April 18th, 2012

The need to go

Posted on Airliners.net. Hilarious

Use barf bags with caution. Years ago myself and 2 friends embarked on a cross country journey to the big city in a rented Cessna 172. About an hour and a half into our return trip back home our back seat passenger informs us he has to take a wicked piss and just can’t hold it anymore.

We begin to discuss our options, we’re only about 30 minutes from destination and already running late so we don’t really want to make an unscheduled pit stop. In an ironic twist of fate we just happened to be flying in the vicinity of Niagara Falls at the time which probably didn’t help with our friends state of mind. Things rapidly deteriorate and our backseater is now almost to the point of tears in what appeared to be an extreme state of discomfort, he had to go NOW.

With no other apparent options I pass him back a barf bag and tell him to use that. Now up to that flight it was always part of our pre-flight procedures to make sure there were barf bags onboard, however I never actually looked at them to make sure they were in a satisfactory condition, and as we were about to learn, the one I passed back had been ripped and had a few small holes in the bottom of it.

Now with the aroma of stinky pee filling the cabin, that stuff really stinks in such a small confined space, our hapless passenger begins to inform us in no uncertain terms (the “F” word repeated multiple times) that this now half full bag of stinky pee has sprouted a leak of it’s own. In the ensuing panic we surmise the best course of action would be to immediately discharge the offending bag from the aircraft ASAP.

I pull the throttle back to slow down and crack open the door. Leaning forward our hapless passenger begins to try and rapidly egress the bag through the partially open door, when we learn another of life’s cruel lessons, the structural integrity of a half full barf bag of pee is no match for the 110 mile per hour wind stream. As soon as the leaky bag begins to poke out and make contact with the outside airflow it promptly explodes into a fireball of warm yellow urine, with most of the blowback being sprayed directly into the face of our now very hapless passenger.

In the ensuing hysterical laughter it’s all I can do to maintain straight and level flight. As I look back to survey the damage I observe that the now empty bag had managed to exit the aircraft after all where it had now become lodged on the horizontal stabilizer. I carry a few extra knots on the approach not knowing the full aerodynamic effect on performance caused by a barf bag stuck on the stab, probably nothing but safety first.

We got a few looks as we taxied into the flying club with a long yellow streak down the side of the fuselage and a barf bag stuck on the tail. Confirming the condition of all onboard barf bags, and making sure all passengers have gone to the washroom before departure, is now part of my pre-flight checklist.

Thank you “JetCaptain” for a good laugh!

July 22nd, 2011
July 20th, 2011

The Crazy Order

Today, American Airlines announced their long awaited order for the narrowbodies, and nobody saw this one coming. Short background. In the mid late 90′s American Airlines, Delta Airlines and Continental Airlines entered into a deal with Boeing that basically said: If you (AA/DL/CO) order all aircraft types for which we have at least a competing product with us, we guarantee you not only a great price, but also darn good delivery slots. When Boeing later wanted to acquire McDonnell Douglas a few years later, the European Union forced Boeing into not being able to enforce said contract due to it being perceived as being anti-competitive, but nothing withheld AA, DL, CO or Boeing to simply continue the deal without enforcement. AA remained a loyal Boeing-only airline. So did Dl and CO, until they merged with Northwest and United respectively, who were both already operating Airbus aircraft.

After the huge problems with the 787 and to some extent the 747i in terms of promised delivery (and for that matter, the A380), airlines faith in OEM’s to actually deliver on time has melted away rapidly, and therefore, imho, part of the value of said contract. Mitigating that risk is only possible by diversifying ones OEM’s. And this is what happened today. Despite all the broo ha ha that “American will NEVER order anything but Boeing”, “If it ain’t Boeing, I am not going”, they ordered a stunning 260+365 Airbusses and 97+200 Boeings (see below for the breakdown). The Boeing part is slightly more vague, as the actual model offered (737 with new engines) has not been approved by the board yet as far as we know. I really feel for the guys in Seattle (less for the ones in Chicago btw) because it seems to be a royal slap in the face.

Now in all honesty, there is a lot more to this order than the above, so allow me to just add a few oneliners:

  • What helped was actually Airbus offering the better airplane  (google 320 NEO).
  • What helped was probably a very intricate financing deal. Airbus is known for pulling that sort of thing off, and AA is financially NOT in good shape. I don’t think Boeing was feeling comfy with all that exposure.
  • >50% (probably MUCH more) will be US manufactured (think engines and avionics), so it is good for the US economy either way. And Airbus might open that factory they had promised for the tanker deal they eventually lost anyway.
  • We (the Europeans) buy a lot of Boeings, Air France (yes them) and KLM (my home patch) especially. Don’t come crying to me.

Fair deal I think. Congrats to AA, Airbus AND Boeing.

ps: yes, I know a few readers are chiming for the home team, and that is great. So am I. But even more, this is, whatever one thinks about it, a major shift in this industry and we’re talking billions and billions of dollars.

Edit: The actual numbers are in layman’s terms:

OEM-model Firm Option Intended Intended Option (?) Sub total Delivery notes (ex options)
Airbus 32x classic 130 130  20-35/yr 2013-2017
Airbus 32x NEO 130 365 495  10 in ’17, 20-25/yr ’18-’22
Sub total Airbus 260 365 625
Boeing 737NG 97 40 137  20/yr, 2013-2017
Boeing 737RE 100 60 160  20/yr, 2018-2022
Sub total Boeing 97 40 100 60 297
GRAND TOTAL 357 405 100 60 922


An Airbus A32x “classic” and a Boeing 737NG is what you’d fly in today.

A NEO is the big hit of the moment really. It has sold close to 1000 over 1200 units, and will be available in a few years

An  “RE” is a non-existing designation, but is the Boeing equivalent of the NEO. It is not defined nor authorized for sale yet. AA promised to be a launch customer IF Boeing commits to building it for this one, read: get ‘m cheap but with the usual early production quirks. (but will not be the launch OPERATOR)

Good grief.

Edit: few more words about the late 90′s deal. Some typos

May 18th, 2011

The crash of AF 447

You have all read this in the papers. About a month ago the debris of AF 477 was found on the bottom of the Atlantic, after almost two years of its rather mysterious crash. Last week the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder were found, retrieved, brought to the BEA in Paris (read; French NTSB) and read out. Last Monday there was a short press statement saying all data on both recorders was successfully retrieved (50 hours of flight parameters, 2 hours of cockpit conversations). I can tell you a lot of people were holding their breath last week. Would the recorders be found? Would they be in one piece? Would they be salvageable? And then: would they still have and give up their data, after a violent crash and 2 years in 3 kilometers deep salt water. They did. We will know what happened. And we will learn from that and make air travel a bit safer again. A big BIG thumbs up to the French government, Air France, the BEA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for their relentless efforts to find the recorders, and to Honeywell for making them so incredibly strong and reliable.

OK, so that was old news (will not go into the question of retrieving the bodies or not). Then, French newspaper Figaro stated “sources close to the investigation stated that the preliminary analysis of the recorders exonerated Airbus”, implying it was a sole act of the pilots or an act of the Gods thing. Speculation immediately went into fifth gear. They were asleep. There was only one pilot in the cockpit when all the bells went off and he panicked, not hearing the gong to open the cockpit door. They incidentally locked themselves out of the cockpit etcetera, etcetera. Oh and of course this information was probably leaked by Airbus, following an agenda to push away the blame they obviously have.

The BEA was the first to respond there was no thing and also marked the entire affair as highly disrespectful to the (228) victims and families.

So what did happen? It was in fact this statement, from indeed Airbus, to its customers:


OUR REF: AF447 AIT 7 dated May 16th 2011

- Ref 1: AF447 AIT 1 dated June 1st 2009
- Ref 2: AF447 AIT 2 dated June 4th 2009
- Ref 3: AF447 AIT 3 dated June 8th 2009
- Ref 4: AF447 AIT 4 dated July 2nd 2009
- Ref 5: AF447 AIT 5 dated July 30th 2009
- Ref 6: AF447 AIT 6 dated April 03rd 2011

This AIT is an update of the previous AIT 6 concerning the AF447 accident which occurred over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1st, 2009.

It has been approved for release by the French BEA who lead the investigation as per European Regulation and ICAO Annex 13 International Recommendations.

Following underwater search campaigns and subsequent operations, the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) were recovered. Data extraction of both recorders have been performed at the BEA facilities in the presence of two German investigators from BFU, an American investigator from NTSB, two British investigators from AAIB and two Brazilian investigators from CENIPA, as well as an officer from the French judicial police and a court expert.

Data from DFDR and CVR have been successfully downloaded.

At this stage of the preliminary analysis of DFDR Airbus has no immediate recommendation to raise to operators.
Further update will be provided as soon as new significant information becomes available or as soon as Airbus will be authorized to share more information in compliance with investigation rules.

Yannick Malinge
Senior Vice President
Chief Product Safety Officer

Read: “We know you are all eager to know if there are issues with our product. We informed you 6 times earlier, including recommendations. The recorder readout did not raise any immediate issues that you should know about with the aircraft. But we will keep you, who after all are flying the plane, closely in the loop.” As would (and do) all OEM’s. And these statements are always approved by the investigation authorities.

Now that is slightly different eh? Going from “…Airbus has no immediate recommendation to raise to operators…” to “Airbus totally exonerated…”. The media. Gotta love em.

Disclaimer: While I love all airplanes and think all OEM’s make the most incredible and often also beautiful machines, I am a mild Airbus fan.

Update: a BEA note describing what they found it is neither an interim report, not an analysis. Scary shit.икони

May 9th, 2010

The follow-ups

In air travel that is. For the real buffs this is old news of course, but I wanted to share this anyway.

The final report on the crash of Turkish Airlines in February in Amsterdam (pretty close to me) last year has come out. As usual, this was a classical case of all the holes in the Swiss cheese lining up, and all parties involved are being blasted. The pilots *) for not recognizing what was going on, air traffic control for letting then do a short turn in and thus catching the glide slope from above without following proper procedures, Boeing for a system architecture leading to a safety hazard, Turkish Airlines for a mediocre risk management system, and all airlines for not reporting small system errors that are handled or  “negotiated” by pilots routinely. Here is the report, and here the animation, basically saying it all.

Earlier on the nest: The crash (I did not update this post. My speculation was more or less correct, but not in all details. Amongst others, the AP did not flare, it was just following the glidslope, and speed went all the way down to almost stall speed (stick shaker) before the crew intervened).

On other aviation related news, news has come out over new analysis of the audio files made in the first month of searching for the black boxes of the still mysterious crash of Air France 447 over the Atlantic last year. The investigators have concluded that they did “hear” the pinger(s) of the black box(es) after all, and have now narrowed down the search to a 5 by 5 kilometer area, still approximately 3 kilometers under water and in very mountainous terrain. There is new hope they will be found and some light will be shed on what happened that night.

Added May 10th: By the way, IF the above is true, it would strongly imply the crew made a full turn before crashing.

April 20th, 2010

BBC: Human technology vs. nature

Updated below.

Here in Anchorage we have to listen to BBC on Public Radio for most of the late night hours. The eruption of a volcano in Iceland has disrupted human activity that is reliant on recently developed technologies. The folks at the BBC don’t seem to get it. Simply, nature trumps man. How ironic that the BBC can’t seem to mention that we humans have built an unworkable system. Rather than focus on the cascading technological failures caused by a natural event in Iceland the BBC can’t go beyond reporting effects. How odd.

We have created for ourselves some unreal views of nature and our relationship to nature. Technologists hate to say they got it wrong. We have convinced ourselves, and our media trumpets the view that our technology has outdone nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

See for example:

Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.

Ellul, Jacques. The The Technological Society. New York, NY: Random House, 1964.

Update: 2010 April 28

I think Joe Bageant’s take is grounded in reality,

Thanks to technology and layers upon layers of mediation by TV, movies, the Internet, etc., gadgets and manufactured imagery, we all live many steps removed from reality. Collapse is symbolized to each of us in different ways. To some it would be the sustained malfunction and lack of access of the Internet, which is surely coming……

I have come to think the price of admission anywhere in the world, (except in America and Europe, where enough dough will get your ass kissed in any circles) is service to others. We have been indoctrinated by an earth devouring capitalist system to believe otherwise. Believe that giving only depletes. And that mankind and civilization came about through kings and warriors and “great men.” But the essential glue of man the social animal has always been on cooperation and sharing. That an endless stream of elite thieves have always managed to steal the fruits of that cooperation does not matter. And the best that is in man still rests on the same fundamentals — cooperation for the greater good of all.

Most of the folks here in the U.S. can’t imagine a “cooperative economic model.” I think it’s been “programmed” out of most folks here in the U.S. – cooperation is a model that few U.S. citizens have ever encountered over the course of their lives. Too bad for all of us.

March 8th, 2010

The heroes of the economy. Oh yeah, and cool vids

As a little tribute to the heroes *) that grease the economy, here a pretty cool video for the aviation buffs out here. This guy has some more cool stuff, and I like how he seems to be able to tie-rap a helmet-cam to the nose gear of a 747-200 without “issues” and extend it a bit early for the fun of the recording. Oh the charms of Africa.

Thanks user “Euclid” on airliners.net.

*) Think of it when you see that well uniformed passenger 4-stripe. When he messes up time wise, oh well, a couple of hundred of people get annoyed. When the freight pilot does, probably somewhere a couple of million dollars is lost somewhere in a factory, waiting for that one part to arrive.

September 20th, 2009

The last flight (edit)

Friday September 4th at 7:55 PM Yesterday Martinair departed for the last time from Miami FL using flight number MP 646 back home to Amsterdam. I never was on this flight, but I did Amsterdam – Orlando. Not a really big deal in this economic climate, but this little tribute shows the passion of the staff in Miami. As many wrote on fora: you’ll be missed.

I never knew the firebrigade hose-down was done on a last flight, it is on a first flight to an airport by an airline. So maybe it’s a bit special.

Added Sep 18th: 2 days ago it was announced / rumored that Martinair will cease all passenger operations in 2010 and Martinair Cargo will become the sole Cargo operator of  Air France-KLM. Some destinations will be axed, the others will be transferred to Transavia (another operator in the AF-KLM group) and KLM. My first flight ever to the US was over 20 years ago using Martinair in a DC-10, Seattle as port of entry and then on to Los Angeles reboarding the same aircraft.

March 4th, 2009

The crash (final, no more updates)

Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 crashed at Amsterdam Schiphol airport at 10:31 AM local (CET) time this morning, Februari 25th (8:31 UTC, 4:31 AM EST, 1:31 AM PST).

Last edit: I am going to put this entry to rest, with my understanding of what happened. Do feel free to comment the hell out of it. Still, it’s kinda heartbreaking and shows again how only a chain of event leads to tragedies like this. The aircraft was piloted by the First Officer (FO), with the captain monitoring his performance and doing the non-flying duties. The FO was not hand-flying the plane. They came in a bit fast and high, but all within reasonable margins. Next thing, the left hand radio altimeter, a downward looking radar system, fails, indicating they are already touching down instead of being 1950 feet in the air. The crew notices this problem, but dismisses it as a serious event as the barometic and the right hand radio altimeter indicate the correct position. The autopilot (or to be more precise the auto-throttle part of it) keeps the engines on full idle. The crew interprets this as getting rid of the fast and high situation but in fact the auto-pilot has determined they are almost touching the runway. The airplane flies through the decent path and starts flaring, read, pulling up the nose to bleed off airspeed while “hugging” the runway, that of course in reality is NOT under the tires. Things go fast now. The FO notices they are decending though the expected glidepath and that they are loosing speed rapidly. He grabs the throttles and slams them forward. It take a couple of seconds before the engines spool up. The captain is now also aware of a serious problem. He calls “my plane” taking over control. The FO removes his left hand from the throttles, assuming the captain to takes them. Things might still have been recoverable at this moment. Unfortunately, the autopilot system still “thinks” they are flaring and with no hands on the throttles, they are retarded once more. It takes the crew six vital seconds to realize this horrible mistake. They slam the throttles forward once more, but it is too late. Before the engines can power them out of this situation, they slam in the mud with hardly 100 knots (aprx 120mph) forward speed, the nose pitched up high and in a full, deep stall. The Flight data recorder had 25 hours of flight on them, in 8 flights. In those 8 flights, twice more the left radioaltimeter failed.

  • Had the left hand altimeter been properly repaired, or….
  • had it not failed at that crucial moment, or…..
  • had the crew recognized this as a serious event, or…..
  • had they not been fast and high, thus having more time to realize what was going on, or……
  • had the captain not taken control, or…..
  • had the captain taken over the throttles immediately, or…..
  • had the crew hit the TOGA (Take Off Go Around) button, or even simply disengaged the autopilot….

this horrible incident would not have happened. May all that passed away rest in piece, and all the wounded, both physically as well as mentally recover soon.

Latest (I’ll do this twitter style):

Mar 4: First preliminary results from the OvV: Plane was on full auto pilot (AP), but the left radio-altimeter was defect, indicating the aircraft was already on the ground (-8 ft when the actual height was 1950 ft). The AP then throttled back to flare the airplane on the runway that simply wasn’t there. Pilots intervened too late.

Mar 1: The video in this page, made on the day of the crash, gives a good impression on the damage to the aircraft and the incredibly short debris track. I doubt it being more than 3 times the length of the aircraft. This is another indication of the very slow forward speed (reported by GPS derived data to be only 83 knots = 154 km/h = 95 mph).

Mar 1: Status: 44 in hospital, one still in critical condition.

Mar 1: The wreckage will not be removed today. The investigators need more time and it will be Tuesday earliest.

Mar 1: Some more background on the legal versus safety argument here and here.

Feb 28: It is now confirmed by Boeing that all 4 Americans on board were Boeing employees, of which 3 perished, and one is still in hospital. Of the badly injured, one is still in critical condition, the others will survive. It is not stated anywhere that this last person in critical condition is in fact the 4th Boeing employee. The 4 were all sitting in the front of the aircraft.

Turkish pilot association Talpa claims the wake of the 757 that landed before TK1951 was probable cause and is said to blame ATC. Again, this is all speculation. As far as is reported, the 757 and this plane were separated 2 minutes, which AFAIK is sufficient. Maybe a pilot friend can comment on that.

Two of the 4 Americans that were killed in the accident were Boeing employees.

The OvV has refused to give the justice department, who is conducting a separate investigation focused on liability (guilt), access to the black boxes.  Safety Board officials feel witnesses will not be able to speak freely if they feel their statements could be used in a criminal investigation. Traditional “FBI vs NTSB” conflict, if talking in US terms. The justice department is not amused being flipped the finger.

The flights First Officer (often called co-pilot) was on this flight to familiarize himself with this particular (sub) type, which was also reason for the jumpseater. Let me stress that this is not “learning to fly”. The guy was flying airliners since 2004. It has not even been established that he was actually flying the airplane, if it was in any auto-pilot mode. That is all speculation.

The plane is supposed to have had some technical issues in the last couple of days. An aborted takeoff on February the 23rd, after flap issues the 18th.

The 9 killed: 5 Turkish, 4 American. From the 6 badly wounded, 4 are still critical (but made it through the first 24 hours).

The “Onderzoeksraad voor veiligheid” (OvV, Dutch Safety Board,  roughly the Dutch NTSB) started its investigation immediately after the crash. The black boxes haven been sent to Paris for analysis. Preliminary results expected after the weekend.

Crew was reportedly crushed by the instrument panel buckling forward in the crash.

- – -

One fatality At least nine fatalities, 20 50 86 wounded, of which 25 severe, 6 in critical condition.

ASN reports: Turkish plane crashes at Amsterdam-Schiphol. 135 on board. Presumably TK1951 from Istanbul. B737-800 TC-JGE. No fire reported, airplane broke in three.

Airframe is sitting next lined up to the “Polderbaan” (36L/18R). At least 50 walked off unharmed. One engine ripped off.

Audiovisuals here. Location on google maps here. Note the site being lined up with the runway.

Twitterfeed here.

CNN have reported it an Airbus 380. Typical.

All three cockpit crew (one jumpseater) reported dead and still trapped in the aircraft. They are not being moved, probably because they are stuck, but maybe even more importantly, nobody wants to flip a handle or switch by accident that could invalidate the investigation.

Speculation part: very short crash path and described as “fallen out of the sky”. That would suggest a stall, which could have had several reasons.

It’s been 13 years since the last airliner accident in my country, the crash of a historic Dakota (DC-3). The worst (in terms of within the borders) was El Al 1862, a freight 747-200 that crashed into an appartment block . If a Dutch aircraft involved is the definition, it’s histories worst aviation disaster ever, Tenerife.

November 19th, 2008

Is Alaska Airlines putting lives at risk?

Monday night, 2008 November 17, at 2100h I left Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport aboard Alaska flight AS-119 bound for Anchorage, Alaska (depart at 2100h; scheduled to arrive at 2340h). About 2 hours after the plane took off from Seattle the pilot, thoughtfully and thankfully announced that he was making an unscheduled stop at Yakutak airport,northwest of Juneau, Alaska to take on fuel. The pilot, in announcements to the passengers from “the flight deck” repeatedly said that the plane was taking on fuel because of weather conditions (fog) in Anchorage. According to an April 2008 MSNBC article entitled, Pilots claim airliners forced to fly with low fuel; Cost-cutting measures create serious risk for fliers, flight crews complain,, at least some of the major carriers are flying aircraft with a fuel load below or precariously close to the FAA required minimum. It seems to me, based on my experience Monday night, that Alaska Airlines might be a guilty of flying with too little fuel. Quoting from the the MSNBC article:

“FAA regulations are precise: A plane must take off with enough primary fuel to reach its destination and then its most distant alternate airport based on conditions. It must carry a reserve of 45 minutes’ worth of fuel on top of that.”

I’d be curious to know, and will be investigating further, how many times Alaska Airlines flights en route to Anchorage have stopped in Yakutat to refuel in the recent past?

It seems to me that Alaska Airlines is being rather cavalier. After all, flying to and from Alaska is not an inexpensive proposition and now, in addition to the price of the fare, I have to worry if Alaska Air has loaded enough fuel onto the plane to get me home safely. Because Alaska Air may not have sufficiently fueled the plane I was on, I and a Boeing 737 full of passengers (there was not one empty seat on the aircraft), more than 250 souls, had to arrive at our final destination 2-hours late so that the Airline could provide us with the safe travel that we should have been guaranteed when the plane left the ground in Seattle. Seriously, the thought of a winter rescue operation, at night, somewhere between Anchorage and Fairbanks (the alternate airport) is beyond my comprehension – hmmmm. Hmmm indeed.

PS I wonder if the pilot got any flak from Alaska Airlines management for his decision to stop and take on fuel in Yakutak?