Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Interesting Info You May Not Know About Flying

Just like everyone else, I can’t get Air France Flight 447 out of my mind. It is the last thing I think of when I go to sleep and the first thing that comes to my mind when I wake up. I am not the only one. Many of my friends who have to travel for business and hate flying say they are experiencing the same thing. Some say they now even wake up in the middle of the night worrying about their next flight.

My PR agency dabbled in aviation for a while when we pitched a potential account that makes innovative sensors for aircrafts. I called my contact this morning because I felt that I have been misled for years after aviation experts repeatedly told me never to worry about lightning and/or turbulence. “Just pretend it’s a bump in the road. If you feel bumps when you are on pavement why shouldn’t you feel bumps when you are in the air? Planes are made to withstand lightning. It bounces off like a rubber ball.”

I lived by those words each flight. Now I read that the same disturbances that I was told not to fear probably played a major role in bringing down the Airbus because when you are close to the equator the air circulates in a more intense fashion.

What? I flew close to the equator exactly at this time last year. Why didn’t anyone tell me to duck?

My contact said that there is no way for the aviation industry to really know what happened to the flight. They will give us some politically correct explanations. “We are 20 years away from the aviation industry ever developing a communication system that allows ground air traffic control to talk to aircrafts once they are over 50 miles off our coasts. There is advanced communications equipment now but the aviation industry can’t afford the expense. Each plane is equipped with a satellite phone but it is rarely used because it is very expensive and not convenient.”

What, say that again? Are you telling me that airplanes that travel across the ocean are not in contact with air traffic controllers on the ground? “That’s right. They talk to the aircrafts in front and behind them. That’s it. That is where they get their information from.”

But that doesn’t give them enough time to get out of the way if the weather gets bad. Who do they talk to if they have to go around weather or higher or lower?

“No one. The ocean routes have been traveled so many times that they know what to expect depending on the season. Pilots are given a certain amount of circumference feet to shift around in but that is it. They get a few minutes of advanced info from the plane ahead of them and then they relay it to the aircraft behind. It is like telephone tag. You can only guess how the information changes when it is relayed.”

The last bit of info that really gave me the chills is that many pilots refuse to fly the Airbus. They won’t even go on as a freebie passenger. They claim the tail cannot withstand a lot of stress as we all learned when American Airlines flight out of JFK crashed just a few months after Sept 11 attacks. The FAA’s conclusion was that it was a combination of pilot error and wind conditions. The pilots of flight 587 overreacted to the wake of turbulence and their subsequent maneuvers put too much strain on the tail section. My contact said the current Airbus’ have a tail made out of a composite rather than the metal used in a 757 or 767, their planes of choice.

After reading this essay, please add any info that you may have. I am not an aviation expert but I did talk to one. I am pretty sure that I got all of the info accurately.