Fatal accident in Nepal

My condolences to all those people who have been affected by the catastrophic aircraft accident in Nepal. On-board the ATR 72 aircraft operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines were 72 people – 4 crew members and 68 passengers.

The aircraft took off from Kathmandu at 10:33 (local time) on Sunday. At around 11:00, while on approach to the airport the twin-engine ATR 72 crashed into a riverbed gorge located between the former airport (VNPK) and new international airport (VNPR). Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft last contacted the airport at 10:50. There are no reports of distress calls from the aircraft before the accident.

As only a short time has elapsed, it’s good to hear that the accident flight recorders have been discovered[1]. It is reported that they are to be sent to France for replay and analysis.

Sadly, Nepal has a grim record in respect of fatal air accidents. There have been 42 fatal air accidents since 1946[2]. Poor weather and hazardous terrain can often be a problem in this nation. However, in the case of this tragic flight, video circulating on social media indicates clear skies at the time of the accident.

Nepal became a member of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) back in 1960. Nepal’s improvement in safety measures and compliance with international standards was recognised by ICAO in 2018. However, Nepal remains on the EU Air Safety List.

Prior to the accident, Yeti Airlines has 6 ATR 72 aircrafts, aged between 11 and 15 years old.

The new international Pokhara Airport[3], was inaugurated on the 1st January, this year by Nepal’s Prime Minister. This was seen as a significant step to boost tourism in the region. The airport project was a cooperation as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)[4]. The new international airport was built to replace the city’s former airport, located 1.6 nm to the West. Flights were gradually being transferring to the new airport facility[5].

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has checked the airworthiness of the ATR aircraft on its register. No technical faults have been found[6].

POST: Teams of aviation experts, including those from ATR and EASA are on their way to Nepal to help in the accident investigation French team starts probe into Nepal plane crash (msn.com)


[1] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/search-resumes-four-people-missing-nepal-after-deadly-air-crash-2023-01-16/

[2] according to Flight Safety Foundation data

[3] http://pokharaairport.com.np/

[4] https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/nepals-pokhara-airport-was-inaugurated-two-weeks-ago-and-built-with-chinese-assistance/cid/1910031

[5] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/safety-ops-regulation/yeti-airlines-atr-72-crash-nepal-kills-least-68

[6] https://nepalnews.com/s/nation/caan-carries-out-technical-tests-on-all-atr-aircraft-operational

Poor law making

If you thought the Truss era was an aberration, and that the UK’s Conservative Party had learned a lesson, then please think again. Wheels set in motion by the ideologue Jacob Rees-Mogg MP are still spinning.

The Retained European Union Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is trundling its way through the UK Parliament. The Government Bill will next be prepared for its 3rd reading in the House of Commons[1]. The Conservative Government has brought forward this Bill to revoke, reform or revise all the remaining law in the UK that was formerly derived from the UK’s membership of the EU. This turns on its head the normal approach to changing UK legislation. Revocation is automatic unless there’s an intervention by a Minister.

UK civil aviation depends on several thousand pages of legislation derived from EU law[2]. Much of this law was created with considerable contributions from the UK. There’s hardly any if any advocates for automatic revocation of current aviation legislation. Even the thought of this action sends a shiver down the spin of aviation professionals. Generations of them have worked to harmonise rules and regulations to ensure that this most international of industries works efficiently.

Unless amended, the Government’s EU Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill[3] could turn out to be an absolute disaster. Even those who have an irrational wish to eliminate any and every past, present, or future link to Europe must come up with a practical alternative and do this in an incredibly short time. Without a consistent, stable, and effective framework civil aviation in the UK will grind to a halt. Again, even those who have an unsound need to change for change’s sake will be hitting a vital industry hard, as it is only just getting back on its feet after the COVID pandemic and now setting out to meet tough environmental standards.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when this poor Bill reaches the House of Lords. Once again, the country will be relying on the upper house to add some common sense to this draft law.  

POST 1: The 3rd reading debate makes it clear that the Government is unsure which laws are covered by the Bill. If the Ministers responsible for this legislation do not themselves know its extent, how can anyone expect civil servants working on this legislation to know the full extent of change? A most strange state of affairs Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Third si – Hansard – UK Parliament

POST 2: Retained EU law lays down rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations in the UK Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012 laying down implementing rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations (recast) (Text with EEA relevance) (legislation.gov.uk)


[1] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3340

[2] https://www.eiag.org.uk/paper/future-retained-eu-law/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-retained-eu-law-revocation-and-reform-bill-2022

SPO 2

An instant reaction to Single Pilot Operations (SPO) is like the instant reaction to completely autonomous flight. “I’m not getting on an aircraft without a pilot!” Then to justify that reaction fatal accidents of the past are cited. Typically, this is to remind everyone of the tragic Germanwings accident[1]. It was 24 March 2015, that an Airbus A320 was crashed deliberately killing all onboard.  

However, it’s wise to remember that the likelihood of incapacitation[2] is much greater than that of the malicious behaviour of the pilot in command. Cases of malicious behaviour leading to a catastrophic outcome are truly shocking but extremely rare.

One fatal accident, that is still disputed is EgyptAir Flight 990[3] that killed 217 people in 1999. The possibility of inflight pilot suicide is unnerving, since on the face of it there is little any of the aircraft’s cabin crew or passengers can do to stop it.

This could be a future opportunity to use automation to prevent these scenarios occurring. Afterall the aircraft knows where it is and that a sustained high-speed dive towards the ground is not normally intended. A safety system exists to do this[4], but its outputs are not connected to the aircraft’s flight controls.

Humans being adaptable, extremely creative and capable of highly irrational actions, it’s unlikely that malicious behaviour resulting in aviation accidents will ever be reduced to zero. This is said regardless of the procedures or technology involved. The fate of flight MH 370 remains a mystery.

Thus, the prominent safety issue in respect of SPO is pilot incapacitation. Where the pilot in command is no longer able to perform as expected. That is, if the aircraft flown is not capable of safely landing itself. The objective always being safe continued flight and landing.

I’ve had the “1% Rule” rule explained to me by a notable aviation doctor, but I must admit I didn’t fully take it in. So far, the rule has stood the test of time. When the pilot in command of a Czech Airlines aircraft collapsed and died on route from Warsaw to Prague in 2012, the co-pilot took over and everyone got home safely.

Any automated co-pilot must be at least as capable as a human co-pilot in all aspects of operation of an aircraft. The key word here being “all”. It’s not enough to have the functions necessary to undertake safe continued flight and landing. Task such as communicating with the cabin crew and passengers must also be considered. Including preparation for an emergency landing.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32072218

[2] http://www.avmed.in/2012/02/pilot-incapacitation-debate-on-assessment-1-rule-etc/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/mar/16/duncancampbell

[4] https://skybrary.aero/articles/terrain-avoidance-and-warning-system-taws

Single Pilot Operations

Single Pilot Operations is not new. What’s new is considering this way of working for everyday public transport operations of large aircraft

Research is of fundamental importance. It seems obvious to say so given the benefits it has given us. When proposals come forward to exploit new technologies there needs to be that moment when everyone steps back and takes a long hard look at the implications of its use.

In basic technical research it’s not the most important consideration is to focus on the drivers for change. They can be multifarious: economic, environmental, social, safety, security, political, and maybe just a matter of preference. Policy directions are taken by the industry and governments not constrained by what is happening now as much as what might happen tomorrow.

Research has delivered incredible safety improvements in aviation. This is not only in the basic design and construction of aircraft but all aspects of their operation. So, to see that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sponsoring research to study the implications of aircraft Single Pilot Operations[1] is a wholly good measure.

My history goes back to the early days of fly-by-wire aircraft systems. This is where the mechanical and physical connection between an aircraft pilot’s actions and the control surfaces that determine flight are replaced by digital computers. Back in the 1980s, a great deal of research and experimental flying proved the technology to make fly-by-wire work. It first found favour with the military. One reason being that an aircraft’s capability could be extended well beyond what was formerly reached. This change was introduced with caution, analysis, testing and much detailed risk assessment.

At the time, there was a significant body of professional pessimists who predicted a diminishment of aviation safety. Today, four decades on, studies show that even as air traffic has increased so civil aviation safety has improved. A momentous achievement. An achievement that has, in part, been because of the well-regulated adoption of advanced technologies. 

It is important to look at potential changes with an open mind. It’s easy to come to an instant opinion and dismiss proposals before a detailed study has been conducted. The detailed technical research can then be part of the challenge and response that is necessary to before approval of any major change. First difficult questions need to be tabled and thoroughly investigated.


[1] https://www.easa.europa.eu/en/research-projects/emco-sipo-extended-minimum-crew-operations-single-pilot-operations-safety-risk

Air Safety List 2

It may seem obvious that there should be an Air Safety List that bans airlines that do not sufficiently met international standards. It’s a right that exists within the Chicago Convention[1]. The first words of the convention concern sovereignty. Every State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over their airspace. From the first days of flight the potential use of aircraft to wage war was recognised. Thus, it could be said that the first article of the Chicago Convention existed even before it was written down and agreed.

However, it’s similarly recognised that the future development of international civil aviation has always depended upon agreements between States. Without over-flight and permission to land in another country there is no international civil aviation.

I do remember some agonising over having an explicit list of banned countries and airlines. In a liberal democracy choice is greatly valued. Here the choice concerns passengers being permitted to board aircraft from another country where there is knowledge of safety deficiencies related to the operation of the aircraft of that country. Should the law make that choice for the air traveller, or should the air traveller be free to make an informed choice?

There lies the crux of the matter. How do ordinary citizens, without aviation safety expertise make judgements concerning complex technical information? Understanding the implications of failing to meet the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs)[2] is not so easy even for aviation experts.

Additionally, there is the issue of third-party risks. It would not be wise to permit foreign aircraft, whose safety is not sufficiently assured, to fly over a nation’s towns and cities.

Regulatory legislation was framed not only to put airlines on the Air Safety List but to take them off the list too. In fact, sometimes this is harder law to frame. In this case the decisions must be made in a fair, transparent, and technically rigorous manner otherwise the politics of such choices could overwhelm the whole process.

There’s been much success in this endeavour. It’s clear that this is a valuable aviation safety measure. It may have driven some contracting States to improve the performance of their airlines.


[1] https://www.icao.int/publications/Pages/doc7300.aspx

[2] https://www.icao.int/safety/CMAForum/Pages/default.aspx

Air Safety List

A long time ago in a far away place. Well, that’s how it seems, and it was more than 17 years ago.

A flight ban was placed on Turkish airline Onur Air back in 2005. At that time, I was in my first full year in Cologne, Germany building up the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). We were well on the road managing the handover of responsibilities from activities of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) to EASA. However, the European legislation that empowered EASA was in a first and most basic version. This was planned to be so because taking on aircraft certification work was a big enough task to start the new Agency.

The JAA had coordinated an aircraft ramp inspection programme and maintained a centralised database for its members. This was where a member state would inspect an aircraft arriving from a third country to ensure that international rules were fully met. The SAFA programme was launched by the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) in 1996. SAFA standing for Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft.

Onur Air failed such inspections, and the Dutch government imposed a flight ban[1]. Similar bans were imposed by Germany, Switzerland, and France. However, if my reflections are correct the airline moved operations to Beligum where there was no ban. As you might imagine this caused concern amongst EU Member States. Where everyone had agreed to cooperate on aviation safety matters there seemed to be a degree of incoherence.

Long before the first EASA Basic Regulation, which by the way, didn’t address this subject, there was Regulation 3922/91[2]. I remember a hastily convened committee composed of representatives of the Member States and chaired by the European Commission (EC). The “3922[3]” committee hadn’t sat for years but then it sprung into action in response to the lack of a consistent approach to airline safety bans across Europe. I was there representing EASA.

So, the EU Air Safety List was born and the associated legislation[4] to support it. Even though the UK has left the EU, and left EASA this safety list remains the basis of the UK’s own Air Safety List[5]. Adding and removing air carriers and States that fail to meet internationally agreed safety standards is work that no one State should do alone.

[For safety’s sake, this should not be one of the parts of adopted EU legislation the UK Parliament wants to sweep away with its planned new Brexit law].

POST: Current list The EU Air Safety List (europa.eu)


[1] https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/dutch-lift-ban-on-onur-air-38258/

[2] Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91 of 16 December 1991 on the harmonization of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation.

[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ%3AL%3A1991%3A373%3A0004%3A0008%3AEN%3APDF

[4] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32005R2111&rid=6

[5] https://www.caa.co.uk/commercial-industry/airlines/licensing/requirements-and-guidance/third-country-operator-certificates/

Bird Strikes

Birds and aircraft share the same airspace. This is not a beneficial relationship for either.

I watched two rather aloof Branta canadensis in our local park the other day. They seemed oblivious to all the other birds on the priory pond. I’d certainly describe these two birds as being well fed. Given their stature and size, they looked formidable. These resident North American visitors are not to be messed with and are only eclipsed by the Swans on Reigate’s pond.

This species of bird has adapted well to living in urban and suburban areas and are frequently found on lakes, ponds, and rivers. I used to see large flocks of them gather on the river Thames. That was only a couple of miles from London Heathrow.

Even though they are numerous in the UK these birds are protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981[1]). Today, the population numbers may be as high as 62,000 breeding pairs[2]. Although these birds have the capability to fly great distances they tend to hang around where there’s a reliable source of food. Bird populations are changing their behaviours as a result of climate change.

Geese fly in the typical V-formation which is called a “wedge” or skein. From time to time, I see them fly over my house at a few hundred feet as they move between local lakes and ponds. They are easy to spot and often noisy as they elegantly traverse the sky.

Birds and aircraft share the same airspace. This is not a beneficial relationship for either. Strikes occur around the world every day. In the history of aviation, there have been hundreds of aircraft accidents and more than 47 fatal aircraft accidents caused by bird strikes[3].

It must be said that most bird strikes cause little damage to aircraft but that is highly dependent upon the size of the unfortunate bird and their habits. The story can be very different when an impact is with a Canada goose. Their large size and tendency to fly in flocks can have a devastating impact. On 15 January 2009, a US Airways Airbus A320 aircraft[4] ended up in Hudson River as the result of an encounter with such birds.

The risk of collision between birds and aircraft have always been part of aircraft operations. As a result, measures are taken to certify aircraft to be robust in the event of such collisions. Additionally, there’s a great deal of effort made at major airports to keep birds away from active runways.

Most of the bird threat to aviation safety exists when travelling at speed at relatively low altitudes. Bird strikes happen most often during take-off or landing. This makes me think that bird strikes are going to be a regular feature of the operations of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) / Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). The use of use highly automated aircraft may offer the opportunity to provide sophisticated bird avoidance features. However, so far, I’ve detected no talk of such features.

POST 1: A useful safety booklet Large Flocking Birds (skybrary.aero)

POST 2: A recent Boeing 737-800 serious incident LinkedIn

POST 3: An example of what can happen from 2019 Ural Airlines Flight 178 – Wikipedia

POST 4: Another useful safety booklet Bird strike, a European risk with local specificities, Edition 1 – Germany | SKYbrary Aviation Safety


[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69

[2] https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/waterfowl/canada-goose

[3] https://www.skybrary.aero/sites/default/files/bookshelf/615.pdf

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549

What next?

When I returned from German, in early 2016, I had no idea there would be a national referendum. Let alone that the referendum on European Union (EU) membership would be lost by a tiny margin and then send the UK into political and economic turmoil for years and years. It was a strange period.

As of me writing these words, the UK has had its fifth Prime Minister (PM) since the Brexit referendum. We’ve had a pandemic, the invasion of the Ukraine and the now an energy and economic crisis, not to mention an on-going climate crisis.

I don’t say it was, but if Brexit was a politically inevitability there couldn’t have been a stupider time to do it in the history of the country. There we were, having all but recovered, remarkably quickly from the banking crisis of 2008 and then we voluntarily threw asunder the UK’s most important trading relationship. There even seemed a time of relative national contentment as London hosted the most spectacular Olympic games in 2012. That was washed away like a flood of foolishness.

As idioms go: “here’s nowt so queer as folk[1]” about sums it up. That could be a political maxim for our times. It may be a particularly English trait. I absent my Scottish, Welsh, and Irish friends from this classification. It goes like this, I’d say, when all’s well it’s a time to do something daft. That feeling should be resisted as much as possible.

The result of 2016’s fantasy is that the relationship between the UK and EU is torn by tension, disputes, and disappointments. Instead of everyone benefiting from the excellent innovations of the Single Market and freedom of movement in Europe, the UK continues to pedal backwards.

There’s coming a moment when change might be possible. I am a great believer in disproportionate relationships. It’s like the statistical curiosity of buses arriving in threes. There are periods of time when things seem to be stuck on a tramline and nothing interesting changes. Then a moment of transition occurs and suddenly new possibility crop-up.

Why do I say this? Well, polls, such as they are, are showing a significant public willingness to reconsider what happened in June 2016[2]. Not only that but because of the “Truss debacle” the advocates of Brexit are on the back-foot. They did trash the economy with little care or concern.

With a UK General Election (GE) looming there’s a strong likelihood that anyone shouting for more Brexit will suffer the same fate as Trump’s red wave (or lack of it) in the United States (US). This will upset hard core Brexiters, but in all fairness, they have had plenty of time to show the benefits of their beloved project. They have shown none. In fact, we continue to go backwards under the yoke of blind Brexit dogma.

The UK and the EU can greatly improve their current relationship if they both choose. We have common problems, common challenges, and common threats. It would be of great benefit to all Europeans if we worked more closely together.

POST: The evidence points to one conclusion Why is the UK struggling more than other countries? – BBC News


[1] This phrase is typically used to emphasise someone’s particularly behaviour. (“Nowt” is a Northern English variation on “naught.”)

[2] https://bylinetimes.com/2022/11/02/brexit-polls-uk-public-want-to-rejoin-eu/

Accent

What’s in an accent? It certainly is a point of discussion. However much we pride ourselves in championing diversity there’s prejudices that have been centuries in the making.

I believe, we all want to see inclusive and welcoming environment in every profession and occupation. I’m opposed to all forms of unfair discrimination especially those of class-based prejudices. In this country, a persons accent can so easily be associated with a region or city. Then all the baggage of history associated with that place can form snap judgements about that person.

It was a while ago but a case in point sticks in my mind. A space project that didn’t go as planned resulted in a probe crash landing on planet Mars. The Beagle 2 project[1] was ambitious however ill fated. The bubbling enthusiasm of the project leader Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University was infectious. At the same time, it was impossible to miss his West Country accent. It didn’t impede his inspirational promotion of space exploration, but I do remember remarks made about his accent. They were not always complementary.

Now, you might say that was more than a decade ago. We’ve moved on. I don’t think so. The glorious West Country accent, and I include the city of Bristol in that mix, is still associated with a rural Arcadian dream of country life. This much cherished mythology continues to be promoted in English lifestyle magazines and every part of the broadcast media.

It’s a fantasy where educated, philanthropic and sophisticated citizens move from London to enlighten impoverished country folk. Their hope being to soak in the innocence of country ways but, at the same time, offer erudite advice to the backward locals.

If I have an accent it has all but gone. That said, it does broaden when I return to the West Country. There’s a whole series of words which don’t seen quite right said anywhere but in the rolling hills of Somerset and Dorset. Ways of saying things that I grew up with that are meaningless out of context.

Although the association of a rural accent often goes with an unfair characterisation that someone is not too bright, on the plus side it’s linked with friendliness, kindness and warmth. That sounds a bit like a description of a Hobbit. There’s an accidental proof that these prejudices are deeply ingrained in English literature.

I remember early in my career that too much retained from childhood was a barrier to getting a message cross. Slowly but effectively my accent became generic. There’s no doubt this had an upside when it came to technical presentations in front of a mixed audience. Even more important in front of an international audience. It shouldn’t matter but it does.

In a conversation about helicopter safety, a French colleague once lent over to say to me that he knew our Texan partner was speaking English, but he had no idea what he was saying. Is that a case for a standardisation of English – maybe?


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-led-beagle-2-lander-found-on-mars

Luggage

It’s a space we have control over. Not a house or a room but, most often, a volume of space no greater than what we take up in our human frame. It’s not organic. It’s far from that because its role is security, storage and logistical. That’s the humble suitcase, and a great array of bags and backpacks that help us get from A to B with enough possessions to make life comfortable.

The choice of a suitcase or bag is not a trivial matter. Lessons from experience range from bursting zips to leaking contents that turn favourite clothes into damp rags. The challenge of replacing a cabin bag or case takes research and careful weighing of multiple options.

If traveling by air, there are numerous constraints on size and weight. A completely free choice as far as colour is concerned but that’s about the only characteristic that’s an open book. That said, it’s astonishing how many black cases look like other black cases in the array of black cases.

More than a decade ago airlines started charging extra for hold luggage on top of their basic fares. Since then, flying with hand luggage only has become popular. This trend can be troubling. Watching passengers squeeze unreasonably sized bags into overhead bins is not an entertainment. The expectation that an aircraft overhead bin can take a massive bag is not a reasonable one.

My latest purchase has been made from recycled plastic bottles. Naturally, that conveys a fell good factor. It’s a great way to give new life to the huge numbers of discarded single use plastic bottles that somehow we’ve become dependent upon. In my childhood, I don’t remember any plastic bottles. Plenty of glass but no plastics.

For short journeys, the faff of checking-in a suitcase, waiting to collect at a baggage belt and paying additional fees is a burden that is sometimes not worth carrying. There’s always the delightful experience of never seeing the case and its contents again as it wanders off into the maze of lost objects airports accumulate. Etched into my memory, even after more years than I care to think about, is arriving at a small airport after a tortuous journey of connections and having nothing but the clothes I stood up in. On a Sunday, in 35C degrees of bright summer sun that’s not an experience I want to ever repeat. Especially with a tough meeting planned for early the next day. A free airline toothbrush was no compensation.

So, I now have a new Cabin Max Metz 20 litre RPET backpack. This is an experiment on my part. Can I live out of this tiny space for 4-days? To do so is going to require some innovative thinking. In theory, it ticks all the boxes that I was considering essential. This backpack is lightweight but offers the maximum amount of packing space given an airline’s cabin bag restriction.

The plastic material the bag is made of doesn’t feel nice, but it’s flexible and hopefully durable. The zippers look substantial and should have a long life. Now, the task is mine. How to choose exactly the necessities of life to enjoy the journey ahead. To pack as smartly as smart can be.