April 7th, 2007

The stupidity of politicians

I have written about language and about our national airport before. And about politicians. Yesterday it all came together pretty nicely (not). Background: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is one of the largest and busiest airports in Europe. The Netherlands is one of the smallest countries. Question: What sort of travellers come to Schiphol. Let me see, dificult one, argh, 1+1=?. Ah, 2, right. Transit passengers. Bingo. A local politician from the CDA party (largest party, christian right wing) complained about the airport running their signs in some places in English only. In current populistic timeframe “we should be proud of our language”.
Mind you, we are not talking about the “Keep your passport ready” signs (those are bi-langual), but things like “Toilets” (“Toiletten” in Dutch), “Traintickets” (“Treinkaartes”, I admit, tough one),  “buses” (“Bussen”) and “Parking” (“Parkeren”). All have the internationally standardized icons to it.

Schiphol management laughed him away. They did research after complaints about lettering and it has dramatically improved since they made it all cleaner, read got rid over a lot of double indicators. Now he stated he is sorry he got into a trench-war-argument.

You gotta laugh over these guys. Until the moment you realize we pay them with our tax money and they “represent us”. Jeez.

March 27th, 2007

The worst ever aviation disaster

Exactly 30 years ago, to be precise on March 27 1977 at 17:07 GMT, the American and the Dutch collided in the worst imaginable way. A topped off (fuel and passengers) Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 named “Rijn” took off on a mist covered single runway Los Rodeos Airport without proper take off clearance, while a fully occupied PanAm Boeing 747 “Clipper Victor” was still taxiing on the runway. 583 people lost their lives, only 70 survived.

KLM captain Van Zanten was too eager to take off and ignored the flight engineer questioning the clearance. Cockpit Resource Management was non existent. As always, there were many, many circumstances all adding up to this horrible event. The 747′s were diverted to Tenerife because there had been a bomb thread in Las Palmas, the destination. The taxiway was crowded with stranded planes. Van Zanten topped off the 747 because he was eager not to wait in Las Palmas, so he could return to Amsterdam without passing his legal flying time. The Clipper had to wait while the Rijn was loading up, because there was maybe 3 feet of clearance lacking for them to pass the KLM 747 and move out earlier. There was no ground radar. The Clipper could impossibly take the exit it was told to take. Radio traffic wording was not completely standardized back then, and in the final seconds, the PanAm (worriedly reporting it was still on the runway) and the tower transmitted at the same time, so the KLM crew missed that last essential bit of information that could have made them realize their fatal mistake.

KLM-1 We gaan. {We’re going}


RDO No .. eh.

APP Stand by for take-off, I will call you.

RDO And we’re still taxiing down the runway, the clipper one seven three six. (RDO and APP communications caused a shrill noise in KLM cockpit – messages not heard by KLM crew.

APP Roger alpha one seven three six report when runway clear

RDO OK, we’ll report when we’re clear.

APP Thank you

KLM-3 Is hij er niet af dan? {Is he not clear then?}

KLM-1 Wat zeg je? {What do you say?}

KLM-? Yup.

KLM-3 Is hij er niet af, die Pan American? {Is he not clear that Pan American?}

KLM-1 Jawel. {Oh yes. – emphatic}

PanAm captain sees landinglights of KLM Boeing at approx. 700m

PH-BUF started rotation

KLM-1 [Scream]


It was later calculated the Rijn would have made it over the Clipper if it had not refuelled. Adding to the drama is that at the time Van Zanten’s picture was on every leaflet of KLM as the senior, smiling, confident captain. It is rumored that at the moment KLM’s management heard of the crash they decided Van Zanten had to lead the investigation on behalf of the company. Little did they know, the man was already there.

More info in this Wikipedia article.