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.


Darren said...

Thank you Lois! I think about the Air France flight and the poor passengers and crew. Your blog is very interesting and I'm a nervous flyer too...some flights I'm more uneasy than all depends. I keep it all inside since the desire to be somewhere overrides my fears. I'm going to check from now on regarding the Airbus and really think about ever boarding one.


Josey said...

Thank you, Lois. You put your emotions into words so well and stated some interesting facts... But I still can't bring myself to live life in fear. Regardless, my heart goes out to the victims' loved ones.

Laura Foti Cohen said...

Lois, thank you for making the effort to get more information. I too have been scouring the news for some explanation, and your blog had more insights than all of the major news outlets. I can't say any of it makes me feel better, though! The only thing that does is that my next flights are not over the Atlantic during hurricane season. I will be avoiding the Airbus along with that flight path.

Joe Naas said...

Dear Lois:
As always, you seem to read minds! You have this unique talent of writing about events or anything for that matter, that are onn people's minds. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who perished. This especially hit home for me since it left from Rio.

George said...

I may not be an aviation authority but as an IFR rated pilot and small plane owner have a level of training and experience beyond the traditional passenger, and I would like to share some information.

There has been much speculation about lightening in the press. The last commercial plane that crashed due to a lightening strike occurred in 1963 and since then there has been significant improvements to planes to survive just such encounters. And lightening striking planes is really not that unusual, probably scary as hell but not really that dangerous. I know at least one friend that had his small plane hit by lightening with no meaningful damage.

Thunder storms are another matter, there is no plane made that can survive a direct encounter with a thunderstorm; which is why all commercial airlines have on board radar to avoid them.

447 is a tragedy of huge proportions, which will take years to understand assuming the "black boxes" are recovered. While a terrible event there is no reason to believe the air transport system is unsafe.

Anonymous said...


Richard said...

This is all hearsay. I have a good friend who piloted Airbuses and also 747's as well as Mirage fighters and he's now happily flying an A330. If you check the safety record of Boeing against Airbus, Boeing is MUCH worse off ... here's a blog I just found on that matter: Airbus vs. Boeing regarding safety?
Why do people love Boeing so much vs. Airbus? I don't care where the airplane is made, as long as it has a great safety record. Do some research or watch Air Investigations on YouTube, 99% of the crashes that occur are from Boeing aircraft. Why do people feel safer in those planes?
Yeah I know there are more Boeing out there but it seems like Boeing is only 55% of the airline industry today. The older planes aren't usable anymore. Even though Boeing has a 5% more share in the world, that's no excuse to their horrible safety record in my opinion. Regarding Airbus, some say that they don't like it because pilots have no control or whatever. I am training with an Airbus and I find it an excellent plane. Maybe because I haven't used Boeing too much can explain why I like the Airbus cockpit better according to older people who will be responding, but keep in mind that most of the flight, autopilot is used and all of the turns and speed controls are inputted to the system. The only time you are touching the yoke, rudder and speed is when you are taking off and landing, and during emergency stuff as well, such as an emergency descent. But I don't see what I will need that Airbus doenst allow me to do.
Personally I do my best to avoid flying Boeing planes, and I am a very frequent flier. I stick with airbus and embrear. There were actually three cases where the Boeing 737 had a rudder control issue which caused two plane crashes. It took 10 years for the investigation to finally close the investigation and conclude that under certain circumstances, the rudder will fail. This was fixed, but what about the people who lost their lives? There may have been more, but I know that twice on Boeing, the cargo door shut opened out of nowhere because it wasnt closed properly, and two more times the entire aircraft's ceiling (from a few rows of seats) just came right off during flight.
After all these accidents how can people continue to trust Boeing? I really do not understand.
5 months ago
Additional Details
Even though most of the times the incident is due to human error, that's no excuse. When these human errors occur on Airbus, nothing happens to the plane. Apparently they have clearer instructions on how to maintain the plane.
5 months ago