Archive for July, 2008

Mech-aniacs

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2008 by luckyjet

Aviation professionals of all sorts are almost without exception human beings.

 As such they are inclined to make the occasional mistake. Something in our nature requires us to judge people more harshly when the consequences of an error are amazing and serious than if an honest mistake results no harm.

The news reported today that a “young lady aircraft cleaner” pushed the wrong button and caused an airplane to zip around the airport wrecking three jets. The news story contains some glaring errors, so even though all I know about the entire thing is what I have read let me set some of the record straight.

  • It probably is not worthy of mention that the individual in the story was female. If it was worthy of mention then there is another story to be reported.
  • Although some “cleaning” was being done this person is not a “cleaning lady” as reported. She is most likely a certified Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic.
  • The procedure for cleaning the compressor section of a jet engine is (obviously) dangerous and requires at lease two mechanics to perform.  Probably three.
  • It probably is not worth mentioning that the individual involved is young. Who cares? An old guy can make mistakes equally as dramatic as a young woman.  
  • ASA has too many airplanes anyway and is probably glad to have a good reason for writing three of them off.

The compressor section of a jet engine periodically needs to be cleaned of residue from dirty air, dust, bug guts, and gadnoswhatall.  This is done by spinning the engine up and tossing a mixture of water, soap, and ground walnut shells through it.  The results are impressive and kind of fun, but this isn’t performed by the cleaning lady.

Mechanics operate engines on the ground for a wide variety of reasons. An airplane engine of any sort is dangerous to work around and safety precautions are commonly taken.  Sometimes this doesn’t work out very well and then only good training can overcome bad mistakes made at an unfortunate time.

The unexpected and accidental application of High Thrust could only take place for a few reasons, all of which require something else to be “ON” or “ARMED” which shouldn’t have been. In any event, effective training is the only thing that will prevent this sort of accident.

Mechanics are not required  by the FAA to have any simulator training and, as this event demonstrates, probably should be.  Airlines rarely, if ever, spend a minute, or a penny, on anything that is not specifically required. Typically the FAA only acts in response to a body count, or really cool explosion.

As for firing the young lady, I certainly would advise against it.  After writing off a 100,000,000 dollar loss to poor training they should keep her. Besides, she won’t ever do that again. 

As far as I could tell by reading the article no one was injured, I certainly hope this is accurate.

Happy Landings

Advanced People Watching

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2008 by luckyjet

Recently I had occasion to spend about six hours waiting for an airplane that was about six hours late.  Pilots will generally spend as little time around large groups of inconvenienced passengers as possible. There was no shortage of these so we made the hike down to Ops to hide and hang out.  

 All airlines have at least a small, if not large, Operations (Ops for short) office somewhere under something and always in an obscure location.  It seems that there is some sort of natural burrowing behaviour airlines demonstrate when renting office space.

In the 1950s there would have been lots of guys drinking coffee from paper cups and chain smoking. At least one Teletype machine would be clacking away, producing  reams of continuous yellow paper covered with obscure text and runes describing the weather and operations messages.

Messages would read something like: ALL DWN TX STH .. ..###U.M.C. ##NR## PAX MXCNT. .PLZ PG..ADVZ###.. .. This would mean ” Attention all stations downline from Texas and Southeast: An unaccompanied minor child passenger travelling on a non-revenue pass has missed his connection. Please Page the airport terminal and find this kid, advise if you find him!”

Things have changed a little in the fifty five years I have been around these places. Ops now is a non smoking environment, and the teletype machines are gone. I’d like to have one though, especially if it still worked. Now there are computers everywhere and few people.

Television monitors show the gate areas and most of the terminal in great zoomupable detail.

Some words to the wise.. Do not ever think that you can pick your nose at the airport and not have someone see you do it.

Ladies, If you need a more comfortable bra then get one or something.  Guys, stop adjusting your parts in public. 

There are cameras everywhere. The resolution is amazing. They rotate, zoom, highlight …… and more.

It is easy to read the name on a boarding pass at the ticket counter, or the title of a book someone is reading.

My personal favourite was watching people while they watch people. Guys pretend to look at something else to watch a girl after she walks by, girls pretending to look at something else when a guy walks by.  And various combinations.

There was a mouse (or baby rat) in a corner. It showed up several times on the video.

Ops is an interesting place for pilots for about seven minutes. This is about how long it takes to read all the non-pilot stuff on the bulletin boards and a few Dilbert or Far Side cartoons. The remaining five hours and fifty three minutes wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun without the video camera.

You guys are great.

Happy Landings

Checklistus Interruptus

Posted in Uncategorized on July 10, 2008 by luckyjet

Checklist is one of those rare self descriptive words that describes itself. How the thing works isn’t as easy to understand. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

For some reason which eludes me totally, every airline has vastly different checklists and procedures.  It seems to me that if everybody is doing it differently then somebody must be doing it wrong. Maybe we all are.

When there is a complex set of tasks to be accomplished the very best way we have come up with to get them all done in the correct order is to have a list that is followed. When there are multiple people involved it seems to work best for roles to be clearly defined.  One person reads the checklist, the other responds.  Sounds easy.

Watch Dr. Strangelove for some great examples. We still do it exactly the same way. And, the movie is cat juggling funny, not to mention almost fifty years old.

In practice the whole thing is too often just a way of making it against the rules to make a mistake.  Is it on the checklist? Yes. Did you do the checklist? Of course, I don’t want to make a mistake and get in trouble. Did you miss it? Yea. Then you didn’t do the checklist… Yes we did. No you didn’t … I’m fired now, right? Yes.

Pilots are typically “diciplined” by getting time off without pay for making a mistake. The severity of dicipline is based on the consequenes of the mistake instead of the magnitude of the error itself.

If you slide off a taxiway because you are going too fast there will be punsihment involved. If you are noticed going exactly the same speed in exactly the same place and nothing happens then nobody cares.  Oddly,  we all want more time off anyway.

After a few hundred times of going through the checklist it is impossible not to memorize it. After a few thousand repetetions it’s a mantra. This happens without even trying.

When a crew is tired or distracted it is fairly common for both pilots to look right at a switch, one of them ask if it is on, the other say “ON”.  Later they notice that it is OFF.  Dang.  Usually there is no consequence. Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well.

Things work reasonably well using a checklist because pilots are generally serious about getting things right and try fairly hard to not screw up. It always takes a little concentration though. Sometimes it takes a lot, especially when the crew is tired.

Policy and good sense dictate that if we are bothered more than just a little bit while doing the checklist then the whole thing should be started over.  This is a huge pain in the ass.  All pilots positively loathe anything that is a huge pain in the ass.

It would seem that after just a few years as a valued co-worker  a Flight Attendant would know not to bust into the middle of checklist completion with a question that could wait 30 seconds.

This year I have encountered only one valued co-corker that was polite and aware enough to wait for us to finsih the “Before Start Checklist” before interrupting. She didn’t really count though since her husband is a Captain and has a reputation for being a controlling jagoff.

Airlines have tried everything from a mechanical scroll thing with knobs, little metal slide over tab things, index cards, big laminated cards, little laminated cards, electronic displays, scrolling electronic displays, audio enhanced scrolling electronic displays,  paper, and laminated paper.

The one thing nobody has tried is doing the stuff in the same order every time but having the checklist be a little different each time so that the responses aren’t automatic. 

It could be electronic, laminated, whatever. Just not the same every dang time, and never interrupted. The co-pilot could pick from about five choices of lists, all the same, just ordered differently so it wouldn’t become second nature …..

Then again, never mind, we’re probably all going out of business anyway.

Happy Landings

You’re Outta Here

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2, 2008 by luckyjet

Lately there is  considerable media attention given to passengers bounced off of an airplane for various reasons.

There was the woman we all heard about that had an outfit that was too revealing … she exposed herself, and became semi-famous.

Then there were the girls that said they were just “too hot” to be passengers when they were really just ignorant and attention seeking.  

Recently a lady travelled with a child that in clinical terms went “BATSHIT” for whatever regrettable and unfortunate reason. The kid and mom were both bounced with minor media mention.

Sometimes hindsight makes it easy to be critical of a crew’s decision making processes. Not all decisions are made with good information processed over an adequate decision making time interval.

Here are some of my favourite passenger bouncing / bumping stories and some important definitions. 

“Bumped” is when your seat is taken away and assigned to a passenger of a higher priority than yours. If you are boarded as a standby (even at a different city) and a regular fare shows up you may be bumped. Try to accept your fate politely.

If you appear to be intoxicated in the gate area, or on the airplane,  and are denied boarding or asked to get off of the airplane you have been bounced.  There will be no compensation for this since by regulation you are not allowed to travel if you appear to be intoxicated or unruly.

Another type of “denied boarding” is what happens when you have a reservation for a flight with 152 seats but you are the 153rd person to try to get a boarding pass. If somebody else doesn’t volunteer to give up their seat you will be denied boarding and are due some compensation. It isn’t much.

The next level of travel intervention is “pounced” in which the local police handcuff and restrain you for the Homeland Security forces which can pack you off to Guantanamo in about six hours if you continue to be an unruly individual. This is generally reserved for people that are overly rude.

While it is amazing that media coverage is as comprehensive as it is in some of these instances it is equally amazing that others are never reported.

A passenger going to Las Vegas was reported as being unruly in the gate area before departure. There was evidently some discussion about not taking him but when several US Marines in uniform showed up for the flight the decision was made to allow him to travel.  Evidently things were calm enough on the airplane but the unruly man approached the flight crew in the Las Vegas terminal after the flight and started to complain loudly.

One thing no crew wants after a long day is a drunken complaint.  Nobody likes a complaining drunk.  Especially after the day is over and they are walking through the terminal.

Things evidently got out of hand somewhere about the point where the Captain had the guy’s head shoved through a railing overlooking the fifty foot drop to the baggage claim area threatening to toss his ass over the edge. Fortunately the local police intervened and saved the man by taking him to jail. 

Another of my favourites was described in the Dallas Morning News in about 1995.  Sometimes  even after a flight is boarded something will happen that requires a stand-by passenger to be bumped. 

An operations agent came on a flight at DFW to find a stand-by passenger and tell him he had been bumped. This should have been easy since the agent had a copy of the boarding pass with the seat number.  There wasn’t anyone in the seat where Mr. Gay was supposed to be so the agent asked the man in the next seat “Are you Gay?”.  He evidently responded “Well, …yes”. Okay then, says the agent, you’ll need to collect your things and come with me.  Here is where things got out of hand.

Another passenger overheard the exchange and was upset by it. He asked the agent  “I’m gay, do you want me off the flight too?” Sure, if you want to stay here with him just get your stuff and come with me.   This evidently triggered an even greater communications failure the result of which was that about a dozen and a half gay and/or outraged passengers stormed off of the airplane in protest. 

Meanwhile Mr. Gay, not realizing what was going on, continued to his destination.  Un-bumped, un-bounced, non-pounced, and still a standby passenger on an oversold flight.

Once again proving that talking is easy, but communication is a bitch.

Happy Landings