Jan 15, 2009

Is This a Joke?

I'm really surprised that this news item is a Big Breakthrough in medical procedures. Checklists have been Standard Procedure in aviation since the 1940s. They are used in controlling complex procedure in every industry I can think of. So, I am literally gob-smacked ( love that expression) by this report! Check it out for yourself:


Jan 2, 2009

Snow, Snow, Go Away!

There's been a lot of tough weather this past December (2008) all across Canada and the northern USA. And no shortage of upset airline passengers. I think passengers may under-estimate how complex it is to keep a major airport operating during winter storms. Anyone traveling at such times should be prepared for long waits and a lot of confusion. Best advice - delay your travel if at all possible.

This video covers a 2007 storm at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport (KMKE) and mentions just some of the challenges:

Along with the snow there come a host of other problems.

The poor weather slows down the landing rate for inbound aircraft. Flights start arriving late producing missed connections for passengers and flight crews. The ground crews need more time for loading and unloading aircraft in the slippery conditions. Delays grow. Meanwhile closing a runway for snow clearing can take up to an hour as the sky overhead fills with aircraft stacked in holding patterns. When the runway eventually re-opens the "landers" have priority. But as they slowly taxi into the terminal ramp they might find that their gates are occupied with other airplanes also running late. Can you say: "Grid Lock," boys and girls?

Things get worse now as heavy snow closes the runway yet again before all the departing airplanes have taken off. Now these aircraft become stranded on taxi-ways literally for hours. Each time the runway is cleaned landing traffic takes priority and perhaps only a few departures make it out before the next closure. If the wings on the waiting aircraft re-collect ice and snow then another spray is required. There goes another hour.

There are literally so many different inter-related factors changing moment-by-moment that the usual orderly flow breaks down. The system becomes chaotic and the only strategy is to load the plane, find a push-back crew (hopefully), get in line and wait your turn. All the while being extra-careful on the crowded, slippery ramps in the reduced visibility.

And did I mention duty times? Just as you wouldn't want your surgeon to have been working for 20 hours before opening up your heart you don't want to be landing behind a Captain who's been on duty beyond his safe limit. Pilots must never exceed duty time limitations. It's the law. So, in extreme cases pilots may actually have to pack their bags and leave the aircraft sending crew schedulers scrambling for replacements. And remember this is all happening during a snow storm which may make it impossible for local reserve pilots to drive to the airport.

Oh, Winter!