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WSJ: Pilots Fail to Engage Jet Engines

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Feb 14, 2004
Really? For real?

You get what you pay for.


Pilots for two U.S. commuter airlines in the past few months failed to start up the second engine on their jets before getting ready to take off, according to safety experts. The unusual incidents are prompting concern among federal aviation regulators and industry officials.

The events, which haven't been reported before, ended safely with both regional jets turning off the runway without gaining speed or flying.

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Associated Press
An American Eagle turbo-prop in Miami. A pilot for the airline recently didn't start an engine before getting ready to take off. No accident occurred.

But the cockpit lapses raise new questions about the professionalism of some crews flying for commuter carriers, even as the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday continued its public sessions about how to enhance the focus and discipline of airline pilots.

A parade of industry safety officials told the safety board that airlines need to step up training and other efforts to prevent pilot distractions that can result in dangerous errors. "We have to set a standard that we expect our pilots to perform better each and every year," said Brian Ward, a senior safety official for FedEx Express.

Pilots often taxi airliners using only one engine as a way to save fuel. Written and verbal checklists, however, are supposed to ensure that both engines are operating prior to turning the aircraft onto the active runway, advancing the throttles and starting to accelerate.

Despite distractions, pilots also are trained to keep close track of cockpit instruments to ensure that both engines are on and working properly.

In these cases, traditional safeguards broke down and safety experts from the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines have looked at how the pilots could have been oblivious to their mistakes until just before the jets were getting ready to roll toward liftoff.

The first mix-up involved an American Eagle Embraer jet preparing to depart Los Angeles International Airport for San Diego last November, according to government and industry officials.

The first officer apparently became distracted by conversations with air-traffic controllers while trying to start the second engine, prompting the crew to mistakenly believe the engine was running.

After receiving a cockpit warning about the second engine's failure to rev up, the crew taxied back to the gate. But the pilots still thought they had a malfunctioning engine, according to these officials, until mechanics showed them the engine had never been started.

The pilots received additional training and testing, and American Eagle revised its takeoff checklist for Embrarer jets to prevent a repeat of the mistake. A spokeswoman for American Eagle, an AMR Corp. unit, said the incident was voluntarily reported by the pilots and "the FAA did allow us to handle this matter internally."

The second incident occurred at Dulles International Airport in early March, and involved a different Embraer twin-engine jet operated by Trans States Airlines. According to people familiar with the details, the crew forgot to start the second engine and didn't realize it until the jet was lined up for takeoff and the throttles were advanced.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Trans States, which flies under United Airlines and USAirways colors, said the airline and FAA officials are still investigating what happened.

An FAA spokeswoman said pre-flight checklists are critical safety tools, and "it is important that flight crews don't become distracted."

Concerns about the engine blunders come at a time when pilot professionalism-- particularly among crews flying for commuter carriers -- already is under a public microscope. The safety board is advocating, among other things, voluntary programs to get pilots and controllers to take greater responsibility by establishing self-regulating standards of conduct. "Challenges of human error will never be remedied by any traditional training or safety program" overseen by regulators, Tony Kern, a consultant on human factors, told the board Tuesday. "The gods of technology won't solve this [problem] for us."

On Wednesday, Joe Burns, a senior United Airlines safety official, testified that demands on pilots continue to grow. For the average cockpit crew, he said, new government rules limiting tarmac delays highlight the larger problem of changes that end up "putting a lot more emphasis on things pilots probably shouldn't be worrying about." Worries about eroding pensions, potential furloughs and other economic pressures can "intrude on a pilot's ability to perform," Randy Hamilton, a safety official at Compass Airlines, told the board. "We don't want to admit that."

Write to Andy Pasztor at [email protected]
Ehe ERJ has a hydraulic pump that makes a god awful noise when only one engine is running. What I don't get is didn't the pilots in the back on that ferry flight tell the guys that engine was not started as they were about to take the runway? They were probably already asleep due to 15 hour day.
I am flying with more and more FO's that seem to have the attitude that checklists are for wimps. I can see that if I didn't call for them they would not do them or question me.

For instance "trim and takeoff speeds checked" without even looking at them! I have to constantly tell them to ACTUALLY check, not just verbalize from memory.

Most of these guys have a "I am superpilot" mentality.

But as soon as red lights start to flash, they look like deer in the headlights.
After shutting down an engine in flight on the DC-3 due to an oil leak. I had a passenger come up to the cockpit and tell me the propeller on my side wasn't going around anymore. I thanked him told we would be landing at Flint. Too bad this guy wasn't in the back of 340

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