Friday, April 10, 2015

Four Boeing suppliers fined after fatal airbag-installation incident

The Department of Labor and Industries has fined four Boeing suppliers for safety violations related to a fatal accident last year. The largest fine, $11,000, was levied against Jamco America.

The state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has fined four Boeing suppliers for safety violations related to a fatal accident at the Everett jet assembly plant last year.

The largest fine, $11,000, was levied against Jamco America.

Jamco and Vartan Aviation, the companies directly involved in the deadly incident, were each cited for serious safety violations.

Jamco, a subsidiary of a Japanese company, supplies Boeing with aircraft interiors. Vartan is a German interiors-assembly firm.

Because of safety shortcomings revealed in follow-up inspections, L&I also cited and fined two other aircraft seat suppliers, Zodiac Seats and B/E Aerospace.

Ken Otto, a technician for Jamco, died in December more than three weeks after an air-bag inflater inside a passenger seat belt discharged during installation and hit Otto violently in the face.

A second worker, a Vartan technician who was not named, was injured in the incident, taken to a hospital and later released.

Jamco was cited because it “did not develop an energy control procedure to protect employees servicing equipment from potentially hazardous energy.”

Vartan was cited for not “informing the mechanic to not expose himself to the potential hazardous pneumatic energy that could be released from servicing an aircraft seat airbag system being serviced by another company’s employee.”

L&I inspections of safety procedures in Everett later found that both B/E Aerospace and Zodiac also “did not develop an energy control program to protect employees servicing equipment from potentially hazardous energy.”

Air bags, a safety device common in cars, are installed on relatively few airliner seats.

They are typically found in the lap belts of business-class seats that don’t have a seat directly in front but are angled to face an aisle, or in seats that face a bulkhead wall or some other hard surface.

If a plane crashes, sensors in the air bag cause it to deploy upward and away from the lap belt, filling the space in front of the passenger to cushion the head and neck.

At the time of the accident, Boeing stressed that the injuries “were not related to air bag deployment, as would occur during passenger flight, but rather were related to the discharge of the inflater while the system was partially disassembled” during seat installation.

Jamco and Zodiac are instructed in the L&I citations to fix the shortcomings in their safety procedures within the next month.

Vartan and B/E Aerospace have already corrected their violations, according to the documents.

The fines for the other companies are: Zodiac $1,200; B/E Aerospace $700; and Vartan $200.

L&I spokesman Tim Church said the fines are set by law in a formula that takes into account factors including the size of each company, its safety history and the level of cooperation with the investigation.

“The law does not give us leeway to consider the death as part of the amount of the fine,” Church said.

Ken Otto’s younger brother Jerry said Friday that the family is pursuing its own possible legal action in the interests of Ken’s 16-year-old son.

A Boeing spokesman said the jetmaker had no comment on the citations. None of the four companies cited responded to requests for comment by press time.

Original article can be found here:

Drought dries up business for contractors in Sacramento Valley’s rice industry

On a sun-dappled airplane runway, it is not hard to spot the cracks and holes on the 3,100-ft. asphalt strip owned by professional crop duster Chris Taylor.

On a normal rain year, the cracks would be sealed and the holes filed. But in the fourth year of California’s severe drought, the runway repairs will have to wait.

“Our business has been down 50 percent since 2012,” said Chris Taylor, owner of Sunrise Dusters, in Robbins in Sutter County.

For small businesses like Taylor’s that cater to California’s rice industry, the state’s prolonged drought is drying up work and postponing expenditures. As rice farmers have cut back on their annual plantings, it’s had a ripple effect on crop dusters, truckers, insurers and others who rely on the state’s rice crop.

Last year, 434,000 acres of rice was planted statewide, compared to 567,000 in 2013, said Jim Morris, spokesman with the California Rice Commission. This year, it could go lower, depending on what happens with statewide water allocations. Most of California’s rice is grown in the Sacramento Valley.

The State Water Resources Control Board said recently that it may have to curtail water to the state’s senior water rights holders, some of whom are Sacramento Valley farmers who draw water from the Sacramento River. If those curtailments happen, it will be the first time since the 1970s. A decision is expected as early as next week.

“We anticipate this year will be at least as challenging as last year, when about one-fourth of the rice acreage was not planted,” said Morris. “We won’t have any estimates on the size of the crop until water allocations are finalized this month.” Last year, more than 100,000 acres of rice was fallowed.

For a crop duster like Taylor the drought has meant a deep cut in income. Worse yet is the insecurity that comes with waiting for water allocations. In Taylor’s case, it means he spends more time watching and waiting rather than buying and hiring.

Normally in April, he is gearing up to drop rice seed, herbicides and fertilizers on fields of about 30 clients spread from Knights Landing to Roseville and the Yolo Bypass near Davis. He typically earns between $7,500 and $10,000 per 100 acres dusted.

In 2012 Taylor dropped rice seeds on 22,200 acres. In 2013, it dropped to 16,000 acres.

Last year: His yellow AT-602 crop duster flew over only 12,000 acres. “That’s a big drop for us,” he said.

Taylor said he is making up for the income loss by laying off two employees and buying used plane parts instead of new. His wife Joni Taylor, who is the company’s corporate secretary, is contemplating taking a second job.

The future looks so uncertain that Taylor is selling one of his two planes.

As for the single plane Taylor is keeping, it will endure bumpier landings, since the runway will not be repaired and he is postponing the purchase of new airplane tires.

“You do what you have to do,” said Taylor.

And, he added, “It’s not just me. It’s the trucker and herbicide maker, and the mechanic (who) are feeling it. It’s a trickle-down effect.”

Joel Corral’s trucking business knows that reality firsthand. His 15-year-old Woodland firm, Corral Transportation, hauls rice and seed for 10 farms in Yolo and Sutter County.

In normal rain years, Corral operates the 10 trucks he owns and subcontracts out another 50 trucks. This year, he will only operate his own vehicles.

“The people we lay off are the subcontractors,” Corral said. “It’s these little guys...who will be in a world of hurt this year.”

Hard choices loom for Corral if the drought continues next year. He said a continuing drop in his hauling contracts will force him to seek employment as a driver for someone else.

The drought has also impacted those who provide aviation insurance to crop dusting companies, said Larry Gault, co-owner of Aviation Marine Insurance. The Oakland-based insurer saw a 20 percent drop in agricultural aviation insurance business last year.

On a normal rain year, Gault said, crop dusters have enough business to keep their planes insured throughout the year. During lean times, some crop dusters choose to remove planes from insurance plans to save money.

“I’ve been in business since 1979 and this drought, for the ag side, has been the hardest,” said Gault.

Insurance is no small cost for crop dusters. Annual premiums can run from $20,000 to $50,000 per plane. Many of today’s planes are equipped with air conditioning and highly specialized GPS technology to identify the exact route over a farm field. Crop dusters like the ones that Taylor owns typically cost between $800,000 and $1 million.

Farmers, awaiting word on their water allocations, have not been able to tell contractors like Taylor and Corral how much work they can expect going forward.

Sacramento Valley rice farmer Steve Butler, owner of Sutter Basin Corporation in Robbins, said working in a holding pattern, as he is doing now, creates staffing problems. Without water allocation figures from the state, very little planning can be done, he said.

Last year Butler got 75 percent of his annual water allocation; this year, he hopes to get at least that amount, which would enable him to plant 2,800 acres of rice.

“You can’t just put an employee on hold for six months and say ‘I’ll call you next spring’, and expect them to be there” said Butler. “This is not the kind of work where you can just snag people off the street.”

Ultimately, Butler believes that rice industry contractors stand to lose the most if farmers cut back.

“The employees of the farmers and the people that farmers do business with, they will suffer more than the actual farmer,” said Butler. “The farmer can eliminate his employees and get rid of equipment to insulate himself, but the employees and other businesses are just stuck facing a much lower income.”

Original article can be found here:

Incident occurred April 10, 2015 at Southern California Logistics Airport (KVCV), Victorville, California

VICTORVILLE — An Omega Aerial Refueling Services tanker safely landed at the Southern California Logistics Airport on Friday afternoon after a fire broke out in one of its engines, authorities said.

The plane landed safely just after 3:20 p.m. and no injuries were reported.

According to County Fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez, firefighters received reports that the Boeing 707 would be making the landing at about 3:20 p.m. She said firefighters arrived on the runway in roughly five minutes and were ready in case a fire broke out.

SCLA airport manager Keith Metzler told the Daily Press on Friday that the plane's crew reported a fire broke out in one of the tanker's engines in-flight. He said the engine was shut off and the fire died out.

The emergency fire response was canceled shortly after the initial call when the plane landed safely. Martinez said the incident appeared to be "minor."

According to Metzler, the planes usually carry a crew of two to four people. It was not known how many were on Friday's tanker.

"The plane was able to land and taxi itself down the runway on its one remaining engine," Metzler said at about 4:20 p.m. Friday. "We're all clear, the runway is reopened and we are no longer in an emergency situation."

According to its website, Omega Aerial Refueling Services is the only company in the world providing in-flight refueling services for commercial planes. It provides services to the U.S. Armed Forces, specifically the Navy and Marine Corps, and its aircraft are based at the company’s maintenance facility at Brunswick Airport in Georgia.

It is not known where Friday's plane was headed to or coming from.

The company operates two specially modified Boeing 707s, as well as a specially modified McDonnell Douglas KDC-10.

The plane is the second Omega tanker to make an emergency landing at SCLA in the past year. Another Boeing 707 tanker made a similar emergency landing on July 31.

Original article can be found here: