Entries in FAA (52)


FAA Misses Another Pilot Fatigue Deadline

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Aviation Administration has missed another deadline for implementing new rules aimed at protecting travelers from pilot fatigue, a decades-long and potentially deadly problem.

The proposed safety rules would significantly reduce work hours for pilots who make countless number of takeoffs and landings per day, often operating on little to no quality sleep.

An ABC News investigation earlier this year revealed pilots across the country struggling to even get "destructive sleep" in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircrafts into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight. In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The FAA was originally scheduled to decide on the new rules by Aug. 1 but that day came and went without new regulations. A new deadline was set on the government docket for Nov. 30, but the FAA failed to meet it as well.

The FAA told ABC News that despite the missed deadline, it is "working aggressively" to implement the "most sweeping rule in aviation history to combat pilot fatigue." The administration did not say when the new rules might be implemented.

According to the proposed rules, there would be an increase in the rest period between shifts for pilots, which is currently eight hours, and a decrease in the maximum length of a pilot's workday. Pilots are currently allowed to be on duty for up to 16 hours.

One reason for the missed deadline, according to a government official, is that the White House Office of Management and Budget is still reviewing the economic viability and impact of the new rules and has asked the FAA to work on minimizing impact on the airlines. An official at the OMB said the office was working closely with the FAA on the rules and expected it to be finalized "very soon."

Following the missed August deadline, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, sent a letter to the FAA in which he placed some of the blame on the airline industry.

"I know that there are efforts on the part of [the airline] industry to weaken these rules by stalling their implementation and undercutting their intent," Schumer wrote. "This is unacceptable."

A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News, "We believe the rules need to be changed and [we] continue to advocate for rules that are based on science and are proven to improve safety."

One vocal group pushing for the implementation of the new rules are the families of those who died when Continental's Colgan Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009. The National Transportation Safety Board initially linked pilot fatigue to the crash. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training.

"For nearly three years now we have heard [Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood and [FAA] Administrator [Randy] Babbitt say that this is the top priority," the families said in a joint statement. "All we can say is that our patience is wearing thin. The time for lip service is long past and now is the time to step up to the plate and deliver."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 31-year-old daughter Lorin in the crash, said the families won't stop pushing for the government to move ahead with the new rules.

"Every day that goes by where passengers in this country are allowed to board regional airlines where pilots may be lucky to get five or six hours of sleep the night prior is another disaster waiting to happen," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Passenger Stands On Seven Hour Flight

USAir[dot]com(PHILADELPHIA) -- Arthur Berkowitz was buckled into his aisle seat and ready for take-off on a flight from Anchorage to Philadelphia when a morbidly obese man boarded the airplane at the last minute and headed toward the vacant middle seat which separated Berkowitz and a young exchange student on the otherwise full flight.

"He was very apologetic," Berkowitz, 57, told ABC News. "When he boarded, he said: 'I'm your worst nightmare.'"

Those words turned out to be prophetic for Berkowitz, who said he was forced to stand for most of the seven hour flight, which he took on July 29.

"During takeoff and landing, I was wedged into my seat and unable to belt it," he said. "The man next to me was resting on top of the seat belt."

Other than takeoff and landing, he said he spent the seven hour flight standing in the aisle and galley area.

Berkowitz said he is speaking out about his ordeal now because he believes US Airways did not properly address his concerns.

"My issue first and foremost is that this was a safety issue," Berkowitz said. "The airlines and regulatory bodies need to have protocol when it comes to this."

He said he brought the problem of his large seatmate to the flight attendants' attention and asked if he could sit in one of their jump seats.

They apologized and said there was nothing they could do and that sitting in their seats was against FAA regulations.

"We have attempted to address this customer's service concerns, but offering increasing amounts of compensation based on a threat of a safety violation isn't really fair -- especially when the passenger himself said he didn't follow the crew members' instructions and fasten his seat belt," John McDonald, a US airways spokesperson, told ABC News.

"We realize it is inconvenient, but it is our obligation to be safe," McDonald said.

Berkowitz said he brought complaint to the attention of the Department of Transportation and the FAA.

"They've done next to nothing other than to acknowledge they received [my letters]," he said.

US Airways, for their part, said they have discussed Berkowitz's complaints with the crew members who were on the flight.

Berkowitz, a frequent flyer, isn't satisfied.

"They say they want to give passengers comfort and convenience," he said. "Well, this is as inconvenient and uncomfortable as you can get."

Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who tried to help Berkowitz mediate his complaint, said travelers need to communicate, especially during the busy holiday travel season.

If the direct communication doesn't work, Elliott said passengers should talk to a flight attendant. Above that, they can appeal to the lead purser.

"The final level of appeal on the flight would be to talk to the pilot," Elliott said. "Pilots have the final say."

Beyond that, he recommends passengers immediately put their complaints in writing and submit them to the airline when they land.

"Airlines say they're giving us what we want -- low fares," Elliott said. "But we haven't also asked to be tortured. This is a form of torture."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Did Sex Stunt Distract Pilot? FAA Investigating

Hemera/Thinkstock(BAKERSFIELD, Calif.) -- Federal Aviation Administration officials are investigating a videotaped, mid-air sex stunt performed by two skydivers in California.

Skydiving instructor Alex Torres got himself fired from Bakersfield-based Skydive Taft, after his boss David Chrouch heard about the midair coupling with his receptionist Hope Howell.

Torres and Howell are seen on the video having sex in a plane before jumping out of the aircraft in a tandem diving rig and continuing the act in the air. Video of the stunt -- set to Katy Perry's sexually-charged "E.T." -- was posted to Torres' blog, but taken down Monday.

The FAA is concerned that the pre-jump sex may have created an unsafe situation. FAA spokesman Ian McGregor says that they are investigating “whether the activity could have distracted the pilot or resulted in the pilot being jostled and bumped.”

McGregor wouldn’t speculate on the case, but no charges have been filed.

“Every case is different and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any possible outcome in this situation,” he said. Howell might be allowed to keep her job, Chrouch tells WGET-TV.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GAO: FAA Needs to Act to Improve Aviation Safety

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The number of runway incidents and controller errors are up at the nation’s airports, and the Federal Aviation Administration should do more to improve safety, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.  
The GAO says, although the FAA has met some of its goals in reducing runway incursions (where planes and vehicles get too close), the overall trend is on the upswing. In 2004 there were 11 incursions per million operations, and by 2010 that rate increased to 18 incursions per million operations (70 percent of the most serious incursions involve general aviation planes, not commercial jets).
Controller errors are up too -- errors involving close calls in the air nearly doubled from the first three months of 2008 to the same period in 2011.
The GAO says it’s hard to know if these are actual increases, or changes due to new and better reporting requirements. They say that’s part of the problem -- that the FAA can’t be sure if safety is getting worse, or not.
So what should the agency do? According to the GAO, the FAA needs to expand the incidents it keeps track of -- to include runway overruns, and mishaps in the ramp area. The FAA should also categorize all incidents according to how risky they were. The FAA does this now with some types of mishaps, but not all. The GAO also says the FAA needs to a better job sharing information about incidents.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FAA Proposes $1.9 Million Civil Penalty Against Colgan Air

PRNewsFoto/Pinnacle Airlines Corp.(WASHINGTON) -- The FAA has fined Colgan Air nearly $2 million because the airline allegedly never properly trained flight attendants on how to operate the cabin fire extinguisher system.

Colgan Air, a subsidiary of Pinnacle Airlines, of Manassas, Va., allegedly allowed their flight attendants to work on 172 passenger flights without the proper training.

There are 84 newly-hired flight attendants who worked between Nov. 3 and Nov. 9 of 2009 after the FAA told Colgan that they had not completed the required training. After FAA inspection, they allege that the flight attendants were trained with fire extinguishers used on the Saab 340s, but not on the Q400s, which operate differently.

Colgan has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA's letter to respond.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Another FAA Partial Shutdown to Come? Senate in Stalemate

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The current funding for the Federal Aviation Administration expires this Friday, threatening to put 80,000 people out of work by Saturday, unless Congress sends a bill to President Obama.

But as of now, the bill does not have a way forward in the Senate with both sides pointing fingers at the other party, one Republican Senator standing in the way of anything moving forward, and the Senate majority leader all-but calling that Republican Senator a “dictator” for holding up the bill.

The House of Representatives passed a joint bill Tuesday to continue temporary funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and federal highway, transit and highway safety programs.  Now in the Senate, the bill is being objected to by one Republican: Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is upset over the funding that states must invest in surface transportation as part of the Highway bill, which is tied to the FAA bill.

But to make matters more confusing and head-shaking, the Senate’s $6.9 billion package to fund FEMA is also being dragged into this debate because of the Senate floor procedure.  The Senate on Tuesday passed a cloture motion to proceed on the disaster aid bill, meaning procedurally the FEMA bill must be passed first.  This basically puts a hold on the FAA/highway bill until FEMA is fully passed.  But, some Republicans, including Coburn have concerns over the FEMA bill, too.

As of now, unless Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were to set aside the FEMA bill and call up the FAA bill, which he likely will not do, the FAA bill is being held up, forced to be addressed second.  The FAA bill though has a deadline of Friday evening, when funds will run out.

Wednesday on the Senate floor, without naming names but clearly targeting Coburn, Reid likened his actions to a dictator in threatening to hold up the bill.

“We’re told this is going to be held up by the Republicans,” Reid bemoaned.  “The Senator says he doesn’t want to vote.  He just wants to hold the bill up.  He said if we put in what we got from the house and stuck his provision in that, I think he would be happy.  I guess anyone would, madam president.  It’s a pretty good way to legislate around here, be a dictator and say either take this or leave it that.”

Coburn is concerned about the programs designed to increase bike lanes and green space on the roads -- which is part of the transportation bill -- and wants the funds taken out.  The senator wants states to be able to opt out of the transportation enhancement mandate, and to have that change written into the bill.

Reid warned that if the FAA funding expires on Friday there will be about 80,000 people out of work by Saturday: 4,000 out of work for the FAA and about 70,000 who are working on airport construction jobs.

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


Senate Adjourns Without Passing FAA Bill; Agency to Partially Shutdown

FAA(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate has officially adjourned for the weekend without passing the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill -- meaning that at midnight Friday there will be a partial shutdown of the aviation agency.

The FAA’s current funding will expire Friday night at midnight -- without Congress approving new funding legislation. Approximately 4,000 FAA employees will be furloughed, including employees who collect taxes from airlines and construction workers assigned to airport projects. The shutdown does not impact air traffic controllers.

Legislators have been at an impasse for months over two provisions in legislation that would extend the agency’s funding, the labor provision in the bill, which would make it harder for transportation workers to unionize and the elimination of $16 million in government subsidies for 13 small rural airports.

The Senate would not approve the House-passed FAA extension.  Late Friday afternoon the Senate “hotlined” a clean extension substitute amendment.

“I just want to say in all fairness and all honesty, for goodness sakes, to both sides, we believe you save that battle to another day,” Senator Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor when introducing the amendment. “What I’m offering is neutrality, political neutrality, a clean extension, but what I’m afraid I’m going to get back is an insistence if you don't take the House Republican proposal, we'll shut it down.”

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that the Republicans want to make clear that  a long-term FAA reauthorization is a priority -- and noted that with the House of Representatives already adjourned for the weekend there’d be no way to pass Durbin’s amendment.

Hatch said then the only way to prevent a disruption of the FAA funding is to pass the bill already passed in the House this week. Democrats are opposed to that bill.

“The House Republicans have gone home, they're gone,” Durbin exclaimed. “They sent this over and said, take it or leave it or close it down. That’s not a very sound choice for our country. I’m sorry that the senator from Utah objected to a clean extension of this so that we could keep up these operations. I object to this because I don't believe it's a fair approach.”

So the Senate adjourned themselves without any action on this.

Senator Durbin said that to give people “peace of mind,” this shutdown will not have an impact on air traffic control and the safety of the nation’s airlines.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Aviation Experts Worry About Aircraft Mishaps on the Ground

John Foxx/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- With Thursday's collision of two commercial passenger aircraft on a runway at Boston's Logan International Airport in which the wing tip of a jumbo jet was sliced apart and the tail of the regional plane was badly mangled, aviation experts worry about the potential dangers that lurk on the runways of the nation's busiest airports.

Three months ago at New York's JFK airport, the wing of a giant Airbus clipped the tail of a regional jet, causing the smaller aircraft to spin like a top.

Ground mishaps are a major safety fret, and the Federal Aviation Administration has forced airports to improve the markings on runways and taxiways to help pilots stay on track. Although the FAA said serious runway incidents dropped 90 percent in the past decade, any close call can become potentially catastrophic.

In 2010, there were more than 900 runway incursions, which occur when planes get too close. Six were considered of the most serious type -- down from 12 in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Turtles Traffic Snarls Jet Traffic at JFK Airport

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey(NEW YORK) -- Slow and steady may win the race, but nearly 150 turtles inching their way across a runway at New York's Kennedy International Airport Wednesday reduced some flights to a crawl.

The Federal Aviation Administration said flight delays reached 30 minutes for some flights.

JetBlue acknowledged some delays with its flights because of the turtles and said, "We hope for faster animals next time."

The airline was quick to joke about the delays, tweeting that the creatures were diamondback terrapins, adding: "Though...there are rumors some of the turtles are of the ninja variety/subspecies."

According to ABC News New York affiliate WABC-TV, the turtles were trying to reach sand along the other side of Runway 4L, which juts out into the water. Workers from Port Authority of New York and New Jersey picked up the animals and moved them to the sand.

"Our staff and the USDA were out there helping to speed the turtles along to their destination which is to lay eggs on a sandy, beachy area on the other side of the runway," Port Authority spokesperson Ron Marisco told ABC News Radio.

According to Marisco, the turtles started crawling across the runway about two weeks ago.

There could be further delays because the turtles are expected to continue their egg laying trek throughout July.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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