Entries in Pilots (9)


Breakthrough Radar System Helps Pilots Avoid Rough Turbulence

ABC News(WILMINGTON, N.C.) -- In-flight turbulence causes more injuries on an airplane than anything else, but a breakthrough piece of technology could help pilots avoid these pockets of unstable air and make for safer flights.

Pilots report more than 70,000 instances of moderate to severe turbulence a year. According to the FAA, three-fourths of all weather-related accidents are caused by colliding winds and temperature changes that shake up the cockpit and the cabin.

That is why flight attendants are always pestering passengers to keep their seatbelts on. In-flight injuries are expensive and cost the airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars per incident.

Rough weather rarely brings a plane down, but it does cause a dozen serious injuries as well as a half billion dollars in damages and flight delays each year.

But for the first time, a new 3-D radar system installed in business jets, and soon, fleets of commercial jets, will allow pilots to spot not only turbulence, but lightning and hail from more than 60 miles away. Southwest already has it in 19 planes.

Honeywell, the maker of the new radar, intentionally flew ABC News into rough weather over Wilmington, N.C., to demonstrate how the system works. As the clouds were billowing and the cabin started shaking, the radar screen flashed bright icons identifying lightning cells and hail miles away.

"The things that a pilot would not see with conventional weather radar are these lightning strike symbols, the hail icons," chief test pilot Markus Johnson said. "Both of those are areas that pilots need to keep away from."

Johnson said the older radar would only identify areas of precipitation, while this new radar can show the probability of hail. While lightning might frighten passengers the most, a hailstorm is what really causes the damage to the aircraft.

"It can be as large as a golf ball, and when that hits your airplane, it can tear right through," he said.

In a nutshell, the new system provides information that will help pilots make better flight decisions faster, Johnson said, "It allows me to concentrate on deciding where to go to have the smoothest, safest ride."

To find out how the radar system works and what happened when ABC News' Jim Avila flew into rough weather, tune into Nightline at 11:35 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rep. on New FAA Rules: Gov't Won't Tuck Pilots In

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two years after 50 people perished in an airplane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., the Federal Aviation Administration issued a new rule Wednesday to combat pilot fatigue, but placed the final responsibility with the pilots to say when they're too tired to fly and, as one Congressman put it, to "tuck [themselves] in at night."

"While the final rule provides improvement for aviation safety, pilots must take personal responsibility for coming to work rested and fit for duty," Rep. John Mica, R.-Florida, said after the FAA's announcement. "The government cannot put a chocolate on every one of their pillows and tuck them in at night."

Under what the FAA said was a "sweeping final rule," pilots will be subject to new flight time limits and a mandatory ten-hour rest period between duty time, but the rule did not directly address the problem uncovered in an ABC News investigation of commuting pilots who have to travel from their home bases to duty elsewhere, often getting little sleep in difficult conditions before takeoff.

Rather, the new rules simply say pilots must report themselves unfit for duty to the airlines if they're too exhausted, something aviators told ABC News previously they're wary of doing for fear of reprisals.

"The FAA expects pilots and airlines to take joint responsibility when considering if a pilot is fit for duty, including fatigue resulting from pre-duty activities such as commuting," the new rules say, according to the FAA. "At the beginning of each flight segment, a pilot is required to affirmatively state his or her fitness for duty. If a pilot reports he or she is fatigued and unfit for duty, the airline must remove that pilot from duty immediately."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 30-year-old daughter Lorin in the Buffalo crash, told ABC News Wednesday he and the other victims' families are "frustrated" with the FAA.

"The families are frustrated that commuting has not been an issue that has been addressed from a regulatory standpoint at this time," Maurer said. "We requested that this is an item that is brought back up on their agenda and are awaiting some response to that."

An ABC News investigation in February revealed commuting pilots across the country pilots were struggling just to get sleep in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircraft into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Undercover video of crew lounges taken by pilots and provided to ABC News during the investigation showed pilots asleep overnight in chairs and on sofas. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight.

The new rules also do not specifically address the use of crash pads and sleep in crew lounges, which are already contrary to airline rules. At the time of ABC News' investigation, then-FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said industry representatives told him the use of such stopgap fixes, "simply isn't going on."

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.

Former Continental Express pilot Josh Reikes told ABC News at the time of the investigation that one captain jokingly warned him, "Don't you ever let me wake up and find you sleeping."

One of the most vocal groups pushing for new rules are the family members of some of the 50 victims of the 2009 Colgan Air crash in Buffalo. In that case, the pilot of the plane, who commuted to his Newark base from Florida, had spent the night before sleeping in a crew lounge at Newark airport, raising concerns about the role of fatigue with safety investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board. The co-pilot had commuted to work on overnight flights from Seattle and also tried to sleep in the crew lounge, unable to afford a hotel room. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training and capabilities: pilot error was ultimately found to be the cause of the crash.

"We did recognize that they were likely impaired by fatigue," Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said after the NTSB's initial investigation.

The NTSB also found that about 70 percent of the Colgan Air pilots based at Newark were commuters, many coming from long distances to work. Approximately 20 percent commuted from more than 1,000 miles away.

The FAA missed two deadlines for implementing the new rules before Wednesday's announcement and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, previously said the airline industry was possibly stalling them on purpose. A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News earlier this month, "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."

According to the FAA, the new rules are expected to cost the aviation industry nearly $300 million.

"We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue," Transportation Secretary LaHood said Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


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


Pilot Locked in Restroom Causes Mid-Air Terror Scare

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A pilot, a faulty lock on a bathroom door and a man with a thick foreign accent combined to turn a seemingly routine landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport into anything but on Wednesday night.

The scare began when the pilot of Delta flight 6132, traveling from Asheville, N.C., to New York City, decided to take a bathroom break when the plane was put into a holding pattern over New York. A faulty door latch on the airplane’s lavatory, however, kept the pilot trapped inside, and sent his co-pilot on high alert.

“We are 180 knots, 10,000 [feet], uh, can we leave the frequency for a minute, we are going to try to, uh, contact dispatch,” the co-pilot radioed in to air traffic control as he circled the plane above LaGuardia.

Just seconds earlier, a male passenger with a thick foreign accent tried to gain access to the cockpit to tell the co-pilot the captain wasn’t going to make the landing.

The passenger, one of 14 on board, was following the pilot’s instructions, delivered through the bathroom door, to go to the cockpit to alert the crew to his situation.

“I’m not just surprised that the captain would give a passenger the code,” said John Nance, an aviation consultant. “I’m kind of astonished.”

The surprise attempt to enter the highly secured cockpit alarmed the co-pilot, who did not buy the passenger’s story and who, again, radioed air traffic control.

“The captain has disappeared in the back and, uh, I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit right now…,” the co-pilot reported.

“What I’m being told is he’s stuck in the lav,” the co-pilot continued.  “Someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit, and I’m not about to let him in.”

Not willing to take any chances themselves, air controllers on the ground ordered the plane, operated by regional carrier Chautauqua Airlines, to make an emergency landing.

Before the co-pilot was forced to make that emergency landing, however, the pilot was able to open the bathroom door, and calm his anxious colleagues.

“The captain, myself, went back to the lavatory and the door latch broke and I had to fight my way out of it with my body to get the door open,” he explained to air traffic control.

“There is no issue, no threat,” he said.

Frank Cilluffo of the Homeland Security Institute at George Washington University said that the first officer did the right thing.

“At the end of the day it was an unknown person and an unknown voice trying to access the cockpit,” he said. “You don’t open the door.”

Sources tell ABC News that fighter planes were alerted to the situation, but not called into service.

The FBI and Port Authority cops were on the ground to meet the plane when it finally landed, safely, around 6:30 p.m.

No one was charged in the incident.  A spokesman for Chautauqua Airlines told the New York Post that cops talked to the passenger and realized it was all a misunderstanding.

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


Airline Passengers Allegedly Attack Pilot in Miami

ABC NewsTwo men allegedly attacked an American Airlines pilot after being kicked off a flight in Miami Wednesday night, according to officials.

Brothers Jonathan and Luis Baez of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, were aboard the San Francisco-bound flight when an attendant noticed that Jonathan, 27, was sleeping without his seatbelt buckled. When she tried to wake him as the plane departed the gate, Baez was unresponsive and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or dugs, officials said.

The pilot turned the plane around and returned to the gate in order to deal with the issue on ground rather than in the air.

Police said the pilot and the flight attendant then woke Baez and asked him to get off the plane, but he didn't comply, according to an American Airlines spokesperson.  

Luis Baez, 29, eventually left the plane with his brother. As the brothers approached the plane's exit, the two became agitated, officials said, with Luis Baez reportedly telling the pilot, "When you fly to San Juan I will have you killed."

The two left the plane, but Jonathan then returned and allegedly punched the pilot in the face and hit the flight attendant in the shoulder when she tried to intervene, according to police.

The brothers then allegedly attacked the pilot again in the jet bridge and chased him through the terminal. Members of the flight crew and other passengers held the brothers until the police arrived.

The pilot, who is based in Miami, had cuts and bruises on his face and suffered from blurred vision, officials said. He also told police he was afraid Luis Baez would follow through on his threat.

Another pilot filled in and flew the plane carrying 176 passengers to San Francisco International Airport.

Jonathan Baez was held on $9,000 bond and was charged with battery and aggravated battery. Brother Luis was also charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault. It's unclear whether either brother had an attorney.


Continental Cancels 24 Flights after Pilots Call Out Sick

United Continental Holdings(NEWARK, N.J.) -- Due to something that was apparently "going around," Continental Airlines was forced to scuttle two dozen flights Wednesday, most of them from New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport -- one of the carrier's main hubs.

The sick-out forced Continental to find accommodations for their passengers on other flights.  The airlines attributed the canceled flights to "pilot unavailability."

However, it's also known that Continental pilots have been upset with the slow pace of negotiations to combine labor agreements since Continental and United announced plans last year to merge the two carriers.

United has already said that it would not reach collective bargaining agreements with all the unions until after this year.

Continental typically offers 3,000 domestic and international flights daily.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


People Pointing Lasers at Planes Will be Subject to Federal Penalties

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- People who unwisely point lasers in the sky could be sent up the river for a long time.

Following the Senate's lead, the House on Monday approved the Securing Cockpits Against Laser Pointers Act, which could mean a maximum penalty of five years in prison if anyone is caught pointing a laser at a plane.

Handheld lasers that shine into cockpits can damage the retinas of pilots and cause them to lose control of the plane.  In a number of instances, pilots have had to be relieved of duty because of vision loss.

The problem is also growing rapidly.  The Federal Aviation Administration says the number of cases of planes and helicopter getting "lasered" nearly doubled from 1,500 in 2009 to over 2,800 in 2010.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill once both the House and Senate version are rolled into one measure.

Meanwhile, the Airline Pilots Association International is calling for limiting the sale of high-powered portable lasers and expanding airports' laser-free zones.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Blinded by the Light: FAA Warns Pilots of Laser Dangers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Federal Aviation Administration officials are investigating a rash of incidents where lasers have been aimed at airline cockpits, possibly jeopardizing air travel safety.

About a dozen pilots filed reports last week saying someone aimed green laser lights at their cockpits while they tried to land at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

"The Federal Aviation Administration takes laser incidents very seriously because of the potential safety hazards they pose," Jim Peters, an FAA Spokesman, said in a statement to ABC News New York affiliate WABC.

At Newark Liberty Airport, there have been 17 reported laser incidents involving planes landing from the north within the past week, WABC reported.

Some pilots have reported blurred vision and damage to the retina.  The powerful laser beam can hit a target miles away and can also burn though thick plastic.

Shining a laser at an airplane is a violation of federal law.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio