Friday, April 01, 2011

Leave Me Alone

I’m supposed to be retired, remember? So stop coming up with problems that make me get involved.

Mix-up diverts Asheville flight

”An apparent clerical error kept a US Airways Express flight from landing between 1 and 2 a.m. Thursday morning at Asheville Regional Airport after the airport's control tower closed for the night.”

I wonder how a Flight Service Specialist likes taking the rap for all this?

”The flight had been scheduled to leave Charlotte at 10:35 p.m. and arrive in Asheville at 11:28 p.m., but Belz said it didn't leave Charlotte until 1 a.m.”

The story gets around to it but I’ll save you the suspense and tell you that Asheville Tower closes at 11PM. I know because I used to work this show when I worked the midnight shift. Pay attention here; 10:35PM departure -- Tower closes at 11PM. Guess how often these airliners arrive after the Tower closes. Especially in the summertime after a day of thunderstorms.

”In the Asheville case, “We did everything correctly,” Bergen said.”

Well...I don’t know if I’d go along with that. (BTW, that’s the FAA’s Bergen. Same spokesperson they’ve had for years.) The FAA did contract out Flight Service. The FAA does close Asheville Tower at 11PM every night despite years and years of airliners arriving after 11PM. It’s not a real big deal to staff it until at least midnight.

”A notice was issued Tuesday telling pilots to land from the opposite direction because of weather conditions that night, said Tina Kinsey, spokeswoman at Asheville Regional.

Bergen said the notice, from a flight service station in Leesburg, Va., operated by FAA contractor Lockheed Martin, was apparently entered with an incorrect date that also made it effective for Wednesday night.”

Hmmm. I’m not so sure about that. The way it used to work was, when the Tower closed, the Asheville controller would call up the controller in Atlanta Center who was taking over the airspace and say something like, “I’m leaving the ILS (Instrument Landing System) on (runway) 34. No NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) for you. No traffic. See you in the morning.” Things might have changed but everybody (pilots and controllers) ought to be on the same page as far as which ILS is up and running.

”Kinsey said flights arriving at Asheville Regional after the local control tower closes are handled by FAA workers in Atlanta. The arrangement is safe and has not been a source of concern for Asheville Regional, she said.”

Well...I don’t know if I would have said that either. Ms. Kinsey -- speaking as a representative of Asheville Regional Airport -- might not be concerned about midnight operations at Asheville Airport but a lot of us that work the airspace have been concerned -- very concerned -- for years and years.

Same Old Safety Problems

”Asheville (as we all know) is surrounded by mountains. It’s a “challenging” airport. That’s code for, “If you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s it is safe. If you don’t, it will kill you.” I’d venture a guess that 90% of Asheville’s (the identifier is AVL) problems occur on the midnight shift with airline-type aircraft. ”

If Ms. Kinsey (or you) will take the time to click on that link, she can learn how to find out about concerns about Asheville (or any airport). The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System is still alive and well. And their database still works. It’s unbelievably clunky (Hi Harvey) -- but it works.

Out of the 101 reports NASA ASRS has on AVL (Asheville’s identifier), 21 were filed about problems at “night”. Of the 21 reports, 8 are about working with Atlanta Center (ZTL) on the midnight shift. You ought to read them.

”In more challenging conditions, this could easily have contributed to an accident. There should be sort of a plan and realistic expectations when the ZTL controllers are working a late night into AVL when the AVL Tower and Approach Control are closed. Though it is possible that the flight was handled in accordance with applicable regulations, the reality of events shows that safety was clearly degraded.”

They make for interesting reading. Now, If you’ll leave me alone, I’ll go shoot some pictures of the sunset.

Don Brown
April 1, 2011

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