Letters to Flight International

18th May 2009


For some years many of those aspiring to a career as pilots in civil aviation have had to self finance their training up to the basic licence. This now includes their technical course, simulator flying and base flying training towards the acquisition of a 'saleable' type rating. Finally, they have to complete 'line flying training' on type, which is now being achieved in some cases by paying an airline to train them in line operations. Since this arrangement brings in additional revenue, there are some operators conducting flights on an almost permanent basis with a trainee pilot in the right hand seat. The trainee pilot is not an employee of the airline and subject to its standards and disciplines. They are now the customer with customer's rights and may well be treated differently.

Line training with fare paying passengers on board has been conducted for many years and every such training flight has a reduction in safety margins solely due to the training captain's workload and, in an emergency situation, the trainee pilot may be of very limited assistance.

Would the passengers on those airlines conducting this practice be happy to know that their aircraft is flying under the control of one fully qualified pilot and another partly trained pilot with very limited experience?

Captain R Williams FRAeS

Chairman, Air Safety Group

Taunton, May 2009

7th April 2009

Dear Sir,

For anyone who has ever been involved in aviation's most contentious and contested subject, that of Flight and Duty Time Limitations, it has come as no surprise that disagreement exists between Operators and Flight and Cabin Crews concerning the validity of the recently published Moebus Aviation Scientific and Medical Review of Subpart Q. Indeed, EU OPS Subpart Q is fairly obviously a negotiated settlement between Operators and Crews that actually benefits neither side in the long run simply due to the basic flaws contained therein and the ambiguities that will inevitably lead to misinterpretations, either inadvertently or deliberately, during day to day operations.

Whilst the Scientists were tasked with reviewing 18 specific questions, there are at least another half a dozen or so items that were left outstanding and which now also need to be reviewed and agreed in order to complete the FTL Scheme. Items such as, for example, the rules relating to the accounting of Standby, the use of Dispatch Crews, the action in the event of Delayed Reporting, the limitations on consecutive Early, Late and Night duties, increasing the number of Definitions to specify undefined phrases and words used within the FTL Scheme and trying to account for the overlapping of the Working Time Directive that contradicts aspects of Q (maximum annual duty hours and minimum days free of duty) are ones that spring to mind.

My recommendation for the way forward and to take account of the Moebus Report is to follow the example of the five Regulatory Authority members of the JAA FTL Working Group in the early 1990's when we were forced to exclude both Operators and Crew representatives from the deliberations due to their being unable to reach agreement on most of the major issues. It is the National Aviation Authorities who are now having to oversee the implementation of Q, so perhaps it is time for EASA to set up a small working group of independent, unbiased, FTL qualified experts, experienced at overseeing FTL Schemes within their individual states, to revise and amend Q, redraft the 'English' and close the obvious 'loopholes' in the scheme as currently written. When 1200 hours flying can be achieved within 12 calendar months instead of the intended maximum of 900 hours, I would contend the need for amendment is urgent.

Captain Russ Williams FRAeS

Chairman, Air Safety Group

February 2009

To the Editor,

Dear Sir,

Mr Russell asks the question "Why not a grill to protect engines?" (17-23 February) which has been asked many times before, especially at the start of jet engine development. In, fact such schemes were designed, manufactured and tested in the 1950s (e.g. on the front of a Rolls-Royce Avon). This was probably in response to exposure to bird ingestion events in service, which resulted in the CAA bringing in the first mandatory, 4lb bird, ingestion requirement in November 1956.

The first problem encountered was the excessive weight of the grill to provide the strength to withstand a 4 lb bird at the maximum climb speed. This was compounded by bars of the grill having to be sufficiently closely spaced to ensure that the bird was sliced into small enough pieces to be successfully swallowed by the engine, but wide enough apart to prevent the bird (or other debris) sticking to the grid and thereby producing a non-uniform pressure distribution at the compressor face (this could also result in a compressor blade failure).

Even if the weight could have been overcome, the next major problem was icing. Ice can build up on any surface exposed to airflow, even when it is rotating at high speed (vide the spinners of current engines). For any grid protruding into the airstream ahead of an aircraft that encounters icing conditions, the accretion of ice would be swift and dramatic blocking off all airflow to the engine. Thus the result would be effectively be the same as, or worse than, for the ingestion of a bird in the first place.

Engineers at the time, therefore, concluded that the most effective solution was to design the blades of the first stage(s) of the compressor to withstand the bird threat as it was understood. The regulations for bird ingestion have been progressively increased in severity since 1956, increasing the sizes, number and survivability criteria up to the present time. Small birds (3 oz) were added in 1962 (following a fatal ingestion by an Electra at Boston's Logan Airport in 1960), the 1.5 lb, 2.5 lb and latterly 8 lb birds.

Most engines survive (meet their certification criteria) the numerous encounters experienced during commercial flying, but there will probably always be the very infrequent occasion where circumstances conspire to exceed those certification criteria.

A B Wassell

Air Safety Group

15th January 2009

Dear Sir

Flammability - safety for all

Replying to Phillip Smith's letter 'Flammability not FAA's fault', (Flight international, 13-19 January), the Air Safety Group would have liked the US Federal Aviation Administration to issue an airworthiness directive (AD) advising that an unsafe condition exists on Boeing 737s and 747s. This is the recognised way of complying with the International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements for one State to tell another State about unsafe conditions on the aircraft they are operating. However, although the FAA has concluded that some in-service aeroplanes need to be modified to reduce fuel tank flammability, it has not issued any ADs and the new, retrospective requirements are introduced by the FAA in national Operating Requirements, which only apply to aeroplanes on the US register. The same aeroplane types, operating on foreign registers will not benefit from the flammability reductions that are to be applied to the US fleet.

Mr Smith is correct that FAA is not able to mandate the compliance of an AD outside the US, but ICAO is quite clear that "The State of Registry shall ... adopt the mandatory information directly or assess the information received and take appropriate action". In the vast majority of cases, ADs are adopted.

The ASG is concerned that, by not issuing an AD, the FAA is denying other States/Operators to be informed about unsafe conditions, whilst at the same time modifying the US fleet.

Robin Boning

Air Safety Group

18th November 2008

Dear Sir,

I applaud the comments by Philip Hosey of the International Federation of Airworthiness, who makes the case for full details of a maintenance engineerís background experience, training, health and perhaps, most importantly, working hours to be included in accident reports (Flight International, 4-10 November)

Working hours of individual aircraft maintenance engineers is not sufficiently controlled when compared to Pilots and Cabin Crew. Flight crew are governed by their Company's Flight and Duty Time Limitations Scheme.

Compare that to an individual maintenance engineer, who may choose to opt out of the working time regulations limit of 48h per week (averaged over 17 weeks) and may then work anything up to 75 - 80h a week, which obviously has the potential to induce fatigue in that individual. This is because, unlike fight-crew, maintenance engineers are not classed as 'mobile workers' and can ignore the best practice outlined in the regulations.

The Air Safety Group has long been concerned at this loophole in the working time regulations and would recommend an urgent amendment to reclassify all maintenance engineers as mobile workers to ensure they are subject to the average 48h maximum work a week. It should also be remembered that when suffering from extreme fatigue, an adrenaline burst may not prove adequate stimulus to overcome that fatigue. The answer, surely, must be to avoid that word 'fatigue'.

'Tired', yes, but never 'fatigue' in any position that can impact on aviation safety!

Captain Russ Williams FRAeS

Chairman, Air Safety Group

4th March 2008

777 crash: phone may be to blame

I came across a recent incident on a B747 -

"During the climb with the autopilot and autothrust engaged, the indicated airspeed increased to above the commanded airspeed and required pilot intervention to prevent exceedence. It required 2 or 3 interventions, as it failed to remain at the commanded speed.

We were given a 'direct to' and initially the autopilot flew the aircraft the opposite way, again requiring pilot intervention"

It was reported to the Captain that a passenger in business class would not switch off his mobile phone, so the Captain had to confront him to make him do so. Thereafter the aircraft behaved normally.

Now, if a single mobile telephone can apparently affect a B747 and cause it to increase speed over that selected, then could one or more mobile telephones being switched on during the recent B777 Heathrow accident, perhaps cause the reverse to occur? Is it possible that the engine fuel control software caused the engines to throttle back and prevented them from increasing power to retain the set speed, solely due to interference from one or more mobile telephones?

One should bear in mind that the general public pays scant attention to the safety announcements concerning mobile telephones and from research it has been proven that some mobiles, due to poor quality control during manufacture, can emit up to ten times more power than they are designed to emit.

I hope and believe the AAIB investigation into the B777 accident will be addressing this possibility because there is incontrovertible proof that mobiles can and do affect aircraft systems and is the reason why, in the UK, their use was banned in the mid 1990's.

With a number of major airlines now attempting to push towards almost unrestricted use of passenger cell phones in flight, could this accident possibly be the wake-up call to the Industry that a great deal more research and work needs to be done to guarantee the integrity of all aircraft systems before the formal and unrestricted use of mobile telephones onboard is permitted?

Yours faithfully

Capt Russ Williams FRAES

Chairman., Air Safety Group, UK