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Max: Welcome the Airplane Geeks Podcast. This is episode 273 of the show where we talk aviation. I’m Max Flight, and I’m joined by co-host, Rob Mark from the Jet Wine blog. Hi, Rob.
Rob: Hi, Max. Welcome to the show, everybody. Do you think people get us confused?
Max: Mark and Max?
Rob: I mean just the sound of our voice, do you ever think that maybe they think I’m you and you’re me?
Max: I don’t think you sound like me, but …
Rob: Okay. We’ve got a really great guest tonight and some great stuff from the guys down under as usual.
Max: We do, don’t we?
Rob: I’ll be reacting to their unkind comments somewhere surfaced about me and kangaroo foods. We’ll save that for later.
Max: All right. Our other co-host, David Vanderhoof is off this episode, but we do have a guest. Our guest is Kevin Hiatt. He’s the CEO and President of the Flight Safety Foundation. Kevin, welcome back to the show. You were last with us in episode … I forgot, 257?
Kevin: Yes, that was right. Hi, guys. Good evening. How are you doing? It’s great to be back. Thanks for the opportunity. We were talking midsummer about the accident with Asiana, and then of course we had the follow on with Southwest Airlines and then UPS, so it’s been a little bit more busy than we’d like to see it.
Max: It has. It has for sure. Now Flight Safety Foundation, that’s an independent non-profit. It’s an international organization. Primarily you’re engaged in I guess research and auditing, education and advocacy … things like that that promote aviation safety, that’s sort of the mission for the foundation, isn’t it?
Kevin: You’ve got that right. We are the single largest advocate for the promotion of the best practices in aviation safety. That’s the summary version, but as you said we do have an audit program, we do have several technical programs. We put on a very strong seminar event-type program for learning more about what’s happening in aviation safety, and of course we’ve got our premier publication, AeroSafety World, that we put out along with our website.
Max: Great. As I recall, you’ve been kicking around the aviation industry for quite some time. You were at World Airways and Delta Air Lines for quite a while, and of course you’re a pilot as well.
Kevin: Yes. Good memory. I’ve started out with a flight instructing job way back in the late ‘70s and my career’s gone all the way through corporate business aviation and Delta Air Lines and then World Airways and management, and then I was very fortunate to end up here in Washington in 2010 to come on board at the foundation, and then just this year on January first, I took over as CEO. That’s about a total of 40 years since I’ve started to fly.
Max: Wow. That’s a great career.
Rob: Yes. In the aviation industry, we always think, people think it’s a career progression. Really what it is is most of us just can’t hold a job for very long enough. It was always something else coming. They throw a heck of a wingding too, Max, because this past week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the International Air Safety Summit that the Flight Safety Foundation threw in Washington. It was just incredible. We were talking just before the show started about some of the people that I had a chance to meet and listen to. As someone said, we have 300 and some members, top members of the aviation safety population for the entire planet in one room at one time. It was really eye-opening to listen to what these folks had to say.
Max: The thing that amazed me too is when I was looking at this, I discovered that this was the 66th annual summit, 66 years. That’s pretty amazing.
Kevin: Well, it’s been going on since the beginning of the foundation back in 1947. Each year it has been getting more notoriety, bigger, better as we would say, and so much so that this year, guys, we renamed it from seminar to summit. Rob said that it is the combination of over 310 attendees this time that were from all walks of aviation safety and notoriety from around the world, and a chance to be there and network with those types of individuals and find out that they’re just as regular as everybody else and talk about the subjects that are really meaningful in today’s aviation safety arena is just fantastic.
Max: All right. This is great. We’re going to pick both of your guys brains I guess, coming up in the main topic about the summit and the activities and what’s going on in that realm. That will be a great conversation.
Coming up first, we have some aviation news from the past week, and we’ll follow that up with an Australia desk report. Pieter Johnson is off also this episode, so no across the pond segment, but we’ll look forward to having Pieter return with a segment coming up in the future. Then we’ll finish off with some of the listener mail that we’ve gotten in the last week.
So let’s start with the aviation news. Are you guys ready?
Rob: I’m ready.
Kevin: Ready for takeoff. Let’s go.
Max: Let’s start off with NextGen. We have an article in ABC News, “NextGen on Sequester Chopping Block.” Just a recap for maybe new listeners or folks who aren’t familiar with it, NextGen … Here, the idea is that we move away from the old radar-based navigation in radio communications to a new satellite-based navigation, GPS, digital communications, things like that. That’s something that Congress authorized, gee, it’s been 10 years. I think it was in 2003 that this was first authorized.
Yes, some of the benefits include being able to handle more traffic, reduce fuel consumption and improve safety efficiency. The idea is planes would navigate with GPS, and everybody we get to see where everybody else was. This is costing a lot to develop. It is taking a long time, and there have been several delays. This article describes a number of issues that have come up with regard to NextGen. What do you guys think? Do these things resonate with you guys, the issues that are surrounding NextGen that come up in this article?
Rob: I think that we’ve all heard about NextGen as you said for a long time. I think the thing that has allowed NextGen to perhaps take more of a backseat in the industry than some of us would like to see is that the traffic numbers are not nearly what we expected to see by this point in time. If the economy hadn’t tanked in 2008, I think this whole NextGen would have been a much different priority than we’re seeing it right now. When you combine … Let’s see. What do we have? A budget issue, we have sequestration, then they shut the government down, and this has all just taken a horrible turn on the NextGen guys, because now they’re almost going to be forced to prioritize some of the programs in NextGen, and I don’t think that ever was expected. I don’t think anybody is quite sure where it’s all headed. I’m sure Kevin’s got an idea on that as well.
Kevin: They’ve put some new leadership in charge just this past summer. I’m sorry, the name escapes me right now, but under that fresh-eyes approach, we will probably be able to see a little bit more progress or priorities, as Rob said. The sequestration and government budget has really now started to take its toll on a lot of projects, and this is one that’s not exempt from seeing some cutbacks. I don’t believe we’ll see it go away, but the numbers just aren’t supporting the implementation yet, plus it’s going to take some cost and expense on the air carrier side, and the business aviation side, which right now is being met with some resistance because of the recovering economy.
Safety-wise, I’ll say that it is a very good program, holds a lot of promise, especially over the older radar-type technology. It’s just a matter of making sure that the system is sound and in place and ready to be used when it’s ready for its roll-out.
Max: Kevin, are the safety benefits from this maybe harder to quantify? I can imagine how you could calculate fuel savings and things like that, but when it comes to impact on safety, maybe that’s kind of hard to put into numbers. Is that kind of a reason why it may be harder to use that as a forcing function to push this forward?
Kevin: Yes. It’s a little bit difficult, because the current system is working so well. When you’ve got something that’s working well at the moment, the thought process is to “Why change it?” But if you take a look at where NextGen can be used and how it would expand into areas or remote areas because of using satellite technology and digital technology for your transmission of instructions, that will definitely increase the margin of safety or decrease the risk of the flight because in some areas, as we know, radar is not available and other areas radio transmission using HF and those types of things are just not as effective as using this type of technology.
Rob: Sure. I think too that sometimes the folks on the General Aviation side are probably more inclined to understand the benefits of NextGen because we’ve become so used to no longer shooting ADF approaches or I should say NDB approaches like we used to, and a lot of the really difficult instrument approaches have been changed or let’s just say altered in a way that now there are no more procedure turns, the approach plates look very similar no matter where you go with that sort of a T-formation that people that fly will easily understand, and all that is coming. The trouble is, it’s not like we change the direction in one day, kind of like the healthcare website working right now.
Kevin: I knew you would bring that up.
Rob: Yes. It’s not quite that easy even for us old guys. The point is that when you sit back and look at where we were, and where we’re headed with this, but again the problem is that the traffics network, they all expect it to be, and nobody seems to have the credit card to pay for it.
Max: Yes. It occurs to me sometimes when you have a great idea that’s going to take a while and it’s going to cost a lot of money, and then if you stretch that out, you end up wasting a lot of money along the way either because of the fact that it’s taking so long, or because technology changes or some of the assumptions change and so you have to go back and redo things. Do you think that’s happening here or will happen here, or you think now we’re pretty much moving forward, just slowly? Are we wasting money along the way, I guess?
Kevin: I will go out and say that we have not spent money in a wise fashion along the way. Whether it’s wasted or not, it’s hard to say. There’s been a lot of resources that have been put in to just the research of making NextGen work, and I believe that when it was being designed, there were a lot of issues that were not thought of, so it delayed the implementation several times, and it was one of those types of situations where engineers were designing something for aviation users, and the aviation users didn’t necessarily get a chance to express their opinions or the fact of the matter that what the engineer says just really isn’t going to work, because you can’t move an airplane from 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet in two minutes. That type of stuff had to be worked out.
Rob: You haven’t flown with me.
Max: You made that error. Yes. All right, let’s move ahead to our next item. This comes actually from Flightsafety.org. This is a press release of Flight Safety Foundation and MITRE Collaborate to Transform Global Aviation Analytics.
This was announced I think at the International Aviation Safety Symposium that the two organizations have “formed a new collaboration to assist regulators, navigation service providers and operators from around the world with analytically sound solutions that address emerging worldwide safety issues”.
Rob: So Kevin, in English, what does that mean?
Kevin: Good point. What the future of aviation safety is going to revolve around is data. Data from flight data recorders, flight operations quality assurance programs, voluntary safety reports, maintenance reports, ATSAP reports that come from the air traffic controllers …
What the Flight Safety Foundation is going to do, be a part of a global effort to promote gathering this data, and then analyzing it and then sharing it back to the users in that particular region so they can see what is actually happening with the way the air traffic and the aircraft and the entire system is working.
Here in the United States, the FAA has a program that’s called ASIAS. That’s basically what I’ve just described, and we want to take it to other regions of the world, because there’s a lot of countries that are small and a lot of operators that are small that may not have the benefit of being able to see what’s going on because they just don’t have enough data. But they can contribute what they’ve got, and MITRE Corporation has been the leader in analyzing air traffic data and flight operations data for many years. We’re going to be in a collaboration to work with them and then eventually, we may draw in with ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and IATA, the International Air Transport Association.
Max: Is this an ongoing relationship or does this have some sort of lifespan to it?
Kevin: We have that it will be an ongoing relationship as we get more projects and we envision that there will be several or many regions of the world that will need this, and so it will be collaborative because of the data being gained. We have to make sure that there are safety information protections that are put around the data so it’s not used in a way that would be considered punitive or for litigation.
Rob: Kevin, just this last weekend after I came back from Washington, I was at an event in Evanston here with Northwestern University folks, and that phrase “Big data” came up. I wonder if maybe you could just take a moment and tell our audience just a little bit about this data. What is it that we’re actually going to be receiving and where is it all coming from?
Kevin: If you take a look at aviation and the way it’s evolved in the past, and I’m going to use just an accident as my example. We were reactive, airplane crash investigation ensued, we figured out what went wrong. We tried to make sure that it wouldn’t go wrong again. That got into the preventive mode. Now, we look at, we can prevent that from happening because we learned that from those accidents. Now, we’re going to take safety into what we call the predictive mode. We’re going to use the data that we’re gathering to actually get out ahead of the events and actually pinpoint what could be the weakest link as we move forward.
The data will be everything from a flight data recorder, and imagine having a flight data recorder on one jet, but let’s say that we’ve got information coming in from over four or 500 jet aircraft on the multiple flights a day that they make, and we use that data to draw conclusions as to how the aircraft are being flown. Do we see that the aircraft are being flown faster than normal or they are banking more than normal, or are they having to do approaches that are as we would call, ‘more slam dunk approaches’ than normal? Are we seeing information as far as engine failures in flight, and when we can predict that that might happen? Are we seeing air traffic errors such as aircraft coming too close together and why is that, and where is that, and how can we prevent that? Or predict that, and in this case, a new approach would be design and we can take the data that we have had in the past, and we can predict that no, that wouldn’t be prudent to put that crossing altitude there because of what we’ve learned in the past. This is fantastic, huge computing power, and with the experts looking at it, and it’s like saying my common language, slicing and dicing it 24 more different ways than we normally used to do, we can come up with some pretty good risk reducing type of programs to keep us even safer.
Rob: It’s going to be interesting, really is.
Max: Another safety aspect that we’ve talked about a lot in the recent past is this topic of our next item which is from The Huffington Post, this is concerning personal electronic devices. The FAA has reached a decision and made an announcement, and we heard Michael Huerta announce something very interesting this past week. We can give Michael the floor for just a minute and listen to what he had to say.
Michael: Airlines can safely expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight. Today, the FAA is providing the airlines with the implementation guidance to do just that. The committee determined that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference from portable electronic devices. It’s safe to read downloaded materials like eBooks and Calendars and also to play games. The committee found that in some instances of low visibility, about one percent of all flights, some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference. In those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off devices. We agree with that recommendation, and our guidance to the airlines reflects that.
Now I want to be clear, you still cannot talk on your phone during flight. The Federal Communications Commission governs cell phone use during flights, and the committee did not consider that issue. All devices should be in airplane mode. However, you will be able to connect through Wi-Fi to an airplane’s wireless network if the airline provides that service, and you will be able to connect to Bluetooth accessories like a mouse or a keyboard.
Max: All right. That’s the news that everyone … not about everybody, but many, many people, many passengers certainly, have been hoping for.
Rob: Thank goodness, they don’t allow you to make phone calls because I just don’t want to be next to the lady or man when they start chatting on their cell phone halfway through the trip. Thank goodness that’s put off for a while at least.
Max: I took a look at the FAA press release. Here’s in part what it said. It says, “Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines.” But the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate to gate, by the end of the year.
A couple of things. One is that the FAA didn’t throw a switch here. Starting tomorrow, we can use our personal electronic devices, that it’s going to take some time. There’s also the angle that the carriers have to do some work before they can allow the use of those devices. I don’t know if you guys picked up on that.
Kevin: I’ll comment on that one, is that the work is how the air carrier’s policy will evolve. Right now, Delta and JetBlue are at the forefront of their announcements and their clarity in what can and cannot be used. As far as work goes, there won’t be too much work in terms of proving that an electronic device whether would not interfere with the aircraft. If you’re the pilot and you suspect that there is some type of interference, for example, you are flying an ILS approach or a couple approach with autopilot and the approach has some type of anomaly going on, that is when an announcement may be made that everyone needs to turn off their personal electronic devices, or FAA or that field needs to check to see if their NAVAIDer device is also working correctly.
In the older aircraft, and when I say older, I’m talking back in the 727, DC-9, DC-8 days, the shielding on those aircraft for the instruments, and as we would say the boxes underneath the floor of the cockpit, would not tolerate a lot of external interference. Now, the shielding has changed, with solid state and more computers and more digital items, so we don’t have to worry about it as much as we did in the past. And I think that with this advisory group that the FAA put together with a lot of people that looked at new information and also had some very strong discussion, it was a prudent thing to do.
Max: There’s a FAA page that has this announcement. There’s a couple of links and there’s a frequently asked questions link, and there’s also one to something called PED Aid to Operators, information for operators for the expanded use of passenger PEDs. What this describes is, it’s a five step process actually that the airlines can – the operators can go through and it has a lot of checklists, and it’s sort of broken out as a process for determining if that operator can allow devices, and if so, which ones or which have to be excluded.
This five-step process, it starts out with aircraft PED immunity, and the second step is analysis and mitigation, defining eligible phases of the flight. The third was established expanded use, document use and limitations. The fourth is operational policy and procedure, and the fifth one is pilot and flight attendant training. It’s kind of an interesting read. We’ll put the link to the FAA announcement in the show notes, and like I say, that contains some of these other links including to this document.
When I read this thing, there’s a lot of acronyms and a lot of terminology and things that I’m not familiar with, so I can’t really tell if this is a lot of work for an operator to go through this process, or if it’s just something that they can zip right through. In any event, like I say, don’t expect to see changes immediate.
Kevin: Yes, Max. There’ll be some things that operationally speaking, as far as the aircraft in flight, that it will have to be as we can say put in to our normal procedures, and the air carrier is also going to have to look at what they’ve been doing in the past. Your Wi-Fi will still be turned off at a certain point in the flight. Of course you won’t be able to, as Robert said, you won’t be able to make a cell phone call or even make a call through your computer, which some people are trying to figure out how to make that happen. We’ll see, we’ll see how it’s going to work out.
Max: All right. Let’s transition. Now, we can stay on a safety theme a little bit to airport safety. I think probably is just about everybody knows by now, we had this shooting at LAX. In this case, it was a 23-year-old Los Angeles man. He went up to a TSA checkpoint at LAX with a bag, and he pulled a rifle out of the bag and he shot a TSA officer, Geraldo Hernandez. I just read, one report said he actually went up an escalator, turned around and came back down and shot Hernandez again.
But in any event, he continued to walk around and shoot. He asked people if they were TSA. People who said no, the suspect I guess kept going. Two other TSA officers and a traveler were wounded. Hernandez unfortunately did not make it, and has now become the first TSA officer to die in the line of duty. Tragic … I guess you don’t usually expect the airport itself to be a place where this kind of thing could happen. Of course the TSA agents don’t … they’re unarmed, so it was the police that eventually shot and wounded the suspect.
Rob: This is of course a tragedy, as any lost life is, when it comes to firearms and I realize, we’re not going to get started on whether we need them or don’t need them or how we regulate them. The point is that as we were chatting about earlier, to me, the fact that someone was shot and killed in an airport is not that big a surprise to me. When you look at the number of guns every week that the TSA confiscates from people, that’s a story that has just not been told, and it’s something that I’m hoping someone will grab hold of and wrestle to the ground because I think … I probably wrote something about a couple of months ago, but I think the record’s about 35 handguns confiscated in one week at various and sundry airports, and this isn’t just one city. Again, these are loaded handguns that when folks run them through the security check they say, “Forgot I had my .38 with me. Son of a gun.”
As Kevin mentioned earlier, they have remembered to take the water out of their bags, but they somehow just manage to forget that they have a weapon with them. Bringing all these guns into an airport is never a good thing.
Max: It’s tough with the “I forgot my gun was in the bag” angle. Because if you own a gun, you have certain responsibilities and to say that you have a gun and you don’t know where it is, or you have a loaded gun and you don’t know where it is or it’s not on the top of your mind is just totally irresponsible in my opinion. I don’t know what’s going to happen or if anything is going to change as a result of this.
Rob: What do you think, Kevin? Will we start seeing metal detectors at the front doors of terminals?
Kevin: That’s been an idea that’s batted around for many, many years since 9/11, should we put the security right there at the front door, not allow anybody in. The reasons are still compelling not to do that. With the TSA’s new risk-based security effort that’s been discussed by Administrator [Salmon 00:31:16] about minimizing the inconvenience to the passenger and using some new technology and some things like that such as canines in the airport and also the new type of scanner that they’ve got and also your screener that’s right there as you must and asking more questions and, “Where are you from?” and “What actually is your name?” and some things like that. That’s all part of the risk security. Unfortunately, in this particular case, no matter what you’ve got in place, someone that has it in their mind to bring an automatic weapon into the terminal could open fire not only on TSA but anybody in a food court or anybody near an airline ticket counter … These are all social questions that are really going to be factors as we wrestle with going forward in public places, and is there any straight answer? It’s a difficult answer. I don’t know.
The thing that we’re doing now is at least keeping the area on the other side of screening as we call it, the ‘sterile area,’ clear of those types of weapons so we can’t do something in an aircraft or cause the aircraft to be used as a weapon itself.
Max: Yes, it’s tough. Air travel has gotten to be largely inconvenient for a lot of people as it is. This is not a reason to do nothing, but things that are going to make air travel even more inconvenient are not so desirable. Yes, maybe it’s a matter of moving that perimeter, moving that sterile area to the front door.
Rob: Of course we don’t know that that would solve the problem, because if we did have metal detectors at the front door, we don’t know that a guy like this, and let’s face it, this guy was unbalanced, and part of the story is how do so many unbalanced people come into contact with weapons. That’s the story for another show obviously. But if this had been at the front door, we don’t know that he wouldn’t have taken somebody out on the street.
Rob: Then what do you see? Well, we’ll back the perimeter up even further!
Rob: Unfortunately, we have seen so much of air travel become as you said uncomfortable and annoying and tiresome, because we’ve got so many security bits that we need to cope with that we can’t just keep adding on every time something happens, or we’re never going to go anywhere.
Kevin: Did either of you see any information? Had he travelled much, had been on a lot of flights to be inconvenienced by the TSA? I didn’t hear anything on that.
Rob: I didn’t hear anything about it except that one of the media outlets was reporting that he was definitely out to get the TSA, but nobody quite knew why. What was really a shame was the timing of this because apparently, he texted his family back in the northeast and said he was going to kill himself, and I guess the boy’s dad called the police locally who got hold of the L.A. police, and they actually broke in to his apartment, but he’d already left for the airport at the time that this happened, but they didn’t miss him by much.
Max: Yes. I think he was about 45 minutes that they missed him by, which is not much at all. As a result, someone’s lost their life, which is seriously tragic.
Kevin: When you sign up as I call it a TSI, there at the lines to do the screening, you are made aware of the seriousness of what you’re doing and also the random possibility that something may happen. Unfortunately in this case, that possibility came true.
Rob: That just about wraps up the show then I guess, guys.
Max: We have one more thing to do, Rob.
Rob: That’s right.
Max: Actually we have more than one thing. We have talk about the 66th annual International Aviation Safety Summit.
Rob: Can we start off by saying to everyone though that no, I was not there for the first time?
Max: Yes. You stole my joke. That was for the …
Rob: Yes, I knew. See, I’m ready for you guys.
Max: What was the duration of this? Tell us a little bit about the format and the feel and the lay of the land for the summit?
Kevin: Thanks, Rob and Max. It’s a three-day summit that’s held each year, usually in the October-November timeframe, and we hold at different locations around the world, since we are an international organization. This was the second time that it had been in Washington, D.C. The last time was over 10 years ago. Last year, we were in Santiago, Chile. Next year we will be in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. We’ve got a committee that comes together once a year in January, and after a solicitation for what we call ‘The call for papers,’ people submit their abstracts on what important safety topics they would like to talk about or see talked about, and then we’ll seek those to come and to talk to us.
It’s a very intricate selection process because we try to keep out all the commercialism. If you’re selling a product, we’re not necessarily going to ask you to speak, because it would focus on how good your product is. What we’re focused on is what the subject matter is, and we usually get the experts to talk to us on it. This particular conference, we had over 24, 25 different presentations over that three-day period along with some awards that were given, and also a couple of panel discussions and notable keynote speaker was the Honorable Earl Weener, a member of the United States National Transportation Safety Board, and then also another Transportation Safety Board member, which is Robert Sumwalt, was there on day three to give us another perspective on safety culture.
In a nutshell, if you have one event that you would like to go to a year to learn as much as you can about what is happening in the field of aviation safety, not just the big guys and not just the business guys, but aviation safety in general, this would be the one to go to.
Rob: Yes, and one of the things that I think makes this particularly interesting for those that may perhaps be uneducated or let’s just say completely unaware of all the people involved in the summit, it’s not just a Boeing event or an Airbus event or an Embraer event or Bombardier … All of these organizations are there at the same time, and they are all just as committed to listening to the papers, offering feedback, looking for new solutions to new problems, and of course as Kevin talked, about the predictability mode that we’re all headed to, to think about solutions to problems that haven’t even been identified yet. Everybody was kind of on an equal basis. That’s the thing I liked about it. The break time … I went over and chatted with people from various and sundry organizations from all over the world.
Kevin, I’m just curious, do you happen to know how many different countries were represented at the summit this year?
Kevin: We had I believe over 26 different countries represented there. In that particular demographic, there were several countries that had contingents of three or four or five. It is quite well-known and quite well travelled to. For example, Taipei sent a delegation of six, China had a delegation of I believe four, but then we had people from Africa, South America, Australia, Europe, Russia and Malaysia, the Philippines, all over the world, to come and listen, to hear what was being said.
Rob: Everybody was on the same language. Even though English was not necessarily everyone’s first language, air safety was the language that we all had in common.
Kevin: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. I like that. We all speak …
Rob: You can use that.
Kevin: Yes, we all speak the common language of safety. I am going to use that in my opener next time. That was very good. Thank you.
Rob: Okay. We had a number of topics that … there were just so many of them, that obviously we’re not going to have time to talk about all of them. Maybe you could give us a little idea, starting from some of the major points that popped out at the summit this year.
Kevin: Yes, I don’t want to take up too much of your time this evening, but I really appreciate the opportunity to give you an overview. We always start out with our year in review, which gives a very quick summary of the accidents and how many have taken place, and then we move right on into some of the bigger topics this year, which was stabilized approaches.
If you take a look at where those accidents are that we were reporting about, they generally revolve around that approach landing and roll-out phase on the runway, and stabilized approaches have gotten a new sense of attention right now because if you take a look at it, of all the approaches that are being conducted right now, 96% of them are stabilized, which is great.
That’s why we’re seeing such a good period here of safety in aviation.
However, in that four percent, 96% of those were basically unstabilized and should have resulted in a go-around. What we’re trying to do is figure out why the pilots are not going around, and this was a subject of an entire morning’s discussion through three different presenters. It was quite enlightening to see a lot of the philosophy and the things that were being discussed in terms of a stabilized approach and what that actually meant, and when should you be totally stabilized for that landing.
Max: Kevin, is there sort of a definition or a simple definition of what an approach is like if it’s not stabilized?
Kevin: I can tell you that if it is stabilized, that would mean that by no later than 500 feet above the ground in VMC conditions, you should be what we would say, “on course, on glide path, air speed, plus or minus basically five knots, course plus or minus 10,’ and in the actual landing configurations. Really there’s nothing else to do at that moment except fly the airplane on to the ground.
If you are out of those parameters, in other words your air speed is too fast or too slow or you’re too high or low on your glide path and you’re trying to make rapid corrections, then that would go into what we would call an unstabilized approach. Moving on from that, then we had some more information about, it was called, ‘Tactical safety and strategy.’ This is where we convened to panel to talk a little bit about the importance of not becoming complacent.
Right now in the industry, we’re enjoying the safest period of time we’ve ever had, and since 2011 through 2013 now, we’ve actually cut that rate again in half of the number of accidents where we’ve got .2 accidents per million departures. So many people are saying in the industry, especially on the financial side, “Hey, the safety people have done their job. They can go home. We’re fine. We don’t need to worry about this anymore.” By doing that, then we could become complacent. We talked about it from the air traffic side, we talked about it from the regulator side, and then we talked about it a little bit from the airline side on how we can’t become complacent and how we may need to explore, as one of the presenters said, some out-of-box solutions, such as maybe bringing in the Silicon Valley types to look at the way we’re running the system and can we do it even better. That was quite an interesting presentation.
Rob: Yes. I think something that I found particularly interesting was, I don’t know if it was Jim [Byrne 00:45:20], who’s one of your fellows on the foundation … Maybe it wasn’t him but had mentioned the fact that we think we have these problems solved years ago, Controlled Flight Into Terrain, what we call CFIT. We pretty much figured we have that solved by all the ground proximity warning indicators and all the other new technologies, and it has started coming back to us, hasn’t it? We’ve seen the Asiana accident, we saw the UPS accident in Birmingham, and these things have a way of coming back and hence that point that Kevin was making about not thinking that just because it’s been safe now that it’s going to stay that way.
Kevin: Yes. That was the point that Earl Weiner drove home during his keynote speech was that …
Rob: Sorry, Earl.
Kevin: He drove home that point along with this panel. It’s back to complacency and right now, still in the world as you said, Rob, CFIT, loss of control in flight, and runway excursion are still the top three and those have been the top three for many years.
Rob: Yes, and they keep coming back.
Kevin: Just real quickly, then the next couple of things that were very interesting was the Air France presentation from the BEA, John Paul Trudeau and his team, to talk about that lengthy investigation that took place and how they handled the 228 victims from over 32 countries and the social media aspect and how it just wore on and how they had to deal with this entire particular accident after a lot of speculation. That was a very interesting presentation.
Then on day three, Robert Sumwalt gave a good presentation on safety culture, whether it was within a small operation or whether you’re a single pilot or whether you’re part of a mega airline operation … what type of safety culture do you operate underneath? That was extremely helpful for people to understand that it’s not all exactly the same, but everybody should create that sense of safe, responsible flying in order to make sure that you prevent the loss of life and also keep the rest of the systems safe.
Rob: Yes. I think one of the things that I found the most interesting, I was lucky enough to sit between the Public Affairs director from the BEA, Martine [Dewolno 00:48:05] and John Paul Trudeau at lunch, and we talked about the hit that the BEA took early on in the investigation of that particular accident, bouncing back on that for a minute. People thought that the French accident investigation team was sort of in bed with Air France and Airbus to cover up quite a bit of what happened in the accident, and those people were really, really upset that people thought that of them.
I think having listen to what these folks had to say, I think there were just so many victims’ families that had nothing to deal with the loss on, they had no airframe, no bodies, no closure, and these people were just really, really upset, and I think they struck out at the folks that happen to be closest, which was the BEA.
The stress it took on those people in Paris during that event was just unbelievable. Again, we’re all after the same thing, but unfortunately I think when you’re the victim or the family member of a victim, it’s pretty hard to keep that all straight.
Max: That’s interesting, Rob, because the agency that’s investigating an accident like that obviously it has as its task to investigate and understand the cause, the causes and contributing factors and all of that, but I guess they also have another role, which is to manage the perception or manage the view of not just the general public, but also of the relatives of the victims. That’s a bigger task.
Rob: I think this accident was … Any accident is difficult, I’m sure. I’ve never been on the NTSB side of one of these, but when you have an airplane that just disappeared, as 447 did for a couple of years before it was found, and again the families had no idea what had happened to their loved ones, they just had nothing.
Rob: Martine mentioned to me that it really took a toll on her and her staff – the sleepless nights that they had trying to figure out ways to tell people the facts, and the facts were that they didn’t know anything because they hadn’t found anything. That’s probably not what people wanted to hear.
Kevin: You’ve only got so many ways that you can tell them, “We don’t know yet.” And with social media being so prevalent during an accident now, where everybody becomes a reporter or an authority because they happen to be on site. This one was tough on them because there was nothing to share and they were being accused of covering up. That’s just unfortunate, but that’s the way sometimes these things evolve.
Max: All right. What other major points came out of the conference, the summit?
Kevin: As we talked about earlier, the data gathering and information sharing is going to be very big, and the foundation signed a memorandum of understanding with the MITRE Corporation to cooperate and collaborate as we go forward for many years. That was a big milestone there for us, and Dave Barger, the CEO of JetBlue, was also there, and he talked about safety from the airplane perspective and how important it is, and how much it affects the entire operation and, as we would say, the attitude of the people working there. JetBlue has a very, very strong safety culture. If you look at their five values that they have, the very first value that they talk about is safety, and it’s initiated on day one when the employee walks through the door. That was very, very enlightening to hear him and have so many people understand that a major airline CEO gets it, as we would say. It’s not just like safety belongs in the safety department. He actually talks the talk and walks the walk. It was very, very enlightening to hear him talk about that.
Rob: Yes. I think something that I took away from that, too, is what he mentioned about some people that take safety for granted. He said, “But now imagine me trying to lead an airline that people thought was unsafe, who no one would care about the price, no one would care about the schedule, no one would care about the amenities in the cabin. All they would focus on is that you are unsafe.” If you think that’s not the most important thing that they have to worry about, and they didn’t use the word ‘crazy,’ but I think he made it pretty clear that that’s pretty darn important to an airline.
Kevin: Yes. It’s very important. As a matter of fact, Dave was in my office today, and we were working on some other foundation items, which he is just a strong supporter of the foundation and on our board of directors. We were remarking that, let the guys at the front counter clamor for the people to get the tickets, but behind the counter, especially when it comes to safety, we all have to work together because it happens at one air carrier, it’s going to cause something to happen in another air carrier.
For example, if you take a look at the latest event that happened with Spirit Airlines and the uncontained engine failure. Several other operators have exactly the same engine, and they want to know what the situation is. “How were you maintaining that engine? Did you use XYZ contractor? Did you do this? What were you finding with your metal fatigue?” And they all shared that information because we want to make sure that there’s no distinction between the fact that, “Yes, JetBlue’s engines are safer than Spirit’s engines or vice versa.” It’s all there for one common cause, to make sure all engines are safe and as reliable as possible.
Rob: Yes, absolutely. Well said.
Kevin: The last one I’ll cover for you guys which I’m very proud of is the fact that we had a presentation by a young man by the name of Scott Winter, who is the assistant professor of aviation sciences at the College of Aeronautics at Florida Institute of Technology. The reason that Scott stood out was the fact that Scott actually graduated from my alma mater, Purdue University, last year from their graduate program and landed a job there at FIT, but he was the student chapter president of the Flight Safety Foundation student chapter at Purdue University.
We tasked him and his fellow students in the chapter to take a look at runway excursions. They came up with a very broad-based, good set of charts and graphs to let us know what the runway conditions were and other factors that would cause runway excursions, which then spurred on the rest of the conversation and other presentations that followed on in that sequence of events that morning with the unstabilized approaches.
Each year now, what we will do is have one of our students from the student chapters come and present on the topic that they’re looking at. This year, the topic with the student chapters is crew resource management. Can we point back to any events in aviation accident investigation where CRM or lack of played a part in the accident itself. We’re really excited about that and again I was very excited to see a student up there and that group of people, as Rob knew … 310 worldwide aviation professionals, and he was up there as part of it and very proudly talking about what he had done and his team. That was a great milestone for younger people getting into the business.
Rob: Yes. That’s fantastic. Kevin, to be honest with you, I wasn’t aware of the student chapters. Do you have many of them?How’s that work?
Kevin: How it works is that we pick out the particular student chapters that we know that are involved with some type of an aviation program, and then we approach them to see if they’re interested. Right now, we’ve got a student chapter coordinator, and she is working five additional chapters to come onboard. The names, such as Cranfield University over in the U.K., Swinburne in Australia, Embry-Riddle here in the United States, University of Southern California, Purdue …
Those are what we would call the five beginning chapters, but we anticipate seeing probably a dozen more over the next year or two, with the chapters actually having a president, a vice president or a treasurer, and they work in conjunction with the technical work that’s happening at the foundation to provide us information gathering, what do you see, tell us what you think as far as the data goes, and then we let them present their papers to our panel, and the best paper then gets selected and they make a presentation at ISS.
Rob: Wow. I’d love this. I love getting, I’ll call them younger people, engaged in this way. This is a great idea.
Kevin: It’s an incentive, and obviously when they come, they’ve got their pocket full of business cards because of the potential of networking and also maybe even landing a job if they’re not employed at the time. It’s just really great. Whatever did you do in your aviation career, I could never remember where I was able to go to a conference and see this many influential people and see the products and be able to talk to people that you just read about in the newspaper or in books or in reports. It was great.
Max: Maybe tell us a little bit about sort of the membership in Flight Safety Foundation, the different kinds, different levels of membership?
Kevin: Sure. We’ve got actually about six different levels of membership. They start with the major manufacturers and what we call a benefactor member. These are organizations that give us over $25,000 annual [inaudible 00:59:06] for our causes here at the foundation. Then we have patron members, $15,000, and then we get into governments and then airports and other like organizations such as the Air Line Pilot Association, ALPA, and other groups like NBAA are part of us. And then we have our single membership, which is $210 a year, and you too can get a copy of the AeroSafety World and then get the membership packet that has the codes that will allow you to access the members-only part of our website for all of the research data and all of the old Flight Safety Digest items, which are still relevant if you’re doing some type of research in paper. We’ve got over a thousand members right now and steadily holding on to that group, and hoping to add more in the future as people see to come onboard.
Max: How about upcoming events?
Kevin: Our next event will be in San Diego in April. That will be our business aviation safety summit. It is geared toward the business aviation community, and it is in conjunction with the National Business Aviation Association. That’s on April the 16th and 17th in San Diego, California. Then after that, again we’ve got several other smaller events all over the world, and then of course our large event in Abu Dhabi again in November, which will be on the 11th, 12th and 13th.
Max: Okay, very good. Why don’t you tell our listeners where they can find more about the Flight Safety Foundation online?
Kevin: You can Google it. It’s Flight Safety or put in Flightsafety.org, not dot-com and the dot-org since we are a non-profit foundation. Right there, it will take you to the website, the front page, and then it will describe what’s new and exciting and what’s happening at the foundation, and of course then there’s that button there that you can click on to become a member. That’s in a nutshell how easy it is to get to us.
Max: All right. Thanks so much, Kevin. Really appreciate you coming back on the show. It’s always a really good conversation with you. We really appreciate it.
Rob: We’ll try not to make it so long next time.
Max: Yes. Are there any messages that you want to get out to our listeners while you have the opportunity, Kevin, that we haven’t talked about already?
Kevin: I’ll just say that the listeners need to keep listening. You guys do a great job. As a matter of fact, I had several people email me after this summer up here and saying, “I heard you on the podcast and that’s great. I’ll listen up again.” I said, “Yes, you’ve got to listen all the time. These guys do a really good job on presenting the news and a viewpoint.” I think you guys serve a very, very useful purpose in the aviation community. As long as we all keep everything straight and level, we’ll be safe and continue to enjoy aviation as we know it.
Max: What a nice endorsement.
Rob: Thanks, Kevin. Thanks very much, Kevin. We appreciate that. My wife of course knew I was going to Washington for that event. She said, “Another conference. I’m sure I would not have enjoyed it.” Then she heard that you don’t hold them all in Washington. She heard some of the rather exotic locations, and suddenly she said, “Maybe I’m going to have to go with you next year.” I hope that’s something good for the wives to do.
Kevin: We have a very active spouse program, as a matter of fact. Rob, just for you and Max also, and David if you want to make it next year, of course I will comp your attendance. You just have to get there.
Rob: Nicely said. Thank you so much.
Max: All right. Thanks again, Kevin.
Kevin: Thank you.
Announcer: The didgeridoo means it’s time for the Australian News Desk. Here’s two of the craziest guys we could find south of the equator, Steve Visscher and Grant McHerron from the Plane Crazy Down Under Podcast.
Ben: Date on first of November, 2013.
Steve: Good day, folks and welcome to the ‘Australia Desk’ episode 274. Grant not joining us this week. That voice you hear is PCDU’s West Australian correspondent, Ben Jones. How are you, Jonesy?
Ben: I’m very good, Steve. Good to be back.
Steve: Yes. Good to have you back, mate. Good stepping in for Grant who as we speak is enjoying a barbecue and is no doubt drinking lots of beer. How come we’re doing all the work this late at night?
Ben: Must have missed the invitation.
Steve: You’ve got an excuse I guess because you live on the other side of the country. I don’t live that far from Grant. I’m going to have to have a talk to him, particularly when I’m on two weeks leave.
Ben: We have to get on to that midnight post and find out where he is.
Steve: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Mate, what’s been happening over there in Western Australia? Much aviation news? I know it’s been rather quiet here. We’ve got a couple of stories here in the list this week, but much happening over there in Perth?
Ben: it’s very quiet over in Perth at the moment, but we do have one event which is going on.
Steve: That is of course the World Flight, which has been a virtual event I guess, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. Mate, over here in Melbourne this week, one of the [inaudible 01:04:37] the headlines this week was the rather unfortunate demise of a Bell JetRanger helicopter, a 206-L taking off or attempting to take off from a local sports ground here in Melbourne in doing some ferry flights in and out of the Flemington Racecourse, it is at the moment the Spring Racing Carnival. For those of you who follow the horseracing which I don’t but you can’t avoid it over here in Melbourne, it is Melbourne Cup Weekend, a lot of executive flights coming in and out of this particular sports ground ferrying people backwards and forwards to the racetrack on the other side of the city, while this chopper didn’t quite make it. Ben, as the female pilot was getting ready to take off, one side of the aircraft took off, but apparently the other didn’t. That caused all sorts of trouble.
Ben: Yes. It seems that the left hand side or the left hand skid is raised off the ground and the helicopter has just probably rolled over into the other side.
Steve: Here’s a report that we heard on Sky News.
Female: A helicopter pilot has had a lucky escape, walking away from a crash in the middle of an oval of the Collingwood Football Club. The 45-year-old woman who just dropped off passengers from Flemington Racecourse, and was taking off again, when a chopper suddenly came down.
Male: From what we understand, the helicopter has flipped over, which caused one of the riders to break free going through a [inaudible 01:05:50] into a parked car.
Female: An investigation into the course of the crash is now underway.
Steve: That pilot, a very experienced pilot, is well and quite well-known in helicopter circles here in this part of the world, that’s for sure. She got away with little more than a grazed thumb, it’s here in this side of column I’m looking at in the ‘Age.com.au’. I’ll tell you what Ben, looking at the damage to the helicopter, she’s done extremely well to get out with just that very slight injury.
Ben: Yes, it’s amazing I’ll say and the picture of the aircraft sort of in mid … What would you call that? Thrashing itself to bits, where you see the [term line 01:06:26] and the gearbox completely ejected outside of the helicopter in midair, rotor blades bent everywhere and a lot of the canopy glass is all cracked and smashed in too, so a very lucky lady.
Steve: Very lucky lady and very well done to her. Of course this is the subject now of an ATSP investigation. She was in fact interviewed by a local news and item basically said she’s not making any comment as of a subject to an investigation. I don’t think that’s probably very wise on her part.
Another story that I saw also in the ‘Age.com.au’ this week, this was back on November first, is talking about the QANTAS Maintenance base at Avalon, which is just south of Melbourne. We talked quite often, Grant and I, about the, I guess the impending demise of this facility. It’s a very large airport, it’s where they hold the Australian International Airshow every second year. QANTAS do a lot of maintenance on the 747 fleet there, but of course QANTAS like many airlines around the world, Ben, are progressively facing at the 747 which is putting about 300 aircraft engineers who work there, putting their jobs on the line. QANTAS is pretty keen to get rid of those jobs over the next coming years, and they’ve actually put a proposal to QANTAS management to take three months leave without pay next year in a bid to save their jobs.
This is a very desperate move for these guys, and you can’t blame them, Ben. They obviously don’t want to see these workers appear and they seem to think that if they can prolong it a little bit, that there might be some future work coming up in 2015.
Ben: Yes, that’s amazing. Three-month leave from work without pay, that’s really unheard of in today’s economy. I really don’t know how the guys are going to do it, but I don’t know what their thought is too. Maybe they’re holding out for some conversion line training to do maintenance on other aircraft other than the 747 fleet.
Steve: Yes, it doesn’t seem as though they’ve saved a particularly sympathetic ear from QANTAS. A QANTAS spokesman was quoted here saying it wasn’t clear how this proposal solved the problem. He said that there’s no work in the hangout for around five months of each year for the next four years.
I’d say it seems to me at this stage like they’re still fairly well set on wanting to close that facility down, which will be a great shame, and of course the line that QANTAS goes with and I guess perhaps this is worn out a little bit by modern engineering and the increased reliability of aircraft these days. QANTAS is saying that their fleet, being much newer these days on average, a lot of their aircraft don’t need as much maintenance.
Ben: Yes, I would assume that a lot of the new aircraft coming along too are all subject to service agreements from the aircraft manufacturers too.
Steve: I was actually watching a very interesting documentary that’s on one of the pay TV channels here at the moment which is talking about the B Airport there in Dubai, and I guess a lot of it centers around [Hammer 01:09:08], but it’s really interesting to watch so many of the personalities that are working in that part of the world, and there’s not many people that seem to be local to Dubai. There’s lots of Australians working over there in maintenance on those aircraft, along with a lot of Americans and people from all over the planet. It seems to be a real melting pot there, and maybe that’s a new reality for people that are working in the engineering side of the airline game these days.
Ben: It would make sense if you’re going to have huge hubs around the world for aircraft to fly in fly out of a cruise and fly cruise to transit and swap aircraft. It would make sense to have maintenance facilities there.
Steve: Okay. Now, moving on now, let’s talk about the event over there in the west at the moment, Ben, that we alluded too at the top of the report here. This is World Flight Australia. Tell us a bit about that, mate.
Ben: World Flight Australia is a virtual around the world flight to raise money in Australia for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The concept of the virtual around the world flight for charity was started by a team in the U.K. in a spawn to an annual event with participants all over the globe. In Perth, we have our very own World Flight Australia, which started in 2001. Over the years, World Flight Australia teams have raised over $180,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Steve: I’ll tell you what, mate. When it comes to fundraising for aviation-type charities if you like, I don’t know they even class it as a charity. I’ll tell you what, you couldn’t do it any better than raising funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They do magnificent work and really vital work in some really remote regions of Australia getting around there and helping remote and regional communities with medical services, and obviously that takes a lot of money. They fly a lot of very high-tech aircraft, PC-12s and King Airs I believe, and yes we need to be raising a lot of funds to support that. I guess doing it this way is a very fun way to do it for simulator enthusiasts.
Ben: Yes, it certainly is. What a better way to raise money than actually helping your 747 on 777 simulator and fly around the world.
Steve: Now, we should point out to our listeners who are not familiar with the bit of your flying history. Ben, you’ve actually got quite some experience working with these sort of fixed-based simulators over there in your part of the world?
Ben: Yes, I do. Occasionally, I jump in a 737-800 Simulator and sit in the right hand seat and teach the paying public how to fly a 737.
Steve: You were talking there about a 777 simulator of course over there at Perth, at Jandakot I believe, they’ve got, is that a full motion sim they’ve got over there?
Ben: Flight Sydney at Jandakot Airport is not a full-motion, that’s a fixed-based sim, and it could be setting for five minutes and had to look at it and oh, it is a very, very nice 777 simulator.
Steve: They’ve got people in there at the moment using that simulator, is that right, to participate in this virtual around the world flight?
Ben: Yes. I’ve had cruise training for about a year now to do the flight, so they’re operating on a 24-hour basis. I think for the next six days, today is day one, they took off at about 06:00 Perth Time, and they’ll be flying through to Friday afternoon, Saturday morning all around the world.
Steve: No worries. Of course, people would like to find out more information about that. They can go to Worldflight.com.au. It’s a really interesting event that they have here, and the people that run it, they take it very seriously, don’t they, mate?
Ben; Yes, certainly does. They’re flight planning and they’re doing everything. [Their agents 01:12:21] got each of the controllers on VATSIM, which is an online Virtual Air Traffic Network. They’ve also got a virtual air traffic control system which liaises between all the different continents doing the current world flight. It’s like flying the real aircraft but just in a virtual world.
Steve: Once again, Worldflight.com.au. Again, get online there folks, and check that one out. If you could see your way clear to perhaps making a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, that money will be put to very, very good use. And that’s everything we have for you on this week’s Australia Desk. Jonesy, what we were talking beforehand about last week’s show, and they’re picking on our accents, but I really think that the Airplane Geeks just need to look at the situation here at the podcast from our point of view. As far as I’m concerned, you and I don’t have any accents whatsoever. It’s everybody else that does.
Ben: That certainly is the case. I believe, Steve you have a new love for Jetstar.
Steve: Yes. Nobody was more surprised than me to hear that, mate. Anyway, well, we’ll leav it there for this week. Jonesy, thanks for stepping in for Grant at a very short notice. Once again, I hope he’s having a good time at the barbecue while we’re here working.
Ben: Yes. I’ll wait for my invitation to arrive in the mail.
Steve: I think we’ll be waiting a very long time. Until next week, I’m Steve Visscher.
Ben: I’m Grant McHerron.
Steve: Hang on a minute. No you’re not. Who are you really?
Ben: I’m Ben Jones.
Steve: Cheers, folks.
Max: All right. Nicely done. Rob, we’re talking about simulators. Since I’m not the pilot here, if I was plunked down into something like the 737-800 simulator, what do you think that would be like for me? Do you think I would be totally lost and just incapable of doing anything at all, or do you think it’s something that you could pick up on a little bit?
Rob: Have you ever played FlightSim?
Max: No. No, actually I never have believe it or not. Yes.
Rob: Yes. It might be a little overwhelming at times, but it depends on what the gear is inside the airplane, because now they have something that we were talking about at the Flight Safety Foundation Conference, which was heads-up displays, where essentially the person in the pilot seat looks out the window, and can not only see out the window, but they can see all the information at the same time that they needed to know; how fast are they going, how high are they, what direction are they headed, and where is it that they’re trying to go, and it does all the work visually as well. That’s what we’re seeing is, it’s a very, very simple representation of how to keep the airplane on course. It’s much easier than it used to be in the old days with all the round gauges and … However, I would say that at least maybe one flying lesson or a FlightSim session or two might be neat.
Max: Yes. I should do that. Definitely I should do that.
Rob: That wasn’t Grant?
Max: Yes, no.
Rob: See, I can’t tell.
Max: You can’t tell the difference? You couldn’t tell …
Rob: Yes. No. Sound the same to me anyway.
Max: Okay. All right. As we mentioned at the start of the show, Pieter Johnson is off this week. I’ll just mention though that if you haven’t heard the latest episode of Xtended, Pieter’s podcast, that he does with Garrett and Tim, episode 19, give that a listen. They talked to a guy who is a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot and a V-22 Osprey pilot, who has a lot of really interesting things to say about those aircraft. If that isn’t enough, he’s also got a little company going here that’s designing a new general aviation aircraft that’s actually got a blended wing. I’m not sure how his time for all of those and some other activities, but check that out, Aviation-Xtended.co.uk, and the latest episode is number 19.
Rob: Yes. The nice thing about aviation is that when you’re a geek and you’re really into all this stuff, you don’t realize that you have no life.
Max: Yes, that’s right. Full immersion.
Rob: Yes, it’s full immersion.
Max: Yes, it is. All right. Let’s move on to some listener mail. We have a voicemail from Micah. He’s got some comments and asks a couple of questions. Here’s Micah.
Micah: Hello, David, Max and Rob. I just finished listening to episode 271 with Ned Russell. As per usual, it was a great podcast. I have a comment, maybe even a question, based on some of the discussion. One of the topics of conversation with Ned was about low-cost carriers versus the majors. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a low-cost carrier or a major any longer. In actuality, the two airline categories are low-value versus high-value. These two terms don’t necessarily correlate to the old low-cost airline versus major airline.
Let me try to offer some examples. I can fly JetBlue from Portland, Maine, to Florida for about the same fare as I can if I fly United. If I choose JetBlue, a high-value airline, I get at least 33 inches of seat pitch, a free checked bag, free soft drinks and snacks and guaranteed free in-flight entertainment. If I fly United, I get only 31 inches of seat pitch, I have to pay for a checked bag, soft drinks and snacks, and in-flight entertainment depends on the particular aircraft. This makes JetBlue a high value.
Southwest is about the same price as both of the above examples, and I get two checked bags and free soft drinks, but only 31 inches of seat pitch, no snacks, and no chance of in-flight entertainment. To me, this is a better value than United but less of a value than JetBlue. Let’s say Allegiant or Spirit flew here into Portland, and I end up taking them. I end up at a secondary airport, I pay more for it in the long run after all the fees. This is not low-cost, but low-value. Now granted, if one were to fly in the same manner that we take a city bus and then hop on and hop off, small bag in hand, spending no more than 20 minutes in transit, a low-value carrier might be considered a higher value. But how many people really travel that way by air?
Bear in mind, I have no problems with fees and paying only for what you need, but when I buy anything, I always look for the value in determining cost. Even if we look at air travel as a commodity, we have to compare apples with apples. Yes, I’ll pay a bit more for a Granny Smith over a Red delicious. If I can get the same fresh quality Granny Smith apple for less at one store over another, I’ll go to a less pricy store.
Okay, Now with this thought in mind, I’m missing then. Here’s another idea. What do you think would happen if airline ancillary fees were taxed at the same rate as airline fares? Do you think the fees correlate to the actual cost of service being purchased? My guess is, the fees would drop, the fares would increase to cover the cost of the missing fee revenue plus the money lost to the taxes, and basic services would return as part of the best fare, or part of the base fare rather. This assumes that fees are really just a tax avoidance measure, but bear in mind, I can be a cynic. I’ve ranted long enough and have mixed too many metaphors for tonight. Thanks for a great show.
Max: All right. Thank you, Micah. Yes, that’s interesting on the fees and taxing. I don’t think there’s any correlation between the fee itself and the cost to provide the service that the fee is covering. What would you say, Rob?
Rob: Boy, I don’t think so. I think they just threw them at us.
Max: Which stinks.
Rob: If I remember correctly, I think United was the first one to go for the bag fee, weren’t they?
Max: It could be.
Rob: They said it’s … “How much is the bag fee? It’s 25 bucks. I think that sounds good.” I don’t think anyone ever even asked them a question like that. I doubt thee airline could even quantify that to be honest.
Max: Yes, that might be tough. Yes, I think they’re charging when they can get away with. I think Micah is the kind of consumer that I’d like to think I am in terms of making rational decisions about the value. I don’t know if that’s typical or not though.
Rob: That’s a good point, and I have looked at that quite a few times myself. I fly Southwest a lot and for me, it’s a longer trip to drive down to Chicago Midway than it is to Chicago O’Hare. But to me, I’d rather make the trip because I like the product that Southwest gives us, and to me, that’s the value. I don’t care that … The trip to the airport and how long it takes is not the common denominator, of course. Micah, that man, he’s a pretty smart dude.
Max: Yes, he is. I think he’s a good consumer. I think he watches out for his own interests and makes sure that he gets good value for his dollar. That’s …
Rob: I remember when he was just an ordinary listener. He’s one of those people commenting occasionally, and look at where he is now.
Max: Yes, that’s true. All right. Thanks, Micah for sending that in. What Micah did is he made his own little recording and then sent us an MP3 file. The other listeners have that option as well as using our listener line. It’s not difficult to do. Most of the computers these days, most smartphones these days have the ability to make a simple recording, so that’s always an option. We heard from Doug. Doug sent a link, a confession. This is from ‘Dragons of Thin Air.’
Rob: I like this one.
Max: I know. Most unusual fear of flying course. We’ll put this link in the show notes. This particular page, his confession, talks about … it’s from the perspective of an airline pilot. The point is that a perfect landing isn’t always the best landing. Rob, you probably can describe that pretty well.
Rob: I think the point, if I can paraphrase what Doug wrote, and I would encourage people to go read it because his language is really quite good and I enjoyed the way he explained this. Very often, pilots are quantified on their skills by what kind of a landing they make, if you make a hard landing, they think, “He’s not much of a pilot.” If they make a really, really, really smooth landing people think, “You’re an incredible pilot.” Except that that’s not the way we really think about it.
Very often, if we make a really, really smooth touchdown, sometimes it’s almost more luck because it’s not what we’re aiming for. When you’ve got a large airplane, a 100,000-pound airplane or a half-million-pound airplane, you are thinking more about getting it down and getting it stopped. You can’t get it down and stopped if you’re floating along the runway three or four inches off the hard surface trying to make a smooth landing, because the longer you’re floating above the surface at 130 knots, the more runway you’re eating up, and you’re not getting the airplane stopped.
To us, sometimes especially if the runway is wet, if there’s a strong crosswind, we just want to get it down and get into reverse and get the spoilers out and get on the brakes and get the darn thing stopped. That’s why sometimes in really, really windy conditions or when it’s rainy, you’ll get a hard landing. We’d almost rather have that, because as I said, you can’t stop the airplane when you’re floating above the surface.
Max: Yes. This was something that I never really thought about in the past, that as you say, Rob, sometimes the benefit of the value of getting the thing down more than outweighs the pleasantness of a smooth landing. I don’t think people generally realize that. Maybe every pilot does, but I think the flying public doesn’t really realize that.
Rob: No, I don’t think they do either. Of course, what we figure out those landing distances about, do you have enough room on a 6,000-foot runway, if it’s wet, to land an airplane that weighs 150,000 pounds and get it stopped before you run out of concrete, is based on getting the thing down and getting the mains on the ground right in the touchdown zone somewhere which is usually in the first thousand feet. If you extend that, which is what you do if you’re trying to hold it off for a very smooth landing, you might touch down 2,000 feet down the runway, and very soon, you’re running out of places to stop.
Rob: It’s not very cool.
Max: Thank you, Doug for sending that in. Fascinating. That’s a great site, Dragonsofthinair.com.
Rob: Yes. Go read that. I like that. Yes. It’s cool.
Max: We heard from Bobby in Virginia. He sent a link from … This is a report by Canadianbusiness.com. It’s called ‘The Inside Story of Bombardier’s $4-billion Gamble on a Super Quiet Jet.’
Rob: You almost need Dan here for this one.
Max: I know. This is a great article. I like this a lot. This is talking about the Bombardier C Series. It really does really kind of a lot of history of the C Series and the issues, the gamble that Bombardier faces in doing this. I think that if you are part of that segment of the industry, you probably know most of the issues that are discussed, but otherwise it’s kind of interesting, it’s insightful if you’re not familiar with this kind of stuff. The way I can characterize this is another example which happens frequently in this industry of a company playing basically, ‘you bet your company in bringing a new clean sheet of paper, aircraft to market,’ the C Series is enormously expensive. You’ve got to commit a lot of money, a lot of resources, a lot of time, and as I say particularly with a clean sheet of paper airplane like the C Series, but you hope that the gamble pays off.
Rob: That happened to Boeing many years ago. Some people … I don’t know if we still have that letter coming up about the 747, but 40 years ago, actually the 747 would have been designed more than 40 years, Boeing bet the shop on that and they almost went bankrupt producing the first 74s, and a lot of people know that. As it turned out, it worked.
Max: It did.
Rob: People only remember the parts that work.
Max: And there are examples in the industry of where it didn’t work, and not everybody realizes I think that you bring a C Series to market, you bring a 747 to market, and when you start making deliveries, you’re still in the hole billions of dollars. Even though you’re generating sales, particularly those early aircraft are sold at a significant discount. If you’re the kind of first in as the operator, you enjoyed discounts that you’re not going to generally see deeper in the life cycle of the airplane, so you’re not making any money on those airplanes. It’s a significant commitment. This is a great story. I think it’s good reading.
Rob: Sure. I was going to say another example of that is of course the A380. I forgot how many they’ve delivered so far. I don’t think it’s up in the 50 or 60 aircraft or 70 aircraft at this point. Airbus still hasn’t made any money on those, and they were already worried that they may never make any money on …
Rob: A lot of critics that say that may never happen, but the lead time is so long to produce an airplane, but they’re really often caught in a corner. If you take the gamble, there’s the gamble that you may lose the company, but if you don’t do anything, a competitor may come up with something that drives you out of business, too. People in the airline industry or the aviation industry say that’s where the fun comes from.
Max: Yes. You mentioned the A380 and other sort of an interesting item that relates to that is on the engines. You can get an engine from Rolls-Royce and they went in on it alone, or you can get an engine from what’s called Engine Alliance, which is a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and GE. The strategy there was that it’s sort of a risk-sharing arrangement. If you go in 50-50 or whatever the relationship is with another company, obviously you don’t get the revenue you would if you were doing it alone, but you reduce the risk significantly in case that it doesn’t turn out to be gangbusters and generate lots of profit down the road. That’s another thing that we see in this industry quite a lot. That’s why we have all these complex combinations of competitors who are also collaborators, and it gets all very complicated, but it’s typical of the industry.
Max: We see, we heard … Dan. This is from Dan.
Rob: Not our Dan.
Max: Not our Dan. This is about James Fallows. James Fallows comes up from time to time. Usually when he’s written anarticle in the Atlantic, and this is another one which is kind of fun. He looks at … What do you call these waypoint names, Rob, or sort of interesting words in their own right?
Rob: Yes. These are essentially computer-generated spots in space that are really … We were talking earlier with Kevin about the NextGen ETC system. That’s what NextGen is based upon, is that in the old days, the navigational aids on approaches and en route were often named for locations that were nearby. You pass the Cleveland VOR or the Memphis VOR or something like that. Now with NextGen, there are so many points in space that needed to be named, they came up with a way to use, and it must only be five letters, and of course it’s like a Scrabble game. Sometimes the names are kind of cool and interesting.
Max: Yes. Sometimes they relate to the geography in the surrounding area, sometimes they’re just sort of fun. An example that’s actually part of the title of this article is the first one is E-A-T-N-N. That doesn’t look like anything by itself. Then the next point you’d run across is T-T-U-N-A. Now you’ve gotten EATNN TTUNA. The one after that is S-N-W-C-H, so it’s EATNN TTUNA SNWCH. I think that’s hysterical.
Rob: There are many more like that, because sometimes when you’re cruising along at level flight sometimes, you don’t have an awful lot to do and people would say, “Look, there’s an interesting name for a waypoint.” Then, someone would notice, “Wait a minute. Look at that. And look at that one.” You go, “There’s someone at the FAA with a sense of humor! How did that happen?”
Max: Yes. This is a great fun reading, and James Fallows always writes wonderful articles.
Rob: We’ve got to get him on the show one of these days.
Max: Yes. We’ve been trying. We came really close last year, actually, but he’s a guy that travels a lot, has a very busy schedule, and we couldn’t make it work, so we’re trying again and we’ll see if we can. Hopefully that will work out.
Rob: He’s a [Cyrus 01:33:33]. He uses his [Cyrus 01:33:35] quite a bit.
Max: Yes. Good. All right. See, Kevin … This is an article from Rocketnews24.com. The subject of Kevin’s email where he sends the link was, “How to do customer service,” and then parenthetically hint not the United Way. He says, “This is the happiest airline story ever. Man and smartphone reunited by awesome customer service.
Just to paraphrase, the sequence of events here, you got a reporter who’s sitting on an ANA Plane, All Nippon Airways, trying to takeoff. He knows his iPhone is missing. Imagine that. He’s in a panic. He gets up to try to go out to find it, but the door is closed, so he’s stuck in the airplane now. He’s committed, but he told the flight attendant about it. The flight attendant comes back and says that she’s determined, they found out that the phone was actually found by an airport worker in a bathroom. That’s where he’d left it. The attendant says that an ANA employee will meet him at [Hanata 01:34:51], which is where he’s headed to. She also gave him … the phone number to call is a backup just in case the guy didn’t show up. That’s pretty good thinking.
At Haneda, he’s met … There’s a guy standing there with a card with his name on it, so he connects with that guy. This guy has got a number for him to call in a secret code. The secret code. He calls the phone number, and then they used the secret code to confirm his identity. They don’t want to give this phone to anybody, they want to make sure it’s the real owner, and they tell him that they would send him the phone by courier. The next day at his office, a package arrives. There’s his phone carefully wrapped in about 14 pounds of bubble wrap. All this took place in less than 24 hours. Rob, this is some serious customer service.
Rob: It’s nice every so often to see that someone does go above and beyond, because often, we only hear the stories of the airlines that fail miserably. Of course there are quite a few of those, but there are some people that really do know how to make a point.
Max: They do. This is classic Japanese customer service. If you think that’s a stereotype, I would only say this, that the past I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan with all three at the time on Japanese Airlines. This is completely consistent with the behavior that I saw every day from these folks. This is the culture, this is how they treat customer service, which is why you take a flight on JAL or ANA and you’ve generally get some pretty amazing stuff. How hard is it really to do things like this for your customers?
Rob: I think one of the problems … I’m sorry.
Rob: I was going to say one of the problems that I think we have often faced here in the United States, not just with the airlines but with a lot of companies, is that often the first line people, the customer service people, whether you’re at an airline, in a department store … who knows what, they’re often not given the authority to solve small problems.
Max: Yes, true.
Rob: Sometimes, it’s just, “Oh man. I really wanted this. I’m really upset,” and the solution might be, “Just let him have the darn thing even though he doesn’t have the coupon with him,” because they’re going to remember that more than they’re going to … Somebody says, “I’m sorry, that’s the rule. We just can’t budge.” People hate that. We’ve gotten so inflexible at times in this country that again, when you see something like this with the Japanese and I’ve never travelled there, but I’ve heard this before, that people say, “Wow. That’s just the way it ought to be done.”
Max: Yes. That goes back to Micah’s comments earlier in terms of value.
Rob: That’s right.
Max: To this reporter who had this experience, this is definitely going to be a big part of his decision in the future as to what airline to fly.
Rob: You can guarantee. Guaranteed. That’s right. That’s why I think as I saw a story this morning because the folks of American and U.S. Airways are trying to figure out how they can please the Department of Justice enough to not have to go trial here in a few weeks about their merger, and they said, “Do you realize that if they allow this merger to happen, you’ll have just four airlines controlling 80% of the traffic in most of the country?” “Yes. So what?” Yes, I got that.
Rob: Four is enough, right? I don’t know.
Max: Okay. Let’s finish up with Ray. We had talked in the past a few episodes ago about the Doolittle Raiders’ Final Toast. This ceremony that was going to … It is going to be held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. That ceremony is November ninth. As Ray pointed out in an article, he pointed out it’s a closed invitation. It’s not open to the public, but there is going to be a live feed of the event, and it’s going to be broadcast in a couple of places, one is on The Pentagon Channel, which I had never heard of before, but that’s at www.pentagonchannel.mil.
Rob: You’ve never heard of it? I’m there every day or so watching the Pentagon Channel.
Max: I believe David is, but the rest of us, I’m not sure. I think this is at 6 PM Eastern Time. There’s also going to be a link to the live stream on the day of the event at National …
Rob: What day is the event again?
Rob: What day is the event again?
Max: It’s November ninth, this is 2013 of course. November ninth. There’s also going to be a link to the live stream at this website, Nationalmuseum.af.mil, and also at the Air Force site, AF.mil. We’ll put those links in the show notes, but by the time this comes out and by the time you all are listening to this, it’s going to be pretty close to the ninth. If you could do that, I think this will be kind of a moving ceremony. We talked about what this is all about, so we won’t repeat it here. This is the last one, so if you can catch this, I think it’s probably worthwhile. All right, Mr. Mark. Anything else that you can think of before we close this out?
Rob: No. Since we’re out of time, I won’t waste what little we have left making jokes about the Australian accents. I’ve turned over a new leaf. No more picking on the Australian guys and the way they speak.
Max: Until next episode.
Rob: Until next episode, that’s true.
Max: We want to thank you all for listening to the Airplane Geeks Podcast. We want to thank our fantastic guest, Kevin Hiatt from Flight Safety Foundation. Find him at Flightsafety.org and on Twitter, they’re also FlightSafety. I want to thank our contributors, Grant McHerron and Steve Visscher, or stand-ins thereof. Find them at Planecrazydownunder.com. We’ll look forward to Pieter Johnson’s return with his Across the Pond segment. Find him at Aviation-xtended.co.uk. No E on Xtended.
Hey Rob, let’s tell folks where they can find each of us online.
Rob: They can find me at JetWhine on Twitter, JetWhineline.com, and I think my name is somewhere on Facebook and who knows where else, just so long as I’m not on the wall of the post office anymore. You’re not even old enough to understand that joke.
Max: Do they still have that …
Rob: No, they don’t that. No, it probably violates the bad guy’s privacy or something.
Max: Yes, something like that. All right. We have mentioned David Vanderhoof for his return next time. You can find his blog, Whatjustflewby.com. On Twitter, he’s DMVanderhoof. I’m Max Flight. Look for me on Google Plus and Twitter. Just look for Max Flight. You can find show notes for this episode at Airplanegeeks.com. This is episode 273 or you can use a shortcut, Airplanegeeks.com/273 of show notes there, listener comments, you can buy Airplane Geeks t-shirts, some other great stuff.
Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, and just look for AirplaneGeeks. We’re also on Stitcher.com, where you can stream us to your mobile phone, and you can also find us on TuneIn.com. If you’d like to send us an email, the address is Thegeeks@airplanegeeks.com, and we also have a listener line, where you can leave us an audio message. Benet, what’s the number?
Benet: The Airplane Geeks want to hear from you, so please give them a call at 361-GEEKS-01.
Max: Thank you, Benet. Opening and closing music is by Brother Love. Find him at Brotherloverocks.com. Join us again next week as we talk aviation on the Airplane Geeks Podcast. Bye, everybody.
Rob: Good night, everybody. Thanks for listening.