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Decisions by Pilots to Land Criticized

se1776

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Did these pilots did right or wrong by landing with out clearance at a DCA?


The air-traffic control supervisor who created a furor last week by nodding off at Washington's Reagan National Airport also has sparked an industry debate over how pilots should respond to such situations.
When the lone controller on duty in the tower around midnight failed to reply to repeated radio transmissions from a pair of jetliners, both pilots quickly decided to land anyway.
There wasn't discussion with approach controllers at a separate facility about diverting to one of the region's other fields. Audio tapes indicate the first jet was on the ground only a few minutes after the initial sign of a communication problem. Both planes, carrying a total of more than 160 people, landed safely.
Now, a number of safety experts inside and outside government contend the pilots also shoulder blame in the incident. These experts fault the cockpit crews for forgoing what they contend would have been a safer option to land elsewhere, or at least stay in a holding pattern to determine why the Reagan National tower went silent for more than half an hour.
The first jet was a Boeing 737 operated by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines unit, followed by an Airbus A320 flown by the United Airlines unit of United Continental Holdings Inc.
The pilots of another American Airlines jet descended below 2,000 feet and also were preparing to touch down without receiving landing clearance from the tower, when the dozing controller came back on the frequency.
"It was clearly inappropriate to land without a clearance" from the tower and "it is preposterous to say there was no violation and it was a perfectly safe procedure," said Loretta Alkalay, the former top lawyer for the Federal Aviation Administration's Eastern region.
If a tower controller can't be reached for any reason, she said, "it is absolutely not up to the pilots to decide to land as though it was an uncontrolled airport."
Pilots have procedures for landing at fields that aren't manned by controllers, including checking weather conditions, broadcasting positions frequently on a common frequency and listening to what activity there may be on runways or taxiways. But when an airport tower is scheduled to be manned round the clock—as is Reagan National—Ms. Alkalay said she "never heard of a situation where the FAA says it's okay for pilots to decide, on their own, it's safe to land."
Richard Healing, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Sunday that he was "more than a little surprised" the jets landed instead of flying on to nearby Baltimore-Washington International Airport or Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs.
The biggest potential hazards stemmed from planes or vehicles crossing runways in the darkness, without anyone alerting the pilots of the landing jets. "The safest approach would have been to divert," according to Mr. Healing. "It might have inconvenienced some passengers, but it wouldn't have compromised safety."
On Sunday, a spokesman for the NTSB said "the actions of the flight crews are one of the things" under investigation.
A United Airlines spokeswoman declined to comment.
An American Airlines spokeswoman said its pilots complied with procedures "clearly spelled out by the FAA," and didn't require tower clearance once Reagan National was deemed to be an uncontrolled airport. She said the weather was good, crews were aware of other airborne traffic and also followed appropriate procedures to taxi to the gate.
The views of safety experts span a wide spectrum. Mark Rosenker, the former chairman of the safety board, on Sunday said that based on preliminary information, the pilots apparently acted appropriately. "They would have had enough time to talk to company dispatchers to get some situational awareness," he said. "I wouldn't call them cowboys"
According to Mr. Rosenker, the cockpit-voice recorders also may reveal that before landing, the pilots attempted to reach company officials at the airport to find out about runway conditions and any unusual factors at the field.
So far, the FAA's focus has been almost entirely on what controllers did wrong. The head of the agency last week said he was "personally outraged" by the tower controller's behavior, while other FAA officials began looking at the budget implications of eliminating single-person staffing at towers. On Friday, the agency reminded approach controllers—often located dozens of miles from airports and who have authority over a much larger swath of air space—that "proper procedures dictate that they must offer pilots the chance to divert" if a control tower remains silent.
But as new details about the Reagan National incident emerged over the weekend, they prompted stepped-up criticism faulting the pilots for poor decision-making. Even some commercial pilots, who described infrequently landing at airports without local-controller assistance when it was past the scheduled closing time of those towers, said the United and American crews should have sought more information and probably taken more time to assess the situation.
An FAA spokeswoman said pilots have wide latitude in deciding where to land, as long as an airport isn't officially closed. According to tradition and practice, pilots also have the right to disregard controller commands if they believe there is an emergency situation or safety threat. But in this case, according to safety experts critical of actions by the pilots, the crews apparently failed to adequately exercise their independent judgment once the approach controller indicated it would be appropriate for the planes to land on their own.
Since the jets didn't report any fuel emergencies or other onboard difficulties, these experts said, there was no compelling safety reason to get on the ground as fast as possible. "I think they should have diverted ...and for the FAA to condone what happened is a big mistake," according to Greg Feith, a former safety board investigator who now runs his own aviation consulting firm. Neither the pilots nor the approach controllers "would have known if there happened to be a truck or a disabled aircraft stuck on the runway," according to Mr. Feith. And since there were fully-staffed airports open, less than 20 miles away, landing there would have been "in the interest of aviation safety."
According to the FAA, about 100 small, uncontrolled airports around the U.S. serve commercial traffic but don't have controllers at any time. Mr. Feith and other safety experts said that for airline pilots who land at those locations, the approaches and touchdowns are planned in advance with specific conditions and restrictions in mind. Unexpectedly going in without tower clearance, they said, reduces safety margins and can be especially hazardous if there is some sort of emergency. Certain U.S. airlines expect pilots to divert whenever there is a problem establishing communication with an airfield's tower.
Calling for a nationwide review of the air-traffic control systems backup procedures, FAA chief Randy Babbitt on Friday said: "I am determined to make sure we do not repeat Wednesday's unacceptable event."
 

scoreboardII

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this is a simple one folks, follow the comm out rules; filed, cleared, expected. Filed to airport: check, cleared approach: check, cleared to tower: check, no comm: expected to land, no red lite, no flare, no emergency vehicle flashers on runway: land and taxi to park. Why would you ever expect to go around on short final unless told to do so?

If the controller was busy with a truck dead on rwy, then use the red lite gun... or do your job and tell the planes to go around.
 

Captain Jeff

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Like 15 years ago the tower controller in PBI fell asleep while cleaning his weapon. (no joke, I am not alluding to anything else). The delta crew who landed got a violation.
 

AceOnTheRiver

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Did these pilots did right or wrong by landing with out clearance at a DCA?


The air-traffic control supervisor who created a furor last week by nodding off at Washington's Reagan National Airport also has sparked an industry debate over how pilots should respond to such situations.
When the lone controller on duty in the tower around midnight failed to reply to repeated radio transmissions from a pair of jetliners, both pilots quickly decided to land anyway.
There wasn't discussion with approach controllers at a separate facility about diverting to one of the region's other fields. Audio tapes indicate the first jet was on the ground only a few minutes after the initial sign of a communication problem. Both planes, carrying a total of more than 160 people, landed safely.
Now, a number of safety experts inside and outside government contend the pilots also shoulder blame in the incident. These experts fault the cockpit crews for forgoing what they contend would have been a safer option to land elsewhere, or at least stay in a holding pattern to determine why the Reagan National tower went silent for more than half an hour.
The first jet was a Boeing 737 operated by AMR Corp.'s American Airlines unit, followed by an Airbus A320 flown by the United Airlines unit of United Continental Holdings Inc.
The pilots of another American Airlines jet descended below 2,000 feet and also were preparing to touch down without receiving landing clearance from the tower, when the dozing controller came back on the frequency.
"It was clearly inappropriate to land without a clearance" from the tower and "it is preposterous to say there was no violation and it was a perfectly safe procedure," said Loretta Alkalay, the former top lawyer for the Federal Aviation Administration's Eastern region.
If a tower controller can't be reached for any reason, she said, "it is absolutely not up to the pilots to decide to land as though it was an uncontrolled airport."
Pilots have procedures for landing at fields that aren't manned by controllers, including checking weather conditions, broadcasting positions frequently on a common frequency and listening to what activity there may be on runways or taxiways. But when an airport tower is scheduled to be manned round the clock—as is Reagan National—Ms. Alkalay said she "never heard of a situation where the FAA says it's okay for pilots to decide, on their own, it's safe to land."
Richard Healing, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Sunday that he was "more than a little surprised" the jets landed instead of flying on to nearby Baltimore-Washington International Airport or Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs.
The biggest potential hazards stemmed from planes or vehicles crossing runways in the darkness, without anyone alerting the pilots of the landing jets. "The safest approach would have been to divert," according to Mr. Healing. "It might have inconvenienced some passengers, but it wouldn't have compromised safety."
On Sunday, a spokesman for the NTSB said "the actions of the flight crews are one of the things" under investigation.
A United Airlines spokeswoman declined to comment.
An American Airlines spokeswoman said its pilots complied with procedures "clearly spelled out by the FAA," and didn't require tower clearance once Reagan National was deemed to be an uncontrolled airport. She said the weather was good, crews were aware of other airborne traffic and also followed appropriate procedures to taxi to the gate.
The views of safety experts span a wide spectrum. Mark Rosenker, the former chairman of the safety board, on Sunday said that based on preliminary information, the pilots apparently acted appropriately. "They would have had enough time to talk to company dispatchers to get some situational awareness," he said. "I wouldn't call them cowboys"
According to Mr. Rosenker, the cockpit-voice recorders also may reveal that before landing, the pilots attempted to reach company officials at the airport to find out about runway conditions and any unusual factors at the field.
So far, the FAA's focus has been almost entirely on what controllers did wrong. The head of the agency last week said he was "personally outraged" by the tower controller's behavior, while other FAA officials began looking at the budget implications of eliminating single-person staffing at towers. On Friday, the agency reminded approach controllers—often located dozens of miles from airports and who have authority over a much larger swath of air space—that "proper procedures dictate that they must offer pilots the chance to divert" if a control tower remains silent.
But as new details about the Reagan National incident emerged over the weekend, they prompted stepped-up criticism faulting the pilots for poor decision-making. Even some commercial pilots, who described infrequently landing at airports without local-controller assistance when it was past the scheduled closing time of those towers, said the United and American crews should have sought more information and probably taken more time to assess the situation.
An FAA spokeswoman said pilots have wide latitude in deciding where to land, as long as an airport isn't officially closed. According to tradition and practice, pilots also have the right to disregard controller commands if they believe there is an emergency situation or safety threat. But in this case, according to safety experts critical of actions by the pilots, the crews apparently failed to adequately exercise their independent judgment once the approach controller indicated it would be appropriate for the planes to land on their own.
Since the jets didn't report any fuel emergencies or other onboard difficulties, these experts said, there was no compelling safety reason to get on the ground as fast as possible. "I think they should have diverted ...and for the FAA to condone what happened is a big mistake," according to Greg Feith, a former safety board investigator who now runs his own aviation consulting firm. Neither the pilots nor the approach controllers "would have known if there happened to be a truck or a disabled aircraft stuck on the runway," according to Mr. Feith. And since there were fully-staffed airports open, less than 20 miles away, landing there would have been "in the interest of aviation safety."
According to the FAA, about 100 small, uncontrolled airports around the U.S. serve commercial traffic but don't have controllers at any time. Mr. Feith and other safety experts said that for airline pilots who land at those locations, the approaches and touchdowns are planned in advance with specific conditions and restrictions in mind. Unexpectedly going in without tower clearance, they said, reduces safety margins and can be especially hazardous if there is some sort of emergency. Certain U.S. airlines expect pilots to divert whenever there is a problem establishing communication with an airfield's tower.
Calling for a nationwide review of the air-traffic control systems backup procedures, FAA chief Randy Babbitt on Friday said: "I am determined to make sure we do not repeat Wednesday's unacceptable event."


OMG, you mean the aircraft wasn't "controlled" all the way to the gate? BFD, Lets find a problem where none exists other then a controller asleep.
 

nimtz

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Sad and pathetic how much the judgment of aviators has been emasculated by bureaucrats and lawyers. Could you see the guys who flew DC-2's dealing with the bs the Feds sling today?!? At this rate in ten years you'll probably be subject to violation for missing a radio call.
 

ackattacker

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Captains Authority...............

End of thread.

You mean Captain's *Emergency* Authority?

What was the nature of the emergency?

Actually, I agree with simply landing. But it isn't because they were exercising Emergency Authority.

If the tower is unmanned then the field is by definition uncontrolled. It isn't closed. It's not an ideal situation but it's not dangerous either. Anybody sitting on the runway at DCA has lights on and a radio. If they didn't a tower controller wouldn't know about them either.

Legal? Yup. Safe? Yup. Land.

Bureaucrats think they should have flown around in circles and thought about it some more. Got a second opinion. Poppycock.
 

JAFI

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Captains Authority...............

End of thread.

Captains Authority under 91.3 is to be able to deviate from any subpart of the CFR's to "meet an emergency". Was not getting a clearance to land "an emergency"?

Isn't it REQUIRED (per CFR) that the PIC get a clearance to land prior to landing at a towered controlled airport? Can a PIC land at a towered airport without a clearance to land when there is no emergency?

reopen thread.......


The only leg I can see that they have to stand on is the lost comm CFR.
 
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ackattacker

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Captains Authority under 91.3 is to be able to deviate from any subpart of the CFR's to "meet an emergency". Was not getting a clearance to land "an emergency"?

Isn't it REQUIRED (per CFR) that the PIC get a clearance to land prior to landing at a towered controlled airport? Can a PIC land at a towered airport without a clearance to land when there is no emergency?

reopen thread.......


The only leg I can see that they have to stand on is the lost comm CFR.

The regulation requires an *operating* control tower. If there is no one awake inside the tower, I'd argue it is not in fact operating. Lost Comm works also, though.

91.129(i)

(i) Takeoff, landing, taxi clearance. No person may, at any airport with an operating control tower, operate an aircraft on a runway or taxiway, or take off or land an aircraft, unless an appropriate clearance is received from ATC.
 

spacecadet1

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Good thing they weren't former Air Force. They would still be circling reading thru their manuals.
 

Waldom

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Good thing they weren't former Air Force. They would still be circling reading thru their manuals.

Until such time as they reached their duty time limits. At that point they would have ejected.
 
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