Retro is in…

On 18/05/2012, in Picture stories, by steve

Painting aircraft in alliance colors is something agreed by the partners. Painting aircraft in an airline’s old livery is a decision they take themselves and to be honest, I like this latter a good deal more. The new paint schemes may be cute but some of the old ones still carry the aura of adventure and elegance airlines travel used to be back then.

This Airbus in old Air France livery may not equal the beauty of a Super Constellation but in her own way she is also nice.

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The Final Moments of AF 447

On 09/12/2011, in Safety is no accident, by jeff

A lot has been written about Air France 447 but nothing is more revealing than the sounds and discussion that were recorded on the aircraft’s recording equipment. Those bits and bytes reveal the incredible scene that prevailed in the cockpit during the last minutes of the flight. Here is a synopsis by Jeff Wise (reprinted with his permission) of those last minutes…

At 1h 36m, the flight enters the outer extremities of a tropical storm system. Unlike other planes’ crews flying through the region, AF447’s flight crew has not changed the route to avoid the worst of the storms. The outside temperature is much warmer than forecast, preventing the still fuel-heavy aircraft from flying higher to avoid the effects of the weather. Instead, it ploughs into a layer of clouds.

At 1h51m, the cockpit becomes illuminated by a strange electrical phenomenon. The co-pilot in the right-hand seat, an inexperienced 32-year-old named Pierre-Cédric Bonin, asks, “What’s that?” The captain, Marc Dubois, a veteran with more than 11,000 hours of flight time, tells him it is St. Elmo’s fire, a phenomenon often found with thunderstorms at these latitudes.

At approximately 2 am, the other co-pilot, David Robert, returns to the cockpit after a rest break. At 37, Robert is both older and more experienced than Bonin, with more than double his colleague’s total flight hours. The head pilot gets up and gives him the left-hand seat. Despite the gap in seniority and experience, the captain leaves Bonin in charge of the controls.

At 2:02 am, the captain leaves the flight deck to take a nap. Within 15 minutes, everyone aboard the plane will be dead.

02:03:44 (Bonin) La convergence inter tropicale… voilà, là on est dedans, entre ‘Salpu’ et ‘Tasil.’ Et puis, voilà, on est en plein dedans…
The inter-tropical convergence… look, we’re in it, between ‘Salpu’ and ‘Tasil.’ And then, look, we’re right in it…

The intertropical convergence, or ITC, is an area of consistently severe weather near the equator. As is often the case, it has spawned a string of very large thunderstorms, some of which stretch into the stratosphere. Unlike some of the other planes’s crews flying in the region this evening, the crew of AF447 has not studied the pattern of storms and requested a divergence around the area of most intense activity. (Salpu and Tasil are two air-traffic-position reporting points.)

02:05:55 (Robert) Oui, on va les appeler derrière… pour leur dire quand même parce que…
Yes, let’s call them in the back, to let them know…

Robert pushes the call button.

Click here to read the full article

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My Fifth Mistake as an Air Traffic Controller

On 23/11/2011, in ATC world, by jim

Yes, here I am again. You’d think by now I would stop this self-flagellation, but this is not for me. I record these incidents so you may see the mistake and avoid the same or similar in your life. I noted in my last missile that pride was a key ingredient in most of my mistakes. So it was and is.

Altimetry, a simple system; Know the pressure of the atmosphere and you can accurately judge distance above the surface. But we humans have made it a bit more difficult than stated. We have different methods of measurement. Some measure in inches others measure in centimeters. Compounding this is the insistence of some to measure height above sea level and others above the ground level. In the parlance of the time QNH and QFE.

Because of these anomalies the controller at Rhein-Main in 1957 had to have available the QNH and QFE in both Inches of mercury and Millibars of mercury. This means four numbers. The field elevation at Frankfurt International Airport was 272 feet Mean Sea Level. Therefore a QNH reading of 29.92 inches becomes a QFE of 272 feet less, or 29.65 and the concomitant millibar numbers, 1012.3 and —–.
Each hour when the weather observer recorded the observation on a Dimiphone recording, the QNH and QFE would be given in both inches and millibars. Those numbers would then be written on a backlit Plexiglas placard and posted so everyone in the control room could see the placard.

For those who are interested, the QNH and QFE three letter groups are from the days of Morse code transmission of information. They are from the list of “Q” signals. QDM is the magnetic course to a station, QSY is, “Change your radio frequency to xxxx“. There is a long list of these abbreviations. Many were still used as shorthand phraseology in radiotelephony in the 50’s and 60’s, especially in the international aviation system.

With all that as preface, this is the incident as it happened:

Click here to read the full article

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Viewfinder view 2 – Would you accept your car with wiring like this?

On 11/11/2011, in Viewfinder view, by steve

If you have a camera handy, it is always a good idea to look around you in the cabin. Plenty of stuff to record! Like this under-seat wiring on an Air France Airbus 330 en-route to Washington D.C. OK, all this is low current stuff so unlikely to start a fire but still… would you accept your car with wiring like this?

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It is not easy to work with the airlines – Why the SJU should be careful

On 07/09/2011, in SESAR's Palace, by steve

Having airspace users on board in SESAR is an important development by anyone’s measure. Thinking that having individual airlines involved is the same as having the industry involved is a grave mistake that can cost dearly to all concerned.

The signs of trouble are already there. What do you think about there being a hard-won agreement from the airspace users at one or two pretty high level meetings and then the same users withdrawing their agreement just a few weeks later? The result is frustration on the part of the other partners (ANSPs in this case), confusion about where things were going and, worst of all, loss of credibility of the airlines.

It would be easy to wave this away by just saying that the airline people in the meeting were not up to speed with the subjects being discussed and so they agreed to something they did not fully understand. This would be a rather unfortunate situation and no excuse at all but the actual reality is even worse.

The problem is not new and it is called the industry voice, or rather, the lack of it.

Until about a decade ago, IATA had been recognized by its members as the industry voice on all technical aspects of air traffic management. One of the most important, and difficult, tasks of IATA’s experts had been to forge this common voice, bringing together the widely differing interests and business models of the member airlines so that to the outside world only consolidated, well defined requirements were communicated. This was vital because otherwise the ATM and avionics industries would have been totally confused and at a loss as to what they should develop to meet the airlines’ diverse requirements.

Click here to read the full article

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AF447 – French investigators say it was pilot error

On 29/07/2011, in Safety is no accident, by steve

French accident investigators have concluded that the crash of AF447 was due to pilot error. Investigator Alain Bouillard said: “The pilots were in a situation they didn’t understand!”

Download the latest summary report here.

Get the 3rd Interim Report here.

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Air France and Hungarian water-melons

On 13/07/2011, in Viewpoint, by steve

While Hungarians are being urged by their Minister of Agriculture to buy a few extra pieces of water-melons, thereby helping local growers, French politicians under the leadership of right-wing MP Bernard Carayon are proclaiming: “Air France is Airbus, not Boeing”. Excuse me?

Of course this incredible folly is a direct retaliation for the US Air Force’s decision to source their tanker aircraft from Boeing and not Airbus. At stake now is Air France-KLM’s fleet renewal involving the purchase or leasing of scores of long and medium range aircraft, a multi-billion euro investment decision.

I very much doubt that either Air France-KLM or Airbus is pleased by this ham-handed and totally uncalled-for political interference which, like all such interferences whether they concern water-melons or aircraft, ultimately will only hurt those it was supposed to help.

One can only hope that the French initiative will stop at being grand-standing and will not in any way influence the airline group’s purchasing decisions. Should this not be the case, the French MPs will have given an extra trump card into the hands of those who had opposed sourcing such a strategic asset as the US Air Force tanker fleet from a company under the thumb of a country known to have its own peculiar way of doing things.

In a post back in February this year, we commented: “I tend to agree with those who have said right from the start that a strategic asset like the tankers for the US Air Force should not come from anywhere else but the US. While from a commercial or even operational point of view an Airbus product may have its merits, having such a strategic asset being dependent on a foreign government (however friendly… ) is not a good idea.”

If (and I stress this is still a big if) Air France-KLM is “encouraged” by the French to buy Airbus rather than Boeing it would be easy to picture what might have happened if the US Air Force equipped with Airbus tankers and then found itself in a conflict somewhere in the world not to the taste of some French parliamentarians…

The French MPs should take the example of the Hungarians and if they feelt this urge to meddle, stay with water-melons.

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The final minutes of Air France Flight 447

On 28/05/2011, in Safety is no accident, by steve

There are few things in aviation more nightmarish than an unsolved, major accident. When, on the night of 1 June 2009, an Air France Airbus A330-203 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on its flight from Rio to Paris it was easy to feel that such a nightmare was about to unfold.

The plane went off the air with only a few cryptic ACARS messages being transmitted but not a word from the pilots. Although part of the wreckage was located relatively soon after the accident, there was no sign of the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder.

The search for those vital sources of information was re-launched earlier this year and with success! Both recorders were found and both yielded their secrets to investigators in spite of having been submerged at a depth of around 3000 meters for such a long time.

Although full analysis of the data will take more time, on 27 May the French Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA) published an update to its earlier preliminary reports, based on the data recovered from the recorders.

The update describes in a factual manner the chain of events that led to the accident while also presenting newly established facts.

This is a thought provoking story of the last minutes in life of a very advanced aircraft and its masters who seem to have lost touch with each other…

Download the  latest report here.

Earlier BEA reports are available on EUROCONTROL’s SKYbrary here and here.

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At least the Red-Arrows survived…

On 14/07/2010, in Flashback, by steve

Concorde, QE2 and the Red Arrows in happier days...

I am pretty certain that few in the travel industry would have believed when this photo was made in April 1985 that the Queen Elisabeth 2 would actually stay in operation longer than Concorde would… Yet that is exactly what had happened.

Concorde’s future was sealed when F-BTSC crashed in Paris on 25 July 2000. Air France and British Airways tried to keep the magnificent bird alive after they re-launched service following modifications to the fuel tanks but the operation simply did not make economic sense any more. The last commercial BA flight on 24 October 2003 marked the end of 27 years of supersonic travel…

QE2 continued to plow the world’s oceans, retiring from Cunard service on 27 November 2008. She was destined to become a floating hotel, moored at Palm Jumeirah, Dubai.

The fate of Concorde, the fastest child of the species that killed the kin of QE2, was a bit like a child dying before the parent. A tragedy that hurts… as did Concorde’s disappearance from the skies.

Luckily, the Red Arrows survived and they continue to claim our  place above the clouds.

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Flying AIRE – the pilot’s view

On 30/04/2010, in Environment - Without hot air, by eric

AIRE (Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions) is a joint initiative between the European Commission and the FAA. It is the green component of the SESAR programme. In 2009, 1,152 flight trials in operational conditions were carried out on the European side.

Claude Godel was the Pilot in Command of the first complete green transatlantic flight, operated by Air France on 6 April from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Miami.

Captain Godel and part of his crew on the green transatlantic flight

In a first reaction after this green flight, Captain Godel describes it from a pilot’s perspective, “The AIRE flight is the almost perfect flight for a pilot. On a normal flight you never know how you will be incorporated in the traffic but you are sure that you will fly level at non optimal altitudes, have to beg ATC for better speed, better lateral track. In one word, you spend your time in negotiating or accepting non optimal compromises. The AIRE flight needs more pre-flight preparation but, once off-block, the pilot can expect to fly the best track from end to end, at the best speed and the best altitude. Isn’t that the pilot’s dream?”

He further describes the principle of green flights as a virtuous circle as an optimised flight path leads to shorter flight time, less fuel burn and CO2 emissions which in return reduces costs and leaves fewer place for contingencies. The pilot can thus satisfy the aspirations of modern passengers and himself finds new pleasure and satisfaction in his job.

During the approximately nine hours flight, enhanced green procedures were used to improve the aircraft’s energy efficiency. These procedures, applied at each flight stage and coordinated among all project participants, reduce fuel consumption (and hence carbon dioxide emissions) throughout the flight, from taxiing at Paris-Charles de Gaulle to arrival on the parking stand in Miami. Air France estimates that applying these optimisations to all Air France long-haul flights to and from North America, would result in a cut of CO2 emissions by 135,000 metric tons per year, with fuel savings of 43,000 metric tons.

For more information on AIRE, click here.

This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Eric Platteau, Senior Communication & Public Affairs Specialist at the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

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