Posted by: harrisonjones | November 19, 2011

This week in the wacky world of aviation

There were several interesting aviation news stories this week to discuss. It was reported that a Boeing 737 made an off schedule landing due to a cracked windshield. This sounds like a potential disaster, but it is usually nothing more than a nuisance. The windshield of a typical airliner is made up of several laminated layers of plastic or sometimes heat tempered glass. The total thickness is approximately one and a quarter inches (1.25”). The problem (crack) usually occurs in the thin outer layer that is electrically heated for anti-ice and anti-bird-strike precautions. The heat is applied continuously and the windshield is never allowed to become cold and brittle. More often than not, the crack is caused by arcing of the heat sensors, and electrical fire is a much larger concern than the structural integrity of the windshield. The airplane can actually be dispatched with a cracked windshield if the circuit breakers are pulled and the pilot’s visibility is not restricted. The off schedule landing was probably due to electrical precautions. We’ve talked about smoke in the cockpit before.

Another story described the United Airlines pilots concerns about new company procedures that might cause them to land with the gear up. Evidently the company has revised the before landing checklist and the article stated that three incidents have been documented in which the landing gear warning horn sounded to remind the crew to put the wheels down. The article mentioned that the pilots union is in contract negotiations with United. This news story goes into the crowded category of    SILLY    .  Come on guys, put the little wheels down and find a better negotiating tactic. You’re making us all look bad.

Last but not least there was the captain who took command of the lavatory and abdicated the more important throne in the cockpit. Finding himself locked in the john; he attracted the attention of a passenger and gave him the secret code to enter the cockpit to inform the copilot of his dilemma. This raised several questions in my mind.

  1. Why not inform the flight attendant instead of a passenger?

  2. Would the copilot also leave the flight deck in order to free the captain from the lav?

  3. How tough could it be to break out of an aircraft lav?

  4. What section of the procedures manual would the copilot refer to in order to deal with the problem?

Okay, I know it’s not funny, but I’m laughing anyway. You do whatever you think is right. I found out that the airline’s procedure is, when the captain goes to the lav, the flight attendant has to go to the cockpit and hold the copilots hand. This makes more sense than the flight attendant going with the captain to hold his hand, but not much. Eventually, into every life some common sense must fall, and most intelligent humans don’t need a book procedure for every possibility. Least of all going to the bathroom. Reminds me of the infamous Captain Granny Gouch in the novel Shadow Flight. I can’t wait to see if the airline writes a new procedure. It would probably require multiple steps; number one either/or number two.

Oh well, the copilot declared a missing captain emergency and ATC called out the fighter jets, however the captain freed himself before the military escort arrived and all turned out well. At least sorta. My question is; would the flight attendant have stayed in the cockpit for landing? My God, what if someone whipped out a cell phone during taxi? It could have been a disaster. Would she get captain’s pay? I bet when it came time to put the wheels down, she wouldn’t be distracted by contract negotiations.

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