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21 May 2009

Update to " What You Are Not Allowed to Take on an Airplane" Page recently updated "What You Are Not Allowed to Take on an Airplane" page to include specific information about carrying batteries and also to include an update to the TSA's list of banned or prohibited items.

The most important change was the addition of a section on batteries, with specific details on what kinds of batteries are allowed only in carry on baggage, and what kinds can be carried in checked baggage.

For details, visit the page at

19 May 2009

NTSB Hearings on the Buffalo Plane Crash

On May 12th, 2009, the NTSB began a three-day public hearing about its ongoing investigation into the fatal February 2009 crash of a Continental Connection airliner in Buffalo, NY. Among the issues that came up were the possible roles of crew fatigue and crew training in the accident. During the last day of the hearing, noted aviation consultant Mike Boyd and I sat down with host Dave Berns of the "State of Nevada" program on KNPR radio in Las Vegas.

KNPR Interview on 14 May 2009

Additional Information
NTSB Public Docket on the Investigation
Accident Details from
Todd Curtis book Understanding Aviation Safety Data

13 May 2009

Risk, Safety, and the Plane Crash in Buffalo

Yesterday, the NTSB began its public hearings into the 12 February 2009 crash of a Continental Connection Dash 8 near Buffalo, NY. One of the issues that is of interest to the media is the safety of feeder airlines like Colgan Air which operated the Continental Connection accident aircraft. While the aircraft had "Continental" painted on the side, and may have a similar paint scheme as Continental, the fact is that the aircraft was not operated by Continental Airlines.

One common question that gets about this situation is whether the feeder airline is just as safe. When I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal on the day the hearing again, in my quote that appeared in an article the paper the next day, my point was that safety is a subjective concept, and different people can have different ideas on whether an activity is safe or unsafe. I gave the example of skydiving. While sky divers believe the activity is safe, most other people would think that it was an excessively risky activity.

This brings out a more important point, that safety and risk are not the same concept and and not substitutes for one another. As explained in some detail on, risk, typically an unwanted outcome combined with the likelihood of that outcome, is something that can be defined explicitly and be measured objectively. Given the same definitions and data, different people should come to the same conclusion about how much risk exists in a situation.

By comparison, safety, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and does not have to be associated with anything measurable. For example, the FAA requires that any US airline operating an airliner with the capacity for 10 or more passenger seats operate under the same set of regulations. However, an aircraft that is designed to seat 10 passengers will have FAA design requirements that are very different, and in some ways less strict, than the design requirements for an aircraft that can seat 300 passengers.

The different design requirements imply that different potential risks are dealt with in different ways depending on the size of the aircraft. These differences mean that the risks of flying on these two types of aircraft are not the same. However, the FAA allows both aircraft to operate under the same safety regulations.

Risk and safety questions can come up in other ways during an accident investigation. During the first day of the public hearings, it was revealed that shortly before the crash, a specific warning system was activated, but the crew apparently reacted to the warning in ways that made the situation worse and led to the aircraft departing from controlled flight.

Even more revealing were media reports that prior to the accident, Colgan pilots were no required by the airline to have hands-on simulator experience that would show them how to respond to this kind of warning. To the average passenger, allowing pilots to fly a plane without having adequate training in how to respond to critical warning systems is both unsafe and too risky. It will be months before the public finds out if the NTSB agrees.

06 May 2009

Emirates A340 Accident Report Released

On 20 March 2009, an Emirates A340 aircraft, with 275 passengers and crew on board, was involved in a tail strike accident during takeoff from Melbourne, Australia. The aircraft suffered some damage, but there were no injuries to anyone on board. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) recently released preliminary findings that indicated that an incorrect weight had been used when making performance calculations prior to departure. The calculations were based on a takeoff weight that was 100 tons below the actual takeoff weight of the aircraft.

This is the first accident involving an Emirates A340. Previously, in 2004, there was an Emirates A340 incident involving a runway overrun in Johannesburg, South Africa.

What sets this preliminary report apart from most is that the ATSB releases substantially more information at this stage than most accident investigation authorities. While the NTSB sometimes releases this level of preliminary information for major accidents that have tremendous media attention, it has not provided that kind of detail for other kinds of accidents.

Below are links to an audio of the ATSB press conference about the release of this report, a summary of the accident, and other accident details.

Abstract of Preliminary Report

Media Release from 30 April 2009
Preliminary Accident Report
Audio of ATSB Briefing from 30 April 2009 (21:10)
Other A340 Plane Crashes
Other Emirates Safety Events