Thursday, November 13, 2008
My wife was booked by Air Canada from Chennai to Toronto and back. Just a month before her scheduled departure, I was shocked to see that her itenerary did not exist on the website. I called Makemytrip on the landline and was informed that Air Canada had cancelled their flights to Chennai - maybe because of the economic slowdown and low traffic. I was very upset at first but must now give credit to Makemytrip.com for booking her on Lufthansa on the same ticket, at the same good price that I had got on Air Canada.
I was booked on Emirates from Chennai to London via Dubai and on Air Canada from London to Toronto. I have a frequent flyer card for Emirates and admire the professionalism of this airline everytime i travel by it. Both the flights, from Chennai to Dubai and Dubai to London departed on time. The check in and other formalities were perfect. The service on board was very good and the latest aircraft ensured that we had good inflight entertainment during the journey. Dubai is always a treat to watch. A small sheikdom transforming itself into a major tourist and business destination. Dubai airport puts nearly all Indian airports to shame. Emirates, along with the other Gulf airlines like Qatar, Air Arabia, etc., are slowly but surely eating into the market share of the Indian carriers. Can our government stop this from happening by having market friendly policies?
Air Canada from London to Toronto was professional, but the service was not as good as Emirates. I guess most people working for Emirates are on a work permit that can be cancelled at any time, and that helps the Emirates bosses to keep employees on their toes. This is not to belittle the professionalism of Emirates but to put things in perspective.
Monday, October 27, 2008
“One can’t make a career of serving orange juice with a smile. The in-flight crew soon realizes that” is how Ashutosh Upadhyay, a person who runs a placement agency ‘The Headhunters’ sums up the job of cabin crew in today's Times of India (After Pink Slip - 27 Oct 2008). I believe this is not only the perception of Mr. Upadhyay but nearly every one who travels, or thinks, about air travel. The cabin crew’s job is considered to be that of a glorified server. This is misleading, and may only be partly true. The truth is……
The cabin crews are professionally trained flight crew whose carriage is mandated by regulations across the world. The aim of these regulations is to assist the Captain in providing safe transportation to the passengers while they are on board the aircraft. The aircraft is a very sophisticated piece of machinery and is very reliable, but can have problems like any other machine – the only difference being that this machine is in the third dimension and in a very hostile environment too. Sitting in a pressurized cabin gives one a false feeling of security, as the cabin is maintained at settings that are comfortable for people. This can change any minute. Although the probability of this happening is very low, the possibility always exists. Imagine what can happen to a person exposed to the extreme temperatures and pressures at the flight altitudes.
The regulations lay down the minimum number of cabin crews that are needed to be on board based on the number of seats, not the number of passengers. This is to err on the positive side, keeping passenger safety in mind. In case you have not perceived this earlier – it is the cabin crew’s job to apprise all passengers about the safety precautions while on board. Most people ignore these briefings by the cabin crew, although it is vital for the passengers to be familiar with all of them like belt locking/ unlocking, use of emergency oxygen, actions on take-off/ landing, position of emergency exits, actions on crash landing/ ditching etc. Emergencies do not come announced. So it is best to be prepared and listen to the safety briefings by the cabin crew.
The cabin crew’s job does not finish with just the briefing. They have to ensure that the briefings are complied with so that the safety of passengers is not compromised. Have you ever noticed them going around checking that your seats are upright and the table folded during take off and landing and that there is nothing obstructing the pathways. Most mishaps happen during these two phases of flight and thus these are extra precautions that are taken by the cabin crew.
In case there is an in-flight emergency the cabin crews are trained to fight fires, administer emergency oxygen and any other assistance that may be needed. They are also required to check on the health of the cockpit crew, so that the flight can be conducted without problems.
Once these primary functions of the cabin crew are over, they become the more visible part of the customer service process of the company they fly for. Aviation is also a service industry and thus it is this service that gets highlighted with fare paying passengers. These are secondary functions but have a higher visibility, and thus the perception of most people.
So next time when you travel please try and see what the cabin crew do during the flight.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Well only one thing: that the aviation sector which did a vertical take-off a few years ago is ready for a crash landing - and also that I do not need to be an astrologer to forecast this. Are there any options in these troubled times for the global economy in general, and the global airline industry in particular - an industry that can only thrive in times of excess discretionary surpluses with businesses and individuals. This seems very distant in the present context. Will the low cost airlines survive or would they be consumed in the Jet-King Fisher tie-up?
As per me, low cost in India can only survive if they cut costs and reduce ticket prices, as we Indians are very value conscious. Revenues will only increase if the Indian traveller sees value in travelling by air. Time is still not a premium resource for most of us, as yet. I believe we would pay about 1.5 times of the AC-2 tier fare to travel by air if it cuts the journey time substantially - like say Chennai - Delhi. Otherwise we would plan to travel by Rajdhani Express. How do the low cost carriers cut costs? Maybe switch to ATRs with seating of 45 - 70 seats and hop across doing Chennai - Delhi, via Hyderabad, Nagpur and Bhopal (depending on market survey, of course). I do believe that Tier 2 and 3 cities can provide number of seats per day to any metro city.
We cannot replicate the North American model in India. India has a very large rail network which is reasonably well served, unlike North America. Indians are very value conscious, unlike the Americans. The low cost airline target customers are the ones travelling by AC-2 tier, and maybe AC-3 tier - stretching things a bit here though. I am a great fan of the low cost model - a model that gave an opportunity to ordinary Indians to travel by air, a model that broke the hierarchical structure of Indian society by selling tickets for ridiculous prices. I want the low cost model to survive this down turn. How???????
Any ideas any one??
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
King Fisher has already sold three of its Airbus 340s to Nigerian Airways and has opted to defer its international operations, that were launched with great fanfare. Waiting for more details on the deal.......till then, hope and pray that 'the low cost dream ain't over' yet.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I was on leave for a week, for the week ending 12 Oct 08. I travelled to Chandigarh and back - Chennai to Delhi by Spicejet, and onward by Shatabdi Express. Return followed the same pattern in reverse order.
I was booked to travel by Spicejet on 05 Oct 08 for the Chennai - Delhi sector for a scheduled departure time of 0540 hrs. The baggage X-ray, check-in, and the drop to the aircraft went as per plan and was done very professionally. The door closing was dot on time. The aircraft and the passengers looked well cared for, and the journey was uneventful.
I travelled the return leg from Delhi to Chennai also by Spicejet, departing Delhi dot on schedule at 0615 hrs. Everything from baggage X-ray, to check-in, to the drop at the aircraft were perfect. The occupancy this time was relatively higher. This airline should, and deserves, to survive...I would pray for that.
I would recommend this airline to anyone wanting to travel in a low cost carrier.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
It must be understood that both the Captain and the F/O are human beings and that their performance is susceptible to all human limitations. These include being prone to loss of situational awareness, stress and fatigue; having an attitude and perceptual problems. Other problems may include limitations in the application of knowledge, exercise of judgment, short term memory (working memory, which is akin to the RAM in a computer) overload, and finally incapacitation. Also, we are all familiar with the saying that ‘to err is human’. This saying will continue to be true as long as we human beings have limitations. However, in aviation – a profession that is very constrained by time; is highly stressful; has complex processes; and which is closely scrutinized the media, regulator and public, we can ill afford to have human errors, as these errors can be fatal, and have been so in the past. Human errors are defined as ‘the unintentional act of performing a task incorrectly which can potentially degrade the system’. Errors can include problems in practice, procedures, and systems. Human error has been a major contributor to incidents/ accidents in the past. Here it also needs to be emphasized that accidents do not generally happen due to a single factor. They are a culmination of a ‘chain of events’ of small factors. The aircrew is the last link in this chain that can prevent these errors from turning into incidents/ accidents. To prevent these incidents/ accidents, the crews need to be aware of error management.
Error management can be best accomplished by ‘Error Avoidance’. In case this is not possible then the next step would be ‘Early detection’. Finally, in case the error has been detected late or not detected, then steps have to be taken to ‘minimise the consequences’ as a result of these residual errors. Let’s take an example to understand this process. We have been cleared for a radar vectored ILS approach for R/W 28 at Delhi. The local QNH is 983 hpa and the weather is Rain/ Thundershowers with low clouds at 300ft. We are descending through transition level, and about to change the altimeter setting when the TCAS warning goes off. You are put off for a while, and forget to change your altimeter setting to local QNH with the result that you are now flying 900 ft. below the required altitude. An error has been made. This could have been prevented if the crew had remembered to call out the QNH changeover, after the excitement about the TCAS had been resolved. Once this error has been made, the next option is to detect it at the earliest. This can happen when the PF calls for the completion of the approach checklist. The next checkpoint would be when the radio altimeter is called out and altimeter cross checked. The next stage would be the callout at the Outer Marker, followed lastly by the Landing checklist. In case this error goes undetected then it would be vital to mitigate the consequences of this error by initiating go around at the Decision Altitude, if there are no visual references to land. This is a very mild example of an error and the three step process to prevent incident/ accident. The PNF (PM) by just doing his job of giving the callouts at the correct time would help in neutralizing the error. In an actual case the error could have been introduced by any component of the aviation system involved with the preparation, launch, execution and recovery of the flight. In such cases it may be very difficult, at times, to prevent the error and equally so to detect the error. A 2-crew operation can help in such cases. Our checks, callouts, and procedures have been designed with an aim of detecting and neutralizing errors before they can become problematic. The 2-crew cockpit has the inherent advantage of built in redundancy. It also helps in workload sharing and in ensuring constant crosschecking and monitoring of all actions (by both crew members); monitoring of aircraft trajectory; automation systems and mode status; and aircraft systems and components. To ensure all of this, it is vital to practice CRM. The major rationale for CRM is to enhance crew co-ordination and through this ‘to reduce the frequency and severity of errors’, or error management. Error management can be further enhanced by optimizing human performance in the here and now. What is CRM? NTSB defines CRM as ‘using all available resources – information, equipment and people to achieve safe and efficient flight operations’
Monday, September 1, 2008
On 07 Mar 2007, Garuda Indonesia flight 200 was being operated on a domestic flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Indonesia). The PIC was also the PF. The PIC intended to carry out an ILS approach to R/W 09 at Yogyakarta, and had briefed for the same. ATC cleared the aircraft for a visual approach, with a requirement to proceed to long final and report runway in sight. Although the crew acknowledged the visual approach clearance, they continued with the ILS approach, without informing the controller. Descent and approach were carried out in VMC. At 10.1 miles (initial fix) from the R/W, the aircraft was at 3927 feet (against an altitude of 2500’, as published in the approach chart) at a speed of 283 kts. The PIC intended to make the FAF (6.6 DME) at the correct altitude and thus carried out a steep descent. This did not permit the speed to wash off at the anticipated rate (a tail wind at this altitude also added to the problem). Speed brakes were not selected. He was aware that it was difficult to make the FAF correctly. Flap 1 was selected and thereafter gear was selected down. The PIC called ‘Check speed, flaps 15’. The copilot called ‘Flaps 5’, as the speed was beyond the flap 15 speed of 205 kts. Flaps 5 were selected. The PIC called for ‘flap 15’ twice but the copilot did not select flap 15 as the speeds were beyond the limits. The PIC called ‘Check speed, flaps 15’ again but the copilot did not select flaps as the speed was beyond 240 kts. Also, he did not apprise the PIC of this fact. During the approach the GPWS alerts and warnings sounded 15 times, and the co-pilot also called for a go-around. The PIC continued the approach with flaps 5, and the aircraft attained glide slope close to R/W 09 threshold. The PIC asked the copilot if the landing checklist had been completed, to which he received no response from the copilot. The aircraft crossed threshold at 232 kts (98 kts faster than the flaps 40 landing speed). Ground speed was 235 kts. The aircraft touched down at 221 kts, bounced twice before settling on the runway. Shortly after touchdown, the copilot called for a go around. The PIC selected thrust reverser and continued with the landing. The aircraft overran the R/W, to the right of the centerline at 110 kts. The aircraft crossed a road, and impacted an embankment before stopping in a paddy field 252 metres from R/W 27 threshold. The aircraft was destroyed by the impact forces and post impact fire. 119 of the total 140 occupants survived the accident.
1. Flight crew communication and co-ordination was less than effective after the aircraft passed 2336’ on descent after flap 1 was selected.
2. The PIC flew the aircraft at an excessively high airspeed and steep descent during the approach. The PIC did not go around when stabilized approach criteria were not met.
3. The PIC did not act on the GPWS warnings, and the two call outs by the copilot to go around. (The PIC was 'fixated' on landing the aircraft - was responding to only one stimuli when there were a host of other stimuli seeking his attention. Happens under stress)
4. The copilot did not follow company instructions to take over control of the aircraft when he saw that the PIC repeatedly ignored warnings to go around.
5. Garuda did not provide simulator training to its B737 flight crews covering vital actions and required responses to GPWS alerts and warnings.
Relevant Facts leading to the accident
On 01 Jan 2007, a B737-400 of Adam Air with 102 occupants on board went missing while on a domestic flight from Surubaya to Manado (Indonesia). Last contact with the aircraft was at 14:07, with the flight at FL350. Reports indicate that the flight changed course twice as a result of severe (70 kts) cross wind. The aircraft crashed into the sea killing all occupants. The FDR and CVR were finally recovered from the sea on 27/ 28 Aug, 2007.
Analysis revealed that the autopilot was engaged and was holding 5 deg. left aileron wheel to maintain wings level. Inertial Reference System (IRS) had malfunctioned. Both pilots had become engrossed with trouble shooting the IRS for at least the last 13 minutes of the flight, with minimal regard to other flight requirements. The pilots could not trouble shoot the problem and finally selected the IRS to Attitude. This action disengaged the autopilot, as per design. The auto pilot disengage warning was silenced after 4 seconds but it appears that no pilot was flying the aircraft. After the autopilot disengaged, the control wheel centred and the aircraft began a slow roll to the right. The aural alert, Bank Angle, sounded as the aircraft exceeded 35 deg. bank. The roll rate was momentarily arrested several times, but there was only one significant attempt to arrest the roll. Positive and sustained roll attitude recovery was not achieved. Even after the aircraft had reached a bank angle of 100 deg, with the pitch attitude approaching 60 deg nose down, the pilot did not roll the aircraft to wings level before attempting pitch recovery. The pilots appeared to have become spatially disoriented. Control was thereafter lost; the aircraft had a significant structural failure, and crashed into the sea. The aircraft had recorded a max of 3.5g/ 0.926M/ 490 kts.
Causes as per the Investigation
1. Flight crew co-ordination was less than effective. The PIC, who was also the PF for this segment, did not manage the task sharing; crew resource management practices were not followed.
2. The crew focused their attention on trouble shooting the IRS failure with neither pilot flying the aircraft.
3. After the autopilot disengaged and the aircraft exceeded 30 deg. right bank, the pilots appeared to have become spatially disoriented.
4. The company’s syllabus did not cover complete or partial IRS failure.
5. The pilots had not received training in aircraft upset recovery, including spatial disorientation.
Other Causal Factors
1. 154 recurring defects directly or indirectly related to the IRS between Oct and Dec 2006.
2. Poor Maintenance engineering supervision and oversight.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The crew continued with the tasks to prepare the airplane for the flight. The conversations on the cockpit voice recorder revealed certain expressions corresponding to the before engine start checklists, the normal start list, the after start checklist and the taxi checklist. On the final taxi segment the crew concluded its checks with the takeoff imminent checklist. At 14:23:14, the aircraft was cleared for take-off from runway 36L. Along with the clearance, the control tower informed the aircraft that the wind was from 210° at 5 knots.
At 14:23:19, the crew released the brakes for takeoff. Engine power had been increased a few seconds earlier and at 14:23:28 its value was 1.4 EPR. Power continued to increase to a maximum value of 1.95 EPR during the aircraft’s ground run. The CVR recording shows the crew calling out "V1" at 14:24:06, at which time the DFDR recorded a value of 147 knots for calibrated airspeed (CAS), and "rotate" at 14:24:08, at a recorded CAS of 154 knots. The DFDR recorded the signal change from ground mode to air mode from the nose gear strut ground sensor. The stall warning stick shaker was activated at 14:24:14 and on three occasions the stall horn and synthetic voice sounded in the cockpit: "[horn] stall, [horn] stall, [horn] stall". Impact with the ground took place at 14:24:23.
During the entire takeoff run until the end of the CVR recording, no noises were recorded involving the takeoff warning system (TOWS) advising of an inadequate takeoff configuration. During the entire period from engine start-up while at parking stand R11 to the end of the DFDR recording, the values for the two flap position sensors situated on the wings were 0°.
The length of the takeoff run was approximately 1950 m. Once airborne, the aircraft rose to an altitude of 40 feet above the ground before it descended and impacted the ground. During its trajectory in the air, the aircraft took on a slight left roll attitude. The crew momentarily retarded the engine throttles, increased the pitch angle and did not correct for the left roll angle. The left roll was followed by a fast 20° roll to the right, another slight roll to the left and another abrupt roll to the right of 32°. The maximum pitch angle recorded during this process was 18°.
The aircraft’s tailcone was the first part to impact the ground, almost simultaneously with the right wing tip and the right engine cowlings. The marks from these impacts were found on the right side of the runway strip as seen from the direction of the takeoff, at a distance of 60 m, measured perpendicular to the runway centerline, and 3207.5 m away from the threshold, measured in the direction of the runway. The aircraft then traveled across the ground an additional 448 m until it reached the side of the runway strip, tracing out an almost linear path at a 16° angle with the runway. It lost contact with the ground after reaching an embankment/drop-off beyond the strip, with the marks resuming 150 m away, on the airport perimeter road, whose elevation is 5.50 m lower than the runway strip. The aircraft continued moving along this irregular terrain until it reached the bed of the Vega stream, by which point the main structure was already in an advanced state of disintegration. It is here that it caught on fire. The distance from the initial impact site on the ground to the farthest point where the wreckage was found was 1093m.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
We have a situation today wherein a young pilot with relatively, both quantitatively and qualitatively, low flying experience occupying the right seat with a Captain with over 10000 hours of flying experience in the left seat. This is not an uncommon experience in Indian commercial aviation today. The First Officer is legally qualified and endorsed on the type being flown, having gone through the process of various trainings, including simulator training, flying as supernumerary and supervised line flying before being ‘released’ for line flying. Once released, this pilot though fully qualified to occupy the right seat is diffident. He is overwhelmed by the cockpit environment, the speed of the aircraft, the systems on the aircraft, the procedures – both normal and non-normal, the flying skills required to operate multi-engine jets, the automation levels and lastly the application of the knowledge that he has gained during training. Perforce this individual operates from a position of ‘I am not OK, you are OK’. This kind of a situation would continue until he reaches a stage where he has come to terms with all the above issues. This could, I believe, take any thing from 200 – 500 hours of flying experience, depending on the individual. Does this imply that this individual would be of no help in the cockpit in a 2-man crew? Finding an answer to this question is very vital. Most companies have procedures in place to ensure that such a pilot only flies with experienced Captains.
Experienced Captains come with their own set of beliefs and values. Let’s take two extreme scenarios to highlight the problem. One extreme position is a Captain who operates from a position of ‘I am OK, you are not OK’. This Captain has loads of experience and feels that he can do it all by himself. His body language seems to ignore the presence of the young First Officer (F/O), because he believes that the F/O would be no great help and would at best be a burden. His belief is further strengthened when he finds the F/O withdrawn, diffident, quiet, reluctant to speak, unassertive, unsure and clumsy in the cockpit. On the other extreme, we have a Captain who is knowledgeable about the human failings and the error model and also about CRM techniques including interpersonal relationships, communications, decision making and team work. This Captain understands the limitations of this relatively inexperienced F/O and takes appropriate steps to ensure that he utilizes the strengths of this trained and qualified crew member while guarding against, and at the same time nurturing, his weak areas. This is also the desirable case. The actual scenarios would invariably play out somewhere in between these two extremes and would be easier to resolve than the extreme positions. This is the aviation scenario in India today.