Tag Archives: UPS 1354

UPS 1354, Birmingham Runway 18, August 14, 2013: Is FAA Policy vs Procedures Inconsistency Causing A Severe Safety Risk in Commercial Aviation? “Is the Tail Wagging the Dog ?”

100_3975

In the last 40 years the US FAA has spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars engineering safety into the nation’s commercial aviation infrastructure. This policy at the FAA has led to great success in achieving an astonishing low commercial aviation mishap rate in the US.  Moreover it has provided an example for Western Europe, Pacrim Asia and the rest of the world to match in building and outfitting highly standardized, major international commercial all-weather airports. Birmingham International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama is one of these airports.

But on the early morning hours of August 14, 2013 at Birmingham International, all of the latest and greatest in hundreds of billions of dollars of technology and engineering was put aside, so that an airfield electrician could change out a few dozen fifteen dollar light bulbs.  When UPS 1354 arrived at Birmingham in the cloudy, dark soup of early morning, the pilots’ heads were swimming in night time induced fatigue.  All that they hoped for was that the local FAA area Air Traffic Control approach controller would vector them onto the final approach course for the amazingly technical all weather runway. They hoped to couple up their fantastically sophisticated jet’s autoflight system to the airfield’s highly accurate electronic glide slope and precision path localizer. They planned to comply with FAA all weather approach procedures and bring their huge  jumbo jet down to the runway along an approach path well clear of trees, mountains and towers. They hoped to land on a well light, precision marked, sharply cut grooved and crowned runway.

But instead, someone at Birmingham, we don’t know who yet, made a decision to invoke a local procedure, a procedure that did not support the most sophisticated FAA instrument approach procedures nor the FAA policy of providing the latest and greatest engineering and technology to commercial flight crew landing huge jumbo jets at Birmingham Airport.

Someone at Birmingham took it upon themselves to take all of this engineering and technology out of service, to shut down all of these highly sophisticated procedures and do so for a considerable amount of time. They did so knowing full well that UPS 1354 would be scheduled to arrive at just this time and in fact was arriving in the area as scheduled. They also knew that the weather at the field held low lying clouds. Additionally, they knew full well that the runway that they would offer UPS 1354 on which to land held only antiquated technology dating back to the dawn of commercial aviation, literally into the 1930’s. Finally, they knew that the descent path for the approach to that runway was directly over hilly and irregular terrain north of the airport, an area unsuited for the installation of any ATC approach modern technology and engineering.

Who was it locally at Birmingham that approved such a procedure that clearly was inconsistent with official FAA all weather commercial operations policy and procedure, and especially so for a cloudy runway at night in the mountains, all while a fully instrumented and safely engineered runway was available and would be consistent  with current FAA safety policy? Where is that procedure written down?

Additionally, how did this conflict between local procedure and FAA policy and procedure for all weather commercial operations come to exist at Birmingham? For that matter how did it come to exist at any international FAA airport? Why didn’t someone either in Birmingham FAA Air Traffic Control Office or the Washington FAA Headquarters Air Traffic Control Directorate or the Commercial Air Safety Directorate question this apparent policy versus procedures inconsistency? Was this an FAA managerial snafu or in fact is this a widespread FAA organizational inconsistency and thus a severe commercial aviation safety hazard?

Was not a very similar commercial aviation safety policy versus all weather procedures conflict involved in the Asiana crash in San Francisco just a few months earlier? In that case, instead of an electrician changing out light bulbs, the airfield’s multi billion dollar engineering and technology instrument approach system was set aside so that bull dozers could move dirt around to build a taxiway.

How is it that such inconsistencies exist at FAA? Is this a case of the tail wagging the dog? How is it that the maintenance of light bulbs and airfield construction take precedence over the safe operation of commercial flight? Who at the Washington FAA Headquarters Safety Policy Directorate and the Air Traffic Control Directorate is supposed to be ensuring that local airfield FAA managers are employing procedures that are supportive and consistent with the FAA safety policy? Why are US taxpayers spending hundreds of billions of dollars on commercial airfield infrastructure and operational safety only to have that safety compromised by maintenance and construction and local procedures?

Are we really expecting our international jumbo jet flight crew members to make up for this FAA policy vs procedures failure, at 4am in the morning, in the dark, in the clouds and in the mountains by resorting to 1930’s technology and procedures? Really?

How many more similar commercial airline crashes must occur before the FAA is able to determine that they have policy vs procedures safety inconsistency?

In my opinion, the US National Transportation Safety Board needs to investigate this safety inconsistency, this very severe FAA commercial aviation safety hazard, this severe risk to the US taxpaying public and make a recommendation for corrective action to the FAA before the next similar commercial aviation mishap occurs. In my opinion, they should do so quickly.

100_0306

 

 

UPS Safety Program: Prevention or Mishap Investigation? What are the Financial Consequences of a Failed Safety Program?

Captain Paul Miller preparing for a coming storm.

Is UPS Airlines now joining the ranks of so many previously safe FAR Part 121 airlines whose safety program looks good on paper, but in the field is no longer functioning to prevent fatal mishaps?

Since 1982, UPS has run UPS Airlines free of fatal mishaps. In fact the few mishaps that have occurred in the operation by and large have not been attributed to flight crew error at all. This has been a substantially safe operation, most markedly from the pilots’ seat. In my opinion, this is a valid reflection of the training program and the safety program that have been working hand in hand successfully.

Now, however, in the space of 3 years, two fatal mishap events have occurred. The two events involved the deaths of four pilots. Additionally the events involved the total destruction of two jumbo jets fully laden with cargo and express packages have brought tragedy and disaster to the front door of this fairly large global shipping company. Has the airline safety program, a program that had been working so well, now failed to prevent two major financial disasters in three years? Are top UPS executives asking the question, “Does the safety program look good on paper but then fail to prevent aviation disasters and the accompanying hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses?”

The airlines and the pilot union have just completed a three year process involving the GCAA (Dubai civil aviation authority) mishap investigation of the September 2010 fatal air tragedy of UPS Flight 6, a B747-400 freighter, that caught fire inside the cargo area and crashed after takeoff in Dubai, despite the heroic efforts of the crew. (See the article below concerning the report recently released on UPS 6 by GCAA.)

Now UPS once again is visited by tragedy and disaster in Birmingham, Alabama, with the crash of UPS 1354. By all early and outward reports this mishap appears to have been completely preventable. Many people may ask both, “Why and why now?”

Here is the most difficult questions of all for UPS Airlines and its Joint Safety Program with the FAA and its pilot union: Has the safety program been working to prevent mishaps from occurring? Has the Safety Program been serving the safety purpose? Or has the Joint Safety Program become a legal avenue to find blame for the tragedies and losses that are now occurring regularly, without really delineating concrete steps to prevent the mishap from recurring? Is the safety program now serving the legal purpose instead of the safety purpose?”

UPS, its pilot union and its FAA partners are now party to another massive NTSB investigation that will attempt to answer the safety question, “How did the UPS Flight 1354 tragedy at Birmingham’s airport happen and what can UPS, the FAA and its pilot union do jointly to prevent this mishap from occurring again?”

But then the line flight crew member may ask these questions: “Wasn’t the purpose of the Safety Program originally, to prevent this mishap from ever occurring in the first place? Why did that program not work, where was the failure and what can be done now to prevent another fatal mishap from occurring?”

So again the crew member may be wondering, “Has the Safety Program now shifted towards reacting to tragedy and disaster instead of preventing tragedy and disaster? What good is all this attention to the disasters, when at the end of the day two fellow crew members are once again dead?”

Airline operations had been safe between 1982 and 2010. Now losses are occurring. Where has the safety program failed, if in fact it has, and how does UPS return to safe operations?

Perhaps a safety forecast may be useful now in order to develop a new safety plan? Perhaps looking ahead to the safety hazards that the airline faces in the future will allow the airline safety department to create a safety plan to return the airline to mishap free operations.

Mishaps are terribly costly in both human terms and financial terms. The losses from these two mishaps at this time have most likely surpassed half a billion dollars. From a financial perspective alone, a safety forecast and a safety plan would be a wise strategy.

Winter Storm