Archive: March, 2012
The meltdown of a JetBlue pilot during a flight on Tuesday has prompted a closer look at a problem that is worrisome but extremely rare: Needing to find the unstable pilots among a multitude who are more stable than average. More detail about the incident itself, the charges filed against the pilot and the issue of pilot stability can be found here.
If you watch TV news or follow news alerts on your electronic device, it was hard to miss the story yesterday of an apparent mental breakdown of a JetBlue captain aboard a New York to Las Vegas flight. He behaved erratically, prompting his copilot to lock him out of the flight deck. He began screaming about bombs and terrorists, and had to be subdued by fellow crew members and passengers. He was taken to a hospital in Amarillo, Tex., after an emergency landing. This story includes updated information from today.
The incident is as clear a case as I've seen to support those who say commercial airline flying is much safer today because of two post 9/11 facts: Airlines have made their cockpit doors virtually impossible to penetrate, and passengers have repeatedly shown a willingness to risk their own safety to stop a would-be midair terrorist or deranged person. Some of those security experts are also highly critical of the TSA's airport screening procedures, calling it "theater" to make it appear treating everyone like a criminal suspect with body scanners actually makes flying demonstrably safer.
In an ironic twist, one of the loudest of the critics, aviation security consultant Bruce Schneier, has been barred by the TSA from testifying before Congress on the same topic. Schneier, who I interviewed about this right after the "underwear bomber" was thwarted, was invited to speak to two House committees but TSA objected because he is involved in a legal case challenging the use of the most advanced of airport scanners. Read more about that in an article that includes a link to the legal case filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Higher fuel costs prompted Southwest, followed by all the other major carriers, to raise fares across the board by $2 to $5. Read more about it at this link, and ponder one interesting factoid from the story: Fuel prices for airlines are up 12 percent since the first of the year, but are 4 percent higher than they were a year ago.
The debate continues between US Airways and the City over whether to expand PHL runways and rebuild most of its air field. Are these necessary improvements or costly enhancements that won't relieve air traffic congestion and chronic delays? The story has been covered extensively by Inquirer reporters Linda Loyd and her successor on the airline and PHL beat, Paul Nussbaum. The most recent exchange of opinions between US CEO Doug Parker and Mayor Nutter is in a Sunday Inquirer story, reposted here to create a longer-lasting archival record for easy reference.
US Airways has been in the news for several reasons over the last couple of days. Among the developments, sources say it's talking about merger plans with American Airlines' creditors, American parent AMR says it expects to use its Chapter 11 bankrupty status to abrogatre labor contracts where it can't reach agreements with unions, and US Airways CEO Doug Parker expressed confidence about the airline doing well this year depspite rising fuel costs.
US Airways and the Nutter administration say they are committed to working together to improve PHL and are still friends despite a fundamental disagreement over PHL expansion plans. Read all about it here ...
The industry trade group Airlines for America recently issued a manifesto that outlined what it would include in a national airline policy. The document, which was promoted yesterday in speech by the group's president, called for reducing taxes and regulation on airlines, reducing oil price volatility and improving the air traffic control system. In response, New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey thought it would be a good idea to develop an airline customers' manifesto, defining some those who pay to fly should expect from the companies, given how much they want the government to help them with a national airline policy. Here is what the columnist is hearing from his eaders.
Here are some of my own thoughts about the Airlines for America manifesto (read the article above to understand what I'm saying here):
Most taxes on airlines are effectively user fees, going to government programs that benefit aviation.
We are linking here to a New York Times "Bits" technology column in which writer Nick Bolton expresses frustration with federal airline safety rules against using electronic devices during taxi, takeoff and landing. The prohibition of cell phone talking in flight isn't a big part of the column, which it should be because that's where the controversy has always been: How do you keep peace on a closed metal tube called an airliner with your stranger-neighbor yakking throughout the flight. Airline flight attendants are opposed to changing that rule because they don't want to be cops any more than they are now. And yes, electronic devices may disrupt airplane navigational equipment.
Bolton's column is mostly about the FAA taking another look at whether there should still be a prohibition on using any electronic device during taxi, takeoff and landing. So far, so good. Yes, let's find out more. But the column leads with a complaint that he has to buy a stack of old-fashioned print magazines to read on his airplane flights because he's not allowed to use his iPad to read the same material that he could read electronically.
I'm afriad I miss Bolton's point here: He's being deprived of his electronics for about 30 to 45 minutes or so (yes it could be longer if there are takeoff or landing delays) of a six-hour flight? How many of the stack of magazines can you finish in that time period? Speed-readers perhaps need more time, but most people only need to buy one good magazine, or a paperback book, to fill up 45 minutes. Let's hope the FAA really does determine that we can still fly safely with electronics left on during the times that previous research indicated it could pose a safety hazard. In the meantime, here's another idea: Buy a print copy of a newspaper (even Mr. Bolton's) and read that.