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29 January 2010

KPAM Radio Interview about Security Procedures and the Role of Air Marshals

Dr. Curtis was interviewed by KPAM radio in Portland, Oregon where he discussed three recent security events, including two situations where the behavior of unruly passengers led to the military escorting the airliners with fighter jets. Dr. Curtis also discusses several issues around the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas day 2009, including the role of air marshals. The following interview was first aired on 23 January 2010.

Listen to the interview

Related Articles article on the attempted bombing
Description of four key US terrorist and TSA security databases
BBC interview with's Dr. Todd Curtis

27 January 2010

Update to the Investigation into the 25 January 2010 Crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737

The investigation into the 25 January 2010 crash of the Ethiopian Airlines is still in the early stages, with searchers still looking for wreckage and victims. While there has been no formal announcement of the death toll by the investigating authorities, no survivors have been found in the two days since the crash. Most of the aircraft wreckage, including the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder (black boxes) is on the seabed just off the coast has not been recovered. On the 27th, several media outlets, including, reported that at least one of the black boxes was located in about 500 feet of water, and that recovery would be attempted. The American naval vessel USS Rampage was assisting in this effort.

The aircraft crashed into the sea about 6 km past the end of runway 21, about 3.5 km from the village of Naameh. According to the departure procedures for that runway, the airplane was supposed to have turned right due to high terrain east and south of the airport.

Several media outlets also reported that the aircraft failed to follow air traffic control instructions after takeoff or that witnesses reported seeing the aircraft in flames before it struck the surface of the water. None of these reports have been confirmed by part of the Lebanese government that is tasked with investigating this event.

Below is an AP report on the early results of the investigation, including wreckage recovery.

NTV in Kenya filed the following report:

BBC Report on Crash Aftermath
BBC reporter Uduak Amimo interview on the Focus on Africa program about what the mood was like in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital the day of the crash.

More information on the Ethiopian Airlines Crash
American Airlines 737-800 crash in December 2009
Ethiopian Airlines fatal plane crashes
Fatal 737 plane crashes
Boeing 737 Technical Site
Example 737-800 cockpit with notes
Ethiopian Airlines announces order for 10 737-800 aircraft
Fatal airliner crash rates by model

25 January 2010

Airliner with 170 on Board Crashes and Burns in Iran

24 January 2010; Taban Air Tu154M; Flight 6437; Mashhad, Iran: The aircraft was on an unscheduled domestic flight from Isfahan to Mashhad, Iran crash landed and caught fire at Mashhad. The aircraft was destroyed by the crash and fire, but there were no fatalities among the 13 crew members and 157 passengers.

The flight was originally a scheduled domestic flight from Abadan to Mashhad, Iran but diverted to Isfahan because of poor weather at Mashhad Airport. After the weather improved, the flight departed for Mashhad.

Iranian Television Report on the Crash

Recent Iranian Airliner Events
This is the second major crash in Mashhad in less than a year. Last July, an Aria Air Ilyushin 62 departed the runway after landing and crashed, killing 16 of the 166 occupants.

This is also the second major Tu154 crash in Iran in less than a year. Less than two weeks before the Aria Air crash, a Caspian Airlines Tu154 crashed shortly after takeoff on a flight from Tehran, Iran to Yerevan, Armenia, killing all 153 passengers and 15 crew members.

Ethiopian Airlines 737-800 Crashes near Beirut Killing Many on Board

25 January 2009; Ethiopian Airlines 737-800 (ET-ANB); Flight 409; near Beirut, Lebanon
The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Beirut, Lebanon to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after takeoff.

There were 82 passengers and eight crew members on board, all of whom were killed in the crash. The accident took place at about 2:30 in the morning local time and during heavy rain.

A Lebanese government official listed the nationalities of the passengers as 51 Lebanese, 23 Ethiopians, two Britons, and one each from Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Canada, Russia, and France. Among the passengers was the wife of the French ambassador in Beirut.

According to, the accident aircraft (ET-ANB) first flew in 2002 and was previously operated by Ryanair. The aircraft was delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in September 2009.

BBC Report on Crash Aftermath
BBC reporter Uduak Amimo interview on the Focus on Africa program about what the mood was like in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital the day of the crash.

Ethiopian Airlines Crash History
This is the third crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet airliner that has resulted in the death of at least one passenger. The first was a September 1988 bird strike event involving a 737-200, and the most recent was a ditching of a 767-200 during a hijacking in 1996.

Ethiopian Airlines Fleet
According to the Ethiopian Airlines web site the airline has an operating fleet of 37 aircraft, including three 737-800s. AeroTransport Data Bank has additional fleet details, including average age by model. The airline has 45 aircraft on order, including 10 737-800s, 10 787s, and five 777-200s.

Previous 737-800 Crashes
This is the seventh crash involving a 737-800. The first was a September 2006 midair collision involving a Gol Linhas Aéreas 737-800 in Brazil that killed all six crew members and 148 passengers, and the most recent was the non-fatal runway overrun last month involving an American Airlines 737-800 in Jamaica. Three of the previous six crashes involved passenger fatalities.
  • 29 September 2006; Gol Linhas Aéreas 737-800; Flight 1907; near Peixoto de Azevedo, Brazil: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Manaus to Brasilia when it had a midair collision in the area of São Félix do Xingu with an Embraer ERJ135 Legacy 600 executive jet operated by ExcelAire. The ExcelAire Legacy 600 jet had been on a flight from São José dos Campos to Manaus. After the collision, which damaged the left wing, left stabilizer, and left elevator of the executive jet, the crew of the damaged ExcelAire aircraft was able to land at a nearby military airfield at Cachimbo, Brazil. The 737 subsequently experienced an inflight breakup and crashed about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of the Peixoto de Azevedo municipality. The Legacy 600 was on the first leg of a delivery flight to the US The 737 aircraft was also relatively new, having come into service with the airline less than three weeks before the crash. All six crew members and 148 passengers on the 737 were killed. The two crew members and five passengers on the Legacy 600 were not injured.

  • 5 May 2007; Kenya Airways 737-800; Flight 507; near Douala, Cameroon: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Douala, Cameroon to Nairobi, Kenya. The aircraft crashed into a swampy area near the airport less than one minute after takeoff. The aircraft departed just after midnight local time and the aircraft sent at least one communication to the control tower prior to the crash. All nine crew members and 105 passengers were killed.

  • 20 August 2007; China Airlines 737-800; Flight 120; Naha, Japan: Shortly after landing at Naha on the island of Okinawa, the left engine caught fire and the crew initiated an emergency evacuation. Although the aircraft was destroyed by fire, all 157 passengers (including two toddlers) and eight crew members survived.

  • 10 November 2008; Ryanair 737-800; Flight 4102; Rome, Italy: The aircraft, on a scheduled international flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Rome, Italy encountered a flock of birds during approach to Rome, sustaining damage to both engines, the wings, and the nose. The crew was able to land on the runway, but aircraft had a collapsed landing gear and serious damage to the rear of the fuselage. All six crew members, and 166 passengers survived.

  • 25 February 2009; Turkish Airlines 737-800; Flight 1951; Amsterdam, Netherlands: The aircraft, on a scheduled international flight from Istanbul, Turkey, to Amsterdam, Netherlands crashed in a field about a mile (1.6 km) short of the runway. Three crew members, including both pilots, were killed, as were at least six others among the 134 passengers and crew members.

  • 22 December 2009; American Airlines 737-800 (N977AN); Flight 331; Kingston, Jamaica: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Miami, FL to Kingston, Jamaica. The aircraft landed during a rainstorm, and was unable to stop on the runway. After departing the runway, the aircraft went beyond the airport fence, and crossed a road before coming to rest on a beach. The landing gear collapsed, both engines separated from the wings, and there were two major breaks in the fuselage, but all 148 passengers and six crew members survived. The landing was carried out with a slight tail wind. will provide updates as information becomes available.

More information on the Ethiopian Airlines Crash
American Airlines 737-800 crash in December 2009
Ethiopian Airlines fatal plane crashes
Fatal 737 plane crashes
Ethiopian Airlines announces order for 10 737-800 aircraft
Fatal airliner crash rates by model

Video from Associated Press

Five Lowest Fatal Plane Crash Rates by Model
A 25 September 2009 entry on the News described the September 2009 update to following listing of fatal plane crash rates by model. The video and audio podcast below discusses the aircraft models with the lowest rates. After the Ethiopian Airlines 737-800 fatal crash, the revised estimate of fatal crash rates would change the order of aircraft. The current generation of the 737, which includes the 737-800, would drop from number two to number three, and the A320 series would go from number three to number two. For more details, visit's Fatal Plane Crash Rates for Selected Airliner Models page

Video and Audio Podcast Links (2:57)

Audio: MP3 | VideoiPod/MP4 | WMV | YouTube

ET-ANB Photo: Antony J. Best

23 January 2010

Two Recent Security Related Incidents in Philadelphia

There have been two noteworthy security events in Philadelphia this month, one of which was due to extremely poor decision making by a TSA employee, and the second involving a simple cultural misunderstanding.

A recent article from the Philadelphia Inquirer described a January 5th event where a TSA employee questioned a passenger about a small plastic bag of white powder that he pulled out of her carry-on bag. The passenger, a college student flying that day from Philadelphia to Detroit, was stunned since she had no idea where the small bag of white powder came from and how it got into her carry-on. After a few seconds of confusion, she found out where the bag came from and how it got into her carry-on. The person responsible for it was the same TSA employee who confronted her.

While the TSA employee apparently thought it was a big joke, the passenger had an entirely different opinion. The Detroit Free Press reported that she asked to speak with the airport’s security director and filed a complaint, and that two days later the airport notified her about disciplinary action against the employee.

The disciplinary action didn't stop at there. Ann Davis, speaking on behalf of the TSA wrote that “TSA viewed this behavior to be completely inappropriate and unprofessional.” The TSA's blog site reported that the employee was no longer employed by TSA as of January 21st.

The passenger described her ordeal in detail in an article in the Michigan Daily newspaper. This story may not end here. The Inquirer also reports that the father of the passenger involved in this incident is a Philadelphia litigator.

Prayer Device Leads to Security Diversion
What started as an attempt to pray on an aircraft turned into a security alert that included an aircraft diversion and two innocent teenagers hauled away in handcuffs.

On January 21st, US Airways Express Flight 3079 was en route from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Louisville, KY when it was diverted to Philadelphia after a flight attendant saw a young passenger strapping a device to his wrist and head. The flight attendant asked the passenger what he was doing, and he responded that he was praying. The flight attendant, who apparently was unfamiliar with this type of prayer. She described what she saw to the flight crew, and the flight crew decided to divert to Philadelphia, where the aircraft was met by police and other security officials.

It turns out that there was no bomb and in fact no threat to the aircraft. The passenger was using a tefillin, which are leather boxes containing scriptures that observant Jewish men wear on their foreheads and arm and fingers during obligatory weekday morning prayers. Typically leather straps are used to secure the tefillin to the body.

What started as a misunderstanding about a totally innocent event ended up being a less than pleasant experience for two children on the flight. According to an article in the New York Times, police entered the aircraft with guns drawn and later both the boy who was using the tellifin his sister who was traveling with him were put in handcuffs and briefly detained before eventually being allowed to continue to their destination.

While it appears that neither the crew, the praying passenger, police, and other security officials all seem to have been acting in an appropriate manner, it is clear that this kind of misunderstanding could easily occur again. Perhaps the most sensible suggestion to come out of this event was made by the young passenger's rabbi, who suggested that in the future that he pray on the airplane, but fulfill the ritual by putting on the tellifin later.

21 January 2010

Senate Holds Hearings on Airline Security and Leadership Issues at TSA

Yesterday, a US Senate committee with jurisdiction over held a hearing on hearing on aviation security and the recent attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 near Detroit. The hearing, titled "The State of Aviation Security - Is Our Current System Capable of Meeting the Threat?" included witness statements from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Micheal Leiter, the Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center .

This hearing is only the beginning of what the committee chair believes will be about a year-long review by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. While it isn't clear what changes, if any, will come about as a direct result of this committee's work, it will provide the public with an idea of the political and policy issues that will shape how the US government deals with current threats to the US air transportation system.

In a related development on the same day as the hearing, Erroll Southers, the candidate to head the Transportation Security Administration, one of the lead organizations in the US that deals with threats to the air transportation system, quietly withdrew his name from consideration for the post, further complicating the Obama administrations efforts to deal with potential threats to aircraft.

Related Resources
Press release with a summary of the hearing
Remarks by the committee chair
Webcast of the hearing
Erroll Southers interview with Foreign Policy magazine

20 January 2010

Los Angeles Times Story of Overworked and Underpaid Pilots

Pay and working conditions for pilots have been an ongoing concern, especially in the last few years as airlines have eliminated benefits and lowered pay in order to remain competitive. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times published an article about pay and working conditions at regional airlines in the US, focusing on one pilot from regional carrier Pinnacle airlines, painted a picture of long workdays and a lifestyle that forces many pilots to commute hundreds or even thousands of miles from their homes to their airline, sometimes sleeping in their airline's crew lounge before performing their duties.

Pilot pay is a subject previously covered by, and the LA Times illustrated the current economic reality by describing how the pilot in the story started as a first officer making $1,650 per month plus benefits, and now makes $28,000 per year, which turns out to be less than a Los Angeles bus driver.

Pinnacle, the airline featured in the LA Times article, is the parent company of regional carrier Colgan Air, which was the airline operating the aircraft involved in the fatal February 2009 Continental Connection crash in Buffalo.

15 January 2010

The Miracle on the Hudson, Ejection Database, and A319 Landing Incident

Anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson
One year after the ditching of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River, the NTSB investigation is still ongoing. While the investigation may not be completed for several months, there is a large amount of information from the investigation that is available for the public to review. The NTSB information page on last June's public meeting about the accident has links to past NTSB press releases, and links to transcripts and videos from the three day public hearing. Additional information on the accident is available at the NTSB's public docket for this investigation.

Ejection Seat Database
If you ever had a question about military plane crashes featuring the use of an ejection seat, then Project Get Out and Walk is worth a visit. The site is an illustrated history of assisted aircrew escape system and has a database of all known ejections and bailouts, with ejections listed by year, country, and aircraft.

United Airlines Emergency Landing at Newark
On January 10th, a United Airlines Airbus A319 (N816UA, flight 634)was damaged when it landed at Newark's Liberty International Airport with its right hand main landing gear retracted. The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Chicago's O'Hare airport, to Newark, and the flight was normal until approach, when the crew experienced problems with lowering the landing gear.

The crew carried out a missed approach, and later landed with the right main gear retracted and came to rest on the runway, damaging the right engine and the underside of the aircraft. All 48 passengers and five crew members evacuated using the emergency slides and there were no major injuries.

This being the Twitter era, it isn't surprising that there were a few Tweets (Twitter posts) on this event. A passenger on another aircraft with Twitter name @expodebbie said: On runway. Newark just closed. Another aircraft with bad landing- mechanical issues. Emergency vehicles. Zero idea just how bad. 6:28 AM Jan 10th

Below are several photos of the damaged aircraft, plus a video of the actual landing taken from the cockpit of another aircraft.

14 January 2010

Another Perspective on the Risk of Airline Bombings

Since 2001, terror events, including attempted bombings, have been a serious concern for passengers and governments around the world. While high profile terror events of all kinds have been a concern, the probability of a bombing event involving a US airliner or a flight departing or arriving from the US hasn't seen any major changes since 1960.

Terror Events in the Previous Decade
Nate Silver, better know as the person behind the political polling site, ran an article that used data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) to evaluate the risk of a terrorist attack on airliners that either departed from the US or had a US destination.

Looking over the ten year period from 2000-2009, Silver identified six attempted terror-related events on board these airline flights, including the four planes hijacked on 9/11, the December 2001 attempted bombing of an American Airlines 767 by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, and the January 2009 attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines A330 by alleged underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Odds of Being a Terror Victim
Silver reviewed BTS records and estimated that there were 99.3 million commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States, or one terrorist incident per 16.6 million departures.

He further estimated that excluding crew members, bombers and hijackers, there were 674 passengers on those six flights on which these incidents occurred, compared with seven million estimated passenger enplanements during that decade, giving the probability of being on a given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident of about 1 in 10.4 million. He contrasts this risk with the 1 in 500,000 chance of being struck by lightning.

Odds of Being a Bombing Victim
If you only look at the bombing events in there previous decade, there were two, including last month's attempt on Northwest Airlines and the 2001 show bombing event. Using Nate Silver's numbers, the rate of bombing events on US airliners from 2000 to 2009 was 1 in 31.2 million departures.

Previous US Bombing Events
Nate Sliver only looked at events during the previous decade. has tracked US bombing attempts going back to the 1950s, and found that in the four decades from 1960 to 1999, there were eight events on US airliners that involved a bombing attempt or a successful bombing, with seven involving passenger fatalities. This averaged two per decade, compared with the six in the decades of the 1990s. However, the average number of flights was lower during this 40-year period. According to BTS data, there were about 311.6 million flights during this four decade period, which means the rate of bombing attempts from 1960-1999 was 1 per 39 million flights, compared to 1 per 31.2 million flights for 2000-2009.

How These Two Periods Compare
One of the things that stand out with the events from 1960-1999 was that only six of the bombing events involved a deliberate attempt by individuals or groups that could be associated with terrorism. If only those six are counted, then the rate for the 1960-1999 period drops to 1 in 59.1 million flights, roughly half the risk of the 2000-2009 period.

Does this mean that the risk of bomb related terrorism has doubled in the previous decade? Maybe. However, if the alleged underwear bomber had waited another week and attempted a bombing on January 1st, the 2000-2009 rate would have been 1 in 64.4 million flights, even less than the terror-related bombing rate for 1960-1999.

12 January 2010

New Security Measures in Effect for International Flights

As of January 4th, the US government started new security requirements for international flights with a US destination. While some of the measures are temporary, others may be more permanent.

Travelers Subject to Enhanced Screening
The TSA is requiring that everyone flying into the US who is either traveling from or traveling through nations considered to be are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. At present, those countries include Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

This may not represent much of a change. In the security procedures manual that was accidentally released to the public by the TSA last year, on page 81 it listed 12 countries whose citizens were subject to additional screening. Of the 14 listed above, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were not listed in the earlier procedures manual, and North Korea, which was listed in the procedures manual, was not listed in last week's announcement.

Changes in Prohibited Items
Security requirements for passengers departing US airports remain the same, but additional security measures may be used. TSA will continue to permit prescription liquid medications and other liquids needed by persons with disabilities and medical conditions.

The TSA has stated that passengers wearing loose fitting or bulky clothing, including headwear, may be subject to additional screening. If a passengers chooses not to remove bulky clothing or headwear, they may be subject to a pat down search.

When to Arrive at the Airport
The TSA advises passengers on international flights bound to the US allow additional time to get through security, and to check in with their airport or airline for more specific advice.

Other Security Changes
While some changes were required by TSA, individual airlines may have additional rules or restrictions. Some of the ones reported in the last week include turning off electronic equipment remaining seated during an extended period before landing, keeping laps clear of items such as blankets for large portions of the flight, and additional restrictions on when the lavatories can be used. TSA does not manage security for airports outside of US territory, so each country may have additional restrictions and requirements.

Canadian Airports Put on High Alert
Last Saturday, Canadian airports were put on heightened alert after Transport Canada received credible evidence of a new terrorist threat. A member of the audience who traveled from Canada to the US in the last couple of days said that in addition to a pat down search and a search of carry on bags, laptop bags with wheels were not allowed on board. While it may have been to prevent travelers from claiming that a bag was a laptop bag and not a carry on, the rule has also been enforced for true laptop cases that happen to have wheels. This new rule forced the person who submitted this report to exit the secure area, spend $140 for a new laptop case, and clear customs a second time.

Additional Resources
Permitted and Prohibited Items

11 January 2010

Why the TSA Can't Eliminate the Threat from Bombs

In the wake of last month's attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines A330, the US government has taken several steps which were intended to reduce the risk of someone else getting on an airplane with a bomb. While steps like these will reduce the risk, it will not eliminate the risk.

How Safe is Safe Enough?
When it comes to bombs on an airplane, the average passenger would consider the situation safe enough if the probability of a bomb on board an airplane were zero, but the reality of the situation is that as long as people have a desire to blow up airplanes full of passengers, steps can be taken to make flying safer by reducing that probability, but as long as there are airliners flying, the probability can't be eliminated.

Risk Management and Airline Security
Risk can be defined as the probability of some undesirable event like a bomb exploding on an airplane. Risk management is the process of reducing risk by either reducing the probability of an event or reducing the severity of the event. The steps taken by the US government are risk management steps that may reduce the likelihood that a bomb will be exploded on an airplane, but none of these steps are 100% effective.

How Airline Security Works
The short story is that there are multiple things that can be done to stop bombings, hijackings, sabotage, and other mayhem out of the skies. Passenger screening at the airport is one of the things that everyone can see, and there is much more that is not so visible, from bomb-sniffing dogs to terrorists watch lists. There are many procedures and systems in place because no one system or procedure can prevent every attempt to bring down an airplane. For an example, you can look at one part of the US government's response to the Christmas day bombing event, placing advanced screening systems in US airports.

Advanced Imaging Units Deployed to US Airports
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would was adding at least 300 advanced imaging units throughout the United States by the end of 2010. This technology produces a full body scan that would show a graphic image of a person's body underneath his or her clothes. Had one of these devices been used to screen the alleged bomber, it would have presumably detected the the explosive device hidden under his clothes.

Sample Image from a Full Body Scan Device

How the Technology Was Used in 2009
While these detection systems may be useful, the way that they have been deployed in the past and the way that they will be deployed in the near future guarantee that not all passengers will be screened using these systems. The Transportation Security Administration provided a detailed overview of how 40 of these units were used in they were deployed in 2009 at 19 US airports. They were used as a primary screening method at only six airports, and as a secondary screening method at the 13 other airports. TSA plans to install hundreds more this year, but not all US airports will have this option available.

Why this Method Can't Be 100% Effective
In addition and plans to deploy at least 300 additional units in 2010. Even if the TSA meets its goal and adds 300 units to the 40 currently in use, not every airport will have them, since the TSA provides screening at about 450 airports. This means that for some airports passengers will have to be screened with systems or methods that don't have the advantages or capabilities of these advanced detection units.

Even if an airport has these devices in available, they may not be used. The TSA emphasized that these technologies were optional, and any passenger that did not want to use them could be screened with another method.

Why a Less than Perfect System Is Acceptable
While some passengers may wonder why TSA would place these advanced devices only in some airports, and would not require that all passengers be screened in this way, keep in mind that this kind of technology is only one kind of protective system, designed to protect airliners against individuals who try to sneak weapons, bombs, and other banned items into the secure area of an airport. Even a partial implementation of these security measures may find some banned items, and may deter some potential terrorists from attempting to bring bombs and guns on board aircraft.

Why Extra Security Is not Enough
The threat from those who want to disrupt the air transportation system is one that constantly evolves. For every system or procedure that is put into place, those who intend to bring harm to the system will take steps to either avoid those measures or find a way to defeat them. While extra measures will not make air travel perfectly safe, they will likely make travel less risky.

TSA imaging technology background information
Bomb related deaths on US and Canadian airliners since 1949

Poll Question of the Day
The USA Today newspaper and the Gallup polling organization recently released a poll that says 78% of air travelers who have taken at least one trip in the last 12 months approve of US airports' using full body scan imaging on airline passengers. would like to know how you feel about this technology:

The survey is now closed. The survey asked the following questions:
  • Do you approve of full body scans at US airports?

  • Should children be scanned in this way?

  • Have you flown on airliner at least once in the past 12 months?

  • What do you think about the increased security?
The results of the survey are available here.

08 January 2010

American Airlines Flight 331 Accident Investigation Update Released by Jamaican Authorities

As the investigation into the 22 December 2009 crash of American Airlines flight 331 enters its third week, the Jamaican authorities leading the investigation have provided extensive details about the circumstances of the accident.

Weather Conditions and Alternate Airports
The aircraft landed in Kingston, Jamaica in heavy rain about two hours after taking off from Miami, Florida. The crew chose to land with a tailwind, even after air traffic controllers advised them that the runway was wet and offered the crew an option that would have allowed the aircraft to land with a headwind.

The aircraft had sufficient fuel on board to reach its alternate airport at Grand Cayman Island.

Landing Speeds
The aircraft landed slightly below its permitted landing weight and with an airspeed of 148 knots (170 mph). However, because of the 14 knot tailwind, groundspeed was 162 knots (186 mph). The landing gear made contact with the runway about 4,000 feet down the 8,900 foot runway. The flight data recorder also showed that the aircraft bounced once before settling down on the runway, which further reduced the amount of remaining runway.

Aircraft Braking and Runway Overrun
Autobrakes deployed, and the crew was able to engage reverse thrust and spoilers, and also used maximum braking, but in spite of this, the aircraft veered to the left of the runway centerline and departed the end of the runway at a ground speed of about 63 knots (72 mph). The aircraft went through a fence and crossed a road before coming to rest on a beach about 175 feet (53 meters) beyond the end of the runway, and about 40 feet (12 meters) from the sea.

Aircraft and Airport Systems Normal Before Landing
The flight data recorder did not indicate any malfunctions or other anomalies with the brakes, spoilers, or thrust reversers, and that braking was normal given the wet runway and the autobrake setting. The fuselage was broken into three major pieces, and the right engine, right main landing gear, and parts of the right wing separated from the aircraft. Other than the crash related damage, no mechanical problems have been found with any part of the aircraft, and ground based navigation and landing aids were operating normally.

Other Accident Information
While the Jamaican authorities are running the investigation, the NTSB and other US organizations and companies are providing assistance. The aircraft wreckage will be shipped to the US and may be examined again later in the investigation.

The interim report did not provide any probable causes for the accident, and the runway has not yet been tested to see how slick it may be in rainy conditions. The interim report made no mention of crew issues, including whether the crew followed all relevant procedures, and whether the captain or first officer had any medical situation or physical condition that could have affected their performance. will continue to follow the progress of the investigation, and will publish additional information as it becomes available.

Additional Information
Previous Article
Detailed information about this accident
Initial accident investigation press release

07 January 2010

FAA increases oversight of American Airlines after three landing mishaps

After three American Airlines landing mishaps in December 2009, including two MD80s that experienced wingtip strikes, and a 737 that overran a runway in Jamaica, the FAA announced that it was increasing its oversight of the airline.'s Dr. Todd Curtis was one of the airline safety experts interviewed by National Public Radio for the January 5, 2010 broadcast of the NPR show Morning Edition.
Listen to the interview
Details on 22 December 2009 American Airlines crash in Jamaica
American Airlines plane crashes

04 January 2010

Video for Airline Safety Review 2009

The podcasts associated with the airline safety review for 2009 are currently available as audio and video files that you can either download or play below. Please feel free to reuse them for any noncommerical use. You can read the review in a previous article or at

Video and Audio Podcast Links (7:51)
Audio: MP3 | VideoiPod/MP4 | WMV | YouTube

01 January 2010 Airline Safety Review for 2009

The year 2009 was tied for the second fewest fatal airline crashes in any year since began it's annual review of airline safety events in 1996. This 14th annual review discusses eight fatal airline events, and 10 other significant events from 2009.

The first and last events noted by in 2009 didn't kill a single passenger, but both attracted a tremendous amount of public attention for entirely different reasons.

On 15 January 2009, a US Airways A320 experienced a loss of power to both engines shortly after taking off from New York's La Guardia Airport. The crew was able to successfully ditch the aircraft in the Hudson River near midtown Manhattan. Reportedly, the aircraft encountered a flock of birds shortly after takeoff. After ditching, all five crew members and 150 passengers evacuated the aircraft. One passenger sustained serious injuries. This event was not only the first time a large passenger jet has crashed in the US because of a bird strike, it was only the fourth time a large passenger jet has successfully ditched anywhere in the world.

The last high profile event of 2009 was the failed bombing attempt of a Northwest Airlines A330 airliner on Christmas day. A passenger allegedly attempted to detonate an explosive device while the aircraft was approaching Detroit on a flight from Amsterdam. The device was triggered by the alleged bomber during descent, but it only managed to start a small fire and burn the suspect's leg. The fire was put out, the crew was able to land the airplane without further incident, and no one else on the plane was injured. The investigation into how this happened is both ongoing and very wide ranging, and may lead to significant security changes for passengers all over the world.

While's list of events includes both airline and non-airline events, the focus of the site is on those events involving large airliners that result in the death of at least one passenger. There were eight such events in 2009, with the most catastrophic the June 1st crash of an Air France A330 in the Atlantic Ocean, a crash that killed all 216 passengers and 16 crew members. Below are the list of the eight airliner crashes with at least one passenger fatality:

  1. 7 February 2009; Manaus Aerotaxi Embraer Bandeirante; near Santo Antonio, Brazil: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Coari. The crew reportedly encountered heavy rain and was attempted to turn back about an hour into the flight. The plane crashed into the Manacapuru River, killing both crew members and 22 of the 26 passengers. Eight of the passengers were small children.
    Fatal Bandeirante plane crashes

  2. 12 February 2009; Continental Connection (Colgan Air) Dash 8 Q-400; Flight 3407; near Buffalo, NY: The aircraft, a scheduled flight from Newark, NJ and operated by Colgan Air, crashed in a residential area about seven miles from the airport. At least one house on the ground was destroyed. All 45 passengers and four crew members were killed, along with one person on the ground.
    Wikipedia Entry About this Accident
    Other Dash 8 Events

    Continental Connection Crash in Buffalo

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  3. 25 February 2009; Turkish Airlines 737-800; Flight 1951; Amsterdam, Netherlands:
    The aircraft, on a scheduled international flight from Istanbul, Turkey, to Amsterdam, Netherlands crashed in a field about a mile (1.6 km) short of the runway. Four of the seven crew members, including both pilots, were killed, as were five of the 128 passengers.

    Preliminary reports from the Dutch accident investigators suggest that a malfunctioning altimeter may have led the flight control system to command a reduction in thrust, as well as a significant drop in airspeed and altitude, during final approach.

    Turkish Airlines Fatal Events
    Other 737 Plane Crashes
    Wikipedia Entry for this Accident

    Turkish Airlines Crash in Amsterdam
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  4. 1 June 2009; Air France A330-200; Atlantic Ocean:
    The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, France. The aircraft crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in an area roughly 390 miles (650 kilometers) northeast of Brazil's Fernando de Noronha islands, which are about 220 miles (354 kilometers) off the northeast coast of Brazil. Debris from the aircraft was found near the estimated position of its last radio communication. All 216 passengers and 12 crew members, together representing over 30 nationalities, are missing and presumed dead.
    Latest Accident Updates
    Fatal Events for Airlines from Europe
    Fatal Air France Plane Crashes

    Initial Report on the Air France Accident

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  5. 30 June 2009; Yemenia Airlines; A310-300; Flight 626; near Moroni, Comoros Islands:
    The aircraft was on a flight from Sana’a, Yemen to Moroni, Comoros Islands with 142 passengers and 11 crew on board. The aircraft crashed in the sea near the town of Mitsamiouli, which is on the main island of Grande Comore, in the early morning hours of June 30th. One passenger, a twelve-year-old girl named Bahia Bakari, was rescued about 10 hours after the crash, and is the sole survivor of this plane crash. The girl's mother was also killed in the crash.

    More Accident Details
    Fatal Events for Airlines from Africa and the Middle East
    Fatal A310 Plane Crashes
    Plane Crashes with a Sole Survivor
    Yemenia Airlines Wikipedia page

  6. 15 July 2009; Caspian Airlines Tu154M, Flight 7908; near Jannatabad, Iran: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Tehran, Iran to Yerevan, Armenia, and crashed near a village in the Qazvin region of Iran about 16 minutes after takeoff.

    The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash, and all 153 passengers and 15 crew members were killed. Among the victims were members of Iran's youth judo team, including eight athletes and two coaches.

    This is the first fatal crash for Caspian Airlines, and the 19th fatal passenger crash involving the Tu154 since 1990. The most recent fatal Tu154 crash was an Iran Air Tours crash in September 2006. The Caspian Airlines crash represents the fourth fatal Tu154 airliner crash involving an Iranian airline. the previous three were all with Iran Air Tours.

    More Details at
    Fatal Events for Airlines from Africa and the Middle East
    Caspian Airlines Plane Crash Wikipedia page

  7. 24 July 2009; Aria Air Ilyushin 62M, Flight 1525; Mashhad, Iran: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Tehran, Iran to Mashhad, Iran. After landing, there was a tire burst and the aircraft skidded on the runaway, hitting an airport fence and an electricity pylon.

    The normal landing speed for an Ilyushin 62 would have been between 145 and 165 mph, but this accident aircraft reportedly landed at a speed of 197 mph. The airplane ran off the runway and collided with a wall located about a kilometer from the runway.

    The front section of the aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash, and there were 16 fatalities among the 153 passengers and 13 crew members.

    This is the first fatal crash for Aria Air, and the 12th fatal passenger crash for the Ilyushin 62 since it began passenger service in the 1960s. This crash comes less than ten days after the last fatal plane crash in Iran. All 168 passengers and crew on that Caspian Airlines flight were killed.

    Shortly after the accident, the airline's flight certification license was revoked by the Iranian civil aviation authorities.

    More Details at
    Fatal Events for Airlines from Africa and the Middle East
    Aria Air Wikipedia page

  8. 12 November 2009; RwandAir CRJ-100ER; Flight 205; Kigali, Rwanda:
    A RwandAir CRJ-100ER was on a scheduled flight from Kigali, Rwanda to Kampala, Uganda, ran into a terminal at the Kigali airport. The aircraft reportedly had and unspecified engine problem shortly after taking off and the crew returned to the airport. According to eyewitnesses, the plane first taxied to a parking position on the apron, but then accelerated, knocked over blast fences, and hit the the concrete wall of the airport building containing the VIP lounge. The nose gear collapsed and the forward portion of the aircraft penetrated the building up to about the position of the forward passenger doors. One of the three crew members and one of the 10 passengers were killed.
    Additional accident information and photos
    Canadair Regional Jet Crashes

Other Noteworthy Events recognized 11 other noteworthy events in 2009, including a midair collision involving a sightseeing flight, two crashes of cargo jets, and an accidental release of sensitive security information by the TSA.

  1. 15 January 2009; US Airways A320-200, Flight 1549; New York, NY: The aircraft was on a scheduled passenger flight from New York (LaGuardia) to Charlotte, NC The aircraft struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff and experienced a loss of power to both engines. The crew was able to successfully ditch the aircraft in the Hudson River near midtown Manhattan. The aircraft reached an maximum altitude of about 3200 feet before it began to descend. After ditching, all five crew members and 150 passengers evacuated the aircraft. One passenger sustained serious injuries. This event is not numbered because it is considered a significant event as defined by The following pages have background information about the airline, the aircraft model, and other issues related to this crash:
    Previous US Airways Crashes
    Other Significant A320 Events
    Bird Strike Hazards to Aircraft
    Jet Airliner Ditching Events
    Wikipedia Entry About this Event
    Bird Strike Videos
    Bird Strike Study from the Foundation

    Crash of US Airways Flight 1549
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  2. 22 March 2009; Pilatus PC-12; Butte, Montana: The aircraft was on an unscheduled flight from Orville, CA to Bozeman, MT. The pilot changed the flight plane to Butte, MT, and the aircraft crashed about 500 feet (150 meters) from the airport. All 14 on board were killed, several of them children.

    This plane crash involved a non-airline flight, and is not a fatal event as defined by, but is included because of the seriousness of the event. According to the NTSB, there have been at least six previous fatal accidents in the US involving the Pilatus PC-12.

  3. 23 March 2009; FedEx Express (FedEx) MD-11F; near Tokyo, Japan: The aircraft was on a cargo flight from Guangzhou, China to Narita Airport near Tokyo, Japan. The aircraft bounced on landing, and contacted the runway a second time nose wheel first before rolling to the left, contacting the runway with its left stabilizer and wing, and catching fire. The aircraft ended up in an inverted position. Both crew members were killed. (Note: Event dates are determined by the date at the location of the event.)

    This plane crash was a cargo flight, and resulted in no fatalities, and is not a fatal event as defined by, but is included because of the seriousness of the event.
    Other FedEx Express Plane Crashes
    Other MD-11 Plane Crashes

    23 March 2009 Crash of a FedEx Express MD-11 near Tokyo
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  4. 18 June 2009; Continental Airlines 777; Flight 61; en route from Brussels to Newark: The captain of Continental Airlines Flight 61, a 777 en route from Brussels to Newark, died while the aircraft was in flight over the Atlantic. The captain was replaced by a reserve first officer and the crew declared an emergency. The aircraft landed without further incident. There were 247 passengers on board, and there were no other injuries to passengers or crew.
    Visit the News for more information.
    Other Continental Plane Crashes
    Other 777 Plane Crashes

  5. 8 August 2009; Eurocopter and Piper Saratoga, Hudson River, near New York City:A single-engine aircraft and a sightseeing helicopter collided early Saturday afternoon over the Hudson River near Manhattan. Three people were aboard the single-engine Piper PA-32R-300 (N71MC), and the flight plan indicated the aircraft was heading from Teterboro Airport in Teaneck, New Jersey to Ocean City, New Jersey. The Saratoga took off from Teterboro shortly before noon local time. On board were a pilot and two passengers, including one child. The Liberty Harbor Sightseeing Tours helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350 (N401LH), took off from Pier 30 in Manhattan, near West 30th Street, and reportedly had one pilot and five Italian tourists on board. All nine occupants were killed.

    Visit the News for more information.
    Fatal Midair Airline Crashes
    Fatal Eurocopter AS350 Events
    Fatal Piper Saratoga Events (PA-32R-300)

  6. 9 October 2009;CASA-212, near Fonds-Verrettes, Haiti:The aircraft was on a routine surveillance flight near the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, when it crashed in a mountainous area about 12 miles (20 km) west of the village of Fonds-Verrettes, Haiti. All 11 personnel, which included military members from Jordan and Uruguay, were killed. The aircraft flight had been supporting the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH.

  7. 28 November 2009; Avient Aviation MD-11F; Flight 324; Shanghai, China: The aircraft was on was on an unscheduled cargo flight from Shanghai, China to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan when it crashed. Reportedly, one eyewitness, who is a pilot based in Shanghai, stated that the main gear left the ground just before the end of the runway, with the aircraft gaining very little altitude, before impacting approach lights and antennas and falling back onto the ground. Another report indicated that the aircraft's tail struck the runway one or more times during takeoff. Three of the seven crew members were killed. More crash details, including photos, available at

    This plane crash was a cargo flight without passengers, and is not a fatal event as defined by, but is included because of the seriousness of the event.

  8. December 2009; TSA Accidentally Releases Sensitive Information: The Transportation Security Administration had released what it thought was a redacted procedures manual and posted it on a publicly accessible website. The document was in fact improperly redacted and all of the information, including photos of sample identification documents from the CIA and US Congress, was easily extracted from the document. This event was covered in depth by, but if you just want to see these procedures manuals, you can download the full, unredacted version, or the version with the sensitive areas blacked out.

    Video and Audio Podcast Links (2:23)
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    Related Information
    Full TSA report
    Redacted TSA report
    TSA prohibited and restricted Items

    Related Articles article on the attempted bombing
    Description of four key US terrorist and TSA security databases
    BBC interview with's Dr. Todd Curtis

  9. 22 December 2009; American Airlines 737-800 (N977AN); Flight 331; Kingston, Jamaica:The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Miami, FL to Kingston, Jamaica. The aircraft landed during a rainstorm, and was unable to stop on the runway. After departing the runway, the aircraft went beyond the airport fence, and crossed a road before coming to rest on a beach. The landing gear collapsed, both engines separated from the wings, and there were two major breaks in the fuselage, but all 148 passengers and six crew members survived. The landing was carried out with a slight tail wind.

    This plane crash resulted in no fatalities, and is not a fatal event as defined by, but is included because of the seriousness of the event.
    Other American Airlines plane crashes
    Other 737 crashes
    Wikipedia page on this accident

  10. 25 December 2009; Northwest Airlines A330-300 (N820NW); Flight 253; near Detroit, MI: A passenger on a Northwest Airlines A330-300(N820NW) apparently attempted to detonate an explosive device while the aircraft was approaching Detroit. Flight 253 was an international flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, and early reports are that a passenger, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian national, allegedly had the device strapped to one of his legs, and that the device was triggered during descent (about 20 minutes before landing) and started a small fire. The flight, operated by Northwest Airlines using an Airbus 330-300 aircraft with 278 passengers and 11 crew members on board, landed safely, and the suspect, the only person injured, was transported to a local hospital for treatment of serious burns.

    This plane crash resulted in no fatalities, and is not a fatal event as defined by, but is included because of the seriousness of the event.

    Other Northwest Airlines plane crashes and serious incidents
    Other A330 crashes and serious incidents
    Wikipedia page on this accident