Letters to EASA

12th March 2010

Mr P Goudou, Executive Director
European Aviation Safety Agency
Postfach 10 12 53
D-50452 Koeln,
Germany

Dear Mr Goudou,

COMMERCIAL AIR TRANSPORT SAFETY ISSUES

Further to Captain Williams' letter of the 16th July 2009, in his role as Chairman of the Air Safety Group, we are writing to re-iterate both the Air Safety Group and the PACTS concerns at the apparent lack of response to a number of the seven issues previously raised. Mr Vincent did respond to two of those issues (Cabin Air Quality and Mobile telephone use onboard aircraft) and we have been awaiting a response on the remaining matters. However, since it is now seven months since first contact was made with EASA, it would appear that no further response is likely to be forthcoming and that we find disappointing. Perhaps we may now highlight again those areas causing concern and ask what, if anything, is being done to address these issues within EASA?

  1. Targeting of Aircraft by Laser beams. The previous letter highlighted the increasing number of incidents of aircraft being targeted by lasers and suggested it would appear to be only a matter of time before these thoughtless actions could have an adverse effect. Is EASA concerned at this increasing use of Lasers for targeting of aircraft, sometimes during critical phases of flight, and are there any strategies being planned to counter this hazard? In the UK it is now a criminal offence to use a laser to target an aircraft and we strongly recommend that EASA promotes this policy within Europe. If there is anything we can do to help progress this issue, then please advise us, as we do believe it remains a major safety issue.
  2. Fuel Tank Flammability. Both B737 and B747 aircraft have suffered explosions due to ignition of fuel/vapour in the fuel tanks in extreme temperatures. The FAA is requiring retrospective introduction of Flammability Reduction Means on all such US Registered aircraft and we have previously asked EASA what, if any, mandatory action is intended to counter this problem on EU registered B737/747 aircraft? We understand this is being considered and wonder what the present situation is? We are concerned that in the same operating circumstances - high ambient temperature, low fuel state, air conditioning running - fuel tanks of Boeing 737 and 747 aeroplanes could be in exactly the same high flammability state as the accident aeroplanes and thereby be most susceptible to any low energy ignition sources. It is our view that the FAA action should have been categorised as a mandatory continuing airworthiness issue and forwarded to all other contracting states in compliance with Annex 8, Part II, Chapter 4, Para 4.2.1. Hence, in our view, steps should have been introduced by FAA Airworthiness Directives (AD) to reduce retrospectively the flammability levels for all in-service Boeing 737s and 747s - not just the ones on the US Register. However, failing that action we believe it is essential that EASA now takes urgent action to resolve this potential safety matter.
  3. Co-Pilot Line Training. A number of airlines are currently seeking additional revenue by training new pilots on 'Line Operations' during normal day to day line flying with passengers onboard. In effect this means that safety standards are necessarily lowered solely due to the workload of the Training Captain and where, in any emergency situation, the co-pilot may be of very limited help. Does EASA share our concern at the increasing use in some airlines of partially qualified co-pilots who are flying, in effect, as paying customers of the operator and not necessarily subject to that operator's normal standards and disciplines? This issue may be even more relevant in the light of the Colgan Air fatal accident in the USA in February last year, which has induced the FAA to review not only the fatigue and commuting issues of flight crew but also their training standards.
  4. Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Working Hours. Aircraft maintenance and servicing is a 'Safety Critical' occupation with a direct link in the chain of events that can lead to a major aircraft safety incident/accident. Yet AMEs who chose to opt out of the average 48 hour week stipulated in the Working Time Directive, are permitted to work just as long as they wish with no restrictions whatsoever, other than those that may be imposed by those responsible operators fortunate enough to have adequate numbers of AME staff employed. We would, therefore, strongly recommend that AME's duty hours and rest requirements be strictly limited and controlled, as is currently the case for Flight and Cabin Crews and Air Traffic Controllers. This is particularly important for licensed engineers who, in exercising the privileges of their licence to issue Certificates of Release to Service, are legally certifying the airworthiness of EU Commercial Air Transport aircraft and can, by opting out, work in excess of 80 - 85 hours or more each week for as long as they can manage to do so.
  5. EU OPS 1 Subpart Q - Flight and Duty Time Limitations. We are aware of the current work of the Task 055 working group revising Subpart Q, due to be completed later this year. Meanwhile we must express our concern at the extreme and unrealistic interpretations some National Aviation Authorities and Operators are placing on parts of Subpart Q, as it is currently written. This leaves open the possibility for potentially unsafe and fatigue generating practices, some of which have already been highlighted within the Task 055 deliberations. Our concern is that there appears to be a lack of FTL expertise within some EU member state's NAA, in particular in those areas that are currently missing from Subpart Q and which individual NAAs are required to regulate and monitor. In addition, there is an apparent lack of audit and oversight on this important subject by EASA. We would ask, therefore, if EASA intends to undertake essential audits of EU NAAs, specifically to cover and assess their implementation of Subpart Q and, if not, to ask how EASA can be assured of the operational safety in those states where NAA expertise and knowledge of FTL matters may be lacking.

Yours sincerely

Mr R Gifford,
Executive Director PACTS

Captain R Williams FRAeS,
Chairman, Air Safety Group

15th April 2008

Mr Claude Probst, Rulemaking Director
European Aviation Safety Agency
Postfach 10 12 53
D-50452 Kˆln Germany

Dear Mr Probst,

Subject: Fuel Tank Flammability.

Thank you for the reply to our letter on the subject of Fuel Tank Flammability. It is comforting to know that EASA places a high priority on this subject and has initiated a programme to improve flammability However, we are more concerned at present about the problems in the existing fleet. The main point of our recent letter relates to the high levels of fuel tank flammability in Boeing 737 and 747 aeroplanes, both models having experienced fuel tank explosions in the past. The reason why these aeroplane types have high flammability tanks is that the aircraft air-conditioning systems can heat up the centre wing tanks, thereby making them more likely to explode in the presence of an ignition source. Whilst there can be no dispute that making modifications to reduce the likelihood of an ignition source occurring is most beneficial, recent thinking on the subject of fuel tank safety considers that reducing the probability of an ignition source to zero is, practically, unlikely, no matter how many improvements are made.

So far, it appears that the FAA has not addressed this unsafe condition, which is exhibited by the B737 and B747 aeroplanes. Despite the production of the NPRM mentioned in our last letter (FAA Docket No. FAA-2005-22997) and which when implemented as a Final Rule may result in some reduction in the flammability for these aeroplanes, nothing has happened yet.

It is the Air Safety Group's (ASG) opinion that the primary responsibility for dealing with the high flammability of these aeroplanes rests with the FAA, but if this corrective action is not being accomplished, it falls to all other National Aviation Authorities to consider whether they are satisfied with the current safety of B737 and B747 aeroplanes registered in their respective states. This additional responsibility is all the more pressing, given the high profile that the TWA 800 B747 and other accidents have generated.

We have repeated the questions that were in our earlier letter and added some additional words, which it is hoped will further clarify the intent of these questions, this in an effort to amplify our major concerns.

Has the FAA given EASA any information which shows that the continued operation of the B737 and B747 models is safe despite the high flammability of the centre wing tanks?

Following the three accidents (Philippines Boeing 737 in 1990; Boeing 747, Long Island in 1996 and Thai Boeing 737 in 2000), investigations showed that the temperatures in the centre wing tanks at the time of the explosions were considerably above the fuel flashpoint. At these higher temperatures the probability of having an explosion is much higher than for tanks that are kept cooler. The overall experience of the civil jet fleet corroborates this point, since only Boeing models, as far as we know, have had such fuel tank explosions. Noting that no flammability reduction for these aeroplanes has yet been apparent, the ASG would like to know whether the FAA has provided any information which shows that the unsafe condition caused by the high flammability tanks has been controlled in some other way and we would expect EASA to be pressing the FAA on this point.

Are any operational conditions imposed to reduce the flammability of the tanks? (We are aware that operational measures are taken to counter extremely cold fuel temperatures and we believe that at one time additional fuel had to be carried to keep high fuel temperatures down).

The ASG recalls that the FAA did introduce Airworthiness Directives (ADs) to require additional fuel to be carried, which has the effect of not allowing the high tank temperatures to be achieved. Whilst this may provide safety benefits, it does introduce commercial penalties and for this reason, this safety measure may not still be in place. The ASG would appreciate and very much like to receive clarification on this point.

Is EASA satisfied with the FAA position?

Whether or not the FAA has made any representation to EASA on the subject of the flammability of the B737 and B747 aeroplanes, the ASG does not know. We are of the firm opinion that EASA needs to be satisfied by whatever the FAA position may be, and that EASA should have its own position about the acceptability of continuing to operate these aeroplanes - see Question 4 below.

How does EASA consider that continued operation of these aeroplanes remains safe?

The ASG has the impression that fuel tank flammability is regarded by the FAA as a problem that needs to be solved for new aeroplanes, hence the proposals contained (largely) in the NPRM. In practice, it is very unlikely that aircraft constructors could have missed the flammability message, which comes out loud and clear from the various accident investigations, which is 'Keep The Tanks Cool'. But this appears to do nothing to alleviate the potential, continuing flammability problem for the aeroplanes types that have had these fuel tank explosions. The ASG would like to be assured that some action is being taken to correct the unsafe condition that exists with these aeroplanes, but is concerned that this action is not currently in place.

Thank you for your continued attention.

Yours Sincerely

Capt R Williams FRAeS
Chairman, Air Safety Group
+44 (0) 1823 430161
Copies to: Y Morier, Mr M Bell, CAA and the European Commissioner for Energy and Transport