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Old 12-24-2009, 04:55 AM   #1  
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Default Dallas newspaper on AA crash; fatigue, union

American Airlines crash in Jamaica could intensify pilot fatigue debate | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Airlines | Dallas Business News

American Airlines crash in Jamaica could intensify pilot fatigue debate

12:00 AM CST on Thursday, December 24, 2009

By ERIC TORBENSON / The Dallas Morning News
[email protected] / The Dallas Morning News
Terry Maxon contributed to this report


The rain-slicked crash of American Airlines Flight 331 on Tuesday night in Kingston, Jamaica, may well intensify calls for new policies on pilot fatigue.


The Associated Press
An American Airlines flight from Miami to Kingston, Jamaica, skidded off a Kingston runway Tuesday night and broke up just feet from the Caribbean Sea. None of the plane's 148 passengers and six crew members suffered serious injuries in the accident.

The inquiry into the crash – in which all 148 passengers and six crew members walked out of a plane broken into three sections – has just begun, and conclusions remain months away.

But it eerily resembles earlier incidents that have spurred the nation's air safety regulator to challenge the rules for how long pilots rest and how much they can fly each month.

And it could prompt a fresh look at Fort Worth-based American's pilot procedures and cockpit culture as investigators hunt for clues to why the plane skidded off the runway and broke up just feet from the Caribbean Sea, aviation experts said Wednesday.

No one was killed in the accident, but about 90 passengers were treated for minor injuries.

In June 1999, an American Airlines captain of an MD-82 aircraft landed the plane in Little Rock, Ark., during a thunderstorm. In the confusion, he and his co-pilot failed to set wing spoilers and braking systems that would have helped the plane slow down. Instead it ran off the runway and split into pieces. The National Transportation Safety Board pointed to pilot fatigue as a factor in the decisions that led to the accident that killed 11.

"Little Rock-ian does come to mind," said airline and pilot union consultant Robert Mann of Port Washington, N.Y.

Several elements – and perhaps fatigue – combined to create a situation Tuesday where the American jet slid off the 8,910-foot Kingston runway, which is about medium-length among airports.

The 737-800


The "stretched" version of the Boeing plane is so long that to prevent it from scraping its tail on landing it has the highest landing speed – 160 mph or so – of any American jet, according to Keith Rola, an American captain in Flower Mound who flies them.

The plane had no empty seats, adding to its weight. It probably carried extra jet fuel, as required for international flights, making the aircraft even heavier and harder to stop.

"When you're landing one in the rain, you have no depth perception on the runway," Rola said, and that adds to the challenge. If the pilots had decided even seconds after touching down that they didn't like what they were seeing, they could not have taken off again for another approach, he said. "You cannot call an audible at the line once you've touched down."

The 8-year-old plane had undergone light maintenance in November but had no outstanding mechanical issues, FAA records show. Its right engine was shorn off as it crashed through a fence and into a berm at the end of the runway, its left wing and engine was damaged, and the fuselage was cracked open in two places.

Heavy rain was reported at Kingston, and turbulence was so severe on the flight from Miami that the pilot canceled in-flight service and had flight attendants remain seated.

Winds of up to 15 knots coming from the north-northwest probably gave the plane a tailwind, adding to its speed at landing and increasing the level of difficulty.

The asphalt runway at Norman Manley International Airport isn't grooved as most are in the United States, meaning that water pools much more easily on it than runways at places such as Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. That could make hydroplaning – in which the plane skids on top of a sheet of water instead of making contact with the runway – substantially worse.

Hydroplaning may have affected the plane's auto-braking system, which senses how fast the wheels are spinning and applies brake pressure to slow the plane down. Hydroplaning wheels don't spin as fast as the airplane is actually moving, sending false signals to the plane's computer.

Crew alertness


Flight 331's pilot and co-pilot had been on duty nearly 12 hours, approaching the maximum allowed, according to union officials.

"You really have to look at how long these guys are on duty," said Sam Mayer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 9,000 American pilots.

On Dec. 13, fatigue may have played a role in a botched landing of an American jet in Charlotte, N.C., where pilots clipped one of the MD-80's wing tips on the ground and the wheels briefly left the runway. No one was injured in the incident, which is under investigation.

Mayer added that American doesn't pay pilots whose trips get interrupted and who can't complete the flying they signed up for. The pilots of Flight 331 were on their first day of a multi-day sequence of trips that, had they diverted the plane to another city, would probably have jeopardized their ability to fly out the rest of the sequence. Not completing trips can cost pilots thousands of dollars in lost income, Mayer said.

"Our pilots shouldn't have to sacrifice their principles to get paid," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue formal guidelines that change pilot rest rules, probably cutting the maximum time they can be on duty in a day or over several days. The push for more pilot-friendly rules comes as fatigue is likely to have factored in the February crash of a turboprop plane in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50.

American said the jet captain had 22 years of experience and 2,695 hours flying 737s as a captain. The first officer had 10 total years of experience and 5,027 hours as a first officer on the plane, and neither pilot had worked that many hours in December, compared to the rest of the pilot group, spokesman Tim Wagner said.
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:05 AM   #2  
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Thread title changed to better reflect content of post.
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:49 AM   #3  
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Everyone surrvived....


My hat off to you brother, stay strong!!

-Todd
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:53 AM   #4  
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Maybe now they'll get it (FAA and airlines). Of course no one died this time, so maybe wishful thinking on my part. With things like this making the news every few months or so, I think some sort of change is bound to happen. The question remians: will it be helpful or just a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't really address the problem(s).
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Old 12-24-2009, 04:54 PM   #5  
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Exclamation How about a straight salary

There seems to be quite a few performance related incentives which encourage some pilots to press on. A new flight & duty time limit scheme would help and is only a matter of time before it will have to be adopted, the powers that be will most likely use any influence they can exert to keep it from happening anytime soon. But let's take a look at another element. If airlines were to adopt a straight salary system wouldn't that help to alleviate some of these issues. For instance, the airline and union get together and hash out an annual salary for pilots based on seniority, equipment and a certain number of flight hours per month. Divide that by 12 and that's the basic check per month not including per diem and overtime. As a corporate guy I've been doing this for years. I do understand that there would be huge changes needed to be made in the infrastructure, but hey, there are smart people working at most airlines, I'm sure something could be drawn up to appease a majority. I also understand many won't like this idea. It would appear to me that the pilots would benefit from such a pay scheme.
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Old 12-24-2009, 05:26 PM   #6  
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Salary typically means a flat amount regardless of how many hours one works, so no overtime.

If we were to get a salary, you can be sure each and every one of us would fly 999.9 hours per year. I can even imagine some managements putting timed-out pilots on a tug or throwing bags.... or maybe I am too cynical.
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Old 12-24-2009, 07:14 PM   #7  
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Quote:
"When you're landing one in the rain, you have no depth perception on the runway," Rola said, and that adds to the challenge. If the pilots had decided even seconds after touching down that they didn't like what they were seeing, they could not have taken off again for another approach, he said. "You cannot call an audible at the line once you've touched down."
I'm pretty sure a 737 can to a touch and go if there's enough runway and the thrust reverses are stowed.
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Old 12-25-2009, 01:18 AM   #8  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlyJSH View Post
Salary typically means a flat amount regardless of how many hours one works, so no overtime.

If we were to get a salary, you can be sure each and every one of us would fly 999.9 hours per year. I can even imagine some managements putting timed-out pilots on a tug or throwing bags.... or maybe I am too cynical.

I'm on salary with a foreign scheduled air carrier. Honestly, we don't even come close to 1000 hours per year. More common, so far, is about 500 hours. Certainly there are months at close to 100, but we combine our time off to 28 days every 3 months, which means even two 100 months over three months means 66.6 average.

No, we're not throwing bags or driving tugs. Sit at the hotel pool and drink cocktails.

I prefer salary, but for us, the major disadvantage is no monthly rostering of trips. Literally, you get the call the day before as to what trips you'll fly on your duty days.

Not to say that everything you suggest may happen in the US. That wouldn't surprise me.
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Old 12-25-2009, 03:56 AM   #9  
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FATIGUE has been an issue associated with airplanes since the Wright Borthers first left the ground. Neither the Airline Pilots Association, Allied Pilots Association, any other pilots association, the FAA, or any other countrys ruling authority is likely to ever do anything about it. Truckers on the highways continue to fall asleep and airline pilots will continue to be fatigued as long as the drivers and pilots continue to put up with it. I'm just glad I'm out of the business.

Y'all be careful out there and Happy Holidays to one and all.
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Old 12-25-2009, 08:25 AM   #10  
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I'm pretty sure a 737 can to a touch and go if there's enough runway and the thrust reverses are stowed.
Yes, our ops manual allows a go around as long as the thrust levers have not been put into reverse.
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