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Two runway incursions in Cleveland under NTSB scrutiny

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Two runway incursions this month occurring under the watch of the same developmental air traffic controller are under investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The two incidents occurred in a span of roughly three weeks. On 3 June the developmental controller under the supervision of a certified controller cleared a Southwest Boeing 737 to taxi into position on the same runway where an ExpressJet Embraer ERJ-145 was cleared for takeoff.

NTSB says the ERJ crew saw the 737 and contacted the tower controller as the two aircraft came within 500ft of each other on runway 6L.

The same developmental controller on 26 June cleared another ExpressJet ERJ-145 flight to cross runway 24L at taxiway S to depart from runway 24R.

NTSB explains 19 seconds later the controller cleared a Dash 8 Q200 turboprop operated by CommutAir for takeoff on runway 24L. Again, the ExpressJet crew saw the departing Q200 and advised the tower controller their aircraft should not cross the runway. The CommutAir aircraft rotated roughly 1,500ft from where the ExpressJet ERJ was positioned.

In February of this year NTSB determined errors by controllers were probable causes of three previous near-misses at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Fresno, California and LeHigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania.


NTSB: FAA, ABX share blame for 767 fire

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By John Croft
nvestigators at the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) faulted the FAA and cargo carrier ABX Air for deficiencies that led to a ground fire on board an ABX Boeing 767-200 at the San Francisco Airport late in the night of 28 June 2008.

The fire, which broke out in the supernumerary section directly behind the cockpit, began after cargo had been loaded but before pilots started the aircraft’s engines for taxiing. The aircraft was substantially damaged though neither the pilot nor copilot was injured.

The probable cause of the fire, revealed by the NTSB during a final hearing on the incident this morning, was the design of the supplemental oxygen system in the supernumerary compartment installed by Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) during the conversion of the aircraft from a passenger-carrying to cargo-carrying configuration.

In particular, the supplemental oxygen hoses used to supply oxygen to masks in the supernumerary seating area were electrically conductive, and when put into contact with adjacent wiring that had contacted the oxygen lines and developed a short-circuit, caused a torch-like fire to break out from the hose and ignite nearby materials in the ceiling portion of the aircraft.

NTSB investigators simulated several ignition scenarios to determine the most likely chain of events.

The board faulted FAA for failing to require operators through an airworthiness directive (AD) to replace all oxygen hoses found to be electrically conductive, an issue first discovered by Boeing more than a decade ago. The airframer in 1999 had issued its own service bulletin (SB) to 76 operators advising them to change out certain hoses with a new version that included a plastic spacer at each end of the flexible hoses. FAA participated in the development of the SB, but considered the problem to be one of reliability, not safety, according to NTSB officials, and therefore did not release a companion AD.

ABX had been in the process of replacing its hoses, though the SB was focused only on the cockpit oxygen supplies and did not apply to the supernumerary area that IAI had installed.

To correct the problem, the NTSB has issued a recommendation to the FAA to modify its AD process to look more broadly at accessories of similar design to those identified as problematic by service bulletins.

For ABX, the NTSB faulted its in-house continuing airworthiness programme for not solving what had been recorded as a persistent problem with the incident aircraft’s oxygen system for 18 months before the fire. The Board issued a recommendation that would require the cargo carrier to solve such problems earlier.

Also included were recommendations to better separate, isolate and ground oxygen and electrical lines, require smoke detectors in supernumerary areas and perform checks of passengers reading lights that during the investigation were found to be capable of generating sparks.


ViaSat keeps Ka-band connectivity in sights for aviation industry

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By Mary Kirby

As airline passenger demand for greater bandwidth grows in the coming years, ViaSat sees Ka-band-based in-flight connectivity playing an important role in supporting these services.

“It’s all about the bandwidth. You have to have the bandwidth to support high-speed [connectivity] on a cheap cost per bit and have lots of bits,” says ViaSat strategy director Bill Sullivan.

ViaSat is initially focused on developing a global Ku-band mobile broadband network for airlines, the business aviation community, the maritime market and others. But while “Ku is a good first step, we think Ka is a great next step,” says Sullivan.

Eutelsat will launch its Ka satellite in 2010 “and we’re providing the ground segment for that with all the hooks for mobility”, says Sullivan, and then in early 2011, ViaSat’s own Ka satellite is expected to launch.

ka-band

With this capacity, ViaSat is looking at hybrid solutions for aircraft operators that take advantage of Ku-, Ka- and L-band, where it makes sense, says Sullivan, who also acknowledges that air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity – the likes of which is offered by Aircell in North America – could also augment the offering.

“Now that Aircell has built out the system, the bandwidth is pretty cheap and it has reasonable speeds and passengers today are getting good quality service,” notes Sullivan.

ViaSat is not the only firm keeping a close eye on Ka-band for in-flight connectivity.

JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV remains on the fence about the role that Ku-band will play. However, it is looking at Ka-band and believes that “this network will finally deliver the cost and speed that is sustainable for a broadband service in the future”, LiveTV VP of marketing and sales Mike Moeller recently told ATI and Flight Global.


Opa-Locka Flightline Eviction Looms

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By George Larson

Opa-Locka Flightline, which claims to be the only African-American owned and operated FBO in the nation, is to be formally evicted from Opa-Locka Airport as soon as Judge Linda Singer Stein signs the judgment. The reason for the delay is unclear, but it has afforded attorney Willie Gary an opening to appeal the ruling in Miami-Dade County court.

AA Acquisitions, the county’s designated leaseholder at OPF, filed the eviction notice, one of many that have resulted in the exodus of almost all the existing businesses from the airport. Some have relocated, but most have folded their tents. Flightline and owner-partner Anthony Robinson have continued to fight the closures, claiming racial discrimination and citing actions taken to force Flightline out of business.

In a press release, Tricia Hoffler, a partner at the Gary law firm, said, “This is an ongoing litigation and it will be a long, long fight.”

Opa-Locka Flightline logo courtesy of Opa-Locka Flightline


Composition Of Enceladus Jets Still Unclear

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Researchers are looking forward to two more close flybys of Saturn’s strange moon Enceladus by NASA’s Cassini Saturn orbiter in November to resolve continuing questions about the source of spectacular water jets emerging from cracks at the moon’s south pole.

Separate new studies using large ground-based telescopes and an instrument on Cassini have drawn seemingly conflicting conclusions about Enceladus. Direct measurements of Saturn’s outermost ring, made up of water-ice particles from the moon’s jets, with Cassini’s cosmic dust analyzer have found concentrations of salt that researchers believe are so high they could only have been dissolved in liquid water.

Yet spectral analysis of the jets using the 10-meter Keck 1 and the 4-meter Anglo-Australian telescopes revealed almost no sodium in the water vapor, according to a team headed by the University of Colorado at Boulder. The results suggest that the jets originate not from a subsurface liquid ocean, but perhaps from smaller caverns or from ice melting in the heat of tidal friction.

“These are all hypotheses, but we can’t verify any one with the results so far,” says Colorado’s Nicholas Schneider, who led the ground-based study. The results of both studies appear in the journal Nature.

Discovered in 2005 by Cassini, the jets send water vapor and ice deep into space from a series of cracks across the south pole of Enceladus. Data from the cosmic dust analyzer also turned up carbonates in them, and a slightly alkaline pH that could permit the formation of “life precursors” in liquid water with heat measured at the south pole. The plumes also have been found to contain organic compounds.

“Finding salt in the plume gives evidence for liquid water below the surface,” says Sascha Kempf of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, which supplied the dust analyzer. “The lack of detection of sodium vapor in the plume gives hints about what the water reservoir might look like.”

Cassini will fly by Enceladus twice in November as part of its two-year mission extension. On Nov. 2 it will make its deepest plunge into the plumes, passing only 99 kilometers (60 miles) over the surface for more direct measurements of the jets’ composition and density. On Nov. 21 it will pass over the south pole at a distance of 1,603 kilometers to study the “Tiger Stripe” cracks where the jets emerge.

Artist’s concept of Cassini: NASA


Crashed Yemenia A310 faced challenging night-time Comoros approach

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By David Kaminski-Morrow

Airbus has identified the Yemenia Airbus A310-300 which crashed as it neared the Comoros overnight as a 19-year old, Pratt & Whitney PW4000-powered aircraft.

While few details are known about the circumstances of the loss, the flight crew would have faced a challenging approach to the Indian Ocean islands.

Airbus states that the accident occurred around 01:50 today. Weather conditions at the time indicate good visibility – although the approach would have been in darkness – but strong southerly winds, gusting to 35kt.

Moroni’s Prince Said Ibrahim Airport is located on the western coast of Grande Comore. It has a single north-south runway, designated 02/20, which is 2,900m (9,515ft) long.

Aeronautical charts from air navigation authority ASECNA depict a VOR-DME-ILS approach to runway 02, although the wind direction suggests the A310 would have been more likely to land on runway 20.

Charts for runway 20 show a prescribed-track visual manoeuvre, an approach which commences from the south before aircraft peel off to the west, pass the airport, then perform a right-hand 180° turn for final.

Grande Comore has high terrain to the south and east of the airport and approach manoeuvring for both runway directions at Moroni is performed over the waters to the west.

The specific phase of flight and intended approach for the A310 have yet to be confirmed.

Flight IY626 had been conducting a service to Moroni from the Yemeni capital Sana’a, says the carrier, with 142 passengers and 11 crew.

Airbus says Yemenia had operated the aircraft since October 1999. It adds that the aircraft had accumulated around 51,900hr in 17,300 cycles.

It has dispatched specialists to the Comoros to assist with the inquiry, and will provide support to the French Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses as well as investigating authorities.