Saturday, September 12, 2009

COA128 Audio

To refresh your memory, Continental Airlines 128 (COA128) encountered severe turbulence on a trip from Rio De Janeiro to Houston. About 26 people were injured and the flight diverted to Miami. The FAA has released the audio recordings. They make for interesting listening -- especially for controllers.

First things first. Here’s the link for all the audio recordings. I’ll limit myself to talking about the audio of Sector 62 where the incident happened.

The incident actually occurs about 5 minutes into the recording. Like the controller, you would never know it -- if we weren’t here listening to the recording of an accident. COA128 requests a higher altitude as he is being transferred to Sector 62 (from the previous sector) and the controller gives them a reroute when COA128 checks in. You’ll hear COA128 mention an “isolated cell” and that’s about it. You never hear anything about the incident from COA128 until you’re halfway through the hour and 25 minute recording.

Some observations:

There is an awful lot of rerouting of aircraft going on. I can’t say why but I wonder how much of it is necessary. I’ll bite my tongue before I stick my foot in my mouth. This is an oceanic and (apparently) partial radar sector. That makes it slightly outside my area of expertise so perhaps all these direct routings are necessary.

I’ve been retired for three years and yes (all my ex-co-workers), the sloppy phraseology still makes me nuts.

When it rains, it pours. Notice how the Air Canada decides to divert to Nassau right when the Continental has to divert to Miami. Why only have one problem airplane when you can have two ? It’s amazing how many times something like that happens.

Notice how the Delta pilots just can’t help themselves. No matter how busy the controller is they insist on being told that the turbulence is no where close to where they are. Here’s a hint Delta -- controllers don’t care about your corporate culture and that isn’t the way the system is designed to work. Change your culture.

You can see how that culture is infectious. Once one starts, they all start wondering. Two unscheduled diversions -- one an emergency -- tend to make a controller just a wee bit busy. Most of that busy will never be heard by pilots because it doesn’t take place on the radio. Let me be blunt. Do like the sign on your wife’s car says: Sit down, Shut up and Hold on. Controllers are supposed to tell you if they know about any hazardous conditions. It may not always work that way but that is the way it is supposed to work. They don’t have time to tell everyone that they are not anywhere close to the turbulence. It will never work the way you are trying to make it work and doing so just distracts the controllers from what they are trying to do, which -- at the moment -- just happens to be more important than you are.

For the truly geeky, you can hear a lot of non-radar coordination on this recording -- even some coordination with Havana.. (Listen for Air Jamaica.)

Don Brown
September 12, 2009

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