BA takes its nervous flyers seriously

Watching this new video from British Airways should relax even the most nervous flyer.

This is a preview of a new instructional video for nervous flyers being shown on BA’s in-flight entertainment system from 1st September.

Egyptair – cause for concern?

Just months after they had joined Star Alliance, an organisation that supposedly carefully vets new members, the European Union made it known that Egyptair had narrowly avoided being placed on their Black List of airlines banned from Europe. The airline escaped only after agreeing to specific measures and increased checks.

Now, a new list of banned airlines has been published and, whilst Egyptair has not been banned, the EU has emphasised that it is concerned about the supervision and standards of all Egyptian airlines.

Reading between the lines, this is a very clear message that Egyptair has once again been seen to be hovering below the standards required to fly to Europe – and surely well below the standards one would expect of a supposedly “world class” airline in a major alliance.

Egyptair has done quite a lot in recent years to improve its fairly low standards but they clearly have a lot of work still to do. Meanwhile, it is time for Star Alliance to take a hard look at itself and decide if membership is meant to infer any level of safety or quality.

Be a Pilot for £69

It is common for companies that operate pilot training simulators to rent their facilities to the public. The problem is that sessions can be quite expensive. The facilities that professional pilots require for training are sophisticated and cost a great deal to operate and maintain.

A company called I-Pilot offers a rather stripped-down simulator which is aimed purely at non-professional pilots. They say that the experience of flying is “similar” to that of flying a Boeing 737 but that their systems are not authorised by Boeing – and, no doubt, they are a great deal cheaper to buy and operate as a result.

A twenty-minute session including a take-off, short cruise and landing costs just £69 which is good value considering competitor’s charges and how realistic the experience is.

The company has an existing unit at The Bluewater Shopping Centre and is about to open one at Westfield in London.

Not a bad idea for Christmas….

Managing the News – the Emirates Way

Every day I wade through aviation news stories from around the world to see what might be of interest to readers of Inside Traveller. On Sunday I spotted a story from The Herald in Australia suggesting fatigue was a major cause of the near-crash of an Emirates Airbus in Melbourne. The article was a typical “shock horror” Sunday newspaper effort – plenty of unquoted opinions but very few facts.

The original incident got very little coverage in the UK though our readers were given the full story. An Emirates Airbus nearly did not manage to take off from Melbourne due to a crass error in in-putting the aircraft weights into the on-board computer. The other pilot failed to notice the mistake and two other pilots on the flight-deck did nothing. This was very nearly the worst accident in Australian aviation history. The two pilots involved were told they were resigning.

The Australian authorities are currently producing their report on the incident which will make interesting reading. Whenever such an event takes place there will be a number of organisations  trying to push their own agenda. Pilots will do everything they can to defend their position and blame the company’s work practices, the airline and manufacturer will want to blame the pilots and local interests might want to stir things up as well. In this case, there are some people in Australia who will be quite happy for Emirates to have their reputation damaged. In other words, if a journalist wants to write an old-fashioned Sunday tabloid story, he will have plenty of amunition.

This is where it becomes very difficult for Emirates. The original story was “news” in Australia for a day or two but would have been unlikely to get outside the country. However, Emirates felt it necessary to produce a detailed rebuttal of the story – and this was sent all round the world and appeared in many publications that would never have bothered with the original story.

In other words, by defending their position, Emirates gave the story a huge publicity boost – and there will be plenty of people who will believe that the truth lies somewhere between the two versions of the event and that Emirates are somehow to blame.

Emirates spend a fortune on publicity but in this instance, they were stuck. Say nothing and appear guilty or defend themselves and give the story a huge boost.

We should wait for the official report into the incident before making judgements but it is fair to say that there were some pilots who complained about the working hours on this particualr trip long before the incident.

Egyptair in hot water but what were Star Alliance doing?

The most interesting thing about the revised Black List of airlines banned from the EU is not the fact that Garuda has been removed from the list but that Egyptair narrowly escaped being included.

In the last eighteen months, a total of 75 inspections have been made on the airline’s aircraft and 240 individual safety violations have been discovered, including 69 in the most serious classification. Egyptair were forced to make a presentation to EU officials to show them a full plan that is supposed to bring the airline back to a proper standing. The EU will review the airline again in November.

This is all quite shocking. Egypt has slowly but surely been modernising and bringing its infrastructure up to the standards of the 21st Century. The fact that its national airline appears to be in such a state is a serious setback to the image Egypt is trying to promote.

But what role does Star Alliance have in this affair?

When the alliances first started, they were supposed to be composed of high-quality airlines who would work together to provide a seamless service to their joint clients. Before an airline can join an alliance, it must spend a lot of time and money converting its systems to allow ticketing compatibility and it is also supposed to go through a safety audit. If passengers in Washington or Dusseldorf are going to be sold tickets with United and Lufthansa which connect on to Egyptair services, they will expect the same standards to apply. Egyptair joined Star Alliance just over a year ago.

Does this mean safety standards at Egyptair have suddenly plunged – or, does it suggest that the Star Alliance’s audit was not as thorough as it should have been? We have been concerned for some time that the alliances were so anxious to gain new members that they were not performing safety audits as strictly as they should have.

Passengers booking tickets with Star Alliance airlines in the belief that they are travelling on airlines that operate to a common high standard might be deceiving themselves.

Too Many Cooks?

Earlier this year, an Emirates A 340 nearly crashed on take-off at Melbourne. The First Officer had programmed the computer with the aircraft’s weight but he made a gross typing error. The aircraft was far too heavy for the thrust the engines had been programmed to provide. Only by a mixture of skill and luck were the pilots able to get the aircraft into the air, though its tail still scraped the runway.

The two pilots flying the aircraft were handed their letters of resignation by Emirates on their return to Dubai. It is likely that they could have faced jail for potential manslaughter but we imagine Emirates would have been unwilling to press charges since they did not want to draw attention to the accident.

It might be just about understandable that the First Officer could make the error in the first place but the Captain is supposed to double-check what has been done. According to Emirates, there are four levels of checks which should have caught out the error.

However, what is even more extraordinary is that there were actually four pilots on the flight deck – the two reserve pilots who were due to take over during the long flight to Dubai were sitting on jump seats behind the two operating pilots. How did they not notice something was amiss?

This is not so dissimilar to the crash of the Turkish Airlines 737 at Amsterdam. The pilots ignored automated warnings because, so it seems, they were too busy chatting amongst themselves. As well as the standard two pilots, there was a training Captain sitting on a jump seat who was supposed to be supervising the First Officer.

Unprofessional behaviour can occur with just two pilots flying an aircraft. The crew of the Calgon commuter aircraft that crashed in the States have been accused of gossiping rather than following the “sterile cockpit” rule when an aircraft is close to landing.

Unfortunately, 2009 is proving to be a busy year for crash investigators. It should also be a busy year for air crew psychologists. They need to do some serious work on the behaviour of pilots, especially when there are more than the standard number in the cockpit.

An even more exciting landing in St Barths

St Barth’s is renowned for its tricky landings. Aircraft have to approach over a hill and then begin a very sharp descent on to the runway and make a sharp halt to avoid taking tourists for an early dip.

This video shows one aircraft that did not quite make it. Backseat drivers might like to know that aviation professionals suggest the moment the aircraft tries to touch down, it is hit by a gust of wind and at that time, the pilot should have aborted the landing and gone round. Unfortunately, he chose to try to touchdown again and he very nearly succeeded…

Air France Crash

It is very difficult for newspapers to write anything sensible in the hours immediately after such a crash. There is virtually nothing to say – other than the fact that an aircraft has disappeared crossing the Atlantic. However, most newspapers and television stations commented on the fact that Air France is one of the world’s top airlines and has an “excellent safety record”.

Well, maybe that last bit should be questioned a little.

The crash of the Air France Concorde was blamed on debris on the runway at Charles de Gaulle but Air France had not made some modifications to their Concordes that British Airways had done. Had the same incident happened to a BA Concorde on take-off, it would probably have survived.

An Air France Airbus crash-landed at Toronto and this down to pilot error. The aircraft was a write-off but all the passengers escaped unhurt before the aircraft exploded, partly due to exemplary evacuation procedures by the cabin crew.

More recently, as readers of Inside Traveller know, one of Air France’s regional subsidiaries crashed a commuter jet because the pilot had not de-iced the aircraft. Following other similar incidents to the same type of aircraft, operators had been warned to de-ice this model in specific circumstances but this instruction did not appear to have been passed down to Air France pilots. Fortunately, none of the passengers were killed (though a passing motorist was) – otherwise, Air France would have had some serious explaining to do.

Unfortunately, air crash investigations in France are in the hands of the government and are open to accusations of bias. The French are very proud of their national institutions and unwilling to bring them into public disrepute. The report into the Concorde accident is a case in point because – at the very least – serious questions should have been asked about Air France’s failure to make the same modifications as BA.

The report into the latest accident will pose a serious problem. Air France is a French company but Airbus is also partially owned by the French state. It is possible that one or the other could face some criticism. For once, it is vital that the French put jingoism aside and produce a report that is comprehensive and will be respected by all parties. Airbus will be particularly anxious for this because their worldwide credibility is at stake. If airlines and the manufacturer have to make a few amendments to the way they fly the A 330′s, that is fine. Aircraft types can survive one crash and remain popular with airlines and the public – providing it is known that everyone has learned from the crash.

It is very early to draw conclusions as to what happened but one or two points of interest are emerging. Airbus sent out a service bulletin in late 2007 advising the replacement of some probes. Air France did not fit these. Airbus have also reminded all airlines of the minimum speed requirements as laid down in their manuals.

The report into the Concorde accident made France rather a laughing-stock in some quarters. They must not make the same mistake with this report.

Delayed by an Ashtray

The Daily Mail got very upset about a British Airways 747 being delayed for 25 minutes on its departure for Mexico City because one of the toilet doors was missing an ashtray.

The newspaper was righteous with indignation, as if the airline has simply used all its creative powers to come up with a reason to delay its passengers.  “Smoking was banned on aircraft years ago” fumed The Mail.

The British tabloids are not keen on letting facts spoil a story and The Mail displayed all its aviation ignorance in this very silly article.

The worst thing that can happen to an aircraft is fire. With or without a ban, some idiot might still try to have a crafty smoke in the toilets. You will see that the waste recepticles for used towels have fire firm springs – they are supposed to be fire-proof. Also, all aircraft have to have some form of ashtray in case someone is caught smoking and told to put it out.

Aviation laws vary from country to country, but in most cases these are regarded as “no-go” items. Toilets must be fire-proof – whether The Daily Mail likes it or not. The BA Captain had a simple decision, either wait a few minutes for a new ashtray or have the toilet blocked off for the whole flight. No doubt the passengers on board were suitably relieved that he made the decision to wait for a few minutes.