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27 December 2013

How to (not) fly with marijuana

In this second article about the upcoming changes in marijuana laws in the states of Washington and Colorado, we answer basic questions about how to fly with marijuana. Starting in 2014, any adult age 21 and over will be able to legally buy and possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, but this freedom is limited.

While these two states have changed their laws, the federal laws on the possession and use of marijuana have not changed. However, the federal government is allowing individual states the freedom to allow certain kinds of marijuana possession and use within the borders of those states.

Because federal law prohibits the transportation of marijuana (cannabis) by air, the answer to most of these questions is some variation of no, but for some passengers, saying no is not enough. Below are some detailed explanations behind each question, starting with yes answers.

The following questions are related to airports located in the states of Washington and Colorado, where both recreational and medicinal marijuana will be legal starting in 2014.

Can I bring marijuana to the airport? - That depends on what part of the airport. The secure parts of the airport, including the terminal areas beyond the TSA checkpoints, are under federal control, and federal law prohibits the possession of marijuana in these parts of the airport.

Can I bring marijuana on the plane? - No. You are not allowed to bring marijuana on the plane. In fact, you are not even allowed to bring marijuana past the TSA security screening checkpoints.

Can I put marijuana in a checked bag? - No. You are not allowed to bring marijuana on the plane either in checked or carry on luggage.

Can I mail or ship my marijuana before I get on the plane? - No. Federal law prohibits sending marijuana through the mail or through shipping services like FedEx and UPS.

Can I fly after consuming marijuana? - Yes, but it may not be a good idea. While federal law doesn't prohibit passengers from flying under the influence of drugs, if you are intoxicated, you may be prevented from boarding your aircraft. Also, if you somehow get on the aircraft and are intoxicated, you may not be able to react appropriately in emergency situations, and your behavior may be affected in a way that makes you a hazard to crew members and other passengers.

Can I use marijuana at the airport? - It depends on the situation. Outside of the secure areas of the terminal, state laws determine if you can consume marijuana. In both Colorado and Washington, public consumption of marijuana is illegal, so consumption out of public view would be legal.

Can I smoke marijuana in a designated airport smoking area? - No. These smoking areas are public areas for smoking of tobacco products, not marijuana, so the state laws of both Colorado and Washington would not allow you to smoke marijuana in these areas.

Can I consume marijuana at the airport if I am not smoking it? - Yes, so long as you are consuming your marijuana out of public view.

What is considered out of the public view at the airport? - That is up to the interpretation of law enforcement in Colorado and Washington. Also, airports may have additional restrictions on the use of marijuana on airport property.

Can I fly with medical marijuana if I have a prescription? - No. Federal law does not allow any kind of marijuana, whether it is medical or recreational marijuana, on airliners or in the secure parts of the airport terminal (beyond the TSA screening stations), and it does not matter if you have a prescription for medical marijuana.

Am I allowed to fly into an airport in Colorado or Washington with marijuana? - No. If you somehow have managed to bring marijuana with you on your inbound flight, you have broken the law.

What if I am on an incoming international flight from a country where marijuana is legal? - The answer is still no. If you are entering the country, you will have to go clear US customs, and federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana, or any drug paraphernalia.

Follow upcoming developments will publish a series of articles about the implementation of the changes in marijuana laws and regulations in Colorado and Washington and how they may affect air travelers. To receive those updates, please subscribe to the mailing list.

Related resources
Airline travel and marijuana

20 December 2013

Holiday air travel advice 2013

Once again, tens of millions of people, including many infrequent and first time flyers, are heading home for the holidays, and with some prior planning and a little bit of luck, most passengers should not have any serious travel issues. has a variety of resources, including online resources and downloadable ebooks that will help you work through many of the most common issues: web site resources

Downloadable ebooks

Traveling with gifts
If you carry gifts, either in checked or carry-on baggage, remember that the TSA has to be able to inspect any package and may have to unwrap your gift to do so. You can partially unwrap them for easier access, ship wrapped gifts ahead of time, or wait until you arrive at your destination to wrap them.

Flying with holiday food
You should be aware that some food items are banned from carry on baggage because they contain liquids or gels. While you can carry cakes, pastries, and pies with you in your carry on bag, but the following should either be in checked baggage or left at home:

  • Cranberry sauce
  • Creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.)
  • Gravy
  • Jams, jellies, and syrup
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Salad dressing
  • Salsa
  • Sauces
  • Soups
  • Wine, liquor and beer
  • Gift baskets with one or more of the above items

New and surprising for 2013
There are several new trends and rules to look out for this year, some of them are pleasant surprises, and some of them no so pleasant:

  • Mobile device rule changes: In October, the FAA lifted many of the restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices in flight, and many airlines now allow you to use mobile devices and tablets during all phases of the flight. However, phone calls are still not allowed, and most airlines don't provide inflight Internet access.
  • Increasing restrictions on unaccompanied children: More airlines are increasing the costs, and increasing the fees, for travel by unaccompanied children. Typically, airlines allow children 12 and over to travel alone, but require that children between five and 11 who travel alone do so under their unaccompanied child program. However, many airlines restrict unaccompanied children to nonstop flights (including United as of earlier this month), and may charge up to $300 extra for a round trip flight.
  • Some passengers can keep their shoes on:Since the last holiday travel season, TSA has relaxed their rules on removing shoes at checkpoints. Children 12 and younger, adults 75 and older, and members of the military no longer have to routinely remove their shoes during TSA screening.

15 December 2013

Airline travel and marijuana

Starting next month, two US states, Washington and Colorado, will allow any adult aged 21 or over to purchase small amounts of marijuana (cannabis), without any prescription, license, or other special permission.

While marijuana has been available for sale for medicinal purposes for several years in numerous states, including Washington and Colorado, the changes that will happen in 2014 are significant because the general public, including air travelers from other states and countries, will be able to legally buy and consume marijuana.

Although many of the details of how marijuana laws and regulations will be enforced within Colorado and Washington are still being worked out, the laws and regulations related to airline travel and marijuana are very clear. Any airline passenger who intends to travel to the states of Washington or Colorado for the purpose of legally consuming marijuana should be aware of a few basic realities about air travel and marijuana.

Key things passengers should know
There are a few key things that any airline passenger should understand about the changes in the laws that may impact their decisions to travel to or from the states of Washington or Colorado:

  • Federal law has not changed: Marijuana has been, and continues to be illegal at the federal (national) level. No federal laws have changed, but the federal government has allowed the governments of individual states to allow for the production, distribution, and consumption of marijuana related products within that state's borders. While about 20 states allow the use of medical marijuana, only two, Washington and Colorado, have also allowed for the sale and use of non-medical marijuana.
  • Possession is limited at airports: The federal government has banned marijuana from any federal property, or any areas under federal control. That would include the secure areas of the airport (the areas inside the TSA screening areas), and on any airliners.
  • You can't fly with marijuana: The federal government bans marijuana, even medical marijuana, on aircraft, whether in a carry-on item, in checked bags, or in any package being shipped by air.
  • Medial marijuana is treated the same: The federal government makes no distinction between medical marijuana and other kinds of marijuana.

The TSA and marijuana

The TSA is not a law enforcement agency, and the TSA has stated that its security officers do not specifically search for illegal drugs. If a marijuana-related item is discovered, even in states where marijuana is legal, TSA's policy is to refer the matter to law enforcement to make a determination on how to proceed.

Since law enforcement at an airport typically handled by a local or state level law enforcement agency, how a passenger will be treated will depend on the location and the circumstances. At the very least, the passenger's marijuana will likely be confiscated.

Entering the US with marijuana
The situation is different for someone traveling to Colorado or Washington from outside of the US. All passengers entering the US must pass through US customs, and the federal government will not allow marijuana to enter the country. Also banned are any articles that are intended to be used with marijuana. In addition, non-US citizens who attempt to enter the US with marijuana or marijuana-related items may be prevented from entering the US.

US customs officials may also bar from the country non-US citizens who are attempting to enter the US for the purposes of engaging in illegal activities. Since the consumption of marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, if you are not a US citizen and you are entering the US for the purpose of consuming marijuana in Washington or Colorado, it is possible that you could be prevented from entering the country, even though your activity is considered legal within those states.

Follow upcoming developments
This article is the first of many that will discuss these upcoming changes in Washington and Colorado, and how those changes may affect airline passengers who are traveling to or from those states for the purpose of consuming marijuana. In the next few weeks, will be publishing a number of updates about the changes in marijuana laws and regulations and how they may affect air travelers. To receive those updates, please subscribe to the mailing list.

Photo credit: JonRichfield

13 December 2013

Review of NTSB Asiana flight 214 investigative hearing

On 11 December 2013, the NTSB conducted a day-long investigative hearing into the 6 July 2013 crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco, featuring public testimony from representatives of Boeing, Asiana Airlines, and other organizations directly involved in the accident and the subsequent investigation. While the NTSB had previously released to the public substantial amounts of information about the accident, there was quite a bit more new material presented at the hearing.

For a summary of the hearing, listen to the Al Jazeera America interview featuring their transportation contributor Dr. Todd Curtis.

The amount of information presented at the hearing was noteworthy, as was the way that it was released. Like it has since the day of the accident, the NTSB has been very innovative in the way that it has used the Internet to get information very quickly to the public. This article describes some of the information presented in the hearing, and also points out some of the areas where the information released could be incomplete or misleading.

The purpose of the investigative hearing
The NTSB holds public hearings during major accident investigations for many reasons, among the most important is making the public aware of the progress of the investigation, and to focus attention on the key areas of the investigation. While the key parties involved in the investigation, most notably Boeing and Asiana airlines, provided testimony and answered detailed questions from NTSB Board members, they have all been closely involved with the investigation from the beginning, and have likely already provided the same information to the investigators.

The public testimony is more of an opportunity for the media and the general public, including accident victims and their families, to learn additional details of the investigation and to get an idea of where the investigation is heading.

What the NTSB discussed
The NTSB investigative hearing focused on five areas:

  1. Boeing 777 flight deck design concepts and characteristics
  2. Asiana pilot training on Boeing 777 automated systems and visual approach procedures
  3. Effects and influence of automation on human performance in the accident sequence
  4. Emergency response
  5. Airplane cabin crashworthiness and occupant protection.

The investigation is far from complete
The investigative hearing is only part of the accident investigation process, focusing on the factual aspects of what happened in the accident and the initial emergency response to the crash, as well as factors that may have played a role in circumstances that led up to the accident or that affected the emergency response.

Hearing testimony provided insights into the "what happened" kind of questions being asked by the NTSB, such as what was the sequence of events that occurred immediately before and after the accident, as well as insights into "why it happened" questions such as the kind of training provided to the flight crew on the accident aircraft. The latter parts of the investigation focuses on answering "why it happened."

Other "why it happened" type of questions may address issues or explain circumstances that happened days, months, or even years before the accident, and that may have led to the situations that allowed the accident to occur and that may have made deaths and injuries either more or less likely once the accident occurred. The hearing didn't fully answer all of the "what happened" and "why it happened" questions. Complete answers to these questions, and well as recommendations for changes and improvements, will likely not happen until the final report is published.

These recommendations, which are answers to "what should be done" questions, typically, but not always, get answered at the time the final report is published because much of the analysis of the accident happens after the NTSB and their investigative partners have had an opportunity to sort through information from a variety of sources. NTSB final reports have a similar organization, and typically have three sections; Findings, Probable Cause, and Recommendations, that are associated with the three kinds of questions mentioned earlier. The "Findings" section would answer the "what happened" questions, the "Probable Cause" section would answer the "why it happened" questions, and the "Recommendations" section would address the "what should be done" questions.

Key implied "what happened" questions
While the investigation is not complete, and other factual information may come to light later, the testimony provided in the hearing implied that the following scenario led to the crash:

  • Although the glideslope portion of the landing runway's instrument landing system was not operational, and the crew was vectored for a visual approach to the landing runway, the Asiana crew decided to used both the autothrottle and autopilot during their landing.
  • The autothrottle was being used to control airspeed, and the autopilot was being used to control the flight path.
  • During the latter part of the landing attempt, the crew disconnected the autopilot and manually adjusted the throttles, and this put the autothrottle in a mode where it was no longer controlling airspeed.
  • The crew continued the landing attempt, and the airspeed was decreasing, but did not take actions to increase the airspeed soon enough to avoid crashing short of the runway.

Key unanswered "why it happened" questions
Critical "why it happened" questions that were hinted at in the hearing, but not yet answered, include the following:

  • Why didn't the crew take corrective action sooner in the landing sequence?
  • Why did the crew use the autopilot and other cockpit automation in ways not recommended by Boeing?
  • Why did the Boeing training organization make certain assumptions about how much airline pilots know about how to use cockpit automation?

How this investigation was different
The Asiana crash was a high profile event, not only in the US, but also in South Korea, where Asiana is based, and China, which had a significant number of its citizens on the flight. The NTSB went to great lengths to accommodate the media interest in this investigation; as well as the public interest in the US, South Korea, and China; by doing the following:

  • Providing a streaming online video stream of the entire hearing,
  • Providing a real-time translation of the hearing in Mandarin Chinese and Korean,
  • Providing a simultaneous transcript in English of the proceedings,
  • Using social media, primarily Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, to provide related photos,videos, and links to additional material.

While the NTSB has historically provided information freely to the public, until the advent of the Internet, it was very difficult for individuals to get access to the final reports or the supporting data behind their investigations. In recent years, and especially during the Asiana investigation, the NTSB has aggressively used social media like Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube to provide more information than ever before, with even fewer delays. While this level of openness has caused some friction in the past between NTSB and other aviation organizations, the amount and types of information provided by the NTSB during this hearing was consistent with their recent communications policies.

Issues with the NTSB's hearing information
While providing a live webcast, a real-time transcript, and simultaneous translations into other languages were very positive actions with respect to providing information, it is important to recognize that there are potential issues with this information that may limit its usefulness or lead to misinterpretations by the media or the public:

  • The transcript of the Asiana hearing was not completely accurate, so if someone requires an accurate transcription, that portion of that transcript should be compared to the appropriate portion of the video.
  • The webcast video of the hearing will be archived, but it is not clear if the original, somewhat flawed, transcript will also be archived, if there will be a revised transcript archived, or if the NTSB will not archive any transcript.
  • The participants in the hearing were provided with simultaneous translations of all the statements made during the hearing, and it is not clear if those translations were completely accurate. Some of the technical information provided in the hearing was both complex and subtle, and may not be completely understood even if the speaker and listener shared the same language. Some of the spoken testimony has accompanying presentation slides that would help understanding, and may be necessary to view those to make sense of the spoken testimony or the information in the transcript.

Dr. Todd Curtis interviewed by Al Jazeera America
Dr. Todd Curtis, transportation contributor for Al Jazeera America, was interviewed by John Seigenthaler about some of the issues discussed during the NTSB hearing.
Listen to the interview

Key NTSB Asiana investigation resources
Asiana flight 214 investigation main page
Asiana flight 214 accident docket
Asiana flight 214 investigative hearing transcript (archived by

Key NTSB social media resources
NTSB webcast archives
NTSB YouTube channel
NTSB Flickr photos
NTSB Twitter stream
NTSB RSS feeds
NTSB email subscriptions

Related articles

Find out how to help Todd Curtis run the Boston Marathon at

11 December 2013

NTSB has live webcast of Asiana 214 investigative hearing today

The NTSB's hearing on Asiana flight 214 began this morning and will end this evening. It is notable for its use of technology to get information quickly to the public. There is no only a live webcast, but also also a live written transcript in English combined with options for translations in Korean and Mandarin Chinese.

This hearing was originally scheduled to take place over two days, but the first day was cancelled due to weather in the Washington, DC area. The agenda was revised so that it could be completed today, and the hearing will run until about 8:00 p.m. This hearing will also be archived for several months, making it very easy for the media and especially the general public to come to their own conclusions about the information provided by witnesses.

Finding live comments on Twitter
If you are searching for recent comments on Twitter, helpful hashtags include #NTSB, #Asiana, and #777.

Asiana flight 214 NTSB investigative hearing information

07 December 2013

Measure turbulence while you fly

If you fly regularly, you will routinely experience turbulence. Although it is routine, it can be worrisome to some air travelers who are already anxious flyers. Most of the time the amount of turbulence is very small, and although the flight crew may reassure passengers either before or after encountering turbulence, they don't provide passengers with any kind of objective measures for turbulence, and passengers had no easy way of finding out on their own.

That has all changed with the release of the new SOAR Fear of Flying smartphone app. Available in versions for iPhone, iPad, and for Android devices, the app includes a G-force meter that you can use to chart the amount of turbulence that you are personally experiencing. An example of this screen is below:

Get the app today!
The app is free, and can be downloaded by clicking the image below or by clicking here:

05 December 2013

NTSB train crash investigation has lessons for future plane crash investigations

Normally, this site focuses on airline related safety and security events, but the NTSB investigation into the 1 December 2013 fatal derailment of a commuter train in New York is an exception because some of the recent developments in the investigation are quite relevant to how the NTSB would investigate future airline accidents.

The NTSB is best known for its investigations of airline accidents, but it also investigates accidents involving other modes of transportation, including rail accidents. NTSB Board Member Earl Weener, who is a former Boeing executive, is heading the investigation of the fatal 1 December 2013 crash of a Metro-North commuter train in New York, and part of that process includes involving relevant parties that provide technical expertise in support of the NTSB's investigation. During the early part of the investigation, the NTSB serves as the primary conduit of information to the media and the public on the progress of the investigation, and sticks primarily to factual information about the accident. Determination of probable causes, and the role of organizations and individuals in the accident typically happens much later in the investigation.

One of the parties invited to participate in this investigation was the Association of Commuter Rail Employees (ACRE), which represents Metro-North several categories of Metro-North employees. However, the NTSB abruptly removed ACRE from the investigation onm3 December 2013 after a representative of the union gave a series of briefings to the media where that representative discussed and interpreted information related to the ongoing investigation.

This is a very rare move for the NTSB, and one that underscores the importance that the NTSB places in adhering to its investigation process. If this had been an airliner accident investigation, the NTSB would have likely taken the same action. While news media organizations and other groups not directly involved in the investigation are free to speculate about the causes of an accident, parties that are part of the NTSB investigation don't have that option. There are many reasons for this, and perhaps the most obvious one is that publicly speculating about the causes of an accident is inappropriate before all of the relevant factual information about the accident has been analyzed.

Below is Earl Weener's NTSB briefing from 3 December 2013.

SOAR Fear of Flying offers $100 discount
The SOAR Fear of Flying program has a special extended Cyber Monday offer for you. From now until Friday December 6, 2013, save $100 on the most popular packages SOAR offers.You can save $100 from the normal $480 prices for the SOAR Program Package or the $595 Guaranteed SOAR Package. Please visit the SOAR special offer page for more information.

30 November 2013

No survivors from ERJ-190 crash in Namibia

29 November 2013; LAM ERJ-190AR; C9-EMC; flight 470; Bwabwata National Park, Namibia: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Maputo, Mozambique, to Luanda, Angola, and crashed in northern Namibia near the borders of Botswana and Angola. All 27 passengers and six crew members were killed in the crash.

About the ERJ-190
This was the second ERJ-190 event involving passenger fatalities. The first was an August 2010 crash in China involving a Henan Airlines ERJ-190. 44 of the 96 occupants were killed. The ERJ-190 series, which includes the ERJ-195, first flew in 2004, and according the, over 600 have been produced. The US airline with the largest fleet is JetBlue, with about 59 ERJ-190 aircraft.

About airline
LAM (LAM Mozambique Airlines) is the national airline of Mozambique, and currently has six remaining aircraft, including four 737s and two other ERJ-190s. The European Union bans all airlines from Mozambique, including LAM, from operating in the EU. The FAA, which provides safety ratings for national civil aviation authorities, have not provided a rating for Mozambique because it has been at least four years since any airline from that country has provided air transport service to the US, have had any code share arrangements with US air carriers, or have had any significant interaction with the FAA.

Additional resources
ERJ crashes

17 November 2013

No survivors from 737-500 crash in Russia

17 November 2013; Tartarstan Aircompany 737-500; VQ-BBN; flight 383; Kazan, Russia: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Moscow to Kazan, Russia, and crashed during a landing attempt shortly after 7 pm local time. Early reports indicated that it was at least the second landing attempt. All 44 passengers and six crew members were killed in the crash and subsequent fire. RT News has provided a profile of several young parents who were among the crash victims.

Below is a security camera video that shows the aircraft in a high-angle dive shortly before impact:

About the 737
This was the 73rd fatal event involving the 737, and the fourth involving the 737-500 series. The first 737 aircraft began commercial operations in 1968, and the first of the 737-500 series began service in 1990.

The first fatal event for the 737 was in 1972, and the previous fatal crash was in April 2012. There have been four prior 737-500 crashes that resulted in serious or fatal passenger injuries:

  1. 26 July 1993; Asiana Airlines 737-500; near Mokpo, Korea: The aircraft struck high ground in poor weather about 4 km from the runway while it was making its third attempt at a landing. Four of the six crew members and 64 of the 104 passengers were killed.

  2. 7 May 2002; EgyptAir 737-500; near Tunis, Tunisia: The aircraft crashed about 6 km (3.8 mi) from the airport after a flight from Cairo. The aircraft was reportedly making a second approach for landing when it crashed into high ground during a period of reduced visibility due to fog and sandstorms. Three of the six crew members and 11 of the 56 passengers were killed.

  3. 14 September 2008; Aeroflot-Nord 737-500; Flight 821; near Perm, Russia: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Moscow to Perm, Russia. Contact with the aircraft was lost shortly before landing when the aircraft was about 3,600 feet, or about 1100 meters, above the ground. The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash, coming down outside of the city of Perm and near the tracks of the Trans-Siberian Railway. All 82 passengers and six crew members were killed in the crash. There were seven children, including one infant, among the passengers.

  4. 20 December 2008; Continental Airlines 737-500; Flight 1404; Denver, CO: The aircraft, which was on a scheduled domestic flight from Denver, CO to Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX, departed the runway during takeoff and skidded across a taxiway and a service road before coming to rest in a ravine several hundred yards from the runway. The aircraft sustained significant damage, including a post crash fire, separation of one engine and separated and collapsed landing gear. There were about 38 injuries among the 110 passengers and five crew members, including two passengers who were seriously injured.

Additional resources
737 crashes
Crashes in the former Soviet Union

04 November 2013

Lessons learned and insights from the LAX attack

On 1 November 2013, 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia allegedly used an M&P-15 assault rifle to attack TSA personnel and others at Terminal 3 at LAX. Ciancia, who was not a ticketed passenger, is accused of shooting and killing one TSA security officer and wounding two other TSA officers and one passenger.

According to the FBI's charging document, Ciancia took his weapon out of a bag, and fired at a TSA security officer at point-blank range. Ciancia went up an escalator toward the security screening area, but returned to his first victim to shoot him a second time. This was the TSA officer who killed by Ciancia. The alleged gunman later shot two other TSA officers and a passenger before airport police confronted him inside the terminal, shot him several times, and took him into custody.

Key questions about the attack
The news media an the general public had many questions about the attack, how it could happen, and what could be done to prevent similar attacks in the future. Some of the common questions, and's responses, are below:

  • How could someone get a gun into an airport? - While only authorized persons are allowed to bring weapons onto aircraft or even past the TSA security screening areas, the rules are very different in other parts of the airport. Local laws control what firearms are allowed to be carried in the non-secure areas of the airport, including the ticket counter areas where passengers take their checked luggage. In fact, passengers who want to travel with their firearms have to bring them into the non-secure areas of the terminal and have them inspected before the airline will allow it to be shipped as checked luggage.

  • How could the gunman get past the security checkpoint? - There is typically a significant security presence in the TSA screening areas, and usually include a combination of TSA officers, airport police, and other security and law enforcement personnel. The investigative authorities have not release all the details of the attack, and it is not clear what security or law enforcement assets were available to keep the gunman from gaining entrance to the secure area of Terminal 3.

  • How can anyone get that close to a screening area without a ticket? - Airports in the US are freely open to the public, and with rare exceptions like a heightened security alert, there is no screening of cars arriving at the airport or of people walking around the non-secure part of the terminal.

  • Do TSA officers have guns? - TSA officers do not have law enforcement powers, and are not armed. They rely on local police or other law enforcement organizations to provide armed security.

  • Were there police on duty at the Terminal 3 checkpoint? - The investigating authorities (led by the FBI) have not yet stated where law enforcement officers were located at the time of the shooting.

  • Did the TSA or the government have any warning of a possible attack? - Neither the FBI, the TSA, or any part of the federal government has made any statement about what they new prior to the attack. Since Ciancia was not a ticketed passenger, there would have been little or no reason for for any federal agency to investigate him. However, the Los Angeles police department had been contacted by Ciancia's family, who had been concerned about his well-being. Police had reportedly tried to contact Ciancia in the morning on the day of the attack at LAX.

  • Are other airports vulnerable to this kind of attack? - The security procedures in place at LAX are similar to what would be found at every US airport. While every airport has the same vulnerabilities as LAX, in order for an attack to succeed, there has to be an attempt either by a group or an individual. Since 9/11, there have been two attacks of this type in the US, both at LAX, and both involving individual attackers. In both cases, security or law enforcement assets at the airport quickly addressed the situation shortly after the attacks began.

  • What can be done to keep this from happening again? - Many things can be done, and in the short term there may be an increased presence of police in or near airport screening areas. However, it is unclear if there will be any permanent changes in policies and procedures of the TSA, of airport police forces, or of airports. Major changes, if they occur, will likely not happen for several months.

This was not the first LAX attack
Coincidentally, the last time there was a similar attack at a US airport was also at LAX, at the terminal adjacent to the site of the attack on November 1st. On 4 July 2002, a gunman staged an attack in the area of the El Al ticket counter, and shot several people before El Al security personnel were able to subdue the attacker and shoot him to death. Two people shot by the gunman, an El Al employee and a passenger, were killed.

Responding to an active shooter situation
The Houston Police Department produced the following video with advice on how to survive an active shooter event. While it depicts an attack in an office environment, it offers insights that could be used to deal with a similar unexpected attack in other locations, including an airport terminal.

Were you a witness to what happened at LAX?
If you were at LAX the day of the shooting, you could help the FBI investigate this crime. The FBI is asking anyone with information to submit it at That site is for submission of audio, video, photos, and general information relating to the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, November 1. No piece of information or detail is too small. You can also call the FBI Los Angeles tip line at (888) 226-8443.

Additional information
FBI charging document for Ciancia
FBI warrant for Ciancia's phone

31 October 2013

FAA to allow airlines to lift many mobile device restrictions

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on 31 October 2013 that it will allow passengers to use personal electronic devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with guidance for implementing these changes.

These changes will not happen immediately. Airlines will first have to review their fleets and prove to the FAA that that they can safety allow passengers to safely use their devices in all phases of flight. The FAA expects that many airlines will be able to do so by the end of the year.

As with most changes to FAA regulations, these changes happened only after extensive consultations with technical experts and other representatives from the experts from the airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and the consumer electronics industry, as well as representatives from pilot, passenger, and flight attendant organizations.

What this means for passengers
These upcoming changes mean that passengers will soon be able use smaller devices like iPads, mobile phones, handheld video games, and ebook readers on the ground or in the air, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items will have to be either held or placed the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing. The key rule changes that passengers should be aware of include the following:

  • Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline, and may not apply to your particular aircraft. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.

  • Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.

  • Your airline may have a PED use policy that is more restrictive than the FAA policy.
  • While in flight, mobile phones and devices that can connect to the Internet will have to remain in airplane mode while in flight (the cellular connection must be disabled).

  • You may use the Internet connection on your device if your airline offers an in-flight wireless connection.

  • Even if your airline offers an in-flight wireless connection, it may not allow you to make voice calls using Skype or a similar Internet-based voice communication system.
  • Your airline may also allow you to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.

  • You will have to stow heavier devices like laptops under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing.

  • During the safety briefing, the airline will request that you pay attention to the safety briefing.

  • There may still be some situations where the airline may request that you not use your PED, and if this happens, follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device.

Related resources

Photo credit: Anna Langova

17 October 2013

Lao Airlines ATR 72 crash kills all 49 on board

16 October 2013; Lao Airlines ATR 72-600; RDPL-34233; flight QV301; near Pakxe, Laos: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, to Pakxe in the southern part of the country. It crashed into the Mekong river during its approach and sank. The crash occurred about eight kilometers (five miles) from the airport. All five crew members and 44 passengers were killed.

About this aircraft
According to, this ATR 72 was the newest aircraft in the Lao Airlines fleet, having been delivered to the airline fewer than seven months ago.

About the ATR 72
This is the sixth crash of an ATR 72 passenger flight involving at least one fatality. The previous events were:

  1. 31 October 1994; American Eagle (Simmons Airlines) ATR 72-200; N401AM; flight 4184; near Roselawn, IN: This was a scheduled domestic flight from Indianapolis, IN and Chicago, IL. During descent, the crew activated the airframe deicing system. The crew was in a holding pattern at about 10,000 feet (3050 m) and while the aircraft was descending to 8,000 feet, the aircraft went out of control due to the effects of icing and crashed. The four crew members and 64 passengers were all killed. The icing occurred in areas of the wings that were beyond the area protected by the deicing system.
    Fatal American Airlines Events
    Wikipedia Entry for this Accident
    NTSB Accident Report Volume I  (Summary)
    NTSB Accident Report Volume II  (Summary)

  2. 6 August 2005; Tuninter ATR 72-200; near Palermo, Italy: The aircraft was on an unscheduled international flight from Bari, Italy to Djerba, Tunisia when the aircraft reportedly developed engine trouble. The crew ditched the aircraft off the coast of Palermo. The aircraft had been on a scheduled domestic flight from Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. Two of the four crew members and 14 of the 35 passengers were killed.
    Fatal Events for Airlines of the Middle East and Africa

  3. 4 August 2009; Bangkok Airways ATR 72-200; HS-PGL; flight 266, Koh Samui, Thailand: The aircraft was a scheduled domestic flight from Krabi to Koh Samui, Thailand, and skidded off the runway during the landing, hitting the control tower building. One of the four crew members was killed, but all 68 passengers survived.

  4. 4 November 2010; AeroCaribbean; CU-T1549; ATR 72-212; Flight 883; near Guasimal, Sancti Spiritus Province, Cuba: The aircraft was on a domestic flight from Santiago to Havana, Cuba. The crew reported an emergency situation shortly before the aircraft crashed in mountainous terrain. All seven crew members and 61 passengers were killed.
  5. 2 April 2012; UTair ATR 72-200; VP-BYZ;flight 120; Tyumen, Russia: The aircraft was on scheduled domestic flight from Tyumen to Surgut, Russia. The airplane crashed broke up, and caught fire in a field about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from the end of the departure runway. All four crew members and 27 of the 39 passengers were killed. This was the second fatal passenger jet crash involving this airline. The first was a 17 March 2007 crash of a UTair Tupolev Tu134A in Samara, Russia that killed six passengers.
    Fatal crashes of airlines of Russia and the former Soviet Union
    Additional information about this crash

Graphic: Central Intelligence Agency

02 October 2013

Review of the new fear of flying book from SOAR

The new book from long time pilot and therapist Captain Tom Bunn, Soar: The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying, takes a unique approach when it comes to dealing with a fear of flying. In short, he brings the systematic and logical approach of an aviator to address anxieties and fears that make it difficult or impossible for some people to fly. Because of this systematic approach, Captain Bunn is able to explain the foundation for his methods for treating fear of flying in terms that make sense to the average passenger.

With this book, Captain Bunn has provided both fearful flyers and other airline passengers with three distinct benefits. The first was his development of a conceptual model of how the mind experiences and deals with fear, and explaining it in terms that are understandable to someone who is not an expert in psychology or sociology. His second benefit was to explain the basics of airline operations in ways that demystifies the mechanics of flight and gives an average passenger a very clear idea of how pilots can calmly deal with situations that can lead to debilitating anxiety in a fearful flyer.

Using his conceptual model of the mind as a foundation, Captain Bunn provided his third and most significant benefit for a fearful flyer by creating numerous resources and techniques that a passenger can use to overcome flying related fears, and showing how a person can systematically use his or her mind to consciously and unconsciously control fear.

The SOAR approach to regulating emotions
The basic SOAR approach is to first help a fearful flyer understand the basis of their fears and how their mind and body reacts to fear inducing stress, and then to show them how to automatically regulate and control their flight anxiety. The book, which is based on Captain Bunn's decades of experience helping thousands of fearful flyers, asks the reader to do two things, the intellectual task of reading the book, and the emotional task of working through numerous exercises that when completed will provide a fearful passenger with numerous tools and techniques to address their anxieties before, during, and after a flight.

Combining aviation with psychology
At first glance, it may seem that aviation and psychology don't have much in common, but Captain Bunn manages to combine elements of both worlds in his book. Like a pilot who has a combination of systems to fly a plane under normal and stressful conditions, so too does a human being have multiple systems to control emotions. As with an aircraft, there may be systems that run for the most part automatically or are used for routine situations, and others that come into play during stressful situations or when primary systems fail or are overwhelmed. So too with the mind, where an automated, unconsciously controlled system for dealing with fear is moderated by several other systems that can be consciously guided and controlled by any airline passenger.

What this book provides the reader
Just like the case with an airline pilot, having multiple sophisticated control systems at your fingertips won't give you any benefit unless you have a basic understanding of how they operate, and a good working knowledge of what procedures to use and when to use them. Just as a pilot doesn't have to become an aeronautical engineer to fly a plane, a fearful passenger does not have to become a psychologist to understand how to manage their emotions. Captain Bunn's greatest gift to the reader is the way that he has successfully combined a basic explanation of how the mind deals with fear with practical instructions for how to eliminate or manage that fear.

If you are a passenger who has anxieties about flying and don't know how you can deal with it, reading this book would be a good first step toward overcoming your fear of flying.

Additional resources
Buy the book
About the SOAR fear of flying program
Fear of flying basics
Fear of flying warning signs

27 September 2013

United Airlines captain dies after suffering heart attack during flight

26 September 2013, United Airlines; 737-900; flight 1603; near Boise, ID: A United Airlines captain suffered a heart attack while en route on a scheduled flight from Houston, TX to Seattle, WA. Although the captain received prompt treatment while in flight and after the aircraft made an unscheduled landing in Boise, ID, he was pronounced dead after arriving at a local hospital. The flight later continued onward to Seattle with a replacement pilot.

According to several media reports, after the 63-year-old pilot was stricken, two passengers, both military physicians stationed in Washington State, attended to the pilot, and the remaining pilot, as well as an off-duty United pilot who was also on board, made an emergency landing in Boise, ID. An autopsy performed the following day confirmed that the pilot had died of a heart attack.

Selected previous events
This was not the first time that an airline pilot was incapacitated during a flight. The following are just some of the more recent events:

  • 20 January 2012 - A 44-year-old reserve first officer of a UTair 757 suffered a heart attack while en route from Chengdu, China to Novosibirsk, Russia. Although the pilot received prompt medical attention, including help from a passenger who was a cardiologist, the pilot died before the crew could make an emergency landing. The pilot was in the cockpit, but not at the controls, when he suffered a heart attack. In April of that same year, a UTair ATR72 crashed in Russia, killing dozens of passengers.

  • 14 October 2010 - The 43-year-old captain of a Qatar Airways A330-300 suffered a massive heart attack roughly an hour after takeoff during a flight from Manila to Doha, Qatar. The first officer diverted the aircraft to Kuala Lumpur, where the pilot was pronounced dead after the plane arrived.

  • 14 June 2010 - About an hour into a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, the first officer of an American Airlines 767 felt ill and was unable to continue with his flying duties. There were no off-duty pilots on board, and the captain chose to have a flight attendant with several hundred hours of flight experience provide assistance for the remainder of the flight.

  • 18 June 2009 - The captain of a Continental Airlines 777-200 died while en route from Brussels, Belgium to Newark, NJ. The 60-year-old captain was replaced by a reserve first officer and the crew declared an emergency. The aircraft landed without further incident.

  • 28 January 2008 - The first officer of an Air Canada 767 on a scheduled flight from Toronto to London became mentally incapacitated and the captain needed he help of several flight attendants to physically remove the first officer from the cockpit. The captain, along with the help of a flight attendant who held a commercial multiengine license, diverted the aircraft to Shannon, Ireland.

How frequent are these events?Y
While accidents involving serious injury or death to pilots or crew are routinely reported to civil aviation authorities around the world, deaths, injuries, or incapacitations due to natural causes are not. While there are many media reports of such incidents, especially in recent years with the increased use of social media, there are few formal studies of incidents of pilot incapacitations. One of them is a 2004 study from the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institue, which found that in the six-year period from 1993 and 1998 there were 39 cases where a U.S. airline flight crew member was unable to perform any flight duties and 11 cases where the flight crew member was impaired and could only perform limited flight duties.

These 50 cases occurred on 47 different flights (two crew members were affected on three of the 47 flight). Four of these events involved a crew member death, all due to cardiac arrest. According to the FAA, in seven of these events the safety of the flight was seriously affected:

  1. A 737 first officer experienced an alcohol-withdrawal seizure, applied full right rudder, and slumped over the control wheel, causing a loss of altitude until flight attendants could pull the first officer off the controls.

  2. The foot of a DC9 first officer became lodged against a rudder pedal after his leg stiffened during a heart attack. The captain applied opposite rudder until the first officer's foot could be dislodged.

  3. The flight engineer and the captain of a 727 lost consciousness after the flight engineer accidentally depressurized the aircraft. The first officer donned an oxygen mask and made an emergency descent.

  4. A captain suffered an epileptic seizure while the aircraft was taxiing and applied enough force to the rudder to cause the aircraft to turn sharply and stop. The first officer removed the captain from the controls and taxied back to the gate.

  5. An A300 captain suffered a cerebral infarction during approach, and neglected to lower the landing gear. After landing, the captain applied reverse thrust longer than necessary, and attempted to apply takeoff thrust on the taxiway.

  6. An MD88 Delta Airlines captain, who was using unapproved contact lenses, misjudged his approach a LaGuardia Airport on 19 October 1996 during conditions of reduced visibility and struck approach lights near the end of the runway. The aircraft was substantially damaged, and three passengers received minor injuries during the evacuation.

  7. The captain and first officer of a DC8 cargo flight both had their judgement affected due to fatigue, and they allowed the aircraft to enter an unrecoverable approach stall while on a approach to the airbase at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The captain, first officer, and flight engineer were all seriously injured in the 18 August 1993 crash.


13 September 2013

Boeing releases annual airline safety summary

The main goal of is to provide the public with useful and reliable information about airline safety and security. One of the best sources for information about accident rates for specific airline models is Boeing's Statistical Summary of Commercial Airplane Accidents. The newest edition, covering the period from 1959 to 2012, was released in August 2013, and includes a variety of resources, including a summary of selected airliner crashes from 2012, as well as comparative data on the accident rates of various aircraft models.

This publication is very useful in part because it provides a snapshot of accident trends for different aircraft models and for different areas of the world. It is also useful for the audience because it provides a different point of view. These differences are most noticeable if you compare's safety review for 2012 with the list in the Boeing publication.

While there is some overlap between the two annual lists, particularly the crashes that resulted in passenger deaths, there are some key differences. Boeing, like much of the airline industry, has a focus on events that cause significant and unrepairable damage to aircraft, and their accident statistics reflect that focus. While does make note of a number of nonfatal events, only those events that result in passenger deaths are used in any statistical comparisons on the site. Also, Boeing does not list events, even ones involving passenger fatalities, if it involved aircraft designed in the former Soviet Union, or events involving turboprop driven airliners.

In spite of those differences, Boeing's Statistical Summary is one of the industry publications that has very high quality data, and should be consulted by anyone who has an interest in airline safety, especially to answer specific questions about airliner accident rates and how they have changed over the last several decades.

Related resources
2012 Boeing Statistical Summary
2011 Boeing Statistical Summary
2010 Boeing Statistical Summary
2009 Boeing Statistical Summary
2008 Boeing Statistical Summary
2007 Boeing Statistical Summary's fatal events by aircraft model

04 September 2013

The role of unidentified aerial phenomena in airline safety

Ongoing technological advances and other developments in the airline industry continue to lead to a greater understanding of the causes of accidents and incidents, one area that has not received much attention is unidentified aerial phenomena, also known as UAP. These are visual phenomena that occur in the sky that don't have a logical or rational explanation, even after a close review of the evidence by relevant experts.

Why UAP events are a safety issue
Unexplained aerial phenomena are important to aviation safety because some of these events are associated with effects to an aircraft's navigational or flight control systems, and also because sightings may cause flight crews to take abrupt, unplanned, and potentially hazardous maneuvers because the UAP is perceived as a threat to the aircraft.

NARCAP dedicated to studying UAP

NARCAP, the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena, is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to studying unexplained aerial phenomena (UAP) and their role in aviation safety. They regularly accept confidential submissions from pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals who have witnessed UAP events, and have published a number of studies about UAP. You can find out more about NARCAP at

Interview with Dr. Richard Haines of NARCAP
Last month, Dr. Todd Curtis interviewed Dr. Richard Haines, the chief scientist of NARCAP, where they discussed his organization's efforts to reduce threats to aviation caused by unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP).

Dr. Haines, who founded the organization in 1999, provided several examples of why unidentified aerial events may have put aircraft and their occupants at risk in the past, and also explained that such events happen to a significant fraction of active airline pilots. Dr. Haines also encouraged crew members who have observed such events to contact his organization at and file a report on any past sightings.
Listen to the interview (1:01:28)

NARCAP resources and research studies
NARCAP advice to pilots
Report unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP)
NARCAP technical reports

30 August 2013

Social media leads to friction between airlines NTSB and FAA

A Wall Street journal article from 26 August 2013 highlighted the increasingly role social media tools like Twitter are playing in recent airline accidents in the US, leading to some friction between airline officials, the NTSB, and the FAA. In the article, Tim Logan, the senior risk management official at Southwest Airlines, expressed frustrations that speed at which information is released after an accident has led to problems like a lack of coordination between the FAA and the NTSB during an accident investigation, specifically the 22 July 2013 Southwest landing accident in New York.

Logan is not the only airline industry voice with concerns about the speed of information flows to the public. On 8 July 2013, just two days after the of an Asiana 777 in San Francisco, the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) sent out a press release stating that the organization was "stunned by the amount of detailed operational data from on-board recorders released by the National Transportation Safety Board," saying also that the amount of information released during the field portion of the investigation was unprecedented.

NTSB post accident policies on information
The speed at which NTSB releases information is part of their normal policy. On its web site, the NTSB states that after an accident, it strives to conduct two press conferences a day when on scene, where Board's spokespersons discuss factual, documented information about the accident. The NTSB may remain on site for up to a week, and they may also have several public affairs specialist to handle media requests.

Media involvement past and present
While the NTSB's policies with respect to being transparent and providing factual information to the public in the early stages of an investigation has not changed over the last few decades, the media realities are far different from the past. A little as a generation ago, only the largest media organizations had the resources needed to send video to viewers around the world, and most people had to wait until the following day's newspapers to get photos and interviews from those involved in the accident. Because of these kind of limitations, it could take days or weeks before minute details of an accident would be available to the public.

Compare the past with the present, where it takes little more than a YouTube or Twitter account (both available for free) for any individual or group to communicate with the entire world within seconds. Anyone interested in an accident can choose from a wide range of resources for information, and can get plenty of information directly from the investigating authorities unfiltered and without delay.

NTSB and social media
A 23 July 2013 article published by Twitter quoted an NTSB official stated that sending out tweets after an accident is standard NTSB policy because it helps to keep both the media and the public stay informed during an accident investigation.

The Wall Street Journal article discussed how the NTSB's use of Twitter to communicate with the media and the public after an accident has forced other parties involved in investigations, particularly airlines and the FAA, to speed up their responses both the the investigating authorities and to the public. The following chart was taken fro the article, and shows that NTSB sent out 86 tweets in the days after the 6 July 2013 crash of an Asiana 777 (flight 214) in San Francisco, with the largest number (30) sent the day after the crash.

A search for tweets sent by NTSB (@NTSB) about the crash reveals that many of the tweets contained links to a wealth of information, including photos from the crash site, videos of press conferences, and the number of times the original tweet was retweeted:
Tweets from NTSB containing the word 'Asiana'
Tweets from NTSB containing hashtag #Asiana214
Tweets from NTSB containing the number '214'

Note that the search was conducted on the Twitter search site at, and as is the case with most search engines, different search terms give different results, so it helps to use various search terms associated with an event.

NTSB uses a variety of social media tools to provide information to the public. In addition to Twitter, NTSB uses Flickr to post high resolution photos from accidents, and also has a YouTube channel where past press conferences can be reviewed at any time. Because all of their published information is in the public domain, anyone can use these photos and interviews without cost, and without first asking permission.

The future has more and not less social media
In spite of the protests about the speed at which the NTSB releases information, it is very likely that the future will see a greater role for social media in accident investigations. In the recent Southwest and Asiana crashes, photos and videos taken by some of the passengers involved in the accidents are being used by the NTSB to help further the investigations.

Perhaps the best description of what the future holds is from a headline from this recent headline from an article from the Airline Passenger Experience Association, "Social media becomes important tool in accident probes whether safety professionals like it or not." The article is about the August 2013 meeting if the International Association of Air Safety Investigators (ISASI), where among other things, an informal poll of the roughly 300 air safety specialists in attendance showed that almost all of them used Twitter. Representatives from the Canadian and German aviation accident investigation agencies, as well as a representative from Southwest Airlines, agreed that information supplied by passengers and other witnesses, and shared online, have helped investigators.

23 August 2013

Fire danger from Honeywell ELTs may exist on aircraft beyond the 787

After last month's fire involving the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) on a Ethiopian 787 in London, the FAA and other regulatory agencies around the world have ordered that these ELTs be deactivated, inspected, or removed. The ELT on that aircraft was manufactured by Honeywell, which has produced about 6,000 ELTs for use in aircraft around the world.

A recent airworthiness directive from Transport Canada airworthiness directive (AD), which takes effect on 26 August 2013, has gone a step further, requiring that Honeywell ELTs on a variety of aircraft be inspected by the end of 2013. Transport Canada stated that the AD was issued as a precautionary measure to address the possibility of a fire due to wiring installation discrepancies of the ELT system. Depending on the outcome of the AAIB investigation, Transport Canada may revise the AD or mandate additional corrective actions.

Affected aircraft
Previous directives from the UK and US authorities were limited to the 787. This latest Canadian AD covers a much wider range of aircraft, including the Boeing models 717, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787, MD11, MD80 and MD90; and the Airbus models A300, A310, A320, A321, A330, A340 and A380.

Other countries following Canada's lead
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also adopted the Canadian AD. According to various media reports, the FAA also plans to issue a similar AD for US-registered aircraft.

Why ELT fires are potentially catastrophic
As was described in some detail in an earlier article on the Ethiopian 787 event, fire caused by an ELT would be particularly worrisome because these devices, unlike other systems such as engines and auxiliary power units, do not come equipped with fire suppression systems, and they are typically located in parts of the aircraft that are inaccessible from the cabin. In the event of an in flight fire, it may not be possible to put out the fire, and it may spread to other parts of the aircraft.

In the event of an onboard fire, typical emergency procedures include landing at the closest suitable airport, but if the fire occurred if the aircraft were far from a a suitable airport, which would be the case for many transatlantic or transpacific flights, passengers and crew could be exposed to large amounts of smoke and fumes for a significant amount of time.

In such a situation, emergency oxygen systems may not have been useful for passengers since these systems are typically designed to supply passenger with a combination of oxygen from the emergency oxygen system and ambient air from the cabin, including any smoke or fumes that are present in the cabin.

14 August 2013

UPS A300 crash in Alabama kills both pilots

14 August 2013; UPS A300F4-622R; N155UP; flight 1354; Birmingham, AL: The aircraft was on a domestic cargo flight from Louisville, KY (SDF) to Birmingham, AL (BHM), crashed and burned during a landing attempt. The aircraft was destroyed in the crash and subsequent fire, and both pilots were killed. There were no other occupants, and no one was killed or injured on the ground.

Video from the crash site

NTSB photos from the crash site

Speed and altitude profile from

Note: Time in the graph is EDT, Birmingham, Al is in CDT

About the A300-600
This is the fourth fatal plane crashes involving the A300-600. The previous events were:

  • 26 April 1994; China Airlines A300-600; Nagoya, Japan: All 15 crew and 249 of the 264 passengers were killed.
  • 16 February 1998; China Airlines A300-600; near Taipei, Taiwan: All 15 crew and 182 passengers were killed, as were seven people on the ground.
  • 12 November 2001; American Airlines A300-600; Queens, New York: All nine crew members and 251 passengers on the aircraft were killed, as were seven people on the ground.

UPS accident history
This is the second fatal crash involving a UPS aircraft. On 3 September 2010, a UPS 747-400 aircraft crashed in Dubai, UAE, killing both pilots. UPS had two other accidents that destroyed aircraft, but did not kill any crew members. The first was a 1985 crash of a Swearingen SA227 at London, KY on 31 January 1985, and the second was due to a fire that started shortly before the aircraft landed in Philadelphia, PA on 8 February 2006.

12 August 2013

Why TSA may be searching you well outside of airports

A New York Times story on 5 August 2013 described an ongoing program that has allowed the TSA to expand their activities well beyond airports, to places like sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highways, and train terminals. The story pointed out how some groups hold that what the TSA is doing in this program is well beyond their original mandate and that their behavior may violate the constitutional rights of people in the US.

The TSA currently has a legal right to act outside of airports, even though many in the US don't like what they are doing. To understand why this situation exists, it is important to understand a several key realities about the TSA

  • TSA is not a law enforcement organization.
  • Law enforcement organizations have significant limits when it comes to conducting a search.
  • TSA has an exemption from these limits when it comes to searches at an airport.
  • There is an ongoing program that allows the TSA to operate outside of airports under law enforcement supervision.

TSA is not a law enforcement organization
The TSA employees that you see at airport screening locations typically wear the uniform that you see in the photo below. While TSA employees wear an outfit that looks like a police uniform, have badges that looks like the type used by police officers, and sometimes have titles like Transportation Security Officer, TSA is not a law enforcement agency and its employees do not have typical police powers.

Typical law enforcement officers include the power to arrest someone, and the power to use force in order to execute their duties.

One similarity between police officers and TSA personnel is their ability to legally search individuals or their property. However, police officers in the US have significant limitations of when such searches can be conducted, and TSA, at least at an airport, do not have these limitations.

Typical law enforcement limitations on searches
In general, law enforcement officials in the US can search an individual or that individual's property without a warrant only if that law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that someone has committed a crime, or has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime.

Why TSA can operate outside of common law enforcement limitations
The TSA's ability to search passengers and their belongings at airports is based in part on a US federal court decision from 1973 which ruled that airport screenings are considered to be administrative searches because they are conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme that had the purpose of preventing the carrying of weapons or explosives aboard aircraft.

The TSA outside of the airport
The TSA VIPR ( program uses TSA assets and personnel to augment law enforcemement (including Federal Air Marshals) resources to ensure security in all modes of transportation, as well as at special high profile events. The program, which began in 2005, allows TSA to extend its ability to conduct searches beyond the airport.

Past misconduct and legal limits on searches
The New York Times article pointed out that there had been some cases in the past where the VIPR teams have conducted searches that were ineffective, for example searching passengers after they had left a train, and the Inspector General's office of the Department of Homeland Security issued a report in August 2012 that discussed numerous concerns about how these teams stay within their legal limits when it comes to searches outside of the airport.

General public concerns
One of the fundamental concerns expressed both by the New York Times article and by some in the community is that the TSA should not have the same kind of wide-ranging ability to search individuals and their belongings outside of the airport environment. This extension of TSA's authority outside of the airport parallels the New York City's "stop and frisk" program where police officers were allowed to stop, question, and search individuals without having the meet the basis law enforcement standards of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The program, which has been in place for about a decade, has often led to arrests and confiscation of illegal weapons. However, on 12 August 2013, a US federal judge ruled that the New York City policy was unconstitutional and must be changed to adhere to constitutional limits.

It is too early to tell if this decision will outlaw similar practices across the US, of it will have any effect on the TSA's VIPR program. No doubt, many who oppose the VIPR program will welcome this latest decision and will hope that it will lead to changes in how the TSA operates outside of the airport.

09 August 2013

Passengers are not required to see or understand preflight safety briefings

While passengers, especially those who fly frequently, often ignore the preflight safety briefing, they do serve a vital purpose, and over the last few decades these briefings have no doubt allowed passengers and crews to avoid serious injuries and deaths during emergencies. However, the experience of one passenger, who is also a career aviation safety professional, highlights the fact that airlines may not be required to ensure that passengers can hear or understand these safety briefings.

On 20 July 2013 I flew on a SAS MD82 from FCO (Rome) to CPH (Copenhagen), and I was in seat 33A. A panel was just in front of my seat and I could not see the safety demonstration carried out by the flight attendant standing many rows ahead (see photo below). In the same time, listening by the loudspeaker (in English and probably Danish) was difficult and irregular. No other safety information was given before takeoff.

The view from seat 33A on an SAS MD82

I don’t need to receive a safety demonstration as I have been working in the Italian Civil Aviation Authority for more than 30 years, but the handler and the airline did not know this when they assigned that seat to me. The aircraft was also full of Italians who probably weren’t able to fully understand the message without a visual demonstration. If the demonstration had been different from the usual I would not have been able to understand it at all.

Now I am pretty sure that everything has been done according to the rules, only I would like to know which rules. Is that seat certificated for all kind of passengers? For example many airlines require that emergency exit seats are available only for English speaking people (for example Air Canada). As I think that many MD82s are still in service in the USA, what is your opinion about this topic? - Valter

Dr. Todd Curtis of responds
You raise an interesting set of questions. I'm not aware of the rules around the world for passenger safety briefings, but in the US, airlines that fly aircraft that are of size of the MD82 have very clear guidance on the visibility of flight attendants during the safety briefing. FAA Advisory Circular AC121-24C describes what is required to be, or should be, covered in oral passenger briefings. In the section that discusses passenger briefing requirements for operations that include flight attendants, it states the following:

The pretakeoff oral briefing should be given so that each passenger can clearly hear it and easily see required demonstrations.

By that standard, it appears that your flight, if it had been a US airline, would not have been in compliance with the requirements of this FAA Advisory Circular.

This advisory circular also requires that an airline provide passenger briefing information in the languages used by the airline. However, there are no requirements that every passenger should be given an oral safety briefing in a language that is understood by that passenger, and there are also no requirements that accommodations be made for passengers who may have limited sight or hearing.

When it comes to exit row seating, in the Advisory Circular the FAA strongly encourages, but does not mandate, that air carriers require crewmembers to provide a preflight personal briefing to each passenger seated in an exit seat. The FAA did not mention whether an exit row passenger should also understand English.

In summary, it appears that the FAA gives US airlines wide latitude when it comes to passengers safety briefings, and from your description of your SAS experience, only the fact that you were not able to see the flight attendant give the briefing would have fallen short of FAA requirements. On your particular flight, the relevant requirements would have been the appropriate European regulations that would have been in effect for SAS.

One of those regulations appears to be European Regulation (Reg CE 8/2008), which unlike the FAA regulation does not specifically require that the safety demonstration be visible to every passenger. Like the FAA Advisory Circular, this European regulation does not specify that the briefing be given in language that a passenger can understand.

07 August 2013

Second NTSB update on Southwest 737 accident at LaGuardia

Earlier this week, the NTSB released a second update on the 22 July 2013 Southwest Airlines flight 345 landing accident at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The accident, which is being handled by the NTSB's Major Investigations Team, resulted in substantial damage to the aircraft.

Initial press release
The initial NTSB press release on 23 July 2013 stated that the jet's nose landing gear collapsed rearward and upward into the fuselage, damaging the electronics bay. The aircraft was also damaged from sliding over 2,000 feet (610 meters) before coming to rest off to the right side of the runway.

First investigative update
Key findings from the first NTSB investigative update released on 25 July 2013 included the following:

  • Evidence from video and other sources was consistent with the nose landing gear making contact with the runway before the main landing gear (this is the reverse of what happens in a normal landing).
  • Flaps were set from 30 to 40 degrees about 56 seconds prior to touchdown.
  • Altitude was about 32 feet, airspeed was about 134 knots, and pitch attitude was about 2 degrees nose-up approximately 4 seconds prior touchdown.
  • At touchdown, the airspeed was approximately 133 knots and the aircraft was pitched down approximately 3 degrees.
  • After touchdown, the aircraft came to a stop within approximately 19 seconds.

Second investigative update
Key findings from the second NTSB investigative update released on 6 August 2013 revealed additional information about the accident flight:

  • This was the first trip the flight crew had flown together and it was the second leg of the trip.
  • The first officer had previous operational experience at LGA, including six flights in 2013.
  • The captain had one previous flight into LaGuardia.
  • On approach into LaGuardia, the first officer was the pilot flying and the captain was the pilot monitoring.
  • The wind changed direction prior to landing, from an 11-knot tailwind when the aircraft was at 1,000 feet, to an 11-knot headwind at landing.
  • The aircraft had been cleared for an ILS approach on runway 4 (see diagram below).
  • The crew reported the airplane was on speed, course and glideslope down to about 200-400 feet.
  • At some point above 400 feet, there was an exchange of control of the airplane and the captain became the flying pilot and made the landing.
  • The NTSB has so far found no mechanical anomalies or aircraft malfunctions, and that a preliminary examination of the nose landing gear indicated that it failed due to stress overload.
  • The NTSB has collected five videos showing various aspects of the crash landing. The team will be analyzing these recordings as part of the investigation.

Photos: NTSB, Wikipedia