Thursday, December 22, 2005

All I want for Christmas is a four-inch blade

Today, the new Prohibited Items List for air passengers goes into effect. The changes to the list of prohibited items were announced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) earlier this month. The announcement includes the following paragraph:
Beginning December 22, scissors with a cutting edge of four inches or less and tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers smaller than seven inches will be permitted on board. Scissors longer than four inches and tools such as crowbars, drills, hammers, and saws will continue to be prohibited from carry-on bags. Lighters will continue to be banned from the cabin of aircraft and in checked baggage.
Flight attendants, in particular, are very unhappy with this change. Several flight attendant unions have come out officially against the new measure.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents cabin crews at American Airlines, issued a news release earlier this month in response to the changed rules:
"We are appalled that we are not being listened to by the federal government as they downgrade cabin security standards," said APFA President, Tommie Hutto-Blake. She continued, "There is absolutely no reason for these potential weapons to be on board the aircraft. Passengers are free to transport these items in their checked luggage. We believe that there are many issues that need to be addressed to streamline the passenger screening process and putting passengers and cabin crew at greater risk is not the answer."

The TSA confiscates tens of thousands of items a day at airports, mostly sharp objects. It should be noted that had the sharp objects used as weapons by terrorists on 9/11 been confiscated, it would have changed the course of history.
APFA is urging its members to write to TSA Assistant Secretary Edmund Hawley, as well as their representatives in the U.S. Congress, to voice their feelings about the new rules.

Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants - CWA, also known as AFA, testified recently about this issue before the U.S. Senate:
"The prohibited items list is an integral layer in making our aviation system secure and it must remain in place," said Patricia Friend, AFA-CWA International President in her testimony. "As the front line safety and security personnel onboard every commercial passenger aircraft in this country, we believe that these proposed changes will further endanger the lives of all flight attendants and the passengers we work so hard to keep safe and secure."
AFA, which represents 46,000 flight attendants at 21 airlines, has since launched an on-line petition to keep dangerous items off planes. The campaign, called Leave All Blades Behind, is seeking to reverse the TSA's "misguided decision."

Meanwhile, back in the rank-and-file, some flight attendants I know have told me that, until such time as the prohibition of such potential weapons is re-instated, they plan to take their own "blades" along with them on their trips.

"If passengers can have four-inch blades with them in the cabin, so can I," said one flight attendant who works for a mainline carrier. She said she planned to ask her family to get her some nice, sharp scissors - about four inches long - for Christmas.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Record Flight for Boeing 777-200LR

This past week, a new aviation milestone was set as Boeing's longest range commercial airliner, the 777-200LR Worldliner, set a new world record for distance traveled nonstop by a commercial airplane.

The aircraft flew eastbound non-stop from Hong Kong to London's Heathrow Airport, a distance of 11,664 nautical miles (21,601 km). The duration of the flight was 22 hours, 42 minutes.

Pilot-in-command was Capt. Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann, who is the 777-200LR project pilot. In the right seat was Capt. Frank Santoni, chief test pilot for the 777 program. Two more pilots rounded out the augmented crew.

Congratulations to the Boeing team!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Good-bye Boeing 757 -- Hello Airbus A380

Two major events in airliner history occurred this week.

The Boeing Corporation delivered to Shanghai Airlines the last of its popular B757 aircraft to be manufactured.

A few days earlier, the world watched as the newest airliner from Airbus, the enormous A380, took to the skies on its maiden flight.

Of course, each of these events was largely symbolic. With more than 1,000 commercial, military and privately owned B757s still in service across the globe, crews can expect to be working on these aircraft for many years to come. Conversely the A380, which still needs to be certified by the various airworthiness authorities around the world, will not be ready for delivery until mid-2006, at the earliest.

Introduction of the A380 into successful commercial service will require more than mere airworthiness certification. Potentially costly modifications to airports -- including the reinforcing of runways and taxiways, and the retrofitting of gates -- will be necessary before the A380 can begin service.

Flight crews around the world are anxious to have a look at the A380's technologically advanced flight deck, which is situated halfway between the aircraft's two main passenger decks.

Flight attendants are talking about what it might take for them to safely evacuate such a large aircraft in an emergency. As a part of the certification process, cabin crews will need to demonstrate that they can carry out an emergency evacuation of the A380's potential complement of more than 800 passengers, within 90 seconds. The evacuation procedures for the A380 actually will entail two separate and independent evacuations, one for each deck!

Nevertheless, the A380 "super-jumbo" is here, and the management and engineers of Airbus are to be congratulated for their achievement.

Note: The BBC website is featuring a very nice slide show about the A380 flight trials, including a photo of the test crew.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Flight Attendant Fatigue

An article in the Washington Times last week reported on a meeting among representatives from several Flight Attendant unions -- the first ever Flight Attendant Fatigue Summit.

The meeting was held in Euliss, Texas, outside Dallas, at the headquarters of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents the flight attendants of American Airlines. The meeting was co-hosted by the Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, which represents the flight attendants of Southwest Airlines, and the Association of Flight Attendants -CWA, which represents flight attendants at 26 different airlines.

These days, many airlines are pressing their flight attendants to work the maximum number of hours allowed by the FAA, interspersed with only the minimum rest periods allowed by law.

Technically, the carriers may be operating within FAA guidelines for crew rest. But part of the problem lies with how rest periods are designated.

If flight attendants with, say, a nine hour rest period could actually have nine hours of rest, they probably would not complain. The truth is that the rest period clock starts ticking before a crew even leaves the airport after landing. An hour or more may pass before a crew arrives at their layover hotel. At that point, "rest" may still be hours away.

During a rest period, a flight attendant will likely need to find the time to eat -- after first finding a place to eat! Necessary activities such as bathing and grooming also are carried out during the rest period. Then, in whatever time remains, the flight attendant is supposed to actually rest.

If only they had a little switch on their bodies that they could flip to enable them to go to sleep as soon as they got into bed! Instead of being able to rest on command, they often have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep. They have to contend with time zone changes, unfamiliar surroundings, noise, and myriad other obstructions to a restful sleep.

The combination of long work hours and short rest periods for flight attendants is compromising safety, according to flight attendant labor leaders. They would like the FAA to reduce the maximum duty time for flight attendants, and increase the minimum rest period.

I would add that it also affects their health. As a researcher concerned with stress in the lives of aircrews, I know that there is hardly a more important topic than fatigue. I can't help but wonder, though, if "the powers that be" will listen to the flight attendants about their need for more rest.

Here's the first clue that "they" do not really care.

Cathy Lukensmeyer, APFA Treasurer, notes the following in a message she posted on the APFA website on April 1, 2005 concerning the Flight Attendant Fatigue Summit:

Unbeknownst to any of the Flight Attendant unions present, the Department of Transportation had scheduled a "Fatigue in the Workplace" seminar on Thursday, March 31, in Washington, D.C., during what has been labeled "National Sleep Awareness Week," March 28 through April 3. Ironically, no Flight Attendant representatives were invited to that conference.

Ironic indeed!!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Airline Security - View from the Cockpit

On the last day of February, 2005, the TSA re-issued its list of Prohibited Items: that is, the list of items one is not allowed to carry aboard a commercial aircraft, or into “sterile” areas of airports. This prompted me to write a short commentary piece about airline security in this blog, two weeks ago.

By the nature of my work, I chat with aircrews all the time. I know that my views on this subject are shared by many in the aviation industry. Case in point: A group known as the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA).

CAPA is a trade group claiming to represent the views of over 22,000 professional pilots. A week ago the organization issued an Aviation Security Report Card in an effort “to highlight the problems in our nation’s aviation security system.” I was particularly struck by this paragraph in the press release (dated March 10, 2005), that announced the CAPA Aviation Security Report Card:

Airline security still gets average to failing grades in over a dozen subject areas with a GPA a little over 1.1, or letter grade D. Rating “F” grades from CAPA were such critical security measures as screening airline employees, screening cargo, biometric credentialing for crewmembers, self-defense training, and countering shoulder-mounted missiles (MANPADS).

If you are concerned about these same kinds of aviation security issues, you might be interested to have a look at the CAPA website. There’s good information there about things you can do to help change what needs to be changed.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

No knives, no scissors...

...and now no lighters. Earlier this week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) added all lighters to its Prohibited Items List. According to a TSA press release, dated February 28, 2005, all lighters will be prohibited onboard aircraft, and in "sterile" areas of airports, i.e., areas beyond the security checkpoints. The new ruling is to be fully enforced beginning April 14, 2005. (Butane lighters already were officially prohibited as of December 17, 2004 when the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was signed into law.)

One is still allowed to carry up to four books of matches, however.

Would-be terrorist Richard Reid, the perpetrator of the infamous "Shoe Bomber" incident in late 2001, used matches to try to ignite a fuse connected to explosive material embedded in his sneaker. This event occurred aboard a Boeing 767 aircraft, operated by American Airlines, while it was airborne on a regularly scheduled run from Paris to Miami.

Mr. Reid was thwarted in his attempt to blow up the aircraft, and all aboard, thanks to Flight Attendants Hermis Moutardier and Cristina Jones. After Ms. Moutardier noticed a burning smell -- the smell of sulfur that emanates when someone strikes a match -- she discovered the ersatz bomber, sitting in his seat near a window, attempting to light the fuse in the tongue of his shoe. Ms. Moutardier and Ms. Jones, with the help of some passengers, grabbed Mr. Reid and subdued him. The flight was diverted to Boston, where it landed safely. Mr. Reid was taken into custody there.

Subsequently indicted and brought to trial, Richard Reid ultimately pleaded guilty to the charges against him. During his court appearance he admitted, in his own words, "Basically I got on a plane with a bomb. Basically I tried to ignite it."

No knives, no scissors, no bombs, no lighters -- but travelers still may bring up to four books of matches into a secure area of an airport, and aboard a flight. One wonders what arcane reasoning was used to arrive at the exception of four books of matches from the prohibited list. Was it because, as happened in the Shoe Bomber case, the lighting of a match emits a fume that can be detected by the crew or other passengers aboard a plane? If we don't want to allow someone the means of setting fire to something aboard an aircraft, then why the exception for matches?

If passengers and crews are confused by all this, you can't blame us. Every time we turn around, it seems, there is a new variant to contend with in the airport security lines.

Soon after the Richard Reid incident we became accustomed to removing our shoes and placing them on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed. Savvy travelers now prepare for air travel these days by consciously choosing travel attire that will be least likely to set off the metal detectors as we pass through them: no belts with metal buckles, no metal underwires in bras, no loose change or keys in the trouser pockets. Oh yes, and be sure to take along a handbag that has a zippered pocket somewhere inside, so that you can stow the jewelry you intended to wear until you have passed the security check.

Writer James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic , addressed this topic in an article he wrote for the magazine's January/February 2005 issue:

Are the measures worthwhile? They certainly reduce one specific danger: that the plane will be brought down by a shoe bomb or some other explosive device concealed in a passenger's clothing or carry-on luggage. But they probably make no difference in the odds of another 9/11-style attack, now that cockpit doors have been reinforced and passengers know they must not let a hijacker succeed. And they also do nothing to reduce the risk of explosions in the cargo hold, since most airborne cargo containers are not screened at all, even when carried on passenger airplanes. [James Fallows, "Success without victory, " The Atlantic, January/February, 2005, p. 82.]
I can tell you that this view echoes that of aircrews all over the world. They tell me that they are far more concerned with what's lurking undetected in the cargo hold than they are with what passengers might bring aboard an aircraft these days. They're worried about attacks on civilian aircraft by terrorists armed with shoulder-fired missiles. And they complain that it is ridiculously easy for unauthorized persons to gain access to supposedly "secure" areas of some airports.

Okay, TSA. No knives or scissors. No lighters. We hear you!

Now, for the sake of the crews, the passengers -- and, perhaps, the future of the airline industry as we know it -- how about spending more time, effort, and a lot more money (if that's what it takes) on resolving the bigger threats.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ready for pushback...

I'm a research psychologist. I am interested in the health and well-being of Aircrews (both Pilots and Flight Attendants), and aviation Ground Crews. I come by this interest naturally, since I have several close family members who work in aviation.

For the last couple of years, I have been studying "stress" in Aircrews and aviation Ground Crews -- both occupational/"on-the-job" stress, and that which arises from home and personal life -- all of which interact, of course. I try to determine the sources of stress for these individuals, what they do to cope, and I attempt to measure some of the outcomes of that stress, particularly in regard to health (both mental and physical).

I began my research with commercial airline and freight crews. Later I expanded the studies to include "corporate" crews -- that is, the sector of aviation that includes aircraft owned by corporations and individuals, the "on-demand" charter carriers, and the fractionally-owned business aircraft.

I focus entirely on the people who work in aviation in one capacity or another. I do follow topics such as the business of aviation, government regulation of the industry, aviation labor unions, and so on, but the focus of my interest in these topics is, "How does this affect the individual crewmembers in their daily lives?"

So, in addition to formally collecting and analyzing data from my research participants, I spend a lot of time each day searching for and reading background material. I read aviation-related news; I follow news, research and other information about health and medical topics as well, sifting for material that could be relevant to the lives and well-being of those who fly for a living, and their colleagues on the ground.

Additionally, I read many on-line forums devoted to aviation and flying. I actively participate in a few of those, too, sometimes asking questions, and sometimes offering comments or answers to others' questions when I feel I have something relevant to say. Yes, there's a lot of fluff and junk on some of those forums, but there's a lot of good information and serious opinion as well. I've learned a lot about aviation, and about the people who work in aviation, from those forums!

As I go along, I find myself continually emailing articles or links to others, posting links on the forums, printing this and that for my background files, bookmarking pages for future review, and so on. I carry on email and telephone dialogues about all this with family members, colleagues and some of my research participants (many of whom have become true friends), and assorted other folk.

Gradually, the idea formed to put the product of all that sifting and reviewing and discussing together in some central on-line location that my many 'correspondents' -- and anyone else with an interest in the topics -- could go to read it.

The idea finally crystallized last week: I decided to initiate this blog.

What I have in mind to do with this blog is to create a place where I can collect and display links to news and other material, embedded in a bit of crew-centered commentary. I intend to do this in an informal, conversational mode.

I want this blog to say, "Here are some highlights of what I found 'out there' on the web today, and here is how I think it relates to the interests of Aircrews and other aviation folk."

I'd be delighted if the readers would add their own points of view to the conversation by adding their comments.