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28 June 2010

Advice for Air Travelers with Diabetes recently added a page with advice for diabetic travelers. Most of the advice is based on information provided US government organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, and encourages travelers to plan ahead to make sure to sure that they have medications and other necessary supplies.

TSA and Medical Exceptions
While medical professionals recommend that travelers with diabetes carry food and snack items on long trips, this may cause problems at the airport as the TSA normally does not allow most liquids and gels in the cabin. As has pointed out in some detail, the TSA allows most medical items in carry-on baggage.

Send Your Suggestions

Please take the time to review the new page for travelers with diabetes and if you see something that we missed, or have stories you'd like to share about problems diabetics have with air travel, please send them in.

19 June 2010

Mapping the intersection of mind and computer in the cockpit

The following is based on the article Mapping the intersection of mind and computer from guest writer Christine Negroni

Well my inbox is filling up again with emails, as it did last month when I reported the following story for The New York Times on pilot complacency and cockpit automation.

Prompting the latest flurry of comments is a June 15, 2010 article by Andy Pasztor and Daniel Michaels in the Wall Street Journal about the crash in May 2010 crash of an Afriqiyah Airways A330. Only one of the 104 people on the Airbus A330 from Johannesburg to Tripoli survived the accident.

According to Pasztor and Michaels the landing accident is being seen as one in “which confused pilots got out of sync with the plane's computerized controls and ended up flying an apparently functioning commercial jet into the ground.”

This is no one-off event. A number of studies over the past 15 years indicate pilots fail to adequately monitor what the airplane is doing in one-half to three-quarters of all accidents. So in the wake of the Afriqiyah Airways disaster, what’s the big idea being proposed? More automation. That’s right, Airbus is said to be working to “devise foolproof automated ground-collision avoidance systems” that in cases of emergency transfer control from the pilots to the airplane.

“This is very disturbing”, wrote Hugh Schoelzel, a retired captain who worked as director of safety for TWA. “The more automation we add, the more training and pilot qualification issues arise. I believe in automation, but as an adjunct to basic pilot skills, not as an ‘end-all’.”

While automation may be causing a decrease in piloting skills as Mr. Schoelzel suggests, Professor Missy Cummings of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says there is another reason to be concerned about cockpit automation; boredom.

Dr. Cummings a former Navy pilot, is director of the humans and automation laboratory at MIT’s department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Not surprisingly she is a proponent of automation and envisions a future that will include at least some pilotless commercial flights. But first some extremely troublesome problems have to be wrestled to the ground, problems demonstrated by one of Dr. Cummings students, Master’s degree candidate First Lt. Christin S. Hart, who has found that too much automation can prove counter-productive.

“Increased automation can lower an operator’s workload too much, leading to mental underload, which can cause a decrement in vigilance, or sustained alertness, and lead to boredom. It has been shown that boredom produces negative effects on morale, performance, and quality of work,” she wrote in her paper, Assessing the Impact of Low Workload in Supervisory Control of Networked Unmanned Vehicles.

These findings do not surprise Dr. Cummings “The human mind craves stimulation”, she explained to me last week during a visit to her office in Cambridge. Failing to find that stimulation in the task at hand, the mind will wander.

This cuts to the heart of a number of events outlined by industry researchers but takes us at warp speed to the episode last October in which two Northwest Airlines pilots overflew their destination - the Minneapolis airport. The Northwest pilots were doing personal work on their laptops which is not allowed.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with automation,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told me. “Any opportunity for distraction doesn’t have any business in the cockpit. Your focus should be on flying the airplane.”

But if I’m reading Lt. Hart’s study properly, the automation itself is an opportunity for distraction, even as it assists pilots by reducing workload and increasing the precision of calculations and navigation.

This is a conundrum. In today’s cockpit, two highly complex systems – the mind and the computer – come together, even though the contours of that intersection are still being mapped. It is not only unwise to race to a fix that fails appreciate these systems in balance, but it is unlikely to result in success.

Related Content
NTSB opens public docket on Northwest overflight

17 June 2010

United Express Flight Crash in Ottawa Injures Three

16 June 2010; United Express; Embraer E145; flight 8050; Ottawa, Canada: United Express 8050, a nonstop flight from Washington's Dulles airport to Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier airport, landed on runway 7, was unable to stop on the runway, coming to rest about 150 meters off the end of the runway. It was raining at the time of the accident.

One witness claimed that the aircraft was hydroplaning on the runway, and a second witness who was monitoring air traffic control communications reported that the pilot told the control tower he had no traction on the wet runway.

The nose landing gear appears to have collapsed, although the rest of the aircraft appears intact. There was no post crash fire. Both pilots and one passenger were injured. The other 32 passengers and the flight attendant were not injured.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is conducting an accident investigation, with the assistance of the NTSB.

About the ERJ-145
The Embraer ERJ-145, along with the similarly designed ERJ-135 and ERJ-170, were involved in three previous crashes during passenger flights, and none have resulted in any fatalities. In 2006, an ERJ-135 operating as an executive aircraft was involved in a midair collision with a Gol Linhas Aereas 737-800 over the Amazon in Brazil. The ERJ-135 was able to land and none of the occupants were injured. However, the 737 crashed and all six crew members and 148 passengers were killed.

About United Express
There have been three crashes involving United Express aircraft that have killed passengers, with the most recent being in 1996. None of them involved an aircraft operated by Trans States. The NTSB database also lists about 35 previous incidents and accidents involving United Express.

About Trans States
Trans States airlines, which has been operating under its current certificate since 1988, currently has a fleet of about 28 Embraer 145 aircraft. Prior to this accident, the NTSB lists four previous serious incidents involving Trans States. In the past, it has operated as a regional affiliate of a number of larger airlines including Delta (Delta Connection>, Northwest Airlines (Northwest Ailink), TWA (Trans World Express), United (United Express), and US Airways (US Airways Express).

Flight Attendant Fills in for Sick Pilot

On Monday June 14, 2010, the first officer on American Airlines flight 1612, a Boeing 767 flying nonstop from San Francisco to Chicago with 225 passengers and a crew of seven, became ill about an hour into the flight and was unable to continue with his flying duties. After the captain, Jim Hunter, deemed the first officer too ill to fly, the flight's purser reviewed the passenger list for off-duty pilots, but none were on board. It turns out that two of the cabin crew members, the purser and flight attendant Patti Deluna, both had flying experience, the captain chose Deluna because she had more flying experience. She earned a commercial license in 1970 and has logged about 300 flight hours.

According to an American Airlines spokesperson, Deluna read checklist procedures to the captain as he configured the aircraft for landing, in addition to handling other tasks in the cockpit. She was in the cockpit for about the last 90 minutes of the flight.

The plane, carrying 225 passengers and seven crew members, landed safely at Chicago's O'Hare airport, at 4:24 p.m. Monday. After the aircraft landed, the first officer was taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released the next day.

Previous 767 Incapacitated Pilot Incident

This is not the first time that a flight attendant has taken over for an incapacitated pilot. In January 2008, the first officer on an Air Canada 767 on a flight from Toronto to London became incapacitated and had to be removed from the cockpit. The captain declared an emergency and completed the flight with the assistance of a flight attendant who was also a licensed pilot.

A copy of the Air Canada incident report from the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit is available at

You can hear the associated podcast at:

09 June 2010

TSA Rules on How to Legally Travel with Guns and Firearms

As the busy summer travel season arrives, the TSA Blog reminds passengers that guns and other firearms are not allowed in the passenger cabin, but are allow in checked baggage so long as you follow a few basic rules.

As discussed in detail on, Pistols, flare guns, BB guns, rifles, and other firearms are allowed in checked luggage, but must be unloaded, packed in a locked hard-sided container, and declared to the airline at check-in. This restriction also applies to firearms parts and ammunition. When passengers check in, they’re required to declare the items with the airline and ensure they are packed properly. TSA has no role in the declaration process. However,if the TSA searches your checked bag and finds weapons or ammunition that have not been properly declared or packed, they will have to notify a law enforcement officer and an airline representative. Depending on the local or state laws, you may be fined or even arrested.

The key regulations around transporting guns and other firearms include the following:
  • You must declare all firearms to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.

  • The firearm must be unloaded.

  • The firearm must be in a hard-sided container.

  • The container must be locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from access by anyone other than you. Cases that can be pulled open with little effort do not meet this criterion. The pictures provided here illustrate the difference between a properly packaged and an improperly packaged firearm.

  • TSA recommends that you provide the key or combination to the security officer if he or she needs to open the container. You should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation. If you are not present and the security officer must open the container, TSA or the airline will make a reasonable attempt to contact you. If they can't contact you, the container will not be placed on the plane. Federal regulations prohibit unlocked gun cases (or cases with broken locks) on aircraft.

  • You must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging that is specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition (the TSA does not specifically say how much is a "small amount").

  • You can't use firearm magazines/clips for packing ammunition unless they completely and securely enclose the ammunition (e.g., by securely covering the exposed portions of the magazine or by securely placing the magazine in a pouch, holder, holster or lanyard).

  • You may carry the ammunition in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as you pack it as described above.

  • You can't bring black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms in either your carry-on or checked baggage.