View Single Post
Old 12-14-2005, 06:44 AM   #1  
Fun Officer
RockBottom's Avatar
Joined APC: Feb 2005
Position: Dallas, Texas
Posts: 515
Default Pilot violated Southwest policy

Pilot violated Southwest policy
December 14, 2005

BY MARK J. KONKOL Transportation Reporter

The Southwest Airlines pilot at the helm during Thursday's snowy crash at Midway Airport told federal investigators he used the Boeing 737's "autobrakes," a device airline officials say their pilots are told not to activate.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said they found the autobrake switch in the "maximum" position on the flight panel. The system is designed to activate when the landing gear hits the runway.

Investigators are still trying to determine if the system was operable when flight 1248 overshot the runway, crashed through an airport barrier fence into traffic, killing 6-year-old Joshua Woods as he rode in his family's car.

The pilot's use of the autobrakes against airline policy raises questions about Southwest's braking procedures, especially for landing in inclement weather.

On-time issue

Aviation sources said Southwest is preparing to lift the ban on autobrakes, but Federal Aviation Administration, NTSB and Southwest officials would not comment or provide documents regarding requests or plans to change Southwest's flight operation procedures regarding autobrakes.

Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford would not provide any details, policies or flight procedures regarding the use of autobrakes because that system -- along with the plane's reverse thrusters and the tailwind landing -- have fallen under the scope of the NTSB investigation. She confirmed that using autobrakes was not Southwest policy.

A former Southwest pilot with 13 years experience said the airline's decision not to use autobrakes has historically had more to do with on-time performance than safety.

Bert Yetman of the Professional Pilots Federation said that during his tour with Southwest, pilots were told to slow planes to 80 knots using reverse thrusters before applying braking systems.

That allowed planes to stay in the air as long as possible -- with 10-minute turnaround times -- avoiding the "brake cooling period" required when brakes are used at speeds higher than 80 knots, Yetman said.

"Safety does not come into question. It's how long the runway is and how quick you want to turn around," he said.

High setting on brakes

The pilot told investigators autobrakes were at a high setting and "deployed virtually the moment the plane lands on the runway," NTSB officials said.

As flight crews began to realize the plane was not decelerating the way it should, they "took over the brakes and pressed them as hard as they could," according to the NTSB.

The plane left the runway, blasting through the airport fence near 55th and Central, raising questions about whether the short safety zone beyond the airstrip is adequate.

City aviation officials have been working with the FAA on ways to make the runway and safe zone longer. The city submitted a proposal in May 2004, which the FAA returned asking officials to "add more to this," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

There was never a deadline on when the work or study should be completed, and negotiations were not final, he said. It's part of a national effort to lengthen runway safe zones that has been in the works for five years.

Molinaro said 46 airports have made improvements and 37 still need changes. "Midway is one of them," Molinaro said. "And it's one of the challenging ones."

Another tool

In addition to the autobrakes, transportation expert Aaron Gellman, head of Northwestern University's Transportation Center, says part of the crash probe should center on whether the pilot was using the plane's "head-up display" which provides flight path guidance in low visibility landings.

"It's used in such a way that touchdown is at a very low speed and also puts you down right near the end of the runway," Gellman said. "If he was not using it, he was not using one of the major tools available to him."

Rutherford said the cockpit of the plane in Thursday's crash was equipped with the "head-up display," but she would not say whether the pilot was using it at the time of the crash.

Navigational equipment on runway 31-C knocked out in Thursday's crash was repaired and checked by 6:50 p.m. Tuesday, when the runway was open to accept air traffic, aviation department spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.
RockBottom is offline