Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pilot to go to trial over death of child in plane crash: Maule M5-235C, VH-HOG

A Goonengerry pilot who crashed his ultra light into the Clarence River at Ewingar last April, killing an 11-year-old girl, will stand trial in the District Court.

John Patrick Crumpton appeared in Lismore Local Court yesterday supported by family members and he was represented by his solicitor, Ms O'Shannessy.

The then 54-year-old stands accused of hitting a powerline then crashing his Maule M-5 light plane into the Clarence River on April 12, 2014.

Kayla Whitten was killed in the crash.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report on the incident released in January found that after hitting powerlines, the plane flipped and came to rest with the cabin upside down and underwater.

Both Mr. Crumpton and Kayla's father, 36, escaped through a forward door, but they could not free Kayla from the back of the flooded cabin.

Mr. Crumpton was charged with manslaughter, causing reckless grievous bodily harm, flying an aircraft below 500 feet, reckless wounding and operating an aircraft recklessly endangering a person or property.

On March 20, an additional charge of operating an aircraft recklessly to endanger the life of a person was laid under Section 20 A1 of Civil Aviation Act.

Mr.  Heffernan also asked Magistrate David Heilpern to amend the wording of two charges.

The manslaughter charge was amended to include the words "did unlawfully kill Kayla Whitton" by Mr. Heilpern.

The operating an aircraft recklessly charge was amended to include "did operate VH-HOG being reckless as to whether the manner of operation could endanger a person, namely David Whitton".

Ms.. O'Shannessy told the court charges of flying an aircraft below 500 feet and operating an aircraft recklessly endangering the life of a person would be listed as backup charges to be considered during sentencing.

Mr. Crumpton waived his right to a committal hearing in the District Court.

Mr. Heilpern adjourned Mr Crumpton's matters until a date in May at Lismore District Court.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.northernstar.com.au

What happened

On 12 April 2014, a Maule M-5 aircraft, registered VH-HOG, collided with a powerline spanning the Clarence River, approximately 50 km west-south-west of Casino, New South Wales. The pilot was accompanied on the private category flight by two passengers, an adult and a child. The aircraft departed controlled flight after the wirestrike and impacted the water, coming to rest inverted with the cabin submerged.

The pilot and front-seat adult passenger escaped the cockpit through one of the forward doors and attempted to free the rear-seat child passenger from the flooded cabin. After repeated attempts by the pilot to open the rear-right cabin door, the rear-seat passenger was recovered through a cockpit door. Sustained attempts to resuscitate the rear-seat passenger were unsuccessful.

What the ATSB found

The aircraft was capable of normal operation prior to the wirestrike. The weather conditions in the vicinity were suitable for visual flight.

The wirestrike and resulting loss of aircraft control was an unintended consequence of the pilot’s spur of the moment decision to fly at very low level along the river, in an unfamiliar environment and below the minimum stipulated height for flights over unpopulated areas. The pilot reported seeing the powerline cables just before the collision, but with insufficient time to avoid a wirestrike. The pilot did not hold an approval to conduct low-flying operations and had not completed any training to identify the hazards associated with such operations. The powerline was not fitted with visual warning markers, nor was there any requirement for such markers in this case.

The submerged, flooded and inverted cabin increased the difficulty experienced by the occupants in exiting the aircraft. Furthermore, impact damage sustained by the right wing likely rendered the rear-right cabin door unusable as an emergency exit, delaying the recovery of the rear-seat passenger.

Safety message

This accident reaffirms the risk of unnecessary and unauthorized low flying.

Operations at low altitude expose an aircraft and its occupants to a number of environment‑specific hazards and result in significantly reduced safety margins. Powerline cables and other wires, which can be encountered even in relatively remote locations, are typically very difficult to see and present a critical hazard to any low-flying aircraft. In recognition of these and the other specific risks and hazards of low-level flying, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority requires pilots to receive special training and endorsements before conducting low-level operations.

The operation of an aircraft in close proximity to terrain or water limits the opportunity to recover from any loss of control or respond to any in-flight emergency when compared to flight at higher altitudes.


Should Allegiant's mechanical problems at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (KPIE) set off alarms?

CLEARWATER — An Allegiant Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83 took off from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport on Jan. 19 bound for Ohio — and never made it.

Instead, the crew reported "smoke in the cockpit" and headed back to the airport.

That was one of more than three dozen mechanical issues reported by Allegiant pilots across the country from September to March. Nine of the incidents involved St. Pete-Clearwater International.

Do mechanical issues like that one indicate that Allegiant — one of the nation's top low cost airlines — is having problems safely maintaining its planes?

"My colleagues have spent a lot of time reviewing incident data," said Indiana University transportation professor Clinton Oster Jr. "We have never been able to establish that an increase of these incidents is an indicator of a greater probability of accidents."

The report detailing Allegiant's mechanical mishaps was based on pilots' reports and compiled by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Aviation Mechanics Coalition, or TMAC. The Teamsters represent the pilots union, which is at odds with Allegiant. The airline and pilots are waiting for a federal judge to decide whether the pilots can strike.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Allegiant defended its record. "The safety of our passengers and crew is . . . our number one priority. Allegiant has one of the best safety records among passenger airlines in the world and complies with all FAA regulations."

Chris Moore, the TMAC chairman and veteran aviation mechanic who prepared the report, said Allegiant's pilots believe the airline could do more to address mechanical issues.

"We gave our recommendations as to what we think would help them to run a better maintenance program," Moore said. "The pilots think (Allegiant) has a really disproportionate number of air returns and ground returns that they felt were not being addressed."

Three of the nine incidents involving PIE — St. Pete-Clearwater also goes by its three-letter designation — saw Allegiant planes fly back to the airport. In addition to the smoke on Jan. 19, others were due to electrical and pressurization issues.

One flight taxied back to the gate because of an elevator aileron control issue. Two "aborted takeoff" and returned to the gate because of problems with the aft stair door indicator and "uncommanded" movement of the flaps.

Two Allegiant flights that left PIE were diverted to Orlando Sanford International Airport, one with an "inoperative center fuel tank boost pump" and the other with a "left windshield anti-icing device" failure. That same windshield problem caused an Allegiant plane that left Orlando Sanford International to divert to PIE.

The pilots said they're concerned given the age of the airline's fleet: 70 percent of Allegiant's aircraft have an average age of 22.2 years, according to the report. About 77 percent of the fleet — 53 out of 69 jets — were built in the 1980s.

Those older planes are serviced by inexperienced mechanics, the union report said, noting that 55 percent of Allegiant's 1,800 mechanics have less than four years' experience and 35 percent have less than two years.

But Oster said that while airframes age, airplane systems are regularly updated.

"Just because the airplane is old," he said, "doesn't necessarily mean the components are old."

Original article can be found here: http://www.tampabay.com

Should The Government Get Out Of The Air Traffic Control Business?

Keeping track of the traffic in the skies above us is a big job. The nation's air traffic control system has been reliable, but it's not very efficient. And efforts to replace it with newer technology have gotten bogged down by a combination of uncertain congressional funding and the slow-moving federal bureaucracy. Now, some in Congress want to get the government out of the air traffic control business.

The Federal Aviation Administration says some 7,000 aircraft are over the U.S. at any given time.

In the tower at Washington's Reagan National Airport, controllers stare at computer screens with radar images of arriving and departing flights. It's pretty much how controllers have operated since the dawn of the jet age. And it has some drawbacks, says Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center, a transportation think tank. "For example, right now because we're using radar-based systems, we cannot land as many planes within a given airspace, particularly in congested places like the New York region, as we could if we could track them more effectively."

Schank says that would mean controllers "could narrow the separations between the aircraft."

The FAA has a solution to the inefficient radar. It's called NextGen, and very simply put, it would replace the current air traffic control system with one based on GPS satellites, which would be more precise and allow more flights, closer together. Problem is, the FAA has been working on NextGen for over a decade now, and it still has a long way to go. At a recent congressional hearing, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., argued that "in the same amount of time that we've pursued NextGen, Verizon has updated its wireless system not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the last 10 years."

So Shuster and others in Congress, along with the airline industry, think it's time for someone other than the FAA to operate the air traffic control system. Sharon Pinkerton, vice president of the industry trade group Airlines for America, says air traffic control is "very technology focused and we need to have a very nimble organization ... one that's not subject to politics or an annual appropriations process; that's going to enable it to get NextGen done quickly."

Some put the blame on the FAA for the snail's pace rollout of NextGen. Robert Poole, a transportation analyst with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, calls the air traffic control function of the FAA "a 24-hour, seven days a week, high-tech service business trapped inside a government bureaucracy."

By contrast, Poole says, an air traffic system operated outside the FAA "wouldn't have civil service culture, they wouldn't be as risk-averse and status quo oriented as they are, they'd be able to hire and keep really top-notch engineers and software writers and program managers and hold them accountable for results."

And it's not just industry and the GOP that support extracting the air traffic control organization from the FAA. The union that represents air traffic controllers is on board too.

"The status quo is unacceptable," says Patricia Gilbert, vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. She says the biggest problem with the current system is the way it's been funded, or not funded, by Congress. "We have had the national air space system subjected to a full government shutdown. In addition to that, the sequester cuts had furloughed employees including air traffic controllers back in 2013." She says that has made it difficult to ensure a system with "predictable and stable funding."

Separating the air traffic control function from the rest of the FAA would not be simple, but there are models.

In Canada, for instance, the system is run by a nonprofit corporation and funded by the user fees. Backers in the U.S. say big capital expenses, like the $40 billion it will cost to fully build out the NextGen GPS system, could be raised on the bond market.

Still, there are skeptics. The FAA says it's been making steady progress in implementing NextGen. Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington wonders if spinning off the air traffic controllers is really necessary. "Airlines are making money, the system is safe and the FAA with close congressional oversight is making progress on NextGen," Larsen says. "So the question that has to be asked is: What's the problem we're trying to tackle when we talk about reforming our air traffic control system?"

Congress is now in the process of what it calls reauthorizing the FAA for the next five years. It's possible reorganizing the air traffic control system could be a part of that effort.

Original article can be found here: http://www.npr.org