07 April 2014

Support Todd Curtis in the 2014 Boston Marathon

The 2014 Boston Marathon will take place in two weeks on Monday April 21, 2014, with over 36,000 registered runners, including AirSafe.com's Dr. Todd Curtis. This will be his third Boston Marathon, and this year he is running with Team Brookline in support of the nonprofit Brookline Library Foundation of Brookline, Massachusetts.

He's asking for your support to help his goal of $5,000 in donations. The AirSafe.com Foundation is also supporting this effort, and 100% of all donations made before race day will go toward the Brookline Library Foundation

Team Brookline group photo

Todd on why he's running
Todd on Heartbreak Hill in winterThe Boston Marathon is more than just an athletic event, it is an event that involves the entire community. I've run the race twice before, and I can assure you that it is an experience like no other. After last year's tragedy, I felt like many people in the Boston area and around the world in that we were determined to make the 2014 Marathon bigger and better for everyone. Your support will help my chosen charity the Brookline Library Foundation, and the rest of the Boston area, move forward in a positive way.

The number to watch
Over 36,000 runners will be in the marathon, and if you want to keep your eyes on Todd, just follow his number:

Todd will wear #29457 on race day

How you can help
You can donate several ways:

Thanks for supporting Team Brookline!

About Team Brookline
Public Library of Brookline on Facebook
About the Brookline Library Foundation

01 April 2014

Key questions about the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

1 April 2014 - As the search for flight MH370 enters the middle of its fourth full week, what is known about the flight is still greatly overshadowed by what is not known. The key unknowns are the location of the aircraft, and why it diverted from its planned destination. The search is concentrated in the southern Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, in an area that is roughly the size of Nicaragua or Pennsylvania, and so far no part of the aircraft has been recovered.

Search area from 31 March 2014

CTV television of Canada asked Dr. Todd Curtis a number of questions about the search and the investigation, and those questions and answers are below.

Australia has deployed an air traffic controller due to the crowded search for MH370. Why do you think they felt this was necessary?
There has to be some coordination of air traffic in the area. In spite of the large size of the search area, which at 120,000 sq km is about one quarter the size of the Yukon territory (and about the size of Greece or Pennsylvania), there exists the risk, however small, of midair collisions. Centralized coordination of the activities of the search aircraft may also enhance the effectiveness of the search.

Malaysia has been criticized for its handling of the search, and on Monday, the government changed its account of the final voice transmission from the cockpit. They told media the final words were ‘Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero’ not ‘all right, good night.’ Why do you think this is significant, and how is it possible Malaysia made an error like this?.
It is perplexing how such an error would be made. Like many, I'm waiting for a detailed explanation for this change from the Malaysian authorities. While the Malaysian government has released the transcript, I'm not aware of any release of the actual recording of the air to ground transmissions.

While it is normal procedure for accident investigation authorities to release only release relevant parts of a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) transcript and to not release the actual CVR audio, typically the audio content of air to ground communications with air traffic control would be freely available.

In fact, in many countries one can legally intercept and even rebroadcast such communications. The site liveatc.net routinely does this for dozens of airports around the world.

It’s been more than three weeks since the plane disappeared – are you surprised searchers haven’t been able to find a single piece of debris?
It is not surprising given that it was about two and a half weeks ago on March 24th (16 days after the aircraft went missing) that a general area of the southern Indian Ocean was determined to be the most likely area to find the aircraft, and on March 28th there was a refinement of that estimate that moved the search area to its current location.

In short, searchers have had only about five days to focus their efforts in the current search area. In spit of these delays, it is possible that debris has already been spotted from the aircraft, ships, and satellites employed in this search. However, confirmation that any piece of debris is from flight MH370 is a rather slow process that depends on the debris being brought back to Australia for analysis.

What about the black box on board – how much time is left to locate it?
Based on the Air France flight 447 experience, if the black boxes are relatively intact and the recording media is not damaged, they can be immersed in the sea for at least two years and still retain their data. It is unclear how much longer such devices could remain in the ocean before the data would be at risk.

There are so many countries involved in this search, including regional superpowers like India, global superpowers like China – have there been jurisdictional issues that have delayed the search/interfered with the process?
There do not seem to have been jurisdictional issues, in part because of a widely accepted framework (Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation) which lays out the responsibilities nations have in the event of an airline accident or missing airliner. Specifically, if an aircraft is presumed lost outside of the jurisdiction of any of the signatory nations (in this case, the presumed location is in international waters), the country of registration, in this case Malaysia, has primary responsibility for the investigation.

There appears to have been management and coordination issues that have delayed the progress of the investigation. This is partly due to the nature of this event where it was necessary to use military information like radar data from several countries, and unconventional resources and procedures such as the analysis of data from communications and imaging satellites.

No one country had all of these resources under their direct supervision, so it is likely that there would have been delays in the process regardless of which nation was leading the investigation.

Winter is coming to the Southern hemisphere – what sort of challenges is that going to cause?
It is likely that search operations will be hampered by the rougher sea conditions and more challenging weather conditions that accompany winter in that part of the Indian Ocean. It would also depend on the progress made in the investigation by the time winter arrives, and on the kinds of resources used in the search and recovery effort. If parts of the aircraft have been identified at a specific location on the bottom of the ocean, documenting and retrieving the wreckage could potentially take place even in winter.

Related Resources

BBC radio interview from 13 March 2014 discussing the possibility that the aircraft continued to fly for several hours.

18 March 2014

Four plausible scenarios for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

It has been more than 10 days since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a 777-200ER, deviated from its intended route during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China. Since then, no trace of the aircraft has been found, and the fate of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members is unknown. Some of the circumstances around the disappearance of the aircraft, especially the lack of any communication from the aircraft after it radically changed course, has led to speculation in the media and elsewhere about why the aircraft went missing.

Although there is currently no physical evidence from the aircraft or data from the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder (the black boxes) that can help investigators and the public understand what happened and why it happened, there is a substantial amount of other information, including radar data and data relayed from the aircraft to a satellite, that provide insights into the general kinds of situations that the crew may have had to deal with.

The investigation into the disappearance of the flight is still in the earliest phases, but that has not prevented the media and the public from speculating about what happened to the flight. While many possible scenarios have been put forth by the public and the media, some are much more plausible given the available evidence. Based on that evidence and a comparison with a number of past accidents, incidents, and acts of sabotage or hijacking; the following four scenarios are consistent with what is known about the behavior of the flight.

  1. Hijacking not involving the crew - One or more of the passengers hijacked the plane against the wishes of the flight crew and cabin crew.
  2. Hijacking involving the crew - One or more flight crew or cabin crew members hijacked the plane, possibly with the help of one or more hijackers from among the passengers.
  3. An extraordinary situation involving one or more aircraft systems - The deviations from the expected route and departures from normal procedures, including turning off transponders and other systems, could have been done by the crew in order to deal with a situation that put the aircraft at extreme risk. It is very likely in such a situation that a crew would exercise both initiative and creativity and take whatever steps were necessary, including disengaging, reconfiguring, or shutting down numerous systems, in order to maintain control of the aircraft.
  4. Inaction from the crew - The 777 has a complex flight control system that in some circumstances may be able to keep the aircraft in controlled flight without further input from the crew, even if no specific flight plan had been programmed by the crew, until the jet's fuel is exhausted.

Combinations of scenarios
It is possible that none of these general scenarios explain what happened. It is also possible that flight MH370 went through two or more of these scenarios, such as a hijacking followed by extraordinary attempts to regain control of the aircraft. Should additional information, specifically the information from the black boxes, become available, that information will likely clarify what actually took place.

Why would the crew not communicate with ATC? Pilots, no matter what kind of aircraft they may be flying, are taught to have three general priorities in an emergency. The first is to aviate, or to maintain control of the aircraft. The second is to navigate, which is to determine both one's location and intended flight path. The least important of these three priorities is to communicate, or to let someone else, including air traffic controllers or the cabin crew, know your plans or your needs.

The fact that the crew did not speak to air traffic controllers or to other aircraft after deviating from their flight plan could be do to many causes, including malfunctioning communications equipment or because they were not allowed to do so. It is also conceivable that there were attempts to communicate, but that no one heard them.

What is needed to understand this event Ideally, if the aircraft is recovered intact, and all of the crew and passengers are alive, there will be plenty of evidence from witness statements, black box data, and even from the personal electronic devices of passengers, and this evidence will likely answer all of the key questions surrounding this flight. However, even this ideal scenario won't include all of the relevant data because the cockpit voice recorder only records roughly the last two hours of cockpit conversations and radio communications, so there would be no recorded cockpit conversations from the early phases of the flight when the aircraft deviated from its flight plan.

If there are no crew or passengers available for interviews, it may become very important for the investigating authorities to recover as many potential recording devices such as tablets and mobile phones that may have been carried by passengers and crew members. These devices may provide direct or indirect evidence of what went on during the course of the flight.


BBC radio interview from 13 March 2014 discussing the possibility that the aircraft continued to fly for several hours.

14 March 2014

How far Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could have flown

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines continues, with recent evidence suggesting that the aircraft may have flown for at least four hours beyond its last known position. The following graphic published 14 March 20114 by the Washington Post illustrates the possible maximum range of the aircraft given the amount of fuel it had at takeoff (about seven hours worth), and the maximum range assuming four hours of flight after last contact.

This graphic illustrates several things that will give you an idea of just how difficult the search for this 777 may be:

  • Potential locations: Countries within a radius of four hours flying time (2,400 statue miles or about 3,900 km) include parts or all of Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Taiwan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Palau, East Timor, and the Maldives Islands. Bodies of water include parts or all of the South China Sea, the Sea of Thailand, the Andaman Sea, the western Pacific Ocean, and the central and eastern Indian Ocean.
  • Potential size of the search area: A circle with a radius of 2,400 statue miles has a surface area about 18,095,600 square miles, or 46,847,250 square km, is an area slightly bigger than the combined surface areas of the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, and China.
  • Extent of search area: A circle with a 2,400 mile radius, has a 4,800 mile diameter, which is roughly the distance between the following city pairs:
    • Moscow and Washington, DC
    • Havana and Honolulu
    • Harare and Rio de Janeiro
    • Mumbai and the North Pole

Dr. Curtis 16 March 2014 Radio New Zealand interview (14:11)
Dr. Curtis 15 March 2014 BBC interview (8:58)
Dr. Curtis 13 March 2014 BBC interview (7:23)
Other 777 events

BBC radio interview from 13 March 2014 discussing the possibility that the aircraft continued to fly for several hours.

11 March 2014

Stolen passports and Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

The ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370; a 777 that went missing about an hour after it departed from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for Beijing, China; continues to have a high level of media interest because no trace of the aircraft has yet to be found.

One of the leads that are being pursued by several authorities, including law enforcement agencies, was the use of stolen passports by two passengers.

These two men, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, and Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29, are alleged by Malaysian authorities to have used stolen passports to board flight MH370

While there is no evidence that these two passengers had anything to do with the disappearance of the aircraft, it does raise questions about the use of stolen passports and the ability of authorities prevent passengers from traveling with false documents.

A member of the AirSafe.com audience provided some information that suggests that the the problem may be more widespread and insidious than just stolen passports. What follows are two alleged incidents of government officials offering passengers cash to engage in what were likely illegal activities.

Incident #1 - Offered $1,000 to carry two bottles
In 2011, this audience member, who was a citizen of India studying in Europe, was traveling from London to India. After arriving in New Delhi, an immigration officer asked him about his final destination. After learning that he was taking a domestic flight to another city in India, the immigration officer offered him the equivalent of $1,000 USD to carry a bag containing two bottles to his destination airport. He refused. Also, he was encouraged by friends and family to NOT report the incident to the police.

Incident #2 - Offered $4,000 to change travel plans
About two years ago, an acquaintance of the audience member was traveling on an international flight from Kuala Lumpur, Maylaysia to Kolkata, India, and at the immigration counter in Malaysia, an immigration officer offered this passenger the equivalent of $4,000 USD to travel to Taiwan rather than to India, and to deliver a pair of suitcases containing toys to someone in Taiwan.

In addition to the money, he was also a two-day stay at a resort in Taiwan. The Malaysian immigration officer also guaranteed that the passenger would get a passport with a Taiwan visa on it within a couple of minutes, which would have enabled that person to travel legally to Taiwan. This person also refused this offer.

If true, these incidents would imply that misuse of passports in air travel is not limited to criminals, but may also involve government officials entrusted with ensuring the safety and security of all airline passengers. The AirSafe.com audience member also shared some additional concerns about his experiences:

"I am not sure if immigration officers are checking the honesty of passengers or if there is a network which they are running to make more money. But after learning about some fake passport involved in the flight 370, I think it could have some potential relevance."

Dr. Curtis 16 March 2014 Radio New Zealand interview (14:11)
Dr. Curtis 15 March 2014 BBC interview (8:58)
Dr. Curtis 13 March 2014 BBC interview (7:23)

BBC radio interview from 13 March 2014 discussing the possibility that the aircraft continued to fly for several hours.

21 February 2014

Advice on how to prevent injuries from inflight turbulence

Turbulence happens on just about every flight, but most of the time the amount of turbulence is very small, and the level of risk is very low. Two turbulence events that happened earlier this week, one involving a Cathay Pacific 747 and the second a United Airlines 737 both led to injuries, and also received quite a bit of media attention.

These two events served as a reminder reminders of just how serious students can be, and the need for passengers to be aware of the potential danger.The following insights and advice should keep you from becoming one of those statistics.

Airline turbulence basics
You can experience turbulence for many reasons, typically due to weather conditions such as thunderstorms. Severe turbulence can happen in any phase of flight, but it's most likely to be hazardous during cruise when passengers and crew may be out of their seats and not belted in. In most cases a passenger experiencing turbulence will feel nothing more than a slight vibration. At the other extreme are those rare events that are severe enough to throw passengers around the cabin.

What causes turbulence?
Turbulence is air movement that normally cannot be seen. While it may sometimes be associated with weather conditions like thunderstorms, it can also happen in the following situations, which could happen even on a clear day.

  1. Thermals - Heat from the sun makes warm air masses rise and cold ones fall.
  2. Jet streams - Fast, high-altitude air currents shift, disturbing the air nearby.
  3. Mountains - Air passing over mountains can lead to turbulence as the air mixes above the air mass on the other downwind side.
  4. Wake turbulence - If an aircraft travels too close to another aircraft, the trailing aircraft may pass through an area of chaotic air currents caused by the lead aircraft.

How bad can it get?
Turbulence effects can range from the barely noticeable to the potentially dangerous. What you may feel can range from feeling a slight strain against your seat belts, to being forced violently against your seat belts, and having unsecured items (including yourself if you are unbuckled) being being tossed about the cabin.

Reducing your risks from turbulence
When the flight crew expects turbulence, they will work with the cabin crew to make sure that passengers are in their seats and belted in, and that serving carts and other loose items are properly secured. Even when turbulence is not expected, you should take a few basics steps before and during the flight to ensure your safety:

  • Follow the instructions of the crew - If the crew suggests that passengers return to their seats, do so as soon as you can.
  • Wear your seat belt at all times - Turbulence events can happen even during a smooth flight on a cloudless day. Turbulence is not always predictable and may arrive without warning.
  • Be aware of your overhead bin - If you are sitting under an overhead bin, make sure that the door is properly closed. Also, avoid sitting under a bin that is heavily packed or that contains one or more heavy items. If you can, move to a seat that is not directly under a bin.

Turbulence injuries on a United flight out of Denver - 18 Feburary 2014
AirSafe.com turbulence information
Passengers killed by turbulence
FAA turbulence information
How to measure turbulence while you fly
Using child restraints on aircraft
Airline pilot Patrick Smith weighs in on turbulence

Photo credit: Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia

18 February 2014

Turbulence injuries on a United flight out of Denver

17 February 2014, United Airlines 737-700, flight 1676, near Billings, MT: Yesterday, several passengers and crew members were injured in a turbulence event involving a United Airlines 737-700 that was en route from Denver, CO to Billings, MT, with at least one passenger hitting the ceiling hard enough to damage a panel. According to the FAA, the captain declared a medical emergency, and the aircraft landed without further incident. The event took place in the early afternoon, and the aircraft was reportedly in clear skies at the time of the incident.

United 737-700 in Billings, MT after turbulence event

The aircraft apparently encountered turbulence during descent that caused several flight attendants and unrestrained passengers to be tossed in the air. Most of the the injuries were minor, and only one victim, a flight attendant, required hospitalization.

Among those tossed in midair was an infant, who landed in a nearby seat and was not injured. According to United, there were 114 passengers and five crew members on board, and three flight attendants and two passengers were injured. Since the 737 has two flight crew members, this implies that all of the flight attendants who were on board were injured.

Turbulence events are not that rare, with the NTSB noting hundreds of such events in their online database. The FAA notes that in the 10-year period from 2002-2011, a total of 110 passengers and 219 crew members were injured by turbulence.

AirSafe.com has extensive background information on inflight turbulence at turbulence.airsafe.com, including advice on how to reduce turbulence risks and a link to a mobile phone app that will allow you to measure turbulence while you fly.

While significant turbulence events that lead to injuries occur several times a year, fatal events are much more infrequent. The last turbulence event that led to a passenger death was in 1997 on a United Airlines 747 that was on a flight from Japan to the US.

Fear of flying and turbulence
Capt. Tom Bunn of the SOAR fear of flying program offers insights into what causes turbulence, and shows passengers a method for controlling the anxiety that turbulence causes some passengers.

Get help NOW from the fear of flying experts at SOAR

Download AirSafe.com's fear of flying resource guide

AirSafe.com turbulence information
Passengers killed by turbulence
FAA turbulence information
How to measure turbulence while you fly
Using child restraints on aircraft
Airline pilot Patrick Smith weighs in on turbulence

Photo credit: Caleb VanGrinsven