NTSB Makes New Lithium Battery Cargo Recommendations

On February 9, 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued two safety recommendations related the transportation of lithium batteries on cargo aircraft.

1. Physically separate lithium batteries from other flammable hazardous materials stowed on cargo aircraft

2. Establish maximum loading density requirements that restrict the quantities of lithium batteries and flammable hazardous materials

Although the Department of Transportation (DOT) was barred by Congress in 2012 from establishing lithium battery safety regulations more stringent that those established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the NTSB is using an allowed exception to the law if it has "credible evidence of a deficiency in the international regulations that has substantially contributed to the start or spread of an on-board fire."  The NTSB is citing its investigation of the July 28, 2011, in-flight fire and crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 991. 

Too Few Air Traffic Controllers in the Tower

February 4, 2016

A 2014 FAA review concluded that Chicago O'Hare Airport's TRACON* should be staffed with a no less than 53 certified professional controllers (CPC). But a recent Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General Audit Report (released January 11, 2016) found that O'Hare's TRACON has been getting by with only 48 CPCs. And of those 48 air traffic controllers, 24 of them were eligible to retire at any time.  The staffing and training audit looked at 23 critical airports around the U.S. It concluded that:

. . . many of these facilities still have a clear shortage of fully trained controllers. Furthermore, FAA does not have the data or an effective model in place to fully and accurately identify how many controllers FAA needs to maintain efficiency without compromising safety.
— Dept. of Transportation Audit. January 2016

*The report looked at air traffic controllers in 3 different roles:

1. Air Traffic Control Centers guide airplanes flying at high altitude through large sections of airspace

2. TRACONs guide aircraft as they approach or leave airspace near a primary airport

3. Towers which house air traffic controllers who monitor all aircraft taxiing, taking off, and landing at that airport

Read the DOT OIG Audit Report  

Report Details FAA Oversight Weaknesses

February 2, 2016

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that automation is used 90 percent of the time in flight. However, the FAA does not have a process to ensure that air carrier pilots are trained to use and monitor automation systems while also maintaining proficiency in manual flight operations.

A recent Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General Audit Report (published January 7, 2016) relates a lack of appropriate pilot training to specific recent aviation accidents.

The July 2013 crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214, showed that pilots who typically fly with automation can make errors when confronted with an unexpected event or transitioning to manual flying.

The August 2013 crash of August 2013 crash of UPS flight 1354 found that both pilots failed to monitor the aircraft’s altitude during the final approach into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

The major FAA oversight weaknesses that the report stated are: 

  • FAA Has Not Ensured Air Carriers Adequately Train and Evaluate Pilot Monitoring Skills
  • FAA Lacks a Process To Determine How Often Pilots Use Manual Flying Skills
  • FAA Has Not Ensured That Air Carrier Training Programs Adequately Focus on Manual Flying Skills

The report goes on to make several recommendations to enhance the FAA's ability to ensure that air carriers sufficiently address pilot monitoring and manual flying skills.

Read the original DOT OIG Report

As Drones Multiply, Legal Challenges Increase

Written by Steven Pounian and Justin Green
New York Law Journal
Originally published Oct 23, 2014

In 10 years, drones will be used for missions that today would be unimaginable. How the FAA integrates drones into our national airspace has major commercial and safety implications.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 requires that the FAA develop a comprehensive regulatory policy "to support safe and efficient [drone] operations in the national airspace." The law authorizes the administration in the interim to permit the commercial use of certain types of drones in low-risk, controlled environments.

Commercial uses on the horizon include filmmaking, agriculture, oil and gas industries, commercial fishing, package delivery and even remote delivery of medicine.

Read the article

NTSB Points to De-icing in Gaithersburg Crash

January 20, 2016

Three healthcare professionals, a mother and her two young children were killed on December 8, 2014, when an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom 100 stalled and crashed into a house 3/4 miles short of the runway at Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

An NTSB report released on January 19, 2016 noted that the stall characteristics exhibited by the plane during the approach are consistent with an ice-contaminated airplane. Although the plane was equipped with an engine anti-ice system and a wing and stabilizer de-ice system, investigators found that the wing/stabilizer de-icing switch was not activated.