Thursday, January 22, 2015

Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee, N4666R: Accident occurred January 20, 2015 near Helena Regional Airport (KHLN), Montana

The NTSB did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:  
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office:  FSDO-05; Helena, Montana 

Aviation Accident Factual Report -  National Transportation Safety Board:  https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

Docket And Docket Items -  National Transportation Safety Board: https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

http://registry.faa.gov/N4666R

NTSB Identification: WPR15LA087 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, January 20, 2015 in Helena, MT
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28-140, registration: N4666R
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On January 20, 2015, at 1220 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N4666R, experienced a loss of engine power during takeoff from the Helena Regional Airport (HLN), Helena, Montana, and subsequently impacted a shed and a house. The flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. The private pilot was not injured; the passenger/owner sustained minor injuries. The airplane sustained substantial damage throughout its structure. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that was destined for Missoula, Montana. No flight plan had been filed.

The pilot reported that he performed a thorough preflight inspection, which included checking the flight controls, and fuel and fuel sumps; no discrepancies were noted. After the engine started, and while it was warming up, he contacted ground control for a clearance to taxi to the active runway for departure. The ground controller cleared him to taxi the airplane to runway 27, where he commenced with an engine run-up. During the takeoff roll, the airplane rotated at 65 mph. During the climb out, he stated that it was quiet; the engine was not developing full power. The pilot stated that there was no safe place to land straight ahead, and as the engine was still running, he decided to turn back for the airport. The pilot stated that they were about 350-400 feet above the ground, and the engine was developing 2,300 rpm when he made a shallow left turn to return to the airport. The airplane could not maintain altitude or airspeed, and it collided with a house.

The owner/passenger reported that he purchased the airplane about 2 weeks prior to the accident. An annual inspection had taken place in August 2014. On January 16, 2015, the owner called Executive Aviation, a fixed based operator (FBO), and requested that the airplane be topped off with aviation fuel; the airplane was refueled with 26.3 gallons of fuel with the majority of the fuel placed in the right fuel tank. The owner stated that the airplane had been tied down outside on the tarmac since August and had accrued about 2.19 hours since the annual inspection.

An officer from the Helena Police Department reported that the airplane struck power lines, a tree, a propane tank, and came to rest in a shed and adjacent house.

The responding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector reported that both of the airplane's wings had separated from the airframe. Both wings' fuel tanks were breached in the accident sequence, blue colored liquid was near the right wing pooled in the snow.

An engine inspection was performed on April 28, 2015, at Helena Aircraft, under the supervision of an FAA inspector. A visual inspection of the engine revealed no obvious damage to the engine. 

The engine remained attached to the engine mount, and the airframe. The fuel strainer screen, electric fuel pump screen, and the air filter contained no obstructions. The top spark plugs were removed, and manual rotation of the engine produced thumb compression in all cylinders in firing order. The magneto switches were turned on, and the spark plug leads produced spark at each cylinder when the engine was manually rotated; magneto-to-engine timing was also established and within manufacturer specification limits. The spark plugs were placed on a spark plug test bench, the top No. four, and bottom No. two did not fire.

The carburetor functionally checked, and appeared to function normally when the throttle and mixture were manipulated. The carburetor was removed with partial soot identified in the throat area. The accelerator pump functioned properly; however, the retaining cotter pin was not present. The carburetor bowl was empty.

The fuel selector was selected to the right fuel tank inside the cockpit. The right main fuel tank filler port was placarded to allow auto gas; there was no fuel inside the fuel tank.

A detailed report is attached to the factual docket for this accident.

NTSB Identification: WPR15LA087
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, January 20, 2015 in Helena, MT
Aircraft: PIPER PA 28-140, registration: N4666R
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On January 20, 2015, at 1220 mountain standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N4666R, experienced a loss of engine power during takeoff from the Helena Regional Airport (HLN), Helena, Montana, and impacted a shed and a house. The private pilot was not injured, the passenger/owner sustained minor injuries; there were no ground injuries. The airplane sustained substantial damage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight that was destined for Missoula, Montana. No flight plan had been filed.

According to the owner of the airplane, he had purchased the airplane about 2 weeks prior to the accident. The owner reported that the annual inspection had taken place in August 2014. On January 16, 2015, the owner called Executive Aviation, a fixed based operator (FBO), and requested that the airplane be topped off with aviation fuel; the airplane was refueled with 26.3 gallons of fuel. The owner stated that the airplane had been tied down on the tarmac since August and had accrued about 2.19 hours since the annual inspection. He reported that the preflight inspection and run-up seemed normal. The airplane rotated at 65 miles per hour (mph), and during the climb out, the engine started to "sag, until nothing." The engine had been running and then quit. He stated that the pilot attempted to maneuver away from houses, but they were headed toward the ground.

According to the pilot, he performed a thorough preflight inspection, which included checking the flight controls, and fuel and fuel sumps; no discrepancies were noted. They turned on the engine and while it was warming up, he contacted ground control for a clearance to taxi to the active runway for departure. The ground controller cleared him to taxi the airplane to runway 27, where he commenced with an engine run-up. The pilot reported no problems with the run-up. He stated that the airplane rotated at 65 mph. During the climb out, he stated that it was quiet; the engine was not developing full power. The pilot stated that there was no safe place to land straight ahead, and as the engine was still running, he decided to turn back for the airport. The pilot stated that they were about 350-400 feet above the ground and the engine was developing 2,300 rpms when he made a shallow left turn to return to the airport. According to the pilot, the airplane could not maintain altitude or airspeed, and it impacted a house.

An officer from the Helena Police Department reported that the airplane struck power lines, a tree, a propane tank, and came to rest in a shed and adjacent house.

The responding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector reported that both of the airplane's wings had separated from the airframe.



"All I wanted to do was try to land it in a fashion that we survived," describes East Missoula pilot Robert Brunson two days after the small plane he was piloting lost power shortly after takeoff in Helena and crash landed, hitting a house. "And evidently we did."


 Brunson describes the flight path he tried to take the plane on as he lost power shortly after takeoff Tuesday. Despite hitting a power pole and crashing into a house, Brunson and his passenger, Duane Felstet of Frenchtown, were both able to walk away from the crash with only minor injuries. 


Some guys have all the luck. 

Duane Felstet, 78, and Robert Brunson, 75, walked away as survivors this week after Felstet's 1966 Piper PA-28 Cherokee lost power, bounced off a telephone pole, and crashed into a Helena home.

Not only did they survive, but the two friends were relatively unscathed.

"Pretty lucky would be an understatement," Felstet said Thursday from his home in Frenchtown. "I feel extremely fortunate and I am sure the pilot does, too."

Aside from a few lacerations, a few more bruises and an injured elbow, the pair are doing all right – now safe on the ground.

Brunson, the pilot, received a few more stitches than he cares to admit, while Felstet went under the knife Thursday to repair a chipped elbow cap.

"We are very fortunate," Felstet said. "We took off from the airport in Helena. We took off and then we got off the ground and the engine started to lose power. It continued to lose power until it finally quit."

That was in midair, approximately 200 feet off the ground, when Brunson realized he was running "out of altitude, airspeed and ideas at the same time."

But the longtime pilot said he wasn't afraid. In fact, the only thing he cared about was flying the small plane, and he was determined to get it back to the airport.

They spiraled down into the neighborhood, eventually hitting a pole and crashing into a residence – missing their target by two short city blocks.

"'Please, no fire,'" Felstet said he thought as he opened the only door and scrambled to get far away from the aircraft he had only a few moments before purchased.

"That's what we were concerned about because we had landed in a residential area close to a house," he said.

A woman and her two dogs were inside the home, but they weren't injured in the crash. The plane damaged the master bedroom and the basement, and the woman and her boyfriend are in the process of moving out until the damage can be fixed.  

***

It was far from Brunson's first time flying and he swears it won't be his last. The East Missoula man has been flying since 1974, and Tuesday started as any other routine flight.

Felstet, who is building his own plane and learning how to fly, asked Brunson to come with him to Helena and fly his recently purchased plane home for him.

The plane passed all the routine inspections every pilot goes through before firing up the aircraft. It even passed its official inspection last August. After Felstet signed the check, the plan was to practice a few touch-and-gos to make sure the plane was up to snuff before flying it over MacDonald Pass.

"We wanted to make sure it flew properly, but evidently it didn't," Brunson said from his home.

Sam, a Chihuahua-dachshund mix wearing a flashy bomber jacket, sat next to him on an easy chair, snoring, as he calmly recalled the sequence of events.

It's not clear what caused the crash, but both men said they inexplicably lost engine power.

"I could speculate until the cows come home, but it wouldn't be worth it," Brunson said.

If they were scared as they tumbled from the sky in a small airplane, the two men aren't letting it show.

Brunson said he and his pilot friends will continue to fly all over Montana, Idaho and Nevada to go out to eat or visit a museum. As a "fair-weather" pilot, he flies a Cessna 172. And once Felstet finishes building his own plane, he'll be welcome to join the group – and at a yearly party for pilots who survive crashes.  

After all, as Felstet explained, it is much safer than traveling in your automobile.

Story and photos:  http://missoulian.com













Aircraft owner suing Mount Airy-Surry County Airport (KMWK) officials

A local pilot and former member of the Mount Airy airport governing board is suing its present members alleging that he wrongfully was forced off the group and ordered to relinquish his hangar space.

Documents filed this month in federal court on behalf of plaintiff William Alfred “Billy” Hicks Jr. say this stemmed from Hicks’ support of an independent flight instructor at the airport who was competing with the pilot-training school based there.

Listed among various allegations in the suit is a claim that one defendant, John Springthorpe III, longtime chairman of the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority, controls that group in “a czar-like fashion” to reward those he favors.

On the other hand, the lawsuit— filed in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem — alleges that the group has waged a vendetta against Hicks over his support of Michael Venable, the independent flight instructor, who earlier sued over his treatment by airport officials.

Others named as defendants, along with Springthorpe, are fellow members of the authority, Vice Chairman Donald L. Holder, Greg Perkins, Nolan Kirkman, Harold Thomas Taylor, Dr. Thomas Jackson and Victor Zamora.

The 14-page lawsuit alleges that the defendants “have engaged in a pattern of conduct that, at best, reflects arbitrary and oppressive government power without checks or balances on their authority.”

Springthorpe did not respond a voice-mail message left Thursday seeking his reaction to the lawsuit allegations.

Competing Interests

Hicks, a lifelong Surry County resident who owns H & H Auto Sales in Mount Airy and Galax, Va., said Thursday that he began flight lessons in 2008. He later bought two planes that have been hangared at the local airport, a twin-engine Beechcraft and a single-engine Cessna, and is now an instrument-rated general aviation pilot.

He also ascended to a leadership role at Mount Airy-Surry County Airport by being appointed to the airport authority in June 2010.

But the situation began to nosedive when Hicks took a position in favor of Venable, whose instruction of would-be pilots competed with flight instructors employed by the fixed-based operator at the airport, Ra-Tech Aviation.

Based on the court documents and statements from local aviation community members, novice pilots were comfortable with Venable compared to other instructors available because of his “passion,” and in one’s view he is “more friendly and down-to-Earth.”

“He had great customer service.”

However, Venable’s success in attracting students was looked upon in disfavor by the airport leadership due to the lost business, with the controversy said to have developed in April 2012. Venable was instructing 11 regular flight students around that time.

Hicks’ lawsuit refers to a memo by Springthorpe, the authority’s chairman, stating that the airport was not big enough to support competing flight-training operations.

This led to a decision to forbid Venable from providing instruction out of the facility, which Hicks opposed, and Venable’s filing of a lawsuit over his right to compete.

A settlement later was reached in Venable’s case, Hicks said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hicks’ support of Venable during that process caused problems for him, the lawsuit claims, including being pressured to resign from the airport’s governing board by others.

“They did not like to be challenged on anything,” Hicks said Thursday, mentioning that he also had ruffled feathers by asking that an audit be done to make sure public funds allocated to the airport were being spent properly,

After being “ambushed” by a request to leave the authority, Hicks did so about a year before his four-year term was up and was replaced by another member in February of 2014.

“I went ahead and resigned,” Hicks said Thursday. “I saw no sense in them kicking me off.”

Yet there also was more to the alleged vendetta, with the suit claiming that Hicks’ lease on an hangar was terminated and his name removed from the waiting list for a second hangar. The basis for this was a supposed inspection that uncovered purported safety violations in the hangar leased by Hicks, although court documents point out that other hangars had violations that were not addressed.

“Until (the) plaintiff opposed Chairman John Springthorpe and the other airport authority members, (the) plaintiff experienced no difficulty in the use of his aircraft, use of his hangar or threats of expulsion from the airport authority,” the suit states.

“No hangar tenant had ever been refused a hangar renewal except for non-payment of hangar rent.”

As it stood Thursday, Hicks said he no longer will have a hangar after 10 days.

The lawsuit alleges that the actions by Springthorpe and others have denied Hicks equal protection and due process rights under the Constitution.

“This is a public trust,” the local pilot added Thursday of the airport and how its leadership should serve the flying community and treat everyone equally.

Hicks’ suit seeks an unspecified sum for damages to be determined by a jury and for his hangar lease to be renewed and the lease for the second hangar to be granted, along with other requests to the court.

“I hate this is going on,” Hicks said Thursday regarding the lawsuit, but added that he believed it was needed.

“I’m for what’s right.”

Original article can be found at:     http://www.mtairynews.com

Investigators: Airliners should be equipped with technologies so they can be found

WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to recent incidents in which airliners vanished, U.S. accident investigators recommended Thursday that all passenger planes making long flights over water carry improved technology that will allow them to be found more readily in the event of a crash.

Prompted in part by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew last March, the National Transportation Safety Board said one way that could be accomplished is with tamper-resistant transmitters that send a plane's location minute by minute via satellite.

It also asked that the government require that planes carry low-frequency underwater beacons whose signals are more easily detected by search vessels. And it wants them to have longer-lasting batteries that can function for at least 90 days after a crash, instead of the 30 days currently required.

The board also asked the government to require that planes be equipped with cockpit video recorders, and that all of the planes' recorders — including the flight data and voice recorders known as "black boxes" — be designed so they cannot be disabled by the flight crew.

But even with such technologies, black boxes trapped under thousands of feet of water can be difficult to find and retrieve. The board suggested that black boxes could be made ejectable, so they would float on the surface with a locator beacon.

Another possibility would be to require that planes, just before crashing, transmit crucial data, including airspeed, altitude, pitch and whether the engines were operating. Joe Kolly, NTSB's director of research and engineering, said it is possible to automatically send such information if something potentially catastrophic goes wrong with the plane.

While the board said the technology is available, cost may be a barrier to its recommendations. Missing planes are rare, and none of the recent ocean crashes in which planes were hard to find involved U.S. airliners. The Federal Aviation Administration often has a hard time justifying new regulations unless it can show that the value of saved lives outweighs the cost to the industry.

The board's recommendations also far exceed industry-backed recommendations that are expected to be debated next month at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, in Montreal.

Many airliners already have flight-tracking devices. The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which remains missing, was equipped with a digital data-link system that can be configured to automatically report aircraft position periodically to a ground station via satellite. But the airline wasn't paying for that service when the plane disappeared. Still, the equipment was emitting a signal that should have allowed authorities to track the plane's flight path until it suddenly stopped, raising suspicion that it was deliberately tampered with.

Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, killing 228 passengers and crew, also had such a system, and it was in use. However, it was configured to report the plane's position once every 10 minutes. Given the plane's speed and altitude, this resulted in a search area of 40 nautical miles from its last reported position.

"Such a large area made the search much more challenging," the board said in a letter to the FAA. If the plane had reported its position every minute, the search area could have been reduced to a 6-nautical-mile radius, which is the board's aim.

Even though some Flight 447 wreckage was discovered within days, it took nearly two years before Flight 447's black boxes were recovered. In 2011, Air France modified its data-link communications systems on certain long-haul planes to report their position every minute.

Other options include systems that continually broadcast their identification, current position, altitude and speed to air traffic controllers and other aircraft using satellite links. The FAA has required that all U.S. airliners be equipped with such systems by 2020 as it transitions from a radar-based air traffic control system to one based on satellite technology, although some airlines have complained that they need more time.

NTSB recommended 15 years ago that the FAA require video cameras in cockpits, citing a series of incidents in which images of cockpit controls or pilot actions might have clarified events leading to a crash. Industry officials opposed the recorders at the time, saying they cost too much and weighed too much, while pilot unions said they violated pilots' privacy.

However, as recorder technology has improved, the weight and cost of the equipment has come down, Kolly noted. And society in general is becoming more accustomed to having activities monitored by recorders, he said.

But Air Line Pilots Association President Tim Canoll said the union remains opposed to video cameras, explaining that the cameras could be misused and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Original article can be found at: http://www.usnews.com

Cessna U206G, N9957R: Accident occurred January 22, 2015 in Westminster, Colorado

Regis#: N9957R
Aircraft Make: CESSNA
Aircraft Model: 206
Event Type: Accident
Highest Injury: None
Damage: Substantial
Activity: Public Use
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
City: WESTMINSTER
State: Colorado

AIRCRAFT FORCE LANDED IN A FIELD, NEAR WESTMINSTER, CO

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Denver FSDO-03

SILVER CREEK AVIATION SERVICES: http://registry.faa.gov/N9957R


 KUSA - A single-engine plane made a hard landing in a field near West 84th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Westminster Thursday afternoon.

Westminster Fire crews say the two people on board were not injured. 


The pilot and crew are agents with the the Drug Enforcement Agency.


The DEA said the pilot experienced mechanical failure in flight and had to make an emergency landing. 


The view from Sky9 shows damage to the plane's nose gear.


Story and photo:   http://www.9news.com


ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. - A small single-engine plane made a hard landing in an Adams County field Thursday. 

The incident occurred just before 3:30 p.m. near West 84th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Westminster.

AIRTRACKER7 was over the scene as police were spotted trying to cover up the plane's identification number.

Officials with Westminster Fire tweeted that no injuries had occurred.

Story, video and photo gallery:   http://www.thedenverchannel.com


























Snow, new fences cause headaches at Vance Brand Airport (KLMO), Longmont, Colorado

This winter's persistent snow storms and below freezing temperatures has presented a problem for companies leasing hangar space at the Vance Brand Municipal Airport.

Assistant City Manager Shawn Lewis, who is overseeing airport operations while a replacement is chosen for former airport manager Tim Barth, said that the storms prompted several complaints from companies that fly out of the airport about snow on the runways and taxiways.

Although the airport is next door to the city's public works operations building where the city deploys its snowplows, the double and single-bladed plows are generally not used inside the airport, Lewis said.

"The city equipment we have is dedicated to the streets and the airport is an enterprise fund," Lewis said. Enterprise funds must support themselves through earned revenue and other monies, and is not fully subsidized by city coffers.

"The other reasons is because, well obviously the public works equipment is fully deployed on city streets in the event of a storm because that's its primary function," Lewis said.

The solution is that some of the private companies stationed at the airport contract with separate snow removal companies. For the rest of the shared space — some of the runways and taxiways — in 2010 the city contracted with Mile-Hi Airport Services, a company that is also owned by the owners of Mile-Hi Skydiving.

Under that contract, the city pays Mile-Hi Airport Services $60 an hour to remove snow when it's preventing the airport from functioning. Mile-Hi Airport Services is also contracted at $60 an hour to mow some parts of the airport and public works facility lawn and sweep debris from the taxiways and runways. Since the contract was first signed in 2010, it has been renewed the maximum number of four times annually, and the service will be bid out to prospective snow removal companies at the end of April this year.

One problem was that snow storms in November and December resulted in constant snowfall that hardened and iced over before it could be plowed by both Mile-Hi and the other contracted companies, making it difficult to plow away. The other problem is an unintentional consequence of a new airport improvement.

In 2013, the airport received a $400,000 grant from the state that it matched with $44,000 to buy and install better perimeter fencing to improve security. Most of that new fencing went up just before Barth resigned Dec. 19

"With the new fences nearing completion, the areas where the companies have been able to push snow before — they are no longer able to push the snow along the road and into the ditch," Lewis said.

City staff are working on where snow plows can put the snow for next winter.

Story and photos: http://www.timescall.com


Airlines Get Tougher on Employee Flight Perks: Delta, United and American Impose More Limits; ‘Buddy Passes’ Land on Craigslist

The Wall Street Journal
By Susan Carey
Jan. 21, 2015 1:36 p.m. ET


The skies are getting less friendly for “buddy passes” and other airline employee travel perks.

Nearly free standby travel programs have long been a benefit of working for airlines. Millions of people fly every year under these programs, which extend to current employees and their immediate families as well as airline retirees and their families. The programs also make available inexpensive “buddy passes” that employees and retirees can dole out to friends.

Abuse of the programs, however, has cost the carriers money and has even facilitated criminal activity, and some big airlines are starting to crack down.

Both Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. warned their employees last year that workers caught abusing the privileges could face termination. United’s memo, last month, said that within the past year more than 100 people were fired “due to fraudulent activity related to buddy passes,” primarily for overseas travel.

The issue of buddy passes gained fresh attention when a former Delta baggage handler was arraigned last month in New York on charges that he smuggled guns from Atlanta to New York on Delta flights that he took using buddy passes supplied by his mother, a retired Delta gate agent.

The former baggage handler, Mark Henry, was fired in 2010 for abusing the travel-pass program, according to law-enforcement officials. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Henry flew from Atlanta to New York 17 times in 2014, often toting firearms—sometimes loaded—in his carry-on luggage.

Mr. Henry worked with an active Delta employee—now terminated—who used his airport credentials to smuggle the weapons into the terminal in Atlanta, for handoff to Mr. Henry before he boarded, prosecutors say.

Mr. Henry, 45, was charged in a 591-count indictment including felony offenses of criminal possession and sale of firearms.

He pleaded not guilty, according to his attorney, Terence Sweeney.

Delta last month said it permanently revoked the travel privileges of Mr. Henry’s mother, whom the airline wouldn’t identify.

The airline said the alleged gun plot hasn’t prompted new changes to its buddy-pass program because anyone who uses such a pass is required to go through a Transportation Security Administration screening checkpoint.

Most misuses of the buddy passes are less dramatic. Delta and United, in their memos last year, referenced “pass travel brokers” who run underground businesses illegally selling the passes, employees who fraudulently designate individuals as eligible family members, and those who use the privileges for themselves or family members to travel for other jobs or side businesses, which is prohibited.

Delta has posted responses on Craigslist and other online classified-ad websites telling potential shoppers that the “discounted tickets” being offered aren’t for confirmed seats and flout the rules of its employee-travel program. A spokesman said the airline has disciplined or fired some of the ticket sellers, but declined to say how many employees were caught trying to make money off their travel privileges.

American Airlines Group Inc., the world’s largest airline by traffic, last September revised its flight-perk policies to meld those of its American and US Airways units. Now, American retirees seeking a free seat have to wait behind active employees. Previously, both groups got the same crack at any empty seats, with check-in time acting as the determining factor. US Airways workers lost their boarding priority based on seniority, with active employees having first dibs.

A group of retired American flight attendants sued the company in a state court in Chicago, seeking class-action status for breach of contract for putting retirees behind at least 500,000 current employees and their families in landing free seats.

American said it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Airlines say they must manage the huge, complex programs closely to ensure they aren’t giving away the store or displacing paying passengers. U.S. airlines, after years of losses and restructuring, have grown increasingly profitable in recent years, in part by becoming much more rigorous about how they balance costs and revenues. In industry lingo, flying standby with little or no charge is called “non-rev travel,” for non-revenue.

American Airlines estimates that its American and US Airways employees and retirees and their families and friends alone flew on 5.3 million flight segments in the first 11 months of last year. The combined company has about 100,000 employees but a total of about 700,000 people have direct access to the program once retirees and employees’ families are counted. On top of that there are more than 800,000 potential buddy-pass riders.

United this month began requiring buddy-pass riders outside the continental U.S. to be accompanied by an employee or designate. American recently reduced the number of one-way buddy passes it give retirees to eight from 24, but parents and companion trips no longer come out of this bank. Active employees get 16 such passes.

Despite the tighter reins on such programs, many airline employees and retirees value the arrangements.

“You fly for free if there’s an empty seat, but there are no guarantees,” said Pat Friend, a retired 42-year United attendant and former union leader. On a trip last month from Newark, N.J., to Tulsa, Ms. Friend and her sister stood by for seven flights before finally getting on. But she is philosophical. “I’m retired. I can go when I want to go and stay as long as I want.”

Ms. Friend said she rarely used buddy passes while she was eligible to receive them as an active employee. “I didn’t know what they were going to do,” she said of potential recipients. “Will they screw things up and ruin your privileges?”

Indeed, the airlines encourage their employees to educate buddies about good behavior, and in some cases even spell out do’s and don’ts for such travelers. The latest instructions from US Airways include dress-code guidelines, which deem as unacceptable clothing that is “torn, faded, soiled, wrinkled, cut-off, has ragged edges or holes; clothing with offensive graphics or terminology; and provocative or revealing clothing such as micro/mini-skirts, bare midriff, halter, tank, tube or bra tops.”

The instructions also require that buddies “maintain a polite, cooperative demeanor during travel and refrain from discussing…the fact that you are flying at a reduced fare with other passengers.”

Free Trip?

Airlines give employees, retirees, their families and friends the chance to fly for free or at reduced rates if they stand by and seats are open. The boarding priority pecking order is complex, as shown in general outline by United Airlines’ typical rules:

FIRST PRIORITY: Active and retired workers and eligible family members with special “vacation passes” that boost their boarding priority go first, based on their seniority

SECOND: Active workers and their families on “personal passes” board next, again by seniority

THIRD: Retirees and families with personal passes go after active workers, by seniority

FOURTH: Other airlines’ workers traveling on company business can board next

FIFTH:United suppliers go after that

SIXTH: Other airlines’ workers traveling on reduced-price tickets

SEVENTH:Buddy passes given out to extended family members of employees

LAST TO BOARD: Buddy passes given out to friends

Story and comments:   http://www.wsj.com

Schweizer G-164B, N8214S: Accident occurred May 09, 2013 in Biggs, California

http://registry.faa.gov/N8214S

NTSB Identification: WPR13LA223
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, May 09, 2013 in Biggs, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/13/2014
Aircraft: SCHWEIZER AIRCRAFT CORP G-164B, registration: N8214S
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that, while in the traffic pattern for landing, he was told by ground operations personnel that maintenance was being performed on the runway. The pilot scanned the area and saw trucks parked on the south end of the airstrip property but nothing on the runway. The pilot continued the landing, and taxied the airplane down the runway after landing. Although the pilot was performing s-turns for visibility purposes, he did not see service equipment on the runway, and the airplane collided with it and the operator of that equipment. The operator, who was fatally injured, was pushing a blower down the center of the runway and was wearing hearing protection at the time of the collision. It is likely that, due to the hearing protection and the sound of the blower, the operator did not hear the airplane. Postaccident examination of the airplane revealed minor damage to both the inlet scoop and the lower right wing lower surface. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s failure to adequately monitor the runway environment during taxi, which resulted in an on-ground collision.

On May 9, 2013 about 1630 Pacific daylight time, a Schweizer, G-164B, bi-wing, tail-wheel airplane, N8214S, collided with runway service equipment during the landing roll at the William's Ag Services airstrip, Biggs, California. The pilot was not injured; the operator of the service equipment was fatally injured. The airplane, which sustained minor damage, was registered to Clarence E. Williams, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, as a post-maintenance repositioning flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Yuba County Airport, Marysville, California about 1615.

The pilot reported in a written statement to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge that he entered the traffic pattern on an angled downwind approach, then descended down to 500 feet above ground level. He announced his intentions to land and was told by Williams Ag Services operations that maintenance was being performed on the south end of the runway. The pilot scanned the area and saw trucks parked on the south end of the airstrip property. He further stated he observed nothing on the runway. The pilot landed mid-field on runway 18 and started performing S-turns due to restricted front view of the tailwheel airplane while taxiing. Soon thereafter, he felt the collision, immediately applied the brakes and came to a stop on the runway. The flight was uneventful, up until the collision. 

The operator of the service equipment was part of a maintenance crew repairing the runway. No other personnel were in the area at the time of the accident. The operator was pushing an 8 horsepower blower down the center of the runway and was wearing hearing protection. 

An examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed minor damage to both the inlet scoop and the lower right wing lower surface.

Willie Valdez Suarez
About a year and a half ago, 66-year-old Willie Suarez left his home state of Texas—and his wife and daughter—on business in Butte County. Suarez worked for Arrow Asphalt and he’d been hired to repave the landing strip at Williams Ag Services, a crop-dusting business in Biggs. But while he was working on the tarmac, a small plane came in for a landing and, the pilot apparently not seeing Suarez, struck him with a propeller, killing him instantly.

“His family misses him. His daughter misses her father; his widow misses her husband,” said Stewart Galbraith, a Chico attorney who’s representing the family in its lawsuit against Williams Ag Services. “It’s a difficult situation. [Plus], financially he was the breadwinner.”

Galbraith, who is working on the case along with fellow Penney & Associates attorney Robert Brannen, filed a wrongful death complaint with Butte County Superior Court last month alleging general negligence and premises liability on the part of Williams Ag Services. He’s representing Suarez’s daughter, 17-year-old Alexis Suarez; his widow, LaKeitha Hoskins; and sister, Linda Suarez. While nothing can ease the pain of losing a loved one, he said he hopes to win a settlement that will help ease the family’s financial strain.

“We’re looking for what’s fair and reasonable. I have no specific number in mind,” Galbraith said by phone. “It’ll depend on how people testify, and how the evidence comes in.”

The complaint explains the circumstances of Suarez’s death and the reasons for alleging Williams Ag Services is responsible.

According to the complaint, Suarez was working as a laborer for Arrow Asphalt Paving Co. in May 2013. His company was hired to repair and pave portions of the airstrip owned by Williams Ag Services and on the morning of May 9, Suarez was doing just that.

“Williams [Ag Services] chose to keep the airstrip active during the ground repair work with its aircraft using the airstrip throughout that day for takeoffs, landings, and taxiing,” the complaint reads. “As a legal result of its negligent acts and omissions, during the afternoon of May 9, 2013, an aircraft owned and operated by Williams [Ag Services] collided with [Suarez] while he was working on the subject airstrip, causing his instantaneous death.”

The Enterprise-Record covered the incident at the time and better explains the circumstances, as described by now-Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “The design of the crop-dusting plane puts its nose at an upward angle when it’s on the ground,” a story on May 11 reads. “That requires the pilot to zig-zag down the runway to be able to see ahead, Honea said. As the unidentified pilot was making a sweeping S-turn, the propeller hit Suarez …”

The E-R and KCRA both reported that family had told detectives Suarez was severely hearing impaired, which would limit his ability to hear the plane coming. Galbraith could not confirm this.

He said that cases like these typically last a few months. A phone message left with Williams Ag Services for comment was not returned by press time.

“I’ve worked on other wrongful death cases, and every case is unique,” Galbraith said. “This one is very unique. How often does an airplane hit a pedestrian?”

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