The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), citing three fatal accidents involving small airplanes that collided with meteorological evaluation towers (METs), is recommending that all such towers be registered, marked and, if possible, lighted.
The NTSB issued two safety recommendations to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), calling on the agency to require tower registration and marking and to establish a database for the required registrations.
METs — defined by the NTSB as temporary structures that measure wind speed and direction during development of wind energy conversion facilities — often are erected quickly and without notice to the aviation community. They typically are just under 200 ft above ground level (AGL), which is the threshold at which FAA notification is required, and they are unmarked and unlighted.
“Pilots have reported difficulty seeing METs from the air … which has led to accidents,” the NTSB said. “Without measures to enhance their conspicuity, such as marking and lighting these structures and maintaining a record of their locations, METs pose a continuing threat to low-altitude aviation operations such as those involving helicopter emergency medical services, law enforcement, animal damage control, fish and wildlife surveys, agricultural applications and aerial fire suppression.”
The FAA approved recommended guidelines in June 2011 for “a uniform and consistent scheme for voluntarily marking” METs of less than 200 ft AGL; the guidelines did not discuss voluntary lighting, and the FAA said recommending lighting for the METs “would not be practical” because many are in remote locations without power sources.
Ten states have acted to require at least some METs to be marked and/or registered, and the NTSB issued recommendations for states, territories and the District of Columbia to pass similar legislation.
Other recommendations called on the American Wind Energy Association to revise the Wind Energy Siting Handbook to indicate the hazards that METs present to aviation operations and “encourage voluntarily marking them [in accordance with FAA Advisory Circular 70/7460-1, “Obstruction Marking and Lighting”] to increase their visibility.”
New Round for IOSA
An International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference has endorsed development of an enhanced version of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
Enhanced IOSA is expected to be implemented by September 2015.
IATA said that the current IOSA program has “laid a solid foundation for improved operational safety and security, eliminating redundant industry audits.” However, audit protocols have changed very little since IOSA’s establishment in 2003, and modifications are needed to enhance operational safety and security practices, IATA said.
The association said Enhanced IOSA will include “measures to ensure continuous conformity with IOSA standards and recommended practices through quality control processes and self-auditing in between IOSA’s two-year audit cycle.
IATA’s Ops Conference endorsed Enhanced IOSA at a May meeting in Montreal.
During the same meeting, IATA said it was joining with other organizations, including the Association of European Airlines, Eurocontrol, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations, to develop an action plan for the Single European Sky (SES). The action plan includes plans to reduce infrastructure duplication within the SES area by centralizing services and streamlining computer technology.
Pushing for SES
The European Commission (EC) has moved to update regulations that it says will accelerate changes in the region’s air traffic control system as it implements the Single European Sky (SES) and avert the “capacity crunch” that is expected to accompany a 50 percent increase in air traffic over the next 10 to 20 years.
The European Transport Workers Federation (EFT) is protesting the move, which it says is placing unacceptable pressure on air traffic management (ATM) employees.
The EC’s plan calls for “organisational and budgetary separation of national supervisory authorities from the air traffic control organisations [that] they oversee while at the same time ensuring sufficient resources are given to the national supervisory authorities to do their tasks.” Some supervisory authorities have not had adequate funding to perform their jobs, the EC said, adding that plans call for airlines to have “a new role in signing off air traffic control organisations’ investment plans to ensure they are better focused on meeting customer needs.”
Another proposal would allow for more flexible operation of the functional airspace blocks (FABs) — the regional units designed to replace the current “patchwork” of 27 national air traffic control units — so that the FABs could create industrial partnerships and increase performance. At the same time, Eurocontrol’s role would be strengthened to allow it to operate centralized services more efficiently, the EC said.
Other EC proposals call for strengthening the role of the EC in setting performance targets for European ATM in safety, cost efficiency, capacity and environment. The performance review body will operate with increased independence and have the authority to issue sanctions when targets are not met.
In addition, the EC proposed that support services — including meteorology, aeronautical information, communications, navigation and surveillance — be provided by private companies.
European Union Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said the proposals would “strengthen the nuts and bolts of the system so it can withstand more pressure and deliver ambitious reforms.”
The EFT, however, objected that the plans are part of “a never-ending process of liberalisation, deregulation and cost cutting in the ATM industry.”
The organization said that, although it originally supported the SES concept, it opposes mounting pressure on workers and will oppose new plans that do not address the social aspects of SES.
Runway Incursion Audit
A U.S. government watchdog agency has begun an audit of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) efforts to prevent runway incursions.
The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said the audit is needed because of an increase in the number of serious runway incursions — from six in fiscal year 2010 to 18 in fiscal 2012 — and a 21 percent increase in total runway incursions — from 954 in fiscal 2011 to 1,150 in fiscal 2012.
The FAA has reorganized its Runway Safety Office and changed its methods of reporting runway incursions since the last program review in 2010. The OIG said the objectives of the audit, which was begun in late May, are “to evaluate FAA’s progress in implementing initiatives to prevent runway incursions and effectiveness in reporting and evaluating runway incursions.”
Complications for NextGen
Uncertain funding and the possibility of future furloughs of U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees are complicating the agency’s efforts to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), FAA Administrator Michael Huerta says.
In remarks to a meeting of RTCA (formerly known as the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics), Huerta said employee furloughs and cuts in the FAA’s budget may be necessary in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, unless the U.S. Congress approves a long-term plan for federal spending.
In May, the Department of Transportation determined that funds were sufficient to allow the FAA to transfer money into accounts to end furloughs of air traffic controllers and other FAA employees and to prevent the planned closures of 149 FAA air traffic control towers for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31.
The law that requires across-the-board spending cuts at all government agencies makes continuity of NextGen programs more challenging, Huerta said. The NextGen budget has increased from $130 million in 2007 to $1 billion for the current fiscal year, an expansion that “represents the increasing urgency to modernize our system,” Huerta said.
TSB Urges Lightweight Recorders
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), citing the 2011 crash of a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter in the Yukon, says the country’s small aircraft operators should install lightweight recorders in their aircraft to monitor flight data.
“For decades, recorded flight data has been instrumental in advancing safety for our larger operators,” said TSB Chair Wendy Tadros. “We think flight data monitoring should be an important tool for Canada’s smaller carriers, too — a tool to help them manage safety in their operations.”
She noted that 91 percent of commercial aircraft accidents in Canada and 93 percent of commercial aviation fatalities in the past 10 years have involved operators of small aircraft, and said, “We need to look at new ways of bringing these numbers down.”
Recorded information will help accident investigators determine the causes of accidents and develop ways of preventing similar accidents in the future, Tadros said.
The TSB was unable to determine the cause of the March 31, 2011, crash of the DHC-3, which broke up in flight and crashed, killing the pilot, the sole occupant.
In Other News …
Regular public transport operators in Australia and the organizations that maintain their aircraft face a June 27 deadline for completing the transition to key elements of new maintenance regulations. Work is continuing to update maintenance regulations for charter operations, aerial work and private operations. … European leaders have reached agreement on plans to unite the continent’s airports and other transportation infrastructure into a unified network. The plans call for establishment of a core transport network by 2030.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.