Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Philly, cheese steaks, Love, and the Reading Terminal Market

 Our long layover in Philadelphia is downtown, walking distance to everything.  On our way to the famous Reading Terminal Market, my First Officer and I passed "Love" park, really JFK plaza and home to the famous "Love" statue by Robert Indiana.  The Reading Terminal Market, is a mecca for Foodies and where many Amish farmers sell their wares.  There are some great food stalls, not all of them Amish.  You could spend months before you will have eaten at everyone of them.  I was amazed at the butcher shops, bakeries, and the vast amount of delicious foods available at the numerous stalls.  The aromas were sensational and the atmosphere was carnival like.  One Amish vendor specialized in beef  jerky (I bought a pound of it...handy to
Carmen's Cheesesteaks
have when flying and you need a quick snack).  Being in Philly however, we decided to get Cheese Steaks. We went to Carmen's Famous Italian Hoagies & Cheese Steaks.  I had no idea there were so many options for a cheese steak.  I got the "original" version made with, yes.....Cheese Wiz.  Interacting with Carmen is entertaining and you can watch your sandwich being made while you wait.  Just don't order a Philly Cheese Steak.  Carmen will tell you that you that you are in Philly, so you will be getting a cheese steak sandwich.  He (yes Carmen is a man) will give you a playing card matched to your order. (I think I got the king of hearts).  It was delicious and very filling, which was disappointing as I wanted to try all of the food from all of the stalls.  I will just have to pace myself and try to get more PHL layovers.  Philadelphia may not be the "City of Brotherly Love" anymore at their sports venues given how their sports fans behave, but they do have a Love statue and you will absolutely feel the love of good food at the Reading Terminal Market.  Here is the link to the market.
The Dutch Eating Place was chosen as the best stall  by a high school student who  made it a project to eat at every single food stall in the Reading Street Market and then write reviews on each of them
Reading Street (pronounced "Redding"  Market

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Airlines pad flight schedules to boost on-time record

The above is a link to a cover story that appeared in USA Today, Friday, February 15.  I found the article amusing.  Below is my unedited letter to the editor. It was published in the February 19th issue, albeit an "condensed" version. Here is the link to the "letters to the editor" page with my remarks.

The "Print" version of my letter to the editor
This is the unedited letter that I sent:
I imagine that every airline employee in the USA was greatly amused after reading your cover story Friday, 15 February (“The Fiction behind Early Flights).  I suppose that passengers will never be satisfied until all flights take off and arrive at the exact time they are scheduled to and fly free in the first class cabin.  Flights arriving early are a good thing.  I am a regional air line captain with fourteen years experience (seventeen years of military flying prior to this career).  I would like to invite MIT aeronautics Professor Belobaba to join me on a typical four day trip and see how “under utilized” we crew members are.  Yesterday, I finished a four day trip that had one fourteen plus hour duty day and another twelve plus hour duty day.  If the airlines are “padding” the flight times and allowing passengers the ability to actually make their connections, then I am all for it.  Arriving early gives us crew members more time to perhaps grab a bite to eat since more often than not, time is not built into our days for regular meals.  We may even be able to get to our hotel earlier so that we can get a decent amount of rest.  In the past, I have seen passengers actually schedule themselves a 30 minute period to make a connection at very busy airports.  This is unrealistic and is poor planning.  All it takes is one weather event, a mechanical delay and a passenger is stuck having to re-book or find an alternative.  MR Curry’s annoyance at having to wait to make his connection is almost laughable and is typical of so many travelers these days.  Had he driven, taken a train or a bus, those three hours waiting to make his connection would seem luxurious.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Airline industry at its safest since the dawn of the jet age

Not sure of the Author of this article, but my comments are in bold. I have also underlined some sentences for emphasis.  

Flying on a commercial jetliner has never been safer.  The most dangerous part of my job is driving to airport.
It is four years today since the last fatal crash in the United States, a record unmatched since propeller planes gave way to the jet age more than half a century ago. Globally, last year was the safest since 1945, with 23 deadly accidents and 475 fatalities, according to the Aviation Safety Network, an accident researcher. That was less than half the 1,147 deaths, in 42 crashes, in 2000.  In a stark contrast, in 2009 alone, the last year the census has available, 35,900 people died as a result of motor vehicle accidents in the US.  In Georgia alone, 1284 died.  In Florida, 2558 died and California was the deadliest state with 3,081 dead as a result of car accidents in 2009.
In the last five years, the death risk for passengers in the United States has been one in 45 million flights, according to Arnold Barnett, a professor of statistics at M.I.T. In other words, flying has become so reliable that a traveler could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash, he said.
Regional Jets lined up at Detroit Metropolitan Airport
There are many reasons for this remarkable development. Planes and engines have become more reliable. Advanced navigation and warning technology has sharply reduced once-common accidents like midair collisions or crashes into mountains in poor visibility.
Regulators, pilots and airlines now share much more extensive information about flying hazards, with the goal of preventing accidents rather than just reacting to them. This is a great program that all airline pilots participate in.  And when crashes do occur, passengers are now more likely to survive.
“The lessons of accidents used to be written in blood, where you had to have an accident, and you had to kill people to change procedures, or policy, or training,” said Deborah Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “That’s not the case anymore. We have a much more proactive approach to safety.”
The grounding of the Boeing 787 fleet last month illustrates this new era of caution. The last time a fleet was grounded was 1979, after a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, killing 273 people. The 787s, by contrast, were grounded after two episodes involving smoke from batteries in which no one was hurt and no planes were lost.
The last fatal accident involving a commercial flight in the United States was Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed near Buffalo, killing 50 people, on Feb. 12, 2009. The pilot’s maneuver was the opposite of what he should have done when ice formed on the wings.  FYI, ice forming on the wings while flying is a hazard particular to propeller-driven airplanes.  Jet aircraft do not have this issue.  Even so, prop planes have very good systems in place to avoid ice build up on wings.
Perhaps even more noteworthy, there has not been an accident involving a major domestic carrier since an American Airlines flight to the Dominican Republic crashed after takeoff in Queens in November 2001, killing all 260 people on board.
But while flying is safer, it is still not risk-free. Nothing is.  Buses crash, trains derail, and you saw my stats on autos.  Even staying at home is not risk free.  Air traffic is set to grow in the next decade, and airports are more congested. Near-misses on runways and taxiways have risen. And with two million passengers in the United States boarding more than 30,000 flights every day, maintaining that safety record will be a challenge.
The Colgan accident also cast a troubling light on regional airlines, which hire young pilots, some with little experience, ("little experience" is a subjective statement.  My airline is a regional and we have Captains with over 30 years of experience.  Our newest captain has a minimum of five years flying as a First Officer before upgrading to Captain.  The captain in the Colgan crash had been with the company for four years.  I have been a captain for 13 years in three different aircraft.  Prior to that, I was a Naval Aviator for 17 years.) at a fraction of the salaries at bigger carriers.  Well, unfortunately, this is true about salaries.  
Consider, though that 53 percent of all commercial airline departures in the United States today are operated by regional airlines.  The Colgan crash was an aberration and the Captain was inadequately trained.  But even in light of that, fifty three percent of all departures?  You don't hear about them falling out of the sky every day if they are THAT bad.  I haven't heard for more flight time requirements for "non regional" airline pilots since the debacle of the Air France crash over the Atlantic in 2009 that killed 228 people and was completely avoidable.  In fact, that was an Airbus/pilot training issue and Airbuses are still flying all over the place.  No one has grounded them nor is there a demand for more pilot hours for Air France pilots (or any other "mainline" pilots for that matter.
Since the Colgan crash, the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated longer resting periods for pilots. I am all for this.  But in the face of opposition from airlines, it is still working on new rules for more extensive co-pilot training.
“It’s important not to define safety as the absence of accidents,” said Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the US Airways pilot who became a hero when he landed an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River in January 2009 after both engines lost power. All 155 aboard escaped.
“When we’ve been through a very safe period, it is easy to think it’s because we are doing everything right,” he said. “But it may be that we are doing some things right, but not everything. We can’t relax.”
Not long ago, the industry’s safety record was far bleaker. In 1985, more than 2,000 people died in dozens of crashes, including 520 when a Boeing 747 crashed in Japan. A crash of a Delta Air Lines Lockheed TriStar killed 134 in Dallas that year.
After another series of accidents in 1996, federal officials set a goal of cutting accident rates by 80 percent over 10 years. That year, 340 people died in just two crashes in the United States — ValuJet Flight 592, a DC-9 that crashed in Florida, and TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 that blew up after its fuel tank exploded off Long Island.
Since then, the F.A.A., airlines and pilot groups have stepped up efforts to share safety concerns through a series of voluntary programs. Airlines agreed to participate after obtaining assurances that the information would not be used to discipline them.
An F.A.A. Web-based system, created in 2007, now includes information from 44 carriers. The result is widely viewed as successful, spawning an attitude that allows hazards to be identified before accidents occur.
The F.A.A. and airlines now systematically study data from flight recorders to analyze common problems, like finding the best angle of approach and speed to land at airports with tricky wind conditions.
Besides advances in navigation technology, today’s airplanes are equipped with systems that can detect severe turbulence or wind shear, allowing pilots to avoid them altogether. Engines are also better built — when one fails, pilots can still land safely.
“We have engineered out the common causes of accidents,” said Patrick Smith, a commercial pilot who writes a blog called Ask the Pilot.
And because planes have better hull and seat design, said Kevin Hiatt, the president of the Flight Safety Foundation, “crashes are more survivable today than decades ago.”
In August 2005, for instance, an Air France flight to Toronto overshot the runway and burst into flames, yet all 309 passengers and crew managed to escape.
Aviation safety officials will also go to considerable lengths to learn what caused a crash. Uncertainty is rarely tolerated, said Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the National Transportation Safety Board.
After an Air France jet crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 on its way from Brazil to Paris, investigators spent nearly two years — and millions of dollars — looking for the flight data recorder. “Aviation, in particular, abhors a vacuum,” Mr. Goelz said.
Mr. Smith said there was another reason for the safety record: “Luck is always going to be a part of it.”  I believe that you create your own luck.  Who was it that said, the harder I work, the luckier I get?
The biggest battle still being fought is over co-pilot training. The F.A.A. missed a Congressional deadline for new rules requiring first officers to have at least 1,500 hours of flying, the same as pilots, before being hired, instead of 250 hours today. The agency has proposed a compromise of 750 hours for former military pilots and 1,000 hours for pilots with an aviation college degree.  In my opinion, and most others in the profession, this will do little to improve safety and only exacerbate a quickly growing pilot shortage. Quality time verses quantity time, e.g droning around straight and level for hours on end, is more important than amassing hours.
But the F.A.A.’s work has been slowed by lobbying by the airlines, according to a recent report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general. Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, said the F.A.A. should not set arbitrary numbers. “It’s about quality training, not quantity,” he said. This is true.  The numbers are completely arbitrary.  I would rather have a former military pilot with 500 hours than a civilian trained pilot with 1500 hours.
But Mr. Sullenberger said: “Some in industry still are fighting so hard to weaken, to delay or to kill an important safety initiative. The lessons of Colgan have not been learned.”
Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, said that the Colgan crash was his worst day in four years on the job, and that he had worked closely with family members of victims to strengthen the pilot training rules. Even though he plans to step down soon, he said, the F.A.A. is “going to continue to work to get that over the finish line.”