Entries in Airplanes (14)


American Airlines Inspecting Planes as Third Loose Seat Incident Reported

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- American Airlines tells ABC News it is inspecting eight Boeing 757s in its fleet that recently had new seats installed after another report of loose seats aboard one of its flights surfaced Tuesday morning.

The latest incident involves a flight from Vail, Colo., to Dallas on Sept. 26, according to the New York Post, and marks the third such reported problem with loose seating aboard an American Airlines flight in less than a week.  The other two incidents took place last Saturday aboard a flight from Boston to Miami, and on Monday aboard a flight from New York City to Miami.

While American Airlines blamed recent flights delays on labor troubles with pilots, it insists the seat incidents have nothing to do with the airline's bankruptcy filing or labor issues.

"This is a mechanical issue. That's all it is. It's not related to anything else despite all the rumors and speculation," says American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Near Midair Collision Between Three Jets Prompts FAA Investigation

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into an incident, first reported by the Washington Post, in which three airplanes nearly collided midair at Reagan National Airport Tuesday afternoon.

The newspaper reported on Wednesday that an incoming US Airways jet that was cleared for landing ended up flying directly towards two departing US Airways jets after it had been rerouted.  A storm that brought a change in wind patterns prompted air traffic controllers to reverse the flow of traffic around 2 p.m. Tuesday.

A collision was avoided -- by about 12 seconds, according to the Post -- between the inbound plane and the first of the two outbound planes when an air traffic controller recognized the mistake and ordered the inbound flight to change course.

The FAA, which was alerted to the near mishap by the newspaper, issued a statement Wednesday night explaining the situation.

"DCA (Reagan National Airport) had been landing and departing aircraft on Runway 1, from the south to the north.  Due to the bad weather developing, the Tracon (Terminal Radar Approach Control) was switching operations to land and depart aircraft from the north to the south on Runway 19.  During the switchover of operations, miscommunication between the Tracon and the DCA tower led to a loss of the required separation between two regional jets departing from Runway 1 and a regional jet inbound for Runway 19," the FAA said.

"Preliminary information indicates that the closest proximity was 1.45 nm lateral and 500 ft. vertical for the first plane departing Runway 1 and 2.42 nm lateral and 600 ft. vertical for the second plane," the agency noted.  Standard separation requirements are 3 nm lateral and 1,000 ft. vertical.

The FAA said it was "investigating the incident and will take appropriate action to address the miscommunication."

The National Transportation Safety Board, which was also made aware of the report, said on Wednesday it was in the process of gathering information to determine whether it too will launch an investigation.

US Airways, the airline reportedly involved in the incident, issued a statement saying it was looking into the matter and working with the FAA to determine what happened.

"The safety of our customers and employees is always our top priority," the carrier said.

According to the Washington Post, 192 passengers and crew members were aboard the three planes.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman Boards Plane with Gun in Her Bag

Hemera/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- A passenger at the Dallas/Fort Worth International airport was able to board a plane with a gun inside her carry-on luggage Wednesday, but was taken off the aircraft and detained by security officials before the flight could take off.

The 65-year-old woman walked away from the security checkpoint, luggage in hand, and onto an American Airlines flight before screeners became aware of the bag's contents.

The woman will be charged with places weapons prohibited, according to ABC News Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV.

The Transportation Security Administration released the following statement:

At approximately 6:20 a.m. CST, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Officers at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport checkpoint D-30 detected a firearm in a carry-on bag. The owner of the bag left the checkpoint before the screening process was complete and prior to surrendering the firearm. To ensure the safety of the traveling public, TSA worked with local law enforcement to locate the passenger and firearm before the plane departed. The passenger in question was taken into custody by Dallas Police and normal operations have resumed.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dept. of Transportation Issues First Ever Fine for Tarmac Delay

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that American Eagle Airlines became the first airline to be slapped with fines for violating the department’s three-hour limit for tarmac delays.

On May 29, 2011, 15 different American Eagle Airlines flights left 608 passengers sitting on the Chicago O’Hare International Airport tarmac for a total of 225 minutes -- 45 minutes beyond the limit.

For the violation, American Eagle Airlines has received a fine of $900,000 -- the largest fine to date in a consumer case not involving civil rights violation.

"A total of $650,000 must be paid within 30 days, and up to $250,000 can be credited for refunds, vouchers, and frequent flyer mile awards provided to the passengers on the 15 flights on May 29, as well as to passengers on future flights that experience lengthy tarmac delays of less than three hours," the DOT said in a statement Monday.

The rule, which was put in place in April 2010, states that any U.S. airlines operating with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing their flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane.

“We put the tarmac rule in place to protect passengers, and we take any violation very seriously,” explained U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “We will work to ensure that airlines and airports coordinate their resources and plans to avoid keeping passengers delayed on the tarmac.”

And it seems to be working.  In Monday’s press release, the DOT notes that between May 2010 and April 2011, the larger U.S. airlines required to file tarmac delays reported 20 tarmac delays of more than three hours but less than four hours.  By comparison, during the 12 months before the rule took effect, these carriers had 693 tarmac delays of more than three hours, and 105 delays longer than four hours.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


American Indicted in Remote-Controlled Plane Terror Plot

FBI(WASHINGTON) -- A federal grand jury has indicted a 26-year-old American on terror charges relating to an alleged plot to strike the nation's capital with several explosive-laden, remote-controlled airplanes.

Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen from Ashland, Mass., and Northeastern University physics graduate, was nabbed in an elaborate FBI sting after he told undercover officers exactly how he planned to arm "small drone airplanes" with explosives in order to hit the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol building before opening fire on the survivors, federal officials said in a statement.

Ferdaus was indicted on six counts, including "attempting to damage and destroy a federal building by means of an explosive" and "attempting to provide material support to terrorists."

An attorney for Ferdaus has not returned requests for comments on the charges against him.

According to the indictment, Ferdaus believed his attack could "decapitate" the U.S. "military center".

"Individuals, self-radicalized, they're not looking to cause big mass casualties like 9/11," said former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett, "because they're trying to inflict fear."

Federal officials said Ferdaus appeared to have been radicalized online by Islamist videos and writings.  By 2010, Ferdaus believed he was working for al Qaeda when he began modifying cellphones to serve as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to be passed on to fighters in the Middle East.

"During a June 2011 meeting, he appeared gratified when he was told that his first phone detonation device had killed three U.S. soldiers and injured four or five others in Iraq.  Ferdaus responded, 'That was exactly what I wanted,'" the Department of Justice said in a statement after Ferdaus' arrest Wednesday.

The cellphones, however, never got anywhere near the Middle East as Ferdaus was actually handing them over to undercover officers for the FBI.  Still, Ferdaus appeared to want to do more, investigators said.

"Ferdaus envisioned causing a large 'psychological' impact by killing Americans, including women and children, who he referred to as 'enemies of Allah,'" the DOJ's statement said.  "According to the affidavit, Ferdaus' desire to attack the United States is so strong that he confided, 'I just can't stop; there is no other choice for me.'"

Ferdaus allegedly wanted to command a team of six operatives that would use up to three remote-controlled aircraft filled with explosives in the "aerial" part of the attack before firing on any survivors in a follow-up "ground" attack.

Federal investigators said Ferdaus traveled to Washington, D.C., to "conduct surveillance" and take photographs of his targets before acquiring his weapons, including six AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and what he believed to be C-4 explosives.

"Although Ferdaus was presented with multiple opportunities to back out of his plan, including being told that his attack would likely kill women and children, the affidavit alleges that Ferdaus never wavered in his desire to carry out the attacks," the DOJ said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NYPD Can Shoot Down Planes, but with What?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The NYPD is capable of shooting down planes in the event of another 9/11-style attack on New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday, but it's unknown exactly what weapons the police have at their disposal, and whether their arsenal includes surface-to-air missiles.

"The NYPD has lots of capabilities that you don't know about and you won't know about," Bloomberg told reporters Monday, echoing recent comments by police commissioner Ray Kelly.

"Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?" Kelly was asked by 60 Minutes on Sunday.

"Yes," he replied, "I prefer not to get into details, but obviously, this would be in a very extreme situation."

It would have to be an extreme situation, given the danger of shooting down a large plane over a heavily populated area like New York City. It's also not entirely clear legally, whether cops -- unlike the military -- could shoot at an unarmed jet.

Neither Bloomberg nor Kelly would specify what weapons the NYPD has its disposal. Many believe New York's top cop was referring to the helicopter-mounted Barrett .50 caliber rifle, known since 2005 to be in the city's counter-terrorism arsenal.

The Barrett, a high-powered sniper rifle, could easily disable a car, truck or small plane, and is often used by the Coast Guard to stop boats carrying drugs, but it likely could not take down a large commercial passenger jet, like those flown into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

To shoot down a large jet, the NYPD would almost certainly need to use a missile or a large caliber machine gun. The NYPD would not confirm to ABC News which weapons Bloomberg and Kelly were referring to, or were in the city's arsenal.

Bloomberg said there was "not any one technology, not any one weapon" that the city would rely on completely in the event of an air attack.

"The main thing that keeps us safe is the 55,000 people who work for the police department," he said. "The 1,000 dedicated to intelligence and counterterrorism. The 35,000 who are uniformed and on the street every day." The mayor added that the city spends $8.5 billion on policing annually.

During the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Air Force jets were scrambled, but they required the approval of the president to fire on hijacked planes. Requests for comment on who is currently empowered to authorize a shootdown if New York City faced an imminent threat were not immediately answered by the NYPD.

In the ten years since 9/11 the NYPD has made counterterrorism a top priority, taking into its own hands operations that were once solely within the purview of the federal government, including gathering intelligence overseas and acquiring military-grade weapons.

Lower Manhattan today is carefully watched 24-hours a day by a $150 million network of some 1,000 closed-circuit cameras, and another 2,000 are expected to soon dot other parts of the city.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Are Private Planes Al Qaeda's Next Weapon?

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Security experts worry that private planes could become al Qaeda's next weapon.

An intelligence bulletin issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on Friday said: "Violent extremists with knowledge of general aviation and access to small planes pose a significant potential threat to the homeland."

Although there is no information a specific attack is in the works, there are 228,000 general aviation planes at 4,000 airports across the nation -- too many to monitor.

The government is using signs that read, "Warning: Pilots Report All Suspicious Activities," to keep pilots vigilant.

Intelligence experts say al Qaeda is no longer determined to pursue only massive 9/11-style attacks.

"They have sort of taken on this view of death by a thousand cuts, that if they try a lot of smaller attacks they are just as effective as the fear factor, so they really get more bang for their buck to do smaller attacks," said ABC News consultant and former FBI investigator Brad Garrett.

There are thousands of small planes in nearly every state.  In College Park, Maryland, as soon as one plane lifts off it's in view of the Capitol, the Pentagon and about 10 miles away from the White House.

Last year, a man with a grudge against the federal government flew his plane into an Internal Revenue Service office in Austin, Texas.

The State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert and the threats go beyond small planes.  Documents captured at Osama bin Laden's compound show that he was obsessed with plotting attacks around the 9/11 anniversary, including derailing a train over a bridge in the U.S.

Federal officials are also concerned about the threat of passengers implanted with body cavity bombs, deadly and nearly impossible to detect.  And the threats go on.

"If seven or ten individuals came together and conducted a Mumbai, India attack, you could go into a mall and kill more people potentially than at 9/11 in 15 minutes," said Garrett.

Then there is always the unknown.  Al Qaeda, authorities warn, has shown an imaginative approach to terror.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Automation Causing Airline Pilots to Lose Flying Skills, Says Study

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are airline pilots becoming too reliant on computers that do their flying for them?

Possibly, according to a new study by the Federal Aviation Administration, which contends that the industry is going through "automation addiction."

During flight, airplanes are usually on autopilot, being controlled by automated systems.  Pilots will generally only switch off autopilot to takeoff or land. Not many fliers know that pilots actually "fly" their planes for roughly only three minutes during a routine flight.

The FAA and other aviation experts are concerned that this reliance on computers in flight may cause pilots to lose hands-on skills and impair them if an emergency arises in which they have to take over control of an airplane.

"Two things are worrisome," says John Nance, an ABC News aviation consultant.  "One is when pilots spend so much time utilizing the electronics that when they go away or when they have to hand fly the airplane their skills have deteriorated; and two, the massive sophistication of some airliners today that are so much so that when they get into trouble and the pilots have to take over, sometimes it's impossible for the crew to know what the airplane is doing and what the proper response is."

The most glaring example of something going wrong was in February 2009, when a co-pilot programmed incorrect information on a passenger plane bound for Buffalo, New York.

When the captain noticed the jet traveling at unsafe speed, he pulled back on the control yoke instead of pushing it forward, causing the plane to stall and then plunge to the ground, killing all 50 people on board.

A similar erroneous pilot reaction to an autopilot's turning off also reportedly caused a deadly stall on Air France Flight 447; the plane crashed into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 on board.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Airport Animal Smugglers Busted in L.A. and Miami

Creatas/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- It’s not unusual to get backed up going through airport security because someone has liquids in their carry-on, but it is unusual when the hold-up is due to snakes, tortoises and birds concealed in cringe-worthy places. These animals were all recent issues at both the Los Angeles International Airport and the Miami International Airport.

In Los Angeles on Monday, a China-bound woman was stopped in security due to bulky clothing. After a pat-down, Transportation Security Administration agents found two birds wrapped in socks and taped to the woman’s leg and chest. She was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers on suspicion of smuggling and exporting an endangered species out of the United States.

At least one of the birds was an endangered Golden Parakeet, a species of endangered tropical parrot, according to Richard Thomas, the global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, an organization that monitors wildlife trade.

Thomas said that endangered parrots can be worth “tens of thousands of dollars,” and that the organization is “wary” of specifying the worth of the animals for fear of encouraging others to attempt to smuggle them.

Last Thursday, a man traveling to Brazil from Miami was caught attempting to get through security with seven small snakes and three small turtles in his pants. All of the animals were stored in women’s hosiery. He was also arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who took custody of the animals.

The TSA addressed the attempted breaches with humor, posting a TSA blog entry titled, “Snakes On A Plane! And Turtles & Birds, Oh My!!! Almost…”

“TSA’s mission of course is not to find artfully concealed wildlife, but items taped to a passenger’s body could very well be explosives or some other dangerous prohibited item,” wrote “Blogger Bob” of the TSA Blog Team. “We just don’t know until we check it out.”

“Indications are that [animal smuggling] is something that does seems to be happening more frequently,” Thomas said. “But it’s difficult to get a handle on whether it’s a growing problem or whether it’s better enforcement we’re seeing.”

Thomas stresses that security checks have gotten stricter and he strongly discourages people from attempting smuggling operations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is It Really Safe to Use a Cellphone on a Plane?

Stephen Schauer/Lifesize/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Like most airline passengers, you probably have serious doubts about those pre-flight announcements asking you to turn off your cellphones, blackberries, iPods, and any other electronic gadgets.

The announcements are flat-out ignored by many frequent fliers, who are skeptical that so-called "personal electronic devices" or PEDs, pose any safety threat to airplane. Some passengers openly rebel, like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who cursed out one flight attendant who demanded he turn off his cellphone.

But a confidential industry study obtained by ABC News indicates there really could be serious safety issues related to cellphones and other PEDs.

A report by the International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing more than 230 passenger and cargo airlines worldwide, documents 75 separate incidents of possible electronic interference that airline pilots and other crew members believed were linked to mobile phones and other electronic devices. The report covers the years 2003 to 2009 and is based on survey responses from 125 airlines that account for a quarter of the world's air traffic.

Twenty-six of the incidents in the report affected the flight controls, including the autopilot, autothrust and landing gear.  Seventeen affected navigation systems, while 15 affected communication systems.  Thirteen of the incidents produced electronic warnings, including "engine indications."  The type of personal device most often suspected in the incidents were cellphones, linked to four out of 10 such incidents.

The report, which stresses that it is not verifying that the incidents were caused by PEDs, includes a sampling of the narratives provided by pilots and crewmembers who believed they were experiencing electronic interference.

"Auto pilot was engaged," reads one. "At about 4500 ft, the autopilot disengaged by itself and the associated warnings/indications came on.  [Flight attendants] were immediately advised to look out for PAX [passengers] operating electronic devices... [Attendants] reported that there were four PAX operated electronic devices (one handphone and three iPods)."

The crew used the public address system to advise the passengers to shut off electronic devices "for their safety and the safety of the flight," after which the aircraft proceeded "without any further incident."

In other events described in the report, a clock spun backwards and a GPS in cabin read incorrectly while two laptops were being used nearby.  During another flight, the altitude control readings changed rapidly until a crew member asked passengers to turn off their electronic devices.  The readings returned to normal.  "After an hour, changes were noticed again...Purser made a second announcement and the phenomena stopped."

Dave Carson of Boeing, the co-chair of a federal advisory committee that investigated the problem of electronic interference from portable devices, says that PEDs radiate signals that can hit and disrupt highly sensitive electronic sensors hidden in the plane's passenger area, including those for an instrument landing system used in bad weather.

"It could be that you were to the right of the runway when in fact, you were to the left of the runway," said Carson, "or [it could] just completely wipe out the signal so that you didn't get any indication of where you are coming in."

Asked if a cellphone's signal could really be that powerful, Carson said, "It is when it goes in the right place at the right time."

To prove his point, Carson took ABC News inside Boeing's electronic test chamber in Seattle, where engineers demonstrated the hidden signals from several electronic devices that were well over what Boeing considers the acceptable limit for aircraft equipment.  A Blackberry and an iPhone were both over the limit, but the worst offender was an iPad.  There are still doubters, including ABC News' own aviation expert, John Nance.

"There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but it's not evidence at all," said Nance, a former Air Force and commercial pilot.  "It's pilots, like myself, who thought they saw something but they couldn't pin it to anything in particular.  And those stories are not rampant enough, considering 32,000 flights a day over the U.S., to be convincing."

Nance thinks there are alternate explanations for the events.  "If an airplane is properly hardened, in terms of the sheathing of the electronics, there's no way interference can occur."

But Boeing engineers told ABC News that signals from PEDs could disrupt the navigation and communication frequencies on older planes, which are not as well shielded as the newer models. And anything that distracts the pilots in the cockpit is considered a true threat to safety. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio