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One More Take at Pilot Use of Cellular Phone

What started as a "Letter to The Editor" in Issue 1/99 of the Aviation Safety Letter is now a permanent change in A.I.P. Canada. A new paragraph in the communications section, COM 5.14, has been added in amendment 2/2000 of the A.I.P., which addresses pilot cellular phone usage during a radio communications failure. It says that in the event of an in-flight radio communications failure, and only after normal communications failure procedures have been followed, the pilot-in-command may attempt to contact the appropriate NAV CANADA air traffic service (ATS) unit by means of a cellular phone. Before the pilot commences using a cellular phone to contact ATS in the event of an in-flight communications failure, transponder-equipped aircraft should squawk Code 7600. The reference to cellular phones in COM Annex B 1-1 has also been removed. Finally, the phone numbers of area control centres, control towers and flight service station (FSS) will be published in the Canada Flight Supplement.

Lesson Learned from Tragedy

by Bruce MacKinnon, Wildlife Control Specialist, Aerodrome Safety, Transport Canada

In the business of risk management, we frequently discuss abstract concepts such as active failures, latent conditions, causal effects as well as links in the chain of events that contribute to an accident. On July 15, 1996, a Belgian Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed at Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands, resulting in 34 fatalities and 7 serious injuries. The tragic circumstances surrounding this accident provide a poignant message that dramatically shifts abstract concepts into gut-wrenching reality.

The Hercules departed Melsbroek, Belgium, for Eindhoven Air Base via Villafranca and Rimini in Italy. On board were 37 passengers and 4 crew members. Of the 37 passengers, 36 were armed forces musicians who had given several performances in Italy. It was during the flight from Italy to Eindhoven that a chain of events began that, when examined carefully, can provide a valuable lesson.

The Hercules arrived ahead of schedule at Eindhoven, and was cleared for a visual approach to Runway 04. The airport bird control officer had previously been asked to report to the tower when it was assumed that the Hercules would arrive later in the day, although normal procedure required him to be on the field monitoring bird activity during flight operations. These circumstances required the bird control officer and air traffic control (ATC) staff to fire pyrotechnics from the tower to disperse a flock of birds that was observed shortly before the Hercules was due to land. The bird control officer and ATC staff failed to detect that a large, mixed flock of lapwings and starlings was sitting near the runway in grass, which had recently been mowed but had not been raked.

Just prior to touchdown, approximately 500 to 600 of these small birds were observed by the flight crew, who elected to carry out a missed approach. During the overshoot, the No. 1 and No. 2 engines were severely damaged by bird ingestion. The crew also feathered the No. 3 engine, likely believing that this engine was also damaged. With only the No. 4 engine producing power, the aircraft yawed approximately 70 degrees to the left, banked approximately 35 degrees to the left, lost altitude and crashed into the ground. The fuel tanks ruptured and flames engulfed the aircraft.

While the aircraft was still airborne, ATC staff activated the crash alarm, and emergency response staff reacted immediately. A misunderstanding during the initial calls resulted in the assumption that only the flight crew was on board the aircraft, with the result that backup fire fighters did not respond. A further assumption that the flight crew could not have survived the fire led to the decision not to enter the severely damaged aircraft (see photo). Because of these assumptions, more than 25 min were lost in the rescue effort. Meanwhile, survivors were unable to evacuate the aircraft because the doors had been damaged in the crash. Survivors were evacuated to the local hospitals 40 min after the accident.

It appears from the available information that quite a few links in the chain of events could have been broken to prevent this accident. For instance, the bird control officer could have been sent back to the field prior to ATC giving a landing clearance to the aircraft. Aircraft arriving early or departing late are common to any operation and the short delay that would result from the bird control officer returning to the field would have been a minor one.

Freshly mowed grass that is left unraked near a runway is an inviting site for birds. Had the mowed grass been properly disposed of, the probability of having a large flock of birds resting there would have been reduced, and it may also have offered a better view of the birds from the tower. Had more effective communications taken place during the initial calls, especially regarding the number of people on board, the fire fighters would have responded accordingly and possibly reduced the number of casualties.

Finally, the initiation of a missed approach in such a situation is something to reflect on seriously, and perhaps this issue could be discussed among pilot groups. We have received a number of reports describing incidents in Canada where pilots initiate an overshoot once they see birds in the runway environment, often resulting in aircraft control problems. Harm to turbine engines involved in bird-strike incidents is greater when the engines are operating at high power settings.

Although we fully realize that the critical decision to either overshoot or continue with the landing rests with the aircraft captain, bird-strike reports suggest that it may be advisable to continue with an assured landing, instead of applying full power and flying through a "cloud" of birds.

Perhaps the Eindhoven tragedy may have been prevented had one link in the chain of events been broken. The fact that the Dutch military has a state-of-the-art bird control program proves that if such an accident can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

by Rod Ridley, Regional System Safety Officer, Prairie and Northern Region

Anyone who flies has heard the old rhyming phrase that is the title of this article. These three words form the fundamentals of safely piloting an airplane - fly the airplane; get to where you want to go safely; and talk to people about where you are going. Unless you are flying circuits from your own grass strip in the country and never fly anywhere else, chances are you will eventually fly into and out of airports that have a control tower, or a mandatory frequency (MF) that has certain basic requirements as outlined in sections 602.97 to 602.104 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).

At these times, talking to people takes on a high degree of importance because you must share the airspace with other folks in large and small aircraft. If you don’t talk to others about where you are, or if others don’t tell you where they are, the risk of problems arising increases, with dramatic results. Take these recent cases in point:

Case 1: The instructor and student were conducting circuits in a single-engine aircraft at a satellite airport, and were descending on the base leg. Pre-landing checks had been completed and a position report made on the MF. Just seconds before turning final, a twin-engine executive aircraft passed right in front of the training aircraft, on a straight-in approach to the active runway without so much as a word on the MF. Fortunately the instructor and student saw the other aircraft before a risk of collision could occur, but this incident could have had a different outcome.

Case 2: During another dual training flight in a single-engine airplane, the instructor and student were performing circuits at an uncontrolled airport with an MF. As the aircraft levelled out on the downwind leg, the instructor saw an air force jet trainer joining the circuit at the same altitude at his 3 o’clock position, closing fast and just a few hundred feet away, which made evasive action imperative. Again, not a word was broadcast by the jet aircraft.

Case 3: The twin-engine turboprop commuter plane had just taken off from an airport with an MF in effect, and was climbing out over the adjacent lake, when a single-engine float aircraft flew through the departure path of the active runway, causing the commuter plane to have to quickly manoeuvre away from the other traffic. Was there any communication from the float aircraft? You know the answer by now.

The risks inherent in a mid-air collision are well known to pilots, and to the travelling public as well, yet why are the required communication practices are often ignored by pilots flying in MF areas. We have all heard the phrase "big sky, little airplane" and can be lulled into believing that the chances of a collision are so remote that we relax our need to be vigilant. The regulations described in the CARs are clear and meant to be helpful. In fact, they reflect common sense and are designed to minimize the risk of a mid-air collision.

For the purposes of simply illustrating the importance of communication while flying, let’s use the analogy of driving our car through an intersection. While communicating by radio doesn’t apply when driving, the need for controls at intersections does, and we can fully understand the need for stop or yield signs or traffic lights. Imagine driving straight through any intersection without obeying a traffic sign or light. The consequences could be catastrophic given the right timing with another vehicle.

Now, extend the analogy to an airport, with the MF as our traffic control. Traffic converges at airports, just as it does at intersections, and airports are statistically the sites of the majority of mid-air collisions. In places where air traffic control towers or terminal control centres are not warranted, the pilot has a great deal more freedom from rules and procedures. But, as with any extension of freedom comes added personal responsibility, and in the case of flying in MF areas, the price is a relatively small one - tell people where you are and where you are going. Failing to do that in the sky with its extra dimension of space, and in multiples of the speeds of vehicles on a road, makes the price of not talking to one another potentially deadly.

Flying is, for most pilots, a joyful and highly satisfying activity, whether it’s done for business or pleasure. Playing by the rules when we fly allows for maximum safety, and assures that all of us can continue to experience the benefits of air travel. Remember the three fundamentals and, please, when you’re in an MF area, TALK TO US, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Getting Our Frequencies Straight!

by Brigitte Ouellet, Regional System Safety Specialist, Quebec Region

Most of the time, selecting the right frequency is pretty straightforward. We refer to the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) and Canada Air Pilot (CAP), or we just use the frequency assigned by ATC. But have you ever asked someone whose voice you recognized on the air to select frequency 123.4 MHz? And have you ever noticed that there were a lot of NORDO aircraft in the circuit? Or perhaps you’ve used 126.7 MHz at an aerodrome not published in the CFS? These are only a few examples of frequencies being used incorrectly. Selecting the right frequency is not only essential to aviation safety, it also shows good airmanship.

Many incidents and accidents happen because pilots didn’t use their radio when they should have done, or they used the wrong frequency. Here are some figures that may surprise you: From 1995 to 1998, 39 percent of the "reported" near misses occurred because someone used the wrong frequency or did not use their radio when they should have. Evasive action was required in most cases. Twenty-nine percent of "reported" infractions involved failure to notify intentions when it was mandatory (MF communication zones and control zones). Also, many runway incursions that necessitated a go-around were the result of someone failing to advise their intentions.

Before going any further, let’s test your knowledge! Enter the following frequencies in the space below that describes their correct use: 121.5; 122.75; 123.2; 126.7; 131.8; 123.4.

You’ll find the answers in A.I.P. Canada, COM chapter 5.

Air-to-air in Northern Domestic Airspace: _________

Emergency: _________

Communication zone with no published frequency: _________

Air-to-air in Southern Domestic Airspace: _________

Gliding: ________

En route in uncontrolled airspace: _________

Using 123.4 MHz (reserved for soaring operations) as an air-to-air channel can cause problems in some areas. Glider pilots are constantly chatting on the air, passing on information about conditions or just telling other gliders how their flight is going. Also, on cross-country flights, they use 123.4 MHz to notify other aircraft of their position or any changes in their route. So you should select this frequency only when traversing a glider area so you’ll be aware of the traffic around you.

If you are not in contact with ATC or if you are not flying in an MF or ATF communication zone, you should be on 126.7 MHz. By monitoring this frequency en route, you’ll receive all position reports, both official (to the FSS) and unofficial, given by other pilots. Also, when you send your official position report, the FSS specialist will call back with the known traffic in your area and other information pertinent to your flight, like PIREPs, weather and SIGMETs.

Many pilots flying in northwestern Ontario use 122.8 MHz for en route use instead of 126.7 MHz. So pilots who select 122.8 MHz can’t receive the traffic information provided by pilots on 126.7 MHz.

It is essential that pilots select the proper frequency when flying in an ATF or MF communication zone. But you won’t know the right frequencies for these areas unless you consult relevant and up-to-date publications. When the frequency assigned to a communication zone is changed, a NOTAM is published. As soon as the publications are updated, the NOTAM is cancelled.

Your eyes are the best "instrument" for maintaining separation with other aircraft, but your radio is a close second. Remember: if they can hear you, they’ll find it easier to see you.

Have a good flight!

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