Harrison Ford Is Not Alone: Another Near Miss At Philly

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It’s probably no coincidence that a few weeks before it released recommendations and supporting materials designed to educate pilots on the dangers of wrong surface landings that a Gulfstream crew attempted a wrong surface landing.

The NTSB released its preliminary report on the incident in which a Gulfstream on a charter flight lined up for a taxiway at Philadelphia International. The G-IV was aiming at Taxiway E instead of Runway 35, the runway it had been cleared to land on. The NTSB said the big bizjet came within 200 feet of four “air carrier airplanes” that were on Taxiway Echo.

A screenshot of a near miss in San Francisco.

Last year the actor Harrison Ford infamously lined up and landed on a taxiway at John Wayne Santa Ana International Airport in Southern California. Also, last year on a nighttime arrival an Air Canada Airbus A320 came perilously close, perhaps as close as 10 feet, to hitting a United Airlines 787 jet, and three other jets, as they were on the taxiway the Air Canada jet had mistaken for Runway 28R, the runway it was cleared to land on. The Air Canada A320 initiated a go-around at the last moment. Later its captain said he’d thought the plane was much higher than it actually was when the go-around was begun. See the video on the San Francisco near miss here.

These latest near misses underscore the idea that even very experienced pilots are at risk of wrong-surface landings. To see our coverage of the FAA’s advice on how to avoid being on the news, check out our story here.

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Pilots Need To Report Damage To Planes

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Let’s imagine a scenario where a pilot goes out, flies an aircraft, and does damage to the aircraft during their flight. They make it back safely but don’t report that damage to anyone. The next user of the aircraft experiences a major structural failure caused in part by the previous pilot’s actions. It results in the subsequent pilot’s death. Is the first pilot potentially liable?

I know that if I went out with a hammer and purposefully caused damage to a pilot’s aircraft that resulted in their death in most states I could be subject to prosecution in some varying degree of homicide.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

But what if it wasn’t intentional? Most states have laws that allow for criminal prosecution in cases of negligence that result in the injury or death of another party. These are commonly utilized in cases such as drunken driving as vehicular manslaughter. But what about an aircraft? I don’t think it is a far stretch to think that these laws could be applied to a pilot who met a legal test for knowingly causing a condition that results in a similar outcome.

I am not an attorney. I have never played one on TV, and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn last night. But it doesn’t take much for a rational person to make the mental leap and imagine that if a pilot does something negligent while flying an aircraft that results in the death of another person that they may be held liable, potentially criminally. Especially if they knew there was damage and the pilot didn’t report it and it resulted in the death of the subsequent pilot. Even more so if the operation under which they are flying has established procedures for those who use the aircraft to report any potential damage to an aircraft. Not doing so when there are established procedures represents a willful effort to hide a potential danger to future users of the aircraft.

But how would anyone know that my flying the airplane previously had caused the damage that led to the subsequent crash? In the olden days, unless you self-reported, it was likely that nobody would have found out until it was too late.

But the olden days are gone, at least to some degree, so welcome to the modern age of digital electronics in our aircraft. Round gauges couldn’t track anything more complicated than tach time, so they were no help.

The olden days, however, are largely gone, and modern aircraft—or older airplanes with modern panels–have much more data reporting capability built into their avionics packages. A glass panel aircraft may allow an owner to download highly specific flight data to include GPS location, G-loading, airspeeds, turn radii, and any number of other parameters. If you go out and play yank and bank games, overstress the aircraft, cause damage, and don’t report it, it still may be trackable at a later date. For example, if the aircraft has a major structural failure due to previous overstressing and results in the death of the occupants, the data in that system may be able to be used to pinpoint what happens on a previous flight that was a factor in a later accident.

With this, the NTSB and other investigatory agencies have a much greater ability to determine if any previous flights may have had things happen during them that would cause a future accident. Onboard electronics are not the only tool that can be used. Even iPads or phones with flight tracking software can sometimes be used to help detail the parameters of an accident in modern investigations. Data allows investigatory agencies much more ability to track not only flight data from a flight that resulted in tragedy, but many more flights prior to that also. Tracking what you have done in an aircraft is much more thorough, and a normal part of flight operations in modern aircraft.

That ability also allows courts to do the same thing. And in some cases, blame may be able to be assigned to a specific flight or pilot of an aircraft. Every state may be a little bit different, but most have some sort of criminal law in place that would allow for prosecution of an individual who knowingly, or negligently, caused an action that resulted in the injury or death of another individual.

Let me be as blunt with this statement as possible.

If you fly an aircraft and damage it in a way that causes a future failure that results in injury or death, it is possible you could be charged criminally.

The threshold for charges isn’t that hard to meet. For example, in one reference I found, in the State of Florida, proof of guilt for an involuntary manslaughter charge need only have the prosecution submit evidence in support of the three following items:

  • That your actions resulted in the death of someone else;
  • That the actions you took were inherently dangerous to others;
  • That you knew or should have known that your actions represented a direct threat to the lives of others.

To some degree a discussion of whether there is a “Duty to Care” also applies here. It gets pretty legalistic, but there would also need to be a reasonable expectation that a user had a duty to protect other users from the result of their own actions. This gets easier to prove when there are established procedures in place to do this that an operator adopts. It gets even easier to prove this exists when these procedures are in place and they are not followed.

I can easily imagine a prosecutor making the case that hiding damage to an aircraft you knew happened that subsequently resulted in the death of a future use of the aircraft easily, and reasonably, meets all of these tests.

Think it wouldn’t happen? Well, aircraft accidents, especially high profile ones, make news. A prosecutor that thinks they can get a conviction related to an accident like this might find it very appealing politically to be the prosecutor that put the person in jail that causes the death of some unknowing user of an aircraft. At a bare minimum, even if criminal charges aren’t filed by an enterprising prosecutor, it would not mean that a civil suit for damages would necessarily be avoided.

We have entered a new era of aviation. One in which even lighter aircraft have highly capable electronics systems that track numerous flight parameters. These parameters could be used to lay blame in an aviation accident in ways that were never possible in previous generations of aircraft.

So, what’s the risk that can be mitigated here? Well, it comes down to limiting personal liability and responsibility if you think you may have damaged an aircraft. You can do this by reporting something if a potential problem was experienced.

It is embarrassing to have to admit to a boss, an operator, a rental aircraft provider, or an owner that you may have done something that broke their aircraft. But, and especially in situations where maintenance discrepancy reporting procedures are in place, not doing so could potentially constitute a future liability civilly or criminally. If that isn’t enough for you, just the thought of whether you might want the death of someone else on your conscious should cause some pause.

Avoiding this potential risk can be easy. Everyone makes mistakes. If you break something, report it. In the best case scenario, it gets fixed, and even if you wind up having to pay for the repair, that’s a responsibility we should all accept as pilots.

But in the worst of cases, not reporting potential problems, even little ones, can start a chain of events that could result in deaths and potential civil or criminal ramifications for previous aircraft users who may have damaged an airplane in ways that caused a future accident. And no one wants that on their conscience or their record.

Jason Blair is an active single- and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with 4,900 hours total time and 2,850 hours instruction given. In his role as Examiner, over 900 pilot certificates have been issued. He actively works within the general aviation industry and actively flies volunteer missions.

Staying proficient is important, so be sure to visit our Risk archives, where the best instructors in aviation help you fly smarter and safer.

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Speech – A Success Story in the Making

Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell
Las Vegas, NV

Good morning, everybody.

I know what youre thinking: Oh, jeezthe regulators here. Hes probably going to tell us hes here to help.

You laugh. But I get it theres a certain degree of skepticism when the fed shows up at an event like this.

I dont know that I blame you. After all, the old government philosophy of If it aint broke, lets fix it anyway is the ultimate buzzkill.

Well thats not who I am. And thats absolutely not what the Department of Transportation or this Administration is all about.

Believe it or not, we all want the same thing. We all know unmanned aircraft arent a novelty some expensive toy that needs to be accommodated. And were ready for the day when drones are a fully integrated, everyday player in our nations airspace.

So how do we make that happen safely and faster?

Wellto start with, we all need to acknowledge: Remotely piloted aircraft are a disruptive technology.

In this room, thats almost always a good thing, right? Drones are reinventing industries creating new ones. Theyre going to do for aviation what the internet did for information.

Ive been a pilot most of my life. But when I look around at some of the things youre working on here at InterDrone the possibilities blow me away.

But as exciting as this all is it can also make people nervous.

Safety security access privacyThe public has very real and justified questions about these aircraft. And their concerns cant just be swept under the rug.

If we want this technology to take hold, weve got to take these questions head on.

Opinions about drones are still being formed. Thats in our favor. And we can make the most of that opportunity by being responsive.

The recent event in Venezuela reminds us: All it takes is one bad actor one unfortunate incident And this industry could be grounded before it ever really takes off.

Thats not hyperbole. Sky-high expectations are just part of the world youre operating in.

The national airspace system doesnt have room for error. When something goes wrong up there, it shakes peoples confidence down here. And the entire industry feels the impact.

Fortunately, incidents like that are extremely rare. Airplanes are safer and more resilient than at any point in history. The people operating in the system take safety so seriously that they self-report mistakes. And that voluntary data reporting allows us to root out areas of risk in the system long before incidents occur.

The result? Aviation is the gold standard. The safest form of transportation in the world. Thats not a position were about to take a step back on.

Ive heard this argument a few times: Back in Orville and Wilburs era, people were willing to risk their lives for the birth of a new form of transportation. Now that were on the cusp of aviations next great era, shouldnt we be willing to accept some of the same risks in the name of progress?

Folks, theres a really simple answer to that question: No.

Manned aviation already learned those lessons. We paid that price. Were not going to do it again. And the public wouldnt let us, anyway.

Now, this insistence on safety isnt some limitation on unmanned aircraft. On the contrary its a leg up.

Because youre not starting from scratch, like the Wright brothers. The FAA has spent six decades working with airlines, manufacturers, and countless others to get where we are now. And were ready to use everything weve learned so that the drone industry can reach its full potential as quickly as possible.

Let me tell you a quick story.

A TV company was using a drone to film exteriors out in Louisville, Kentucky a couple weeks ago. And they just so happened to set up in the parking lot of the FAAs local Flight Standards office.

Our folks naturally got curious about the drone flying in their parking lot, and struck up a conversation with the production manager. Turns out, an uncertified pilot was flying an unregistered drone.

So what do you think the inspector didconfiscate the drone? Issue a fine?

No. Our guys didnt write them a ticket, or start talking about fines. They sat down with them, and helped register their drone right there in the FAAs conference room. Walked them through the rules and next steps.

The crew couldnt believe it. That we wanted to help them get back to filming the right way as quickly as possible.

You knowif theres one thing I want you to take away from this conference, its this: the FAA is open for business.

For folks who are committed to doing the right thing were not your adversary. Were as invested in integrating unmanned aircraft into the system as you are.

Innovation is one of Secretary Chaos top priorities for the Department of Transportation. And were building flexible, responsive regulatory processes that can keep up with all your creativity while ensuring safety isnt compromised.

Weve automated how drone operators get permission to fly in controlled airspace.

Were laying the groundwork for a comprehensive Unmanned Traffic Management System.

Weve authorized low-risk small drone flights, and created a performance-based waiver and exemption process to allow more advanced operations.

And Secretary Chao recently launched the UAS Integration Pilot Program to let us work with local governments and private industry to figure out how best to expand unmanned operations beyond whats allowed by current regulations.

Thats a Cabinet-level official whos leaning in, and saying Lets move our efforts into the fast lane.

The first test under the pilot program happened a few weeks ago in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Project Wing drone delivered a popsicle to a two-year-old boy, just six minutes after the order was placed.

It was historic the first beyond visual line-of-sight residential drone delivery in the United States.It was the Mr. Watson, I want to see you for the 21st century.

But to Little Jack, it was just cool. In his words: Airplane brought me a Popsicle!

These are important steps forward steps that bring drones closer to just being a routine operator in our airspace.

But there are still critical hurdles that need to be cleared before thats a reality. And they are issues the FAA cannot tackle alone.

Everyones interested in drone operations at night and over people. But we need to address the concerns that our national security and law enforcement partners have first.

Chief among them: we and thats a collective we, not just the FAA have to be able to identify every drone in the airspace, and whos operating it. The National Airspace System is no place for hide-and-seek.

This is common sense stuff. No ones okay with the idea of people driving down the highway without a license in their pocket and a tag on their vehicle. Why should operating a drone be any different?

But right now, the FAAs hands are tied by a law that says we cannot require remote identification on model aircraft.

This isnt a sustainable situation. Until we can set remote ID requirements that will be universally applied to every drone until we can make sure everyone is following the same rules inside the system full integration just isnt possible.

Now, Congress knows this is an issue. And Im hopeful well see a legislative fix soon maybe even as part of the FAAs next reauthorization.

As soon as this gets resolved, rest assured: were ready to move forward as quickly as possible.

Thats not the only question hanging out there.

How are drones going to interact with each other? And with other users flying in the system?

How can we make sure unmanned aircraft dont interfere with critical infrastructure? Or emergency response efforts?

Remember dull, dirty, and dangerous? Drones shouldnt be impediments they should be first responders at events like the California wildfires. Thats what we should be working toward.

Im not going to stand up here and claim Ive got the answers. Im not a tech guy and the FAA is not a tech company.

Our business is safety. So when we look at an aircraft, we want to know two basic things: Is it reliable? And does it play nicely with others?

Thats it. Dont fall out of the sky, and dont crash into other aircraft. It sounds simple. But the execution can be a lot more complex. Especially when its an entirely new class of users coming into a system that already includes jumbo jets, helicopters, balloons, rockets, and everything in between.

The fact is, a lot of safety problems require technological solutions. And that means we need buy-in from all of you. The innovators. The inventers. The out-of-the-box thinkers.

Nobody knows how to tackle tough tech challenges better than the folks in this room. Thats what got you here. The advancements being highlighted this week are proof of that.

So heres my advice: If you share the FAAs goal of fully integrating drones into our airspace as soon as possible dont just make the business case for your products or operations. Start making the safety case, too. They go hand-in-hand.

And dont be afraid to take on the problems that are bigger than your individual companies. Go after the issues that are affecting the unmanned aircraft community as a whole and share what youre doing at events like this one.

I truly believe youre going to find the most success more quickly if you work together.

Some of you are already doing this. And its probably the single biggest lesson weve learned over the years in aviation.

If a company develops a new safety enhancement, they dont keep it to themselves. Or use it to sell more aircraft than the other guy. They share it with everybody else.

Over twenty years ago, the FAA actually put together a team specifically designed to share safety information, and then do something with the safety information thats being shared.

Its called CAST the Commercial Aviation Safety Team. Its a mix of safety professionals from industry and government a group of about a thousand that shares data and safety ideas.

In a world where its hard enough to get two people to agree on anything, this group is a stark exception to the rule.

CAST is responsible for implementing about 200 safety enhancements that are largely responsible for commercial aviations historic safety record.

One more thing you need to know about those safety enhancements: theyre voluntary. This industry doesnt wait for a rule, or a government mandate, or a call to action.

Safety is a race we run together, and CAST wants everyone in the system to finish in a tie for first. And that, I say with a certain amount of awe and not a little bit of pride, is what happens.

Thats why we went over nine years without a single fatality in commercial aviation. Safety is not a table for one.

And all of this is not just for the big guys the airlines, the manufacturers, who dominate the system. Its about general aviation just as well the private pilots. For them, we formed the General Aviation Joint Safety Committee for the same purpose.

In October 2016, we launched a similar effort designed just for this community the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team. Given the success weve seen with CAST, and the growing success were seeing with the general aviation community, I have no doubt that, in time, well see more of the same with you.

It sounds strange, maybe even a little weird, but the concept works, and the numbers prove it.

I know you guard your trade secrets and proprietary technologies, as well you should. Were not looking for the keys to the cabinet that holds your secret plans.

But we do want to know about safety mistakes that can end in tragedy.

Thats the thing about sharing this kind of information: we cant spot trends if the cards arent face up on the table.

What you think is a fluke a one in a million, an event thatll never happen again might very well be happening on this coast, that one, and at a number of cities in between. But we wont know that, and you wont know that, unless you share the information.

This is the reason for aviations unprecedented record. We dont compete on safety.

Thats the business were in. Now its your business, too. And Im really happy to welcome you into the fold.

For the last few years, at events like this, weve had a tendency to spend too much time reassuring each other.

Industry tells the FAA what drones are capable of, and that what youre doing isnt some kind of fad. And guys like me come here and tell you We get it. Were on top of the issue.

I think its time to end the therapy sessions.

Youve proven that unmanned aircraft are here to stay.

And I think I hope the FAA has proven that were 100 percent committed to making you a regular part of our national airspace.

Lookwere not strangers anymore. Were partners. In innovation and safety.

This is more than a work in progress. This is a success story in the making.I am confident of that. And you are giving me all the reasons in the world to keep it that way.

Thank you.

FAA Highlights Big Hazard

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The FAA has issued an alert and shared a great video on how pilots can keep from making a big mistake, landing on what the FAA calls the “wrong surface.” These mistakes include landing at the wrong airport, on the wrong runway, or on a taxiway instead of the correct runway.

Landing Hazard

The numbers are staggering. Over a two-year period the FAA says that there were 557 wrong-surface landings in fiscal year 2016, 85 percent of which involved GA planes. Nearly 90 percent happened during the day and the vast majority were under visual flight rules. A lot of factors play into such mistakes, including facility confusion, and the biggest culprits were airports with parallel runways, and of those, parallel runways with one of them greatly offset from the other.

One of the best tools you can use is the extended runway centerline utilities available in many navigation apps and on panel mount avionics, too. Even when you think you know you’re landing on the correct runway, those extended centerlines are great confirmation that you really are.

Check out the FAA’s excellent video on the subject here.

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A New Solar-Electric Autonomous Plane Makes First Flight

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German company Elektra Solar announced on Tuesday that it had completed the first flight of its Elektra Two Solar, a very long wingspan plane designed for long-endurance flight. The plane had a pilot on board, the company said (and presumably, the pilot had controls!), but no inputs from the pilot were needed.

Elektra Two Solar
Elektra Solar completed the first flight of its Elektra Two Solar.

The lack of a pilot is a strong engineering benefit too, as the plane is designed to fly to very high-altitudes, up to 60,000 feet. The recent test flight went to no such altitudes, as low weather restricted it essentially to pattern work.

Elektra Solar says that other features of the new plane are redundant systems and “virtually noiseless” flights. The company says that it’s working for “day and night flight missions,” but that is a lofty goal. We’ll keep you updated.

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