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Sun, Jan 02, 2005

2004 Year In Review: Ten Aviation Bummers

Rather than looking for the ten worst accidents/incidents, the Hognose digs up the ten worst events or issues

By ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin O’Brien

10. The 2004/05 Christmas/New Years Holiday Travel Season

The year ended with misery for travelers, and a black eye for several airlines that didn't need it -- like US Airways, which is publicly and messily circling the drain, and Delta, which is caught up in that same vortex. US Air had a sick-out by baggage handlers; Delta had a complete collapse of the creaking reservation and scheduling systems used by its major feeder, Comair. Passengers are fickle beasts who will always buy the lowest-cost ticket that they can, and then squawk about the service and vow never to fly the line again. Until, of course, it's the lowest-cost ticket again.

If you keep bottom-feeding, you turn into a catfish, and you lose the right to complain about the taste of what you ate.

US Air has reportedly asked employees to work without pay over the New Year's holiday. What Delta's doing is anybody's guess. Across the industry, the announcement seems to have gone out that beatings will continue until morale improves. Bum- "whack!" -- bummer.

FMI: www.greyhound.com

9. Polluted Pilots

Every year there are a couple of NTSB reports that tell the sad story of some boozehound that gets in the plane and kills himself -- sometimes along with the whole crowd that was at the bar with him when he got an alcohol-fueled flying jones. This year, we had numerous idjits fly and arrive despite their best attempts to medal in this Darwin Award category:

  • It was nearly the first and last story of the year. John Salamone of Pottstown (PA), who buzzed structures -- like the tower at Philadelphia International -- in a Cherokee for hours on January 15, and has a really bad drunk-driving record, went to prison in December.
  • Louis Kadlecek celebrated his 21st birthday last March by getting and staying drunk. Midway through this multi-day bender, he tried to steal an airplane from the Brazoria County (TX) airport, but the Bonanza outsmarted him and he couldn't get it started. He had better luck with a simpler 172 and he and his case of stolen went for an exciting, if brief, ride. He went sailing off into IMC, and as the NTSB drily puts it, had an "inflight collision with power lines and terrain." The terrain, ironically enough, was owned by a prison. He thought he might have gone to Mexico; instead he remembers seeing a flash as his prop cut through a 100,000 volt powerline. Acting on a tip, cops asked Kadlecek to be in a lineup; when they picked him up, he had his toothbrush with him and a confession on his lips.
  • Mark South of Eloy (AZ) made an emergency landing on a freeway in Santa Clarita (CA) on July 12th. If the test is "any landing you can walk away from is a good one, and if you can use the airplane again it's a great one," then this was a *bad* one, as South left his Ercoupe inverted in the runway as he rode away in the back of an LA County Sheriff's deputy's cruiser.
  • Europeans are having these worries too. Finnair captain Heikke Tallila was sentenced to six months in prison in England for attempted drunk flying. A shuttle bus driver was alarmed at the odor of Capt. Tallila's breath; he turned out to be double the legal limit -- remember, that is BAC of 0.04 under FAR 91.17; European JAR rules are similar. Tallila apparently was still under the influence from the night before: 12 hours is not enough when you slam eight or more drinks.
  • In the Pacific Rim, John David Charlesworth of Australia was sentenced to two years in jail in February for a March 2003 incident involving a Piper Seneca, five passengers, and an entire bottle of vodka. Charlesworth had a BAC or .25 -- six times the legal limit for pilots -- and fortunately taxied into a fence before he could take off.

The good news is that most of these guys were in the can, so they didn't have hangovers on New Year's Day. Further good news -- none of these incidents resulted in loss of life or serious injury. Prison is a serious bummer, but it's not as bad as what nearly happened in every one of these cases.

FMI: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org

8. TFRs For Crass Commercial Reasons

There are two public figures so important you can't fly anywhere near 'em -- the President, and Mickey Freaking Mouse. Now, while Disney cast members have been known to be bitten and kicked by naughty kids while playing the dopey-looking cartoon rodent, there is no known threat against him. That didn't stop Disney from deploying its lawyers, lobbyists and money in depth to get its theme parks declared Perma-TFRs. This inspired major sports promoters to follow suit. Despite the noise the lawyer/lobbyists make, the "threat" here was not to the public, but to corporate profits posed by aerial advertisers. Folks have died in rides at Disney, but nobody's died from a falling banner-tug there.

Now, the US military is backing off on the TFRs it demanded over many of its sensitive installations, but Disney, the NFL, and other assorted organizations are not backing off their demand for advertisement-free... excuse me... a cut of the advertising, in "their" airspace.

Unfortunately, the powerful entertainment empires rammed this through Congress, that colossal human eBay where everybody's for sale, and a small thing like the public interest can't outbid what Disney, the NFL, and the whole soulless gang of Washington insiders can do to a Congressman's all-important bottom line.

As Winston Churchill said in Commons in November, 1947, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government -- except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." But when huge corporations can buy Congress, is it still democracy? Wasn't there some dude who called his movement National  Corporatism? Not Churchill, but one of his contemporaries? Corporatist states, greedy corporations and corrupt Congressmen are a triple-barreled bummer.

FMI: www.minniemarriedgoofy.com

7. BASE Bouncers

BASE stands for Building, Aerial, Span, and Earth, and that describes the things that skydivers jump off of when they find that the ground-rush of ordinary freefall can no longer cut through their ennui. They are called, then, BASE Jumpers; which sport at one time would get your USPA license yanked. Until the USPA realized it was a waste of effort, yanking licenses from dead guys walking. It was a bad fall in both senses for BASE Jumpers worldwide: of the six or seven BASE jumpers thought to have died in 2004, three died in a short span between October and November. One hit a building in China on a legal jump, a friend of his made an illegal memorial jump in an Australian national park and struck the cliff he jumped from, and an American jumped from an antenna into fog, proving the hard way that BASE jumping ought to be conducted under visual flight rules.

Several of the fatals over the years, including the Shanghai victim in October, had previously had near-fatal accidents. And you hear about the fatals, you don't hear about the brain-damaged victims in nursing homes. Some of these guys left families. BASE Jumping might be a hell of a rush, but bouncing is as solid a bummer as there is.

FMI: http://hometown.aol.com/base194/myhomepage/base_fatality_list

6. Dope Smugglers

Geez, I thought those guys went out with Don Johnson and whatshisname from Miami Vice. Apparently not. We never heard if the feds caught fugitive Eugene Cobb from LA, but if the DEA gets him for his plane full of wacky weed, the FAA is winding up to throw a book at him -- he not only was not licensed to operate the twin, his medical was expired. He's really in trouble now. Or as they say in Cheech and Chong movies, "Bummer, dude."

FMI: www.dea.gov

5. Election TFRs

President Bush catches the rocket for this one -- his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, did the stand-up thing and let Aeronca C3s, Pterodactyl Ascenders and other threatening general aviation aircraft fly within hailing distance of his auguste presence. But while Mr. Bush criss-crossed the country, TFRs were springing up on the chart like pox on a... hmmm... let's change images.

How in all the Gods in Niffelheim are we supposed to track a 30-nm TFR with a 10-nm shoot-to-kill-by-Gadfrey exclusion zone -- that motors down the highway centered on the Presidential motorcade!!??

Look, do we have to crash a 172 on the Prez's armored limo to prove this is a bogus "threat?" Heck, I volunteer to sit in the limo... and I promise not to touch any of the buttons! But the President's bodyguard, which prefers not to be referred to by its initials which resemble those of a certain historical leader's bodyguard, insists that he needs this bubble of empty airspace. What's next? Shall we all have to avert our eyes or be beheaded, like commoners in the Meiji Empire? Unfortunately, it's possible that even the President himself couldn't get this overreaction turned off. Bummer.

FMI: www.whitehouse.gov

4. TSA Roguery

You have to be done reading this article in time for "Ten Bummers of 2005" so I won't go into depth. Lost guns, bungled screening, stolen property, ridiculous rules and continued fiscal irresponsibility, culminating in a lavish self-congratulatory bash, where the people who have made the organization the laughingstock it is, during its short and unhelpful life, gave each other "lifetime achievement" awards. I mean, where to begin with this laughingstock? I am sure 2005 will have lots of stories of the TSA's unintentional comic relief, but the joke is on us -- when you realize that we pay double for TSA, once to fund it, and once to pay for all the costs it imposes on aviation businesses, you have to call it a bummer.

FMI: www.eljebelshrine.org/keystone_kops.htm, www.imdb.com/title/tt0047794/

3. Accidents in 135 Operations

If the morning news keeps showing bits and pieces of incinerated Lears and Gulfstreams, the public is going to get entirely wrong ideas about the safety of charter operations. While the NTSB will take its time to make its decisions, I'll take a real flier and say that ultra-experienced pilots who smack a xenon lamp post trying to land in zero and 1/4 weather are going to have their actions dissected by the Board.

Too many charter operators seem to let their ingrained sense of safety go to pudding when they're on a part 91 positioning flight. Knock it off out there -- losing good people and good planes for a silly mistake is a bummer. The only thing that's worse than that is some clown holding himself out as a 135 when he isn't -- and there were a couple of those rogues who bent metal in 2004 as well. You would think that they would be weeded out by relentless Darwinian selection, but apparently not. Bummer.

FMI: www.nbaa.org

2. Airlines Cratering In

The Airline Deadpool deserves an entire story of its own, but the bad developments come in faster than we can write them down. The way it looks right now, it's going to be easier to get a landing slot at O'Hare or Reagan National than getting a slot in bankruptcy court in the coming year. The judges will be issuing ground holds to airlines seeking protection from their creditors.

The managers blame the unions, who blame the managers, and everybody blames the cost of fuel and the pressures from new startups, who don't have any deal on fuel, but they don't do dumb stuff in good years, yet, like give $1 million to AIDS charities. I see lots of good people from pilots to gate agents crisis-managing their jobs as the companies crash around them and the self-serving bosses pilfer the silverware.

Eddie Rickenbacker used to say airline profitability was all about load factors, or has he bluntly put it, putting "bums in seats." It's hard to look at the results of some of the major airlines over the last few years without concluding that their problem has been one of bums in suites -- executive suites. When your senior management are worrying about wangling bankruptcy protection for their pensions -- and only their pensions -- who's running the company? Who is John Galt? This is going to be a long, drawn-out, painful-to-watch bummer.

FMI: www.airlineburnouts.com

1. Sport Pilot Aeromedical

At the last minute, without a word to any of the stakeholders, the FAA yanked the drivers' licence medical away from anyone who had previously had a medical revoked or denied, without even thinking what they would do with these people. And most "denials," Federal Air Surgeon Jon Jordan admitted to me, were guys who didn't follow up with documentation the FAA demanded, and just gave up. Often the FAA asks for expensive tests at frequent intervals, which tends to frustrate people, particularly when you consider that the requests come from doctors who probably haven't done clinical work in years, and the tests are rarely covered by insurance.

I've written on the FAA's position before, and while the position is defensible, the underhanded way the FAA sneaked it in at the last minute is not. This was the Number One Bummer of the Year for 2005, and it's a reminder that there are still people in the FAA that see pilots as the enemy. If they could just ground us all, think how safe that would be!

In the immortal words of that great humanitarian, motorist Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" Not if the FAA lawyers don't try. What a bummer.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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