The News

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

31 May 2013

Passenger claims TSA inappropriately touched her vagina

Ashley Jessica, a doctoral student in psychology from Canada, claimed that TSA violated her by inappropriately touching her vagina during a pat-down search at the San Diego airport on May 23rd. The TSA denies that this occurred, and insists that the TSA officers conducting the pat-down followed proper procedures.

Ms. Jessica provided a video of the May 23, 2013 incident, which you can view below:

Video of alleged inappropriate touching

In 2012, Ashley was also involved in publicly supporting the Opt Out and Film Week, a campaign by a variety of private organizations to record TSA activities and to upload their videos to the Internet. Below is an interview she gave to about the campaign in October 2012, as well as her advice on how passengers can participate.

Ashley Jessica interview

How to participate in opt out campaign

TSA pat-down guidelines

The TSA web site list several reasons for performing a pat-down of a passenger, including cases where passengers opt out of using the full body scanners. Among the rights passengers have during a pat down is to request that it be performed in a private area, and to have the pat-down witnessed by a person chosen by the passenger.

TSA photography gGuidelines

According to a statement on the TSA web site, TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping or filming at security checkpoints, as long as the screening process is not interfered with or slowed down. While TSA requests that monitors not be filmed or photograph, such activity does not appear to be explicitly prohibited. TSA also mention that local or state laws may restrict photography, and such activity may invite questions from local police or the TSA.

Share your story
Do you have a TSA story of your own? Please share your story in the comments section below, or on's feedback form

TSA Restrictions

26 May 2013

Interview with Cockpit Confidential author Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith, airline pilot and author of the recently released book Cockpit Confidential, sat down with Dr. Todd Curtis of to discuss his latest work, and to share his thoughts on other issues facing the airline industry.

2008 interview about crash of Spanair MD82
Earlier interview about his 2004 book, Ask the Pilot
Visit Patrick's site
Buy the book today!

19 May 2013

JAL 787 damaged by battery fire apparently needed extensive repairs

After an ANA and JAL 787 aircraft experienced battery fires in January 2013, the entire fleet of 49 aircraft was grounded while the problem was diagnosed and an acceptable plan for fixing returning the aircraft to service was developed. While Boeing did come up with a repair plan that was acceptable to the FAA, it appears that the JAL 787 that experienced a battery fire in Boston had to also go through a very extensive set of repairs before it could return to service.

Electrical system changes
As described in an earlier article, Boeing and the battery manufacturer have made a number of FAA-required changes to the 787, including the installation of a redesigned battery, that the FAA estimated would take about 113 work hours to complete.

Several media outlets, including the BBC and New York Times, reported that during an interview in late April 2013, Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program, stated that the Boeing modification kit would take about five days to install. Given the estimate of 113 work-hours from the FAA, that implies that a small team of maintenance personnel could put the aircraft back in service within that time frame. However, for the JAL aircraft that caught fire in Boston, that has clearly not been the case.

The aircraft has been grounded in Boston since its APU battery caught fire on January 7th, and was still on the ground at least until May 12th, over two weeks after the first updated 787 returned to service. The aircraft was parked outside near one of the airport terminals, and could be easily seen from several public vantage points.

As you can see the photo below, there was a large tent erected next to the 787, presumably associated with the aircraft repair. According to one eyewitness, a second, similarly sized tent, had been recently removed, and had be in place for a number of days.

No public reports of repair efforts
Although the NTSB has an ongoing major investigation associated with the 787 battery fire event, no final report has been published, and the information currently on the NTSB site does not mention any significant damage to the aircraft beyond the structures and systems close the battery that caught fire. Neither Boeing, JAL, or Massport, the organization the manages Boston's Logan Airport, have released any statement to the public about any significant additional aircraft damage.

Share what you know
If you have direct knowledge of what may have been going on with the JAL 787 in Boston, specifically details about any repairs that may have been performed on this grounded 787, please feel free to contact at

18 May 2013

Review of Cockpit Confidential, the latest book from Partrick Smith

Cockpit Confidential, the latest book from Patrick Smith, is very much an insider's guide to the airline business in general and the life of an airline pilot in particular. This book is about the airline business and about airline careers, but perhaps more importantly it is a story about a love affair. Not the kind that is short, passionate, and comes to a dramatic end at the first sign of trouble, but a love that runs deep, the kind that evolves and matures over decades, and that is strong enough to survive more than a few trials and tribulations.

Patrick shares his lifelong love affair in ways that can be appreciated by current and aspiring aviation professionals, as well as by the average passenger. He addresses a variety of questions about aviation, including questions about how airplanes work, how pilots work their way up the ranks, and why airlines behave in they way they do toward customers and employees. Will it answer every question a passenger or future pilot would have? Certainly not. However, for anyone who has a deep interest in the world of airlines, this book is a real treat.

Do you have questions about how airliners can fly? You'll have some of your basic questions answered. want to know about the funny noises your plane makes? Patrick can give you a heads up. How about all those questions you have about the mysterious and glamourous life of an airline pilot. Surprisingly, Patrick does have tales of pleasant five star luxury suites, but also not so romantic stories of cooking ramen in the hotel coffee pot.

Are you ticked off about the state of airlines today? So is Patrick. Any reader who has spent a significant amount of time in an airplane, either in the cockpit or the cabin, will certainly recognize some of the situations that Patrick has seen or experienced.

Want to be an airline pilot? If so, definitely read this book. Patrick's career as a professional pilot has spanned several decades, several airlines, several setbacks, and several radical changes in the airline business. His descriptions of the high and low points of his career, as well as the positive and negative aspects of the typical airline pilot's career, aren't sugar-coated at all, and in my opinion should be required reading for anyone considering a flying career.

As Patrick explains, becoming a pilot takes years of sacrifice and determination, and different challenges will have to be overcome once a pilot puts on that uniform for the first time.

Ask Patrick Smith a question
This week, Todd Curtis of will interview Patrick Smith about his book and about the airline business. Do you have a question for Patrick? If so, send your question to

Buy the book today!

11 May 2013

FAA report raises questions about the oversight of maintenance repair stations

On 1 May 2013, the FAA Office of Inspector General office released a report (AV-2013-073) that detailed ongoing difficulties that the FAA has in overseeing the repair stations that provide airline maintenance services in the US and overseas. Like the airlines, organizations that provide FAA-approved repairs to airliner aircraft have to meet FAA regulatory standards.

While these organizations can be owned and controlled by an airline, increasingly these kinds of services, which could range from basic maintenance checks to complete aircraft overhauls, are being performed by contractors hired by the airliner rather than by an airline's own employees.

Based on a detailed study of a sample of certified repair stations in the US and elsewhere, Some of the key findings of the report was that while the FAA has invested significant efforts to create risk-based inspection procedures, those procedures are often ineffective, and in many cases inspectors don't even use the procedures when evaluating repair stations.

Aircraft maintenance responsibilities
Airlines are responsible for making sure that aircraft are maintained and repaired to the regulatory standards set forth by the FAA. Whether this work is done by the airline or an airline contractor, the organization doing the repairs has to do so according to FAA regulations. The FAA is responsible for making sure that the repair organizations meet FAA standards, and if they don't, the FAA is supposed to provide those organizations with guidance on how to stay in compliance.

Key issues raised by the report
According to the report, the ability of the FAA to fulfill their responsibilities has been hampered by the organization's lack of standardized processes, including missing or inadequate training of inspectors and not providing adequate guidance to repair stations.

What is a repair station?
The term 'repair station' refers to a maintenance facility that is certified by the FAA to perform maintenance, repair, inspection, overhaul, and alteration of aircraft and aircraft products. Not all repair stations are created equal, with only a small fraction of these stations authorized to maintain the kinds of large airliners used by most passengers.

Where the problems are
The report gives the impression that there is a serious problem with a wide range of reapir stations, and in fact that may be the case. However, the study looked at a very small sample of the repairs conducted by these repair stations.

As of September 2012, there were 4,788 total repair stations, of which 726 were outside the US. Of all of these repair stations, only 68 performed repairs on the kinds of aircraft that most US airline passengers may use.

The study covered the period from September 2008 to August 2011, and looked at documentation associated with work orders at 27 repair stations, of which 13 were outside the US. From these 27 stations, the FAA looked at a sample of 119 work orders from a population of 49,859 work orders.

How big is the problem?
The FAA found 57 errors within the 119 work orders studied. Further, after reviewing the tools and equipment at each facility and the 119 work orders, the FAA also found 92 of what they called "systemic deficiencies" at these 27 sampled repair stations. Based on their sample findings, the FAA estimated that from September 2008 to August 2011 there were deficiencies in about 37% of the estimated 589,573 work orders completed by the stations that the FAA inspects.

How does all this affect safety?
The answer is not clear for two reasons. First, because the definition of safety varies greatly depending on who you ask, and second, because the problems uncovered by the FAA do not necessarily imply that aircraft that are currently flying are being improperly repaired or that aircraft or their occupants are exposed to excessive risk or danger. The FAA study looked at documentation related to aircraft maintenance actions, and did not directly inspect the aircraft that were subject to the work orders that were reviewed.

One of the more popular safety measures used by the public is the number of airliner crashes that kill passenges. Using that measure, US airlines (specifically airlines offering passenger flights on aircraft operating under FAA Part 121 regulations) are experiencing the lowest ever number and rate of events causing airline passenger deaths, though maintenance-related issues still play a role in some crashes.

During the last ten years, there have been four events that have resulted in passenger deaths. One of those events was the December 2005 crash of a Chalk's Ocean Airways Grumman Turbo Mallard flying boat, where the NTSB cited FAA's failure to detect and correct deficiencies in the company's maintenance program as one of the probable causes. That maintenance would have taken place prior to the period covered by the latest FAA IG report.

Key definitions of risk and safety
While safety is a word that is often used to describe aviation situations involving potential harm, safety is not a concept that has a consistent definition. On the other hand, the concept of risk is much more well defined, and that concept can be used to help describe the situations uncovered by the FAA report. The FAA in its 2009 document FAA Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2) has three key definitions that may help to clarify the key issues around the FAA Inspector General's report:

  • Risk - The future impact of a hazard that is not eliminated or controlled.
  • Risk Assessment - An approach to managing uncertainty. Risk assessment is a quantitative value assigned to a task, action, or event.
  • Risk Management - The part of the decision-making process which relies on situational awareness, problem recognition, and good judgment to reduce risks associated with each flight.

In short, in the eyes of the FAA, risk is something that can be objectively defined, measured, and managed. In contrast, safety may seem like a related concept, and in fact some key FAA documents like FAA Order 8040.4A (effective 30 April 2012) explicitly state that the terms safety and risk are used interchangeably. The findings of the FAA IG report clearly imply that the FAA maintenance oversight process allows a significant fraction of work orders to be improperly completed. Because of that, it increases the amount of maintenance-related risks in the system.

Is safety different from risk?
Safety and risk may be the same in the context of some FAA documents, but that is not the case for the average passenger or even the average aviation professional. In general, safety doesn't represent something objective and measurable like the FAA's definition of risk, but rather something subjective like the acceptance or tolerance of risk or uncertainty.

Risk can be defined differently for different situations, but it typically uses two key elements, a specific hazard and some kind of frequency or probability of occurrence. Safety on the other hand could be described as a level of acceptability of a hazard, or the frequency of that hazard occurring.

To use a crude example, since 1960, the risk of a fatality of one or more occupants during an intended space flight is about one per 100 flights. In contrast, the likelihood of a fatality on airline passenger flight on a large transport aircraft has far smaller than one per million flights. In spite of the reality of fatal accidents for both kinds of flights, anyone who decides to fly in the air or in space would not do so unless he or she first decided that it was safe to do so (that the risk is acceptable) before strapping in.

Different points of view on the FAA report
Several prominent aviation safety professionals have had a number of comments about the report, and when reading these comments, keep in mind that they were likely talking about both risk and safety, though not making the kind of distinction made by

  • John Goglia - This former NTSB board member with over 50 years of experience as a maintenance professional was quoted by USA Today on 6 May 2013 as saying that the discrepancies are a "major concern" because they mean that airlines aren't catching maintenance problems and the FAA isn't catching the airlines. Further, he said "That doesn't mean an airplane is going to fall out of the sky tomorrow, it means the system is broken."
  • Christian Klein - Vice president of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, an organization representing aircraft maintenance stations, said in the same article that "Shortcomings at the FAA don't translate into safety deficiencies in the industry."
  • Rudy Quevedo - Director of global programs for the Flight Safety Foundation, was quoted in the same article as saying that "It's a perfectly safe system," but elsewhere he has also said that the problems identified need to be addressed as soon as possible to mitigate latent risk. Quevedo has also said that based on a standard risk management methodology of assessing probability and severity of what could happen because of the known deficiencies, that the problems, while serious, do not pose a "high level of danger" to air travel.

Quevedo's comments speak most directly to the way that the aviation industry may look at this situation. In the FAA Risk Management Handbook, there would be a high level of danger if the severity of the hazard were critical or catastrophic, combined with a likelihood that was occasional or probable. Based on the FAA IG report, it would appear that problems with work orders would be in the probable range of likelihood, but that the severity of the hazard is less than critical.