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Nolan Law News Articles

Lufthansa’s Low Ball Offer on Germanwings Aviation Disaster–An Open Invitation to Sue

While en route to Düsseldorf, Germany from Barcelona, Spain in March, 2015, an airplane owned and operated by Lufthansa Germanwings crashed into the French Alps, killing all passengers and two pilots. Investigators later discovered one of the pilots–Andreas Lubitz–deliberately crashed the plane into the mountains after locking the other pilot out of the cockpit.

Recently, Lubitz’s employer and operator of the Germanwings airline, Lufthansa, offered financial compensation to relatives of those killed in the crash amounting to 25,000 euros (USD$27,740) per victim.  Chicago Aviation Law firm, Nolan Law Group, believes that this offer is completely inadequate and worthy of further appeals for more of a realistic compensation amount.


Lufthansa Germanwings executives hold a joint press conference  in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Lufthansa has also said they plan to provide 7.8 million euros to pay the educational expenses of children who lost one or both parents in the crash and that the airline will set aside 6 million euros towards “individual support for aid projects of relatives” in the coming months, although exact details of the program have not been revealed.

Why Relatives of Crash Victims Will Need an Aviation Accident Lawyer

While compensation for some of the deceased’s families is expected to be less than $100,000, other relatives could receive millions of dollars because of their nationality.

As explained by aviation litigation attorney Donald J. Nolan: “Compensation amounts are ultimately determined by a country’s unique legal system regarding aviation disaster compensation limits”.

According to a Time Magazine article, a U.S. aviation litigation attorney can get their clients millions of dollars in compensation for either surviving an airplane crash or being the relative of someone who died in an airplane crash. Contrast that to China, for example, where the average settlement for victims of airplane disasters is only around $500,000–and it’s even lower for European victims of airplane disasters.

The Montreal Convention

Compensation for non-U.S. victims and their families of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash will be much less than for American passengers aboard the plane when it crash-landed at the San Francisco airport in 2013, killing three Chinese girls and injuring nearly 200 passengers.

A treaty called the Montreal Convention regulates compensation to people suffering injuries while traveling by air internationally. This treaty prevents non-U.S. citizens aboard Flight 214 from filing lawsuits in U.S. courts, even though the crash happened in San Francisco. Consequently, many victims will not receive adequate compensation amounts they deserve. However, some victims have hired an American airplane crash attorney skilled in navigating complex European and Asian laws to help them get the compensation they deserve.

The Korean Airline Crash of 1997

Director of Litigation Thomas J. Ellis points out the cases of family members of victims killed in the 1997 Korean Airlines disaster who, by filing lawsuits in the U.S., received over 100 times more money than victims suing in South Korea.  Asiana, the airline responsible for the 2013 San Francisco crash, claimed they were only obliged to pay $170,000 per passenger, citing the Montreal Convention.

Non-U.S. victims and relatives of victims injured in an airplane crash must endure years of endless litigation, stalling tactics by airline attorneys and, ultimately, out-of-court settlements that are disturbing inadequate and insulting. Enlisting the assistance of an experienced airplane injury attorney working for Nolan Law Group is essential to fighting successfully for the right to receive compensation due to airline negligence.

To learn more about how Nolan Law Group can represent you, contact the firm today online or call 312.630.4000.

Proactive Aviation Safety, Belatedly

Too many organizations get serious about aviation safety after the funerals for employees killed in chartered carrier crashes. Illinois State University (ISU) may be the latest to substitute genuine oversight for hope in the reliability of the charter operator.

The aftermath of the crashed flight

The aftermath of the crashed flight

On 7 April, 2015, a Cessna 414A twin-engine airplane, operated by Make It Happen Aviation, crashed approximately two miles from its destination, Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Illinois. The single pilot and all six passengers were killed. Among the victims were the deputy athletics director and the associate head coach of the ISU Redbirds basketball team. Team boosters comprised the other passengers. They were returning from the final four college NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis.

The crash occurred shortly after midnight in foggy weather, with light rain and visibility for half a mile. The flight was descending to land, then the ground radar plotted an increase in altitude, suggesting a missed approach or, worse, the pilot’s loss of spatial orientation. In any event, no radio transmissions were received from the airplane about a climbing circle for a second landing attempt. The airplane dropped off radar coverage; three hours later, at approximately 4 a.m., the wreckage and the bodies were discovered by police and firefighters who were called to search the area.

The airport tower had closed at 10 p.m., but it is not unusual — although not necessarily safer — for airplanes to land at airports without trained air traffic controllers in the tower.

A short, one-hour, flight ended in disaster

A short, one-hour, flight ended in disaster

Coincidentally, on the same day as the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a safety alert titled “Understanding Flight Experience.” The NTSB argued that “Pilots may have many hours of experience” and “Even if operating a specific type of aircraft is allowed by regulations, it does not mean the practice is safe.” The alert cited four general aviation accidents in which experienced pilots nonetheless crashed their aircraft.

The crash in Bloomington is part of the larger pattern of wrecked airplanes and lives cut short.

ISU issued a statement: “Words cannot fully express the grief that is felt in the wake of such a tragedy. We move between shock and profound sadness.”

After a period of grief, ISU may wish to examine Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) grim experience in January 2001. A Jet Express Services aircraft, a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 with twin power plants, was returning from Colorado to Stillwater Regional Airport in Oklahoma. It was one of three airplanes chartered to fly the school’s basketball team home after a game with the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The airplane crashed shortly after reaching cruising altitude. The sole pilot and the nine passengers were killed.

Similar to the crash in Illinois, the event was at night, with a lone pilot flying past his usual bed time in wintry overcast weather. In this case, the pilot was preoccupied with an electrical failure and probably did not sense the airplane’s right descending turn.

The airplane did not have, and was not required to be equipped with, a standby attitude indicator powered from a separate source.

As a source close to the investigation recalled, “The King Air was designed and certificated for single pilot operation and also to a lower certification standard — although the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] would say ‘different’ — than air carriers. Therefore, it does not have some of the equipment found on an air carrier, such as standby instruments.”

“Of course, the issue is that passengers are unaware of the difference in the certification of a King Air versus, say, a B737 [airliner]. They assume it’s all the same,” the source added. That is, if they even think about FAA approval of an aircraft design.

The NTSB investigated the crash of the King Air, as it is now investigating the crash in Illinois of the Cessna light twin.

Many of the findings from the earlier investigation can no doubt be included verbatim in the 2015 crash:

– The pilot was properly certificated and qualified under Federal regulations.

– The accident airplane was properly certified, equipped, and maintained in accordance with Federal regulations. The recovered components showed no evidence of any pre-existing structural, engine, or system failures.

– The accident was not survivable for any of the airplane occupants because they were subjected to impact forces that exceeded the limits of human tolerance.

– Oklahoma State University did not provide any significant oversight for the accident flight.

Fifteen months after the accident, in April 2002, OSU published an eight-page policy regarding athletic team travel, which included athletes, coaches, mascots, managers, etc.

Extracts of this policy may be instructive:

“All air travel, except the use of commercial air carriers, shall be subject to the review of the institution’s aviation consultant.”

“The University will, through competitive proposals, retain an aviation consultant. Such individual or firm must have expertise in operations, safety and certification for the purpose of evaluating the certification and safety records, of charter air carriers, time-share and other aircraft and assure pilot certifications are in keeping with this policy….”

“The institutional aviation consultant shall have final approving authority for approving a firm/aircraft for purposes of this policy.”

“Two pilots will be required …”

“Charter aircraft used according to this policy must be maintained under the appropriate FAA operations specifications….”

“…weight and balance computations using average passenger weights are prohibited. A weight and balance form must be completed for each flight using actual weight figures for passengers…”

The policy goes on in this vein, being very specific. The table immediately below summarizes the impact of the policy:


The Difference an Accident Makes

OSU Athletic Team Travel Policies


Before the Accident Crash occurred the night of 27 Jan. 2001

After the Accident Policies in effect after 22 April 2002

Number of pilots

Copilot optional, depending on weather and/or length of trip. Accident pilot often flew as a single pilot because
OSU athletic staff wanted to use all the seats.

Two pilots required; no exceptions.

Pilot qualifications

OSU pilots required or qualified hired part-time pilots, instrument rated, commercial pilot’s license, minimum of
2,500 hours as pilot-in-command, and 500 hours in multi-engine airplane.

Must be full time pilot with 1st class medical certificate, type rated in airplane to be used, minimum of 200 hours flying in past 90 days, and three instrument approaches and
three night landings in the past 90 days. Copilot must have multi-engine and instrument ratings, including 100 hours in type, 10 hours in past 90 days, and three instrument approaches and three night landings in past 90 days.

Flight conditions

Day or night in visual or IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions. Pilot judgment regarding whether conditions were safe for the trip.

All flights operated on IFR flight plan; aircraft may not depart into forecast hazardous weather conditions, including
severe icing, thunderstorms, severe turbulence or wind shear. Passengers cannot enter the cockpit or distract pilots when aircraft is below 10,000

Use of donated aircraft

Permitted. Accident aircraft was donated.

Donated aircraft permitted for coaches and staff but not flights carrying student athletes. Donated aircraft must be
powered by two or more turbine engines — which would rule out piston

Outside, independent advice


Aviation consultant retained to evaluate certification and safety records of charter air carriers, time-share and other aircraft, with final authority for approval.

Aircraft maintenance

No specific provisions

An FAA-certified repair station or the manufacturer must perform inspections and maintenance. Maintenance personnel
must be appropriately rated and must have trained within the previous five years
on the aircraft type they are maintaining.

Following the recent crash in Bloomington, chances are that Illinois State University opts for similarly strict policies regarding aviation. Hope is no substitute for prudent oversight.

Deadly Cessna 414 Crash: Looking Beyond Pilot Error

On Tuesday morning, April 7, 2015, a twin-engine Cessna 414 was recovered after crashing near the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington Illinois. Seven victims of the crash were recovered including Scott Bittner (42), Bittner’s Meat Co.; Terry Stralow (64), a partner in Pub II; Aaron Leetch, (37), ISU deputy director of athletics for external operations; Torrey Ward, (36), associate head coach of the Redbirds men’s basketball team; Thomas Hileman, (51), the pilot; Andy Butler, 40, a regional representative for Sprint; and Woodrow “Jason” Jones, (45), a senior vice president and certified financial adviser at Wells Fargo Advisors.

First responders on the scene

First responders on the scene

The plane was registered to “Make It Happen Aviation” of Towanda, Illinois. The plane was being piloted by Thomas Hileman, who held a valid flying certificate, had over 12,000 hours of flight time, and had undergone a medical check-up in early February.

At the time of the accident conditions at Central Illinois Regional Airport showed declining visibility and light wind. According to reports, the plane had been in contact with air traffic control in Peoria, which typically handles communication with airplanes after the Central Illinois Regional Airport radio tower closes at 10:00 p.m.

According to Carl Olson, director of the airport, Peoria air traffic control lost contact with the plane just after midnight. Olson also said the pilot did not indicate any trouble and had not made any alterations to the registered flight plan.

While the airport control tower normally closes at night, it is common for planes to land after hours with runway lights illuminated. Pilots also have the ability to remotely indicate they need the runway lights turned on. In a Chicago Tribune report, Todd Fox, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the pilot had been cleared for an instrument landing on Runway 20 at the airport and that the plane began to climb out of its descent into Central Illinois Regional Airport as if it had missed its approach. According to Fox, if that is what happened, the plane should have climbed and turned west. Instead, according to Fox, it turned east. “The aircraft was seen (on radar) to climb and then descend well on this easterly heading before crashing in a farm field just east of the airport,” Fox said. The final radio communications from pilot Thomas Hileman, as the plane neared the airport, included no sign of distress.

Reports state that the plane went down in a bean field north of Illinois Route 9 off a paved county road. Emergency crews located the plane around 3:15 a.m. The wreckage was found “within one wingspan” of the main fuselage, according to Fox, which should help investigators inspect the aircraft. All seven passengers were found dead still strapped into their seats. All had died from blunt force trauma resulting from the crash, said Coroner Kathleen Davis.

While weather conditions have been sighted as a possible cause of the accident a preliminary report is expected sometime next week. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident and a final report will most likely take a year to 18 months to complete.

There have been other unexplained crashes of Cessna 414A aircraft. Back in 2000, a Cessna 414A crashed near Hyannis, MA.  Immediately before the crash the pilot had told air traffic control that he lost the artificial horizon on his instrument panel. While a survey conducted by Aviation Consumer says the Cessna 414 twin-engine has a fairly low fatal accident rate (boasting 0.8 fatal accidents for each 100,000 hours of flight time), questions are sure to be asked during the investigation regarding why the plane tuned east instead of west, were the flight control instruments working properly, how many hours of flight time Pilot Hileman had in this particular model and type of multi-engine aircraft and when was his last proficiency check?


Compliance with Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins

In an article titled: “Cessna 414 Used Aircraft Report: Buying Before Extinction,” written by Peter A. Bedell, AOPA Pilot, Bedell states that the Cessna’s 414 is among a large group of aircraft headed for extinction. However, he notes, the market for these airplanes remains active.

Bedell states that early 414s can be recognized by their tip tanks and stubbier nose. In 1976 Cessna redesigned the 400 series beginning with the 421. The changes eventually made their way to the 414 in 1978 and it was renamed the 414A Chancellor.

The redesigned airplane had a wingspan that was 4.5 feet longer and a nose extending nearly 3 feet. The fuel capacity reached 206 usable gallons, and the fuel system was made simpler with an On/Off/Crossfeed valve for each engine. Previous 414s had as many as six tanks and made for difficult fuel management. Continental’s TSIO-520-J powered the original 414s, while the TSIO-520-Ns pulled the 414A. Both models were rated at 310 hp at 2,700 rpm. Since most of these airplanes are operated in the unpredictable environment of the flight levels, the 414’s engines have had their share of problems. The engines are sensitive and don’t respond well to abrupt throttle movements or casually monitored engine operations.

The engines began life with a TBO of 1,400 hours, which was later extended to 1,600 hours; but, according to many owners, Bedell says, the 1,400-hour figure is a more accurate estimate of the engine’s lifespan.

Given the airplane’s average of logging 200 or more flight hours per year, one could ask if the aircraft owner had complied with most of the engine ADs or service bulletins, such as those requiring replacement of crankshafts made via the airmelt process. Exhaust manifold clamps and elbows have a 100-hour inspection requirement. Finally, a recent AD regarding recurrent inspections of McCauley three-blade propellers covers the 414 line as well.


Limited Load-Carrying Capacity

Although the 414s have a huge cabin-class interior, they have never been a large load hauler. A typically equipped 414A has a full-fuel load of about 500 to 700 pounds, depending on equipment. Although you could fly for about 1,100 miles, you would be able to bring only two friends and a few bags. In a well- equipped airplane weighing in at 5,100 pounds, you could fill the cabin with six people and a little baggage and fly for about 2 hours with IFR reserves. It’s because of this limited load-carrying ability that many operators opt for modifications. Among the questions Nolan Law Group is asking are: how old is the plane? What modifications have been made and how recently? What baggage was on board in addition to the seven occupants?

The Cessna 414A is a large cabin class, piston twin. Flying high with its comfortable pressurized cabin, the 414 can carry up to 7 passengers.

The Cessna 414A has a large comfortable pressurized cabin. The 414 can carry up to 7 passengers.

As part of its’ own preliminary independent investigation Nolan Law Group has reviewed accident reports compiled by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Reports state there were 46 accidents involving 414s between 1983 and 1993. The pilot has been cited as being responsible for almost every 414 accident, and weather was a common link in the accident chain. However, many accidents that occurred after engine failures involved airplanes loaded far beyond the maximum gross weight and flown improperly with a failed engine (for example, with the gear and/or flaps down). Single-engine rate of climb is listed as 240 feet per minute for the 414 and 290 fpm for the 414A with the gear and flaps up.

The 414’s have a spacious cabin. Unfortunately, the stock 414s have more room than the useful load allows.

The 414 can fly six people on a 2-hour trip in a comfortable pressurized cabin or it can fly two people some 1,200 miles. On the other hand, the big cabin results in an equally big speed penalty.

While many facts and circumstances of the accident remain unknown and the NTSB investigation is expected to take more than a year, attorneys at Nolan Law Group continue to question factors beyond “pilot error” as causal or contributing to this crash. Ultimately, those causes and contributing factors must be analyzed to determine who bears liability for the crash, an analysis that the NTSB is prohibited from making.  As a firm concentrating in aviation accident claims, Nolan Law Group routinely monitors accident investigations such as the Bloomington tragedy for similarities, differences and safety trends. The firm handles claims and litigation on behalf of victims and families of victims of aviation accidents ranging from small, general aviation aircraft to large commercial airliners.

Flight into the Valley of Depression

A statement appeared in a New York Times article about the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 that passengers will not see reprinted in the in-flight magazine stuffed into their seat pocket: “Having a mental illness does not necessarily mean one cannot successfully fly a plane.” Given that depression can often lead to unpredictable behavior, piloting a passenger airliner seems decidedly more risky than, perhaps, driving a car.

This statement was in the same paragraph discussing a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Office of Germany that allowed First Officer Andreas Lubitz to fly. Lubitz was seen at a clinic in Germany on March 10th, for unspecified reasons. This date was just 14 days before Lubitz locked the captain on a lavatory break out of the cockpit. With the captain frantically banging on the door to be let back in (“For God’s sake, open the door!” the captain pleaded), the isolated first officer programmed the autopilot to fly the airplane so low that a collision with the Alpine mountainside was inevitable. The fact that the captain could not regain access to the cockpit will doubtless be a topic covered by the investigation. In the U.S., pilots have a secret code that they can enter if locked out of the cockpit, a feature evidently absent on the Germanwings A320.

The A320 jet slammed into the rocky slope at a speed in excess of 400 mph. At that speed, the tip of the nose and the tailcone impacted a quarter second less from one another in a violent telescoping collision with unyielding terra firma. Pieces of metal and pieces of the bodies of the 150 persons aboard were strewn over the mountainside. Death was blessedly instantaneous, although some in the passenger cabin were aware of the mortal danger entailed in flying low in the French Alps. Looking out the windows on that clear, sunny day, they would have been horrified to see peaks ascending hundreds of feet above their flight path.

The descent to death was probably deliberate, as Lubitz would have received ample notice of the mortal danger from aircraft systems, particularly the Terrain Avoidance Warning System (TAWS). This system looks out ahead and compares the airplane’s flight path to a digital terrain map stored in the computer. When flying 1,000 ft above any mountains, the terrain map shows the high terrain in green — the airplane is comfortably above any terrain ahead. If the airplane’s flight path takes it below the 1,000 ft clearance, the terrain will change color to yellow, the universal color denoting caution.

If the flight path takes the aircraft to within or below the highest points of terrain ahead, the terrain will be color-coded red on the digital map display in the cockpit. Within approximately 40 seconds of projected ground impact, a computerized voice will sound, “Terrain. Pull up!”

Lubitz sat there, doing nothing. Those on the ground reported that they did not hear the sounds of engines spooling up, which would indicate a last-second attempt to add power and climb as the rocky hillside loomed ever larger in the windscreen. Lubitz rode the airplane right into the boulder-strewn slope.

The terrain warning system was ignored

The terrain warning system was ignored

Now, scores of European airlines belatedly have instituted a “two persons in the cockpit at all times” rule. If one of the pilots has to leave the cockpit for a bathroom break, a flight attendant must come to the cockpit and be present while one pilot is aft in the cabin. This procedure has been standard, as mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ever since two-pilot aircrews and locked cockpit doors have prevented the unique threat of a one-pilot failure — medical or mental — on the flight deck. It took the deaths of 150 people for European airworthiness authorities and airlines to wake up to prohibit solo cockpit occupancy. One is prompted to ask, were you people willfully ignoring the hazard?

Also, pointed questions apply to carrier Germanwings and its parent, Lufthansa. First Officer Lubitz was a flight attendant before becoming a very junior pilot. Did depression or any mental condition manifest itself in his prior employment as a member of the cabin staff? Was he seeking mental health care during this earlier time and, if so, was this known by his employer?

If strict privacy rules pertain in Europe regarding the doctor-patient relationship, does public safety enter into the equation? If a pilot with a serious heart condition is not allowed to fly, surely mental depression should qualify for grounding. News reports indicate that Lubitz was worried about his eyesight; vision problems would have been revealed during company-mandated physicals.

In searching his apartment, authorities found doctors’ notes in a trash can. The torn and rumpled notes said Lubitz was unfit for work. Prescription medicines were found showing that he was being treated for psychological problems. A girlfriend indicated that he had nightmares about flying and that he had complained about not being treated properly by the airline and co-workers.

Lubitz was an avid jogger, but running was no antidote to mental turmoil

Lubitz was an avid jogger, but running was no antidote to mental turmoil

There is mounting evidence suggesting that Lubitz was in a deeply depressed state of mind.

If he was mentally disturbed to the point of being suicidal, his case mirrors others:


Possible Pilot Suicides In Airliner Crashes
Date Airline Location Deaths
March 24, 2014 Germanwings Flight 4U9525 French Alps 150
March 8, 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Indian Ocean 239 Note: investigators are still trying to determine if the crash was caused by a deliberate pilot act
Nov. 29, 2013 Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 Namibia 33
Oct. 31, 1999 EgyptAir Flight 990 Atlantic Ocean 217
Dec. 19, 1997 Silk Air Flight 185 Indonesia 104
Aug. 21, 1994 Royal Air Maroc Flight 630 Morocco 44
Feb. 9, 1982 Japan Airlines Flight 350 Tokyo Bay 24

There is a need for periodic testing of the psychological health of pilots, according to Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Cappon. After the apparent actions of relief pilot Gamil el Batouti in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, Cappon declared in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, “[T]he mental problems of some pilots may be more widespread than what has been reported.”

For this reason, he argued, “The public must insist on new legislation to enable medical authorities to detect early mental dysfunction in flying personnel and in air traffic controllers.”

He believes psychological testing can identify at-risk pilots. Cappon disagrees with the view of some pilots that psychological screening would not catch problem pilots. “That’s like saying x-rays won’t identify a cancer,” he said in a 2000 telephone interview with this writer. The test he has in mind involves some 300 items of background information, plus 120 additional items of what he calls the “foreground” aspects of a pilot’s mental health. He believes the focus of the periodic checkup ought to be changes, from the focus on finding the absence of health to one of the presence of physical fitness, to include the presence of mental and social fitness.

These vital signs of the “whole person”, Cappon maintains, are too often left to “casual verbal inquiry by physicians”. He believes the depth of psychiatric inquiry should equal the rigor of the physical examination.

The pilot’s lifestyle certainly argues in favor of periodic mental evaluations. There are the demands of the flying schedule, the family separation, the commute to and from work, the nights in a hotel, the disruption of sleep, the enervating routine of checklists and procedures, the stress added by bad flying weather, unruly passengers, and the list goes on…

The flying profession is one of boredom, rote, and routine — hardly the glamorous one often presented in motion pictures.

In his newspaper article, Cappon wrote:

“The vast majority of pilots and aircrews are extremely brave and resourceful people … Their heroism has saved countless lives … But, having dealt with many of these problems, I think that when pilots’ ailments threaten flying safety, better control must be exercised.”

When the captain of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 left the cockpit, he told First Officer Lubitz, “You’re in control.” Implicit in that statement was the assumption that the first officer would maintain the safety of the flight, not mortally endanger it.

The Trivial Cost of Certainty

Doing nothing, despite a clear need and available technology, is always an option if it can be demonstrated that the costs are prohibitive. This seems to be the emerging case regarding “streaming” of flight recorder to a ground station, as has been suggested in the wake of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

The wreckage of the airplane has not been pinpointed; whatever caused the crash is doubtless encoded in the recorders — both flight data and cockpit voice recordings — which are housed in the tail section of the airplane. They are ensconced there in the belief that the aft section is the most likely to be least damaged, as the forward sections of the airplane will impact first and absorb most of the destructive forces.

Flight data sitting at the bottom of the ocean is of no use

Flight data sitting at the bottom of the ocean is of no use

However, if as is widely believed, the airplane crashed into the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia, no wreckage has been found. The batteries powering the recorders’ locator beacon have long exceeded their 30-day time for providing essential power.

The frustration with the utter disappearance of the airliner has renewed interest in “streaming” the recorders’ information before the crash. In the event of an unexpected scenario, the recorders’ vital information would be transmitted from the stricken airplane to orbiting satellites overhead, for subsequent beaming back down to a ground station. The airplane’s location, its flight attitude, and other essential parameters captured on the flight recorders would be available almost instantly to those on the ground searching for answers.

The technology exists. Known as the Automated Flight Reporting System, or AFIRS, it beams flight recorder information to orbiting satellites when trouble with the aircraft is sensed. AFIRS was developed and is marketed by a small Canadian company, FLYHT Aerospace Solutions, Inc.; since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the company has been busy marketing AFIRS.

FLYHT Chief Executive Bill Tempany told the Washington Post newspaper that AFIRS installation costs about $120,000 per airplane.

The cost for multiple installations adds up. Delta Air Lines operates a fleet of 764 airliners; equipping all airplanes with  AFIRS totals about $90 million.

For the whole U.S. fleet of approximately 4,000 airliners, the installation cost would be approximately $480,000,000.

The cost appears prohibitive. But let’s look closer. According to its website, Delta Air Lines reports it has $2.8 billion in “free cash flow” that it is using, in part, to reduce net debt levels by $2 billion. If 5% of this $2 billion — $90 million — were invested in the safety of all the company’s aircraft, that sum puts the investment into replacing 20-year old crash resistant recorder technology in perspective.

Actually, the price per year could be significantly lower. Let’s continue with the example of Delta. Assume the airline retires its aircraft after 20 years of service. In a steady state illustration, for simplicity of argument, the airline would have to buy 38 new replacement aircraft annually. At $120,000 per installation, adding 38 AFIRS would impose an annual added cost of $4.5 million to the annual purchase price (big jetliners now selling for $100 million to $150 million apiece, or more). $4.5 million is practically lost in the rounding when a company is spending approximately $3.8 billion a year on new airplanes.

And, surely, Delta can get a good deal from the manufacturer if it commits to buying many airplanes over the course of years, all built to a standard configuration. It is not unusual for Airbus or Boeing to offer discounts of 20% or more on bulk orders. As cost of a package deal, the price of AFIRS is trivial.

If a small operator like Canada’s First Air, which operates a half-dozen airliners in the Canadian Arctic, can afford AFIRS, large operators are better positioned to absorb costs. Qatar Airways, which operates a fleet of more than 130 airliners, recently announced its intention to “stream” flight data information. At $120,000 per installation, Qatar announced a commitment of $15.6 million, over multiple years.

Here is another way to put the $120,000 cost per AFIRS installation in perspective: seat-back entertainment systems. The video displays are expensive, because the electronics must be separated completely from the airplane’s avionics, and they must be fireproofed. One estimate places the cost if in-flight entertainment system displays at an astonishing $10,000 per seatback. Let us halve this price to $5,000 per seat. This means the cost of equipping a 200-seat jetliner with seat-back entertainment displays approximates $1 million, or roughly ten times the cost of AFIRS.

One would bet that equipping the fleet, deliberately over years, to an AFIRS-like configuration would play well with airline insurers. There are cost savings to the technology that go well beyond $120,000 per system.

It is estimated that the search for the missing Malaysian B777 has totaled some $240 million for the various governments that have committed ships and aircraft to the ongoing search. That sum is roughly 2,000 times the cost of a single AFIRS installation. The cost of AFIRS equipage would surely meet the most demanding government-imposed cost-benefit calculation. Again, given a U.S. airline fleet of about 4,000 jetliners, assuming a 20-year installation period, the annual installation cost would amount to $24 million. Given the cost, thus far, of the international search for the missing jetliner, the $24 million price of AFIRS data-certainty is one-tenth that of the we’ve-got-nothing search for the wreckage.

To say nothing of the next of kin, the airline, the regulators, the manufacturers, and the investigators — they are left with maximum uncertainty. For the next of kin, there is the incalculable sense of loss. For the regulators, manufacturers and airlines, the lack of data hobbles any corrective action to make sure another airplane isn’t lost under the same or similar circumstances.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Agency preaches the ethic of “data driven safety”. But when there is no data, safety cannot be assured. In the grand scheme of costs and benefit, the price of AFIRS, or a similarly capable system, seems worth more than a few rows of in-flight entertainment system screens. Seat-back television fills the bored mind with vacuous “entertainment”. AFIRS promises to fill enquiring and responsible minds with hard facts.

**VIDEO** Donald J. Nolan Interviewed on Fox News Discussing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

The media often looks to Nolan Law Group for insights into important legal issues. Considered by many journalists to be an authoritative resource for accurate information, our attorneys and experts are frequently interviewed by newspapers and magazines, as well as many television news programs. Donald J. Nolan was interviewed on Fox News discussing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 on Friday July 18, 2014.

Donald J. Nolan Re: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

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Source: Fox News

**VIDEO** Thomas P. Routh Interviewed on NBC News Discussing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

The media often looks to Nolan Law Group for insights into important legal issues. Considered by many journalists to be an authoritative resource for accurate information, our attorneys and experts are frequently interviewed by newspapers and magazines, as well as many television news programs. Thomas P. Routh was recently interviewed on NBC Nightly News by Tom Costello regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 on Friday July 18, 2014.

Thomas P. Routh Re: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

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Source: NBC News

A Regrettable Declaration

Nothing can be more dangerously arrogant than an airline publicly declaring a fatal accident involving one of its planes is inconceivable. Yet an article in an AirAsia in-flight magazine that went to press before the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014 boasted that AirAsia pilots would never lose an airplane because of their “continuous and very thorough” training”.

“Rest assured that your captain is well prepared to ensure your plane will never get lost,” the article declared.

Now AirAsia Flight QZ8501 is missing, presumed at the bottom of the Java Sea. Ground radar contact was lost with the Airbus A320 with 162 aboard early on the morning of December 28. The airplane was about a third along its flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. The airplane was lost right at a line of severe thunderstorms. The cockpit crew apparently did not have time to radio a distress call; whatever happened, it was quick. Three days later, Indonesian rescuers were pulling bodies and wreckage from the sea.

The lost airplane

The lost airplane

The in-flight magazine was pulled in April 2014 — a month after the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines B777 — as a result of criticism in social media, with profuse apologies from management and the airline’s CEO, Tony Fernandes.

It is one thing to generally declare a commitment to safety, but quite another to assert that a crash is never going to happen. At worst, this sort of hyperbole can breed an attitude of complacency, which can take various forms:

• Highly scripted simulator training sessions that are predictable and/or not reflective of real-world emergencies.

• Pro-forma cockpit checks of pilots by management pilots.

• An increase in deferred maintenance.

• A shortage or even absence of contingency funds to address a loss, specifically:

– Money to support passengers next of kin, to include necessary transportation, lodging, meals and incidental expenses.

– Funds to support the inevitably costly investigation

– Monies to support safety adjustments deemed necessary even before the investigation is completed.

• A paucity of training, if any, for airline employees who are appointed to deal with the passengers next of kin, and for airline officials tasked with representing the carrier in various public forums.

• A deterioration in a “just culture”, where employees are encouraged to speak out — and are rewarded — for calling management’s attention to safety deficiencies.

• A ho-hum attitude regarding Safety Management Systems, which can be useful for teasing out latent hazards and correcting them.

In airline operations, complacency may be a huge threat to air safety. The abortive in-flight magazine article would have been far better focusing on pilots’ prudence, as in: if there’s any doubt, don’t. Proven, standardized procedures will reign. Good cockpit discipline and focus will be established for every flight. Sound airmanship and effective crew resource management will be practiced continually.

These sorts of assurances, if backed up with effective programs to ensure that they are practiced, are appropriate.

Indeed, the pilots of Flight QZ8501 may have reflected the natural caution of pilots facing severe convective weather. Shortly before the airplane disappeared, they requested to ground controllers that their assigned altitude of 32,000 feet be changed to 38,000 feet. They may have seen a safe opening in thunderstorms raging to 50,000 feet. Because of other “traffic” in the area, controllers denied their request.

One wonders about how much “traffic” potentially conflicted with the AirAsia pilots’ request. There were reportedly seven other aircraft on that route, which is hundreds of miles long. No doubt, “conflicting traffic” will be a subject of the inevitable investigative inquiry.

In the meantime, the AirAsia magazine article serves as an object lesson: an attitude of “it can’t happen to us” is bound to breed complacency and cruel events may undercut passengers’ confidence in safety.

With a fatal crash on his hands, Tony Fernandes is now using appropriate words. “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501,” he wrote in a Twitter message after the wreckage was found. “On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all.”

Words may not suffice. The issues presented above — regarding a “just culture”, realistic pilot training, maintenance that is up to snuff, etc. — bear thorough audit and corrective action. They apply not just to AirAsia, but any airline bent on avoiding condolences.

A Deadly Disappearance That Should Be The Last

When we plop into our airliner seat and buckle the seat belt, we expect a rather boring journey to the destination, not a terrifying journey to mortal oblivion. Yet that is exactly what occurred on March 7, 2014, as 227 passengers boarded Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 for a nighttime flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Approximately 40 minutes after the 12:41 a.m. takeoff, the B777’s electronic transponders broadcasting the plane’s altitude and identity fell silent. Flying over water, beyond the range of ground-based radar, the airplane simply disappeared.

A massive international search was mounted. An impact crater on land was never found. Not a shred or scrap of debris floating was ever found along the track of ocean sites where fuel exhaustion would have marked the end of the plane’s flight.

Investigators surmised the airplane turned from its path toward Beijing and headed southwest, out into the Indian Ocean. Patrol planes with observers searched the wave tops for pieces of floating aluminum, maybe a bobbing seat cushion, bodies, or some other evidence of the plane’s catastrophic plummet into the water. Nothing.

The airplane’s aft-mounted black box featured a water-activated, battery-power pinger that broadcast a signal for about 30 days. Sensitive hydrophones would have picked up the telltale “pings” from the submerged wreckage. Nothing.

High-tech sonars were deployed from ships on the surface to probe the ocean depths. Robotic submersibles descended into the inky depths and bounced sound waves off the 14,700-ft deep ocean bottom, in the hopes that some of the return signals would reveal the location of the wreckage. The robotic submersibles went back and forth, probing with sonar in a pattern that covered a great deal of submerged acreage without duplicating the effort. Again, nothing.

Despite an effort involving 39 airplanes, 42 ships, technical support on land, and consuming an estimated $44 million, the international search proved to be one of false hopes, spurious signals and nil, zero, zilch, no evidence whatsoever of the Malaysian airliner’s fate.

The wreckage could be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, elsewhere at sea, in the jungle, in the mountains — nobody knows.


Possible crash locations of MH370 based on fuel exhaustion

Possible crash locations of MH370 based on fuel exhaustion

The difficulty, and the extraordinary lengths taken to narrow down where the wreckage might be, was outlined in an October 8th PBS ‘NOVA’ television documentary titled “Why Planes Vanish”. The documentary focused on the frustrating search for the remnants of Malaysian flight MH370:

“Twenty-six minutes after takeoff, at 1:07 AM local time, the airplane transmitted a text message via satellite to its operations center — that appeared to confirm MH370 was bound for Beijing — just like it always had before this night.”

“Three minutes after that call [a voice radio communication between the cockpit crew and Malaysian air traffic controllers], at 1:22 in the morning, both transponders on the Boeing 777 went silent. And so did the crew.”

“Air traffic controllers monitoring the frequency they were assigned in Ho Chi Minh City never heard from MH370” ….

“In the handoff between control centers, MH 370 became nothing more than a silent primary radar blip. And when controllers finally tried to connect the dots, they couldn’t find the plane anywhere on their screens.”

“The plane had vanished.”

“As day broke, rescue crews immediately began searching for wreckage of a crash — in what seemed like a logical place: the South China Sea … where the plane was last seen by air traffic controllers on secondary radar. But there was nothing there.” ….

“The Inmarsat satellite transmissions to and from MH370 were relayed through a ground station in Perth, Australia, until 1:06 AM, when the plane send its last text message ty satellite to the airline’s operations center.” …

“The Inmarsat transceiver answers the call with a simple electronic ping, saying, ‘Yes, I am here.’ ”

“Even more surprising, the log documents SIX MORE handshakes or pings between the ground station and the airliner, about one an hour. All of them occurred after the airplane had vanished … the airplane had continued to fly for at least SEVEN MORE HOURS.” ….

“[Investigators] determined MH370 sent its final handshake somewhere on these two arcs — to the north, all the way to Kazakhstan — or in a place that is as close to nowhere as anyplace can be — the southern Indian Ocean. Two million square miles in all.” ….

“According to this new data [derived from analysis of the doppler shirt from Inmarsat], flight MH 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

“But where on the southern arc?”

“Investigators estimated various speeds and altitudes that the missing plane might have flown.”

“Those factors, along with the amount of fuel and the winds aloft, are crucial in determining where the plane might be along the last handshake arc — where it is presumed the [fuel] tanks ran dry.” ….

“David Gallo is Director of Special Projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In May of 2011 he co-led the team that found the wreckage of Air France flight 447.” [The airplane crashed in the South Atlantic in 2009.]

“Air France had paid for an ACARS subscription that provided investigators much greater detail about what had happened, including position reports right to the end.” [Malaysian airlines only subscribed to a bare bones service.]

“[David Gallo on camera] With Air France we knew there was a plane, so that was important. There was debris being picked up just about a week after the plane hit the water, so there was no question that there was a plane somewhere in that neck of the woods.”

“[Narrator] They were able to narrow the search area to a circle 80 miles in diameter. And yet it still took two years of searching with autonomous underwater vehicles to find the wreckage.”

“[Gallo] It’s not like putting scuba gear on and just going to the bottom. You’re talking about going miles into the deep, into the darkness … It’s incredibly difficult terrain, with mountains as steep as any mountains we have on earth.”


A huge and remote area to search

A huge and remote area to search

“[Narrator] The area that Inmarsat has defined and searchers are pursuing in the hunt for MH370 is about the size of the state of West Virginia — five times greater that the Air France 447 search zone. It would take an autonomous underwater vehicle nearly a thousand days to cover an area that size.”

This frustrating mystery is not necessary.

The location of every airliner flying beyond the range of ground-based radars is readily available. A new system called the Automated Flight Information Reporting System, or AFIRS, does this. It monitors what the flight data recorder is seeing. AFIRS starts transmitting key data automatically when it senses trouble, alternatively at the command of the flight crew or airline dispatches at the ground headquarters.

Some smaller operators, such as Canada’s First Air, have already equipped their airplanes with AFIRS. First Air operates a mixed fleet of Hercules cargo planes, B767, B737, ATR-42 and ATR-72s in northern Canada, where oftentimes ground-based radars do not provide coverage.

The Chinese have mandated satellite communications for all aircraft. AFIRS has been installed on 30 Chinese-registered airliners to date with another 20 planes awaiting components that have already been paid for.

AFIRS was developed and is sold by a small Canadian company, FLYHT Aerospace Solutions Ltd. The system takes advantage of communication and navigation satellite already orbiting Earth. The company claims its technology is installed in 400 aircraft and helicopters. A company press release advertizes:

“For the first time in history, FLYHT has developed a technology to stream data off an aircraft in real-time. If an airplane encounters an emergency, FLYHT’s proven technology can automatically stream vital data, normally secured in the back box, and provide position information to designated sites on the ground in real-time. This technology opens new doors for increased awareness and safety in the industry.”

Not only the airplane’s final location, but data that also goes to the airplane’s black box. A two-fer, as it were, rendering the costly search for the black box unnecessary (although other aircraft components and human remains might be desired for retrieval).

Additionally, the aircraft’s operation can be monitored in real time, allowing for more efficient navigation en route to avoid bad weather, take advantage of favorable winds, and generally maximize fuel economy. Components evidencing behavior problems — maybe in need of repair or replacement — are identified in flight and maintenance personnel are alerted. The routine monitoring in real time is done continuously; AFIRS begins transmitting flight recorder data when activated.


AFIRS installed in the belly of an airliner

AFIRS installed in the belly of an airliner

FLYHT President Matt Bradley maintains, “We have an internationally-recognized data streaming technology that is available to the industry now and are committed to advocating for its full implementation.”

Company representatives have been giving presentations to various aviation symposia around the globe.


AFIRS control panel in the cockpit

AFIRS control panel in the cockpit

When the system is activated, a message is sent to key ground personnel, with the subject line featuring the attention-getting “Aircraft XXX Emergency.” Additional information includes:

• Aircraft registration

• Aircraft latitude and longitude’

• Aircraft altitude, attitude, rate of descent, pitch and roll

• Engine parameters, flight control settings, smoke and fire detection, electrical system functioning, etc.

• A statement that the software has entered the data-streaming mode

• The time streaming mode was entered

• A description of the event that caused the streaming

The data streaming will continue for as long as the airline desires or until the airplane crashes.

AFIRS can be retrofitted onto existing aircraft for approximately $35,000 to $70,000, depending on aircraft type. The greater sum is for B777 wide body aircraft of the type that was operating as Malaysian Flight MH370. The system can also be installed during production of new aircraft.

The company claims that its technology realizes about $100,000 in cost savings per airplane annually. The savings accrue from reduced fuel consumption — benefitting from real-time reporting aloft rather than predicted winds and weather — and from reduced repair costs by having better information from in flight to preposition technicians and spare parts to minimize down time. Operators with AFIRS installed also benefit from reduced insurance rates.

The cost is cheap relative to, say, in-flight entertainment systems. These passenger entertainment systems can cost upwards of $1 million per airplane.

And AFIRS is a bargain compared to the $44 million spent in just the first month in the futile search for Malaysian Flight MH370.

Most importantly, a flight need not be a one-way journey to mortal oblivion. The less-than-emergency weather, maintenance and other information translates into more efficient and safer flights. When AFIRS is activated, authorities and family members at least will have critical flight data and a final location. In this respect, AFIRS promises to replace oblivion with certainty. This may be small comfort to the next-of-kin, but it is a great boon to investigators tasked with determining cause and recommending correctives — which imparts at least some meaning to the lives lost.

With AFIRS, the days of the flight recorder as a lost, unexamined “data morgue” could well be over.

Obscuring Safety Hazards

Since 1970, more than 240 incidents involving jet engine malfunctions — some of them catastrophic — have been recorded. The event search was based on the key words, “shutdown, vibrate/vibration, bangs, loud, seized, contained, uncontained” or “bearings.” Oil and fuel systems issues, as well as bird strikes to engines, were discarded. In other words, only the most serious reports involving internal mechanical failure were considered. Suffice to say, problems run from the inlet to the hot section to the exhaust ducting.

The actual total is probably higher, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not enforce any discipline regarding reporting. What reports do trickle in are the heart of “identified safety risks.” The risks, such as represented in the FAA’s incomplete data base, are well short of the actual frequency of incidents.

And this is just for engines.

The term “identified safety risks” is part and parcel of the FAA’s bureaucratic language used to transmit corrective actions — in the form of airworthiness directives — to the airlines. These directives mandate corrective action, usually on a very generous timeline so as not to inconvenience flight schedules.

From various and sundry airworthiness directives, “identified safety risks” encompass virtually every aspect of the airplane:

— Uncontained engine explosions that compromise continued safe flight. Not only loss of thrust, but shrapnel damage to hydraulic and electrical systems, leading to a cascading series of failures and cockpit crew confusion and overload.

— In-flight fires in inaccessible areas unprotected by fire suppression. Every square inch of public buildings is required to have fire detection and suppression; not so for the most crowded of public spaces, a modern jetliner.

— Electrical wire insulation that exceeded smoke, toxicity and flammability standards. The running of low-power circuits in the same bundles as high-power circuits aggravated the problem, as high-power arcing has led to overload of low power circuits, with resulting fire and explosions. The lack of separation and segregation standards for electrical circuits continues to this day; when electrical arcing occurs, the result is usually a sequence of cascading failures.

— Flammable thermal/acoustic insulation blankets installed throughout the fuselage for fire burn-through “protection.” The use of flammable insulation for burn-through protection remains a sick irony. Yet insulating material that resists the hottest fire is available, but continues to be unrecognized by the FAA and not used by the industry, either on newly-manufactured aircraft or retrofitted onto older aircraft during periodic overhauls.

— Electrical equipment cabinets that allow faulty arcing components therein to spew molten metal, thus enabling an otherwise contained electrical fire to transition to an uncontained fuselage insulation fire.

— Electrical heater tapes, used throughout all airframes for freeze protection, with faults that led to an uncontainable fuselage insulation fire, raging just a few feet below the passenger cabin floor. Following two Air Canada fire investigations by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada, Boeing said, “Between June 1985 and June 2002, operators of Boeing aircraft made a total of 67 reports to Boeing of heater ribbon failures where thermal degradation was evident.” Note the wording: “reports to Boeing.” The FAA was clueless regarding the extent of heater-tape induced conflagrations.

Damage to a B767 airliner from a faulty heater tape and the resultant damage to insulation blankets

Damage to a B767 airliner from a faulty heater tape and
the resultant damage to insulation blankets

— Uncommanded rudder movements, or dangerous rudder deflections from one side to another, which contributed to at least three fatal crashes and an unknown number of incidents in flight from which a startled crew was able to retrieve the situation.

— Continued incidents of flight into freezing rain/freezing drizzle that aircraft are not certified to cope with, and for which the FAA has been egregiously lax in setting a standard. In-flight upsets from what is known as “supercooled liquid droplets” (SLD) continue to occur. In SLD, the water slaps onto the airfoil and instantly freezes. Unlike the larger Boeing and Airbus jets, with their much larger engines to supply hot air for anti-icing, the smaller regional jets have a lesser ability to resist icing conditions.

— Cockpit smoke impairing the pilots’ view of the instruments and of the outside world. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board own up to one such event, but a search of various databases yields at least six events.

These and other hazards persist because of “firewalls” that hinder recognition of safety hazards. There are many such firewalls, many of them self-imposed by regulatory bureaucrats, but here are five indicating the magnitude of the problem:

1. The Accident/Incident database maintained by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) contains only 20% (or thereabouts) of these hazards, which are seen in such incident reports as the FAA’s Service Difficulty Report (SDR) database or counterpart agency reports.

2. The FAA’s Incident database is even more abysmally incomplete than the one maintained by the NTSB. For example, of some 67 uncontained engine explosions involving GE engines, the FAA Incident database captured just one. The gaping gaps in the FAA’s database makes one wonder: what is the purpose of “maintaining” such a record; to use a Swiss cheese metaphor, the holes are greater than the amount of cheese. For analytical purposes, the Incident database is utterly useless.

3. The SDR data itself is woefully incomplete. Although required by FAA regulations, some airlines comply, reporting gaps at other airlines range from 70% compliance to as little as 30%. The FAA does not enforce reporting compliance, so the SDR database is incomplete, and many reports that are submitted have missing data or “apparent causes”. Moreover, SDR’s are only required on incidents that occur in the air. Ground events are not part of the reporting mandate. The industry successfully lobbied to force the FAA to withdraw a proposal to include SDR-reportable events that occur while the airplane is on the tarmac. The SDR system is in need of a complete overhaul and stiff penalties for not reporting. Moreover, the reports must be systematically analyzed for trends by aircraft type and among airlines; the SDR database in its present form is scandalously incomplete and gathering dust as a “data morgue”, not rigorously analyzed to identify emerging trends.

4. Identified safety hazards remain hidden from public view with the manufacturers’ use of Service Bulletins (SB’s) and All Operator Alerts (AOL’s). FAA-issued airworthiness directives — available to the public — often refer to AOL’s and SB’s. In fact, AOL’s and SB’s often contain gritty details, which are referred to in only the vaguest terms in the airworthiness directives. The situation is analogous to reading about the efficacy, or lack thereof, of a medicine by reading the label on the bottle. The protocols, clinical trials and scientific studies remain behind lock and key. Suffice to say, published airworthiness directives, which reference these proprietary documents, make their associations to prior events and to safety trends simply impossible for members of the general public.

5. Certain FAA studies (on fuselage flaws, on uncontained engine explosions, on electrical wiring) also are not available to the public, thus obscuring trends and/or non-safety associations. The disclaimer on a study of the flammability of in-service materials is typical: “In general, data are proprietary to the applicant, and we cannot disclose those data to the public.” Here’s another regarding rotating engine parts: “The FAA proposes to designate the … data submitted to them to create the Rotor Manufacturing Induced Database (known as the ‘ROMAN database’) as protected from disclosure … under the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC552) and other laws. The FAA wants to encourage … suppliers that manufacture high energy rotating gas turbine engine components to voluntarily submit information into the ROMAN database.” Of course, voluntary reporting is likely to lead to as porous and incomplete information in ROMAN as in the “required” SDR database.

The question is why this state of affairs exists.

For one thing, costs to the industry are lower because AOLs and SBs, unless mentioned in FAA-issued airworthiness directives, require no mandatory action. Similarly, by not requiring reporting of all SDR data — occurrences both in the air and on the ground –the FAA lowers the cost to the industry of submitting reports.

To be sure, making available incomplete and selective data for public consumption gives a false impression of safety. The average John Q. Public is probably not aware of the appalling database incompleteness. Certainly the association between incidents involving injury and accidents involving deaths is obscured. Thorough SDR and Incident databases might reveal plenty of precursor problems leading to a fatal accident. Defining a fatal loss as an unfortunate “one time” occurrence lessens the role of industry in these losses, as it also lessens the role of the FAA’s sloppy certification system in such losses.

In sum, costs to the industry are minimized and facilitated by the use of partial, incomplete and limited public access to identified risks and related events.

By allowing this system of data truancy and industry-friendly policies, one has to ask: who is the FAA’s customer — the favored airlines and manufacturers, or the flying public, which falsely believes the feds really practice the doctrine of safety first.

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