the NTSB made two urgent recommendations:

1.   Modification of the DC-10 door-locking mechanism so that it is physically impossible to bring the vent-flap-locking handle to its stowed position without the C-latch locking pins being fully engaged.

2.   Vents (holes) should be incorporated in cabin floors to greatly relieve sudden pressure differentials, such as those caused by the opening of a cargo hold door in flight.

The Gentleman’s Agreement

The NTSB could only advise. It was up to the FAA to make these two modifications mandatory.

Just when the FAA was about to issue an airworthiness directive (AD) making interim and long-term solutions mandatory for all US operators of the DC-10 (which foreign operators would have followed), discussions between the FAA administrator and the president of the Douglas division of McDonnell Douglas led to the senior FAA technical staff being overruled. Douglas and the FAA were no doubt being subjected to pleading from US airlines, who would not want to take their aircraft out of service in the peak summer season. So, the FAA did not issue that airworthiness directive. Instead, McDonnell Douglas almost immediately issued recommendations, in particular the installation of a “lock mechanism viewing window.”

This gentleman’s agreement between the FAA administrator and McDonnell Douglas’s Douglas division president sufficed to prevent a repeat accident in the United States, but not to prevent a DC-10 crashing after taking off from Paris for London with the loss of 345 lives.

The FAA hurriedly made the measures the NTSB had recommended mandatory. These included floor vents. Passengers are safer now thanks to that.

The DC-10 was only grounded when a DC-10 taking off from Chicago lost an engine and crashed.

Further to this, the public lost confidence in the DC-10 and sales petered out. This was unfair as the engine had fallen off because maintenance workers had contrary to instructions used a fork lift to remove the engine and in so doing had damage the pylon. In fact, the DC-10 albeit in limited numbers flew safely for airlines for many years.

If the max were to similarly have a terrible accident in the US sometime in the future, one that was not Boeing’s fault, the public’s refusal to fly on it could, however unfairly, be a serious problem for Boeing and not least those low-cost-carriers.

SEE CHAPTER 6 in Table of Contents

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