A federal agency is asking U.S. air carriers to enhance and increase inspections of Boeing 737 aircraft in their fleets. The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned about undetected cracks in the fuselage or bulkhead that could cause dangerous decompressions. The problem first drew the attention of the FAA in 2009, after a Boeing 737 operated by Southwest Airlines experienced cabin decompression at 30,000 feet. The pilots of that aircraft were able to complete an emergency landing and no one onboard was injured.
The Federal Aviation Administration is expecting substantial changes in the industry over the next 20 years. The task of preventing aviation accidents is likely to get more complicated if the FAA projections about air travel are accurate. The FAA projects that air traffic will nearly double by 2032. This increase in traffic will put additional pressure on the air traffic controllers. To combat this, the FAA is pushing its new, satellite based air traffic control system known as NextGen. This system would replace the land based radar system currently used by air traffic controllers.
In an effort to encourage air traffic controllers and employees in charge of maintaining radar installations and other airport systems to speak up when mistakes occur, the Federal Aviation Administration has made several changes. The FAA says it will reduce aviation accidents and make air travel safer for everyone by expanding a non-punitive reporting system currently in place only for air traffic controllers. By focusing on gathering the information, and not on punishing an employee for making a mistake, the FAA says it will generate more information and be in a better position to discover dangers before they impact passengers and crew.
The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed the first increase in flight hours required to become a co-pilot for a commercial air carrier since 1973. The previous increase raised the minimum from 200 to 250. The latest proposal raises the 250 hour threshold to 1,500 hours, which would match the requirements for pilots. The new threshold was made necessary by a safety law passed after a Buffalo, New York, aviation accident killed 50 people in February 2009. That crash created significant pressure to review the safety measures taken at regional airlines, as well as the hiring, training and working conditions of pilots.
An air traffic controller with a history of disciplinary problems almost caused an airline disaster at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport last year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The narrowly averted airline accident involved an Embraer ER145 jet with 53 passengers and crew and a Cessna 172. The two planes took off at the nearly the same time on two runways that crossed each other. The planes passed within 300 feet of one another in the air over the airport. One air traffic manager called it a "miracle" that no one was killed in the incident.
The Government Accountability Office released a report last week outlining a significant increase in the number of mistakes by air traffic controllers over the last three years. In addition, the report shows an increase in the incidents of runway incursions at airports using control towers. Many aviation accidents occur on the runway, including the deadliest aviation accident in history in which 583 people were killed when two 747's collided on the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration has identified runway incursions as a significant issue and has had a program designed to reduce this problem since 2007.
Overnight shifts can prove challenging for workers in many professions. For U.S. air traffic controllers, the consequences of falling asleep on the job can be deadly aviation accidents. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reached an agreement with air traffic controllers in an attempt to help them stay alert on the job. The new policies were announced today and coincide with the 2011 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) goal of addressing human fatigue in all areas of American transportation.
We recently shared a story about a flight from Chicago to Reagan International Airport that landed without the assistance of an air traffic controller because the controller had fallen asleep on the job. There have now been additional reports of air traffic controllers napping on the job. While fortunately these lapses did not result in any airplane crashes they highlight what may be a more systemic problem that could undermine the safety of all those who rely on the airlines for transportation.
The Chicago Tribune reports that a flight originating from Fort Lauderdale airport was forced to make an emergency landing after the aircraft suffered a mid-air mechanical failure. The airplane had left the Florida airport at approximately 7:45 on Sunday morning. The engine failed shortly into the flight and the plane was forced to return to Fort Lauderdale airport to make an emergency landing.