Date:   Fri, 2 Oct 1998 08:45:10 EDT




    John et al,

    Read the following and my comments and then compare it with this current article.

    1. Jane Garvey just promoted McSweeney as Ass't Administrator of the FAA.

    2. After reading this article, what does this tell you about Garvey?

    3. What does this tell you about the FAA.? If important people like

    McSweeney, and MacLeod can make statements like this on TV TALK shows, are

    they doing it on purpose to deceive the flying public? Read and give me your

    reading. I'm forwarding a copy to Tim Dobbyn of Reuters and others.

    The following talk show discussion was found at the Phillips Aviation website:   (Air Safety Week)


Old Airplanes Are Not Immortal and Should Be Retired!

Former Safety Board Member Urges.

Diane Rehm Show.           Transcript: WAMU 88.5 FM. Air date: 14 July 1998

1-800-433-8850 You can call Diane Rehem for a complete copy.

The TRUTH about aging aircraft as viewed by the FAA, Aeronautical Repair

Station Association and the Airbus Service Co with respect to SAFETY vs. MONEY.


Partial TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS with my comments as (EDITOR NOTES, bold faced type, and underlining for emphasis.)

From WAMU in Washington, I'm Diane Rehm. Observers of the airline

industry are concerned that the rate of air fatalities has remained steady

after dropping for several years. Some say pilots and air traffic controllers

could be working more safely. Others say passenger planes themselves may not

be safe. Joining me in the studio to talk about U.S passenger aircraft:

Thomas McSweeney, director of the aircraft certification service of the

Federal Aviation Administration, Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the

Aeronautical Repair Station Association, Vernon Grose, he's chairman and

president of Omega Systems group, and by phone from Herndon, Va., Clyde Kizer,

president and COO of Airbus Service Co. . . .

>McSweeney: I think for anybody that might be listening, and for you here,

that age of an aircraft is a misnomer, as far as I'm concerned. The age of

the aircraft is the date on which the data plate was put on the side of the

door that indicates when that airplane was originally manufactured. But much

of that airplane, including the wiring, is replaced on a regular basis

throughout the maintenance programs of the carrier, and as part of our special

inspections, our airworthiness directives and other actions that the FAA has

taken over the years. That design today, a design on a 30-year-old airplane,

doesn't look anything like the airplane that was delivered 30 years ago. Many

of the systems have been changed out. For instance, things like landing gear

have been approved, there's service bulletins that bring the airplane into

today's safety standards that are worked day in and day out at the air

carriers at the maintenance facilities that Ms. MacLeod is a part of.

(EDITOR NOTE: Wiring can cause problems even on new airplanes:

B-1B CRASH BLAMED ON SHORT CIRCUIT: The Feb. crash of a USAF B-1B Lancer near

Marion, Ky. resulted from a short circuit that shut down all four engines

during a low-level training mission, the Air Force said last week. While

executing the engine shutdown check list to secure number three, a short

circuit occurred in the Fire Warning Extinguisher Panel resulting in an un-

commanded shutdown of the remaining three engines. All four crewmembers

safely ejected; the B-1was destroyed on impact.)

>Grose: Well, let me just come back and say that all government agencies are

basically reactive rather than proactive and the FAA is no exception to this.

Ten years ago when there was an explosive decompression of an Aloha 737, they

woke up and began to talk about aging aircraft. Now, they've had a program but

they looked in very limited ways at aging aircraft. Now, they may not like the

term aging aircraft, but I'm coming back to the second law of thermodynamics.

Everything ages. Now when you come into this, and you say you're going to

extend the life of an aircraft by maintaining it, this means you're going to

increasingly have to do more work, and more work., And then they say they're

comes a point of no economic worth to continue to upgrade that. But look at

what they do with pilots. They retire pilots at age 60, although a lot of

those people are still good. They do the same thing with tires. You retire

tires before all the tread's worn off. And so what I'm really faulting the FAA

about is, that they've got to declare what end of life looks like, not aging.

All aging really says is that we will extend the life of an airplane that's

very old. To my way of thinking, that is not good, sound, thinking and they

ought to proactively say, "Here are the conditions under which an aircraft

should be retired from service."

>Kizer: Well, once again I have to disagree. I say that the aircraft, we have

a system in place, to maintain the airworthiness of the aircraft. The

airlines themselves, in addition to the FAA, perform daily oversight not only

of the processes which they use to maintain those airplanes, but the condition

of the aircraft, both in a paperwork sense as well as a hardware sense.

(EDITOR NOTE: Usually airworthiness directives (AD's) are issued AFTER THE FACT, when a

problem has been detected in order to prevent a dangerous situation endangering the A/C and passenger lives.)

>Grose: I should say to you, how about the 737 fuel tank problem? It just

recently came up. Was it discovered by the FAA? No. It was found by having

fuel on the tarmac leaking out of an aircraft that Continental Airlines turned

in and therefore it wasn't proactive. And, sure, we reacted very fast, we got

in there and we had mechanics tearing these wires out there that didn't know

what they were doing when they're handling wire. Frankly it's a very delicate

thing to do, and we found that 50 percent of all the 737 aircraft had a problem.

(EDITOR NOTE: The FAA was notified by the NTSB, back in 1990 (when a fuel tank

explosion of a 737-300 over in Manila) by recommending several AD's be issued

by the FAA concerning the WIRING of all 737's. So this time the FAA reacted

within hours! I guess better late than never!)

>Rehm: Ms. MacLeod…

>MacLeod: I would say that the discovery of problems are under the

jurisdiction of the FAA even when the industry discovers them because we're

required to report these conditions to the FAA so that they can take action on

them. There seems to be a confusion here, at least, maybe it's just me, but an

aircraft is not maintained like a car is maintained or your refrigerator is

maintained. There is required maintenance on these aircraft at specified

intervals. The maintenance can indeed replace the whole aircraft over a period

of years, so what is aging? I mean, as Mr. McSweeney said earlier, as Tom said

earlier, we could have a whole new aircraft after 15 years if we upgraded it

in accordance with the service bulletins that are produced by the


(EDITOR NOTE: Let us address this maintenance program and put it in proper

prospective. Why has the FAA certified (OVERSEAS Foreign Facilities) to

perform routine maintenance on US air carriers, when the FAA admits that they

don't really have complete control over the facility? VJ592 (Valujet) had their last

major maintenance over in Turkey prior to its crash. Why would any US airline

go all the way over to Turkey to have major maintenance performed on their

airplanes if they were concerned with safety and quality instead of economics?


>McSweeney:   Let me make a couple of points about discovering problems. First

of all, the mechanic that discovered the leak on the 737 Continental airplane.

That pointed out the need to escalate a program that the FAA already had in

existence and we did that within hours of discovering that. That mechanic I

must applaud for doing his job. He was doing what he was trained and educated

to do and that's the system. While the FAA doesn't discover every problem,

the FAA is a part of the system of aviation in this country and it's the whole

system working together that discovers problems.

(EDITOR NOTE: Maybe the FAA realized because they failed to heed the NTSB

recommended AD's concerning that 737 FUEL TANK EXPLOSION over in Manila, that

the FAA might have another Manila type explosion if they didn't react within

hours? The FAA can claim that they are "part of the system" but they are also

'PART of the PROBLEM'. Case in points: (1) Why doesn't the FAA require the

use of TKT (Hybrid constructed WIRE--BMS 13-60) for all new airplanes and as a

replacement wire for repairs and modifications? ---By their own FAA TEST LAB.,

Ms. Pat Cahill's test document March 1995 stated that BMS 13-60 wire is

superior to BMS 13-48 (Raychem's wire). BMS 13-48 has a smoke density greater

than 96% compared to less than 3% for BMS 13-60. The wire BMS 13-48 will NOT

meet the requirements of (Federal Aviation Regulation) FAR 25. If the FAA wants to

make airplane cockpits safer, then why don't they call for the TKT WIRE?) (2) Why

didn't the FAA heed the NTSB recommended AD's concerning the 737-300 fuel tank

explosion over in Manila May 1990?)

>Grose: I don't want to fault anybody's motives. For example, I think maintenance people do the best they know. I think the FAA tries as well. However, I am an advocate of public concern here, saying that the FAA yet should put out criteria for retirement of aircraft. Quit talking like they can extend the life forever. These aircraft are not totally replaced. The wiring is not entirely replaced. In VALUJET for example, 592, it was old, old wiring, PVC wiring, which is three generations back. The same way it happened in TWA 800, that was not new replaced wiring. And so therefore, the only alternative now to a program by the FAA that will say what retirement criteria are, is to crash them one at a time? And I don't want to see that happen. People are getting killed.

>Rehm: Do you think that is what is fated to happen unless these aircraft are replaced?

>Grose: What alternative do we have? In other words, there is nothing in the FAA right now to say what is the end of life for aircraft. It says it for pilots, it doesn't say it for aircraft.

>Rehm: Thomas McSweeney of the FAA and at 28 past the hour, you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We'll open the phones now, 1-800-433-8850 and let's go first to Ted in Toronto, Ontario. You're on the air. Ted: Hi there.

>Rehm: Morning.

>Chanel: Yes, I just wanted to say that I agreed wholeheartedly with Mr. Grose. I'm a daughter of an airline pilot. My father started flying before deregulation started. He's still doing it right now and I'm really almost appalled that the FAA and all these other organizations who are supposed to be overseeing safety and things like that but also sometimes seem to have a dual mandate. As far as overseeing the safety of passengers but also making sure that they're promoting the airline industry as a business. I'm not sure when the FAA and all these people, who are claiming that airplanes can fly indefinitely. I mean, we weren't born yesterday. We know about metal, even if we're not physicists, I mean it doesn't take a physicist to tell you that something is going to break down after 30, 40, 50 years, thousands, millions of hours in the air. I just don't understand how they're telling us that and I don't really fly anymore. I've grown up on planes. I know about them. I'm not a pilot myself, but, you know, 30 years of being around a pilot and I know the airline industry. It's really hard for me to trust organizations like the FAA and the government telling us one thing, doing another and then we see planes falling out of the sky every other month, something like that. And I agree with Mr. Grose. What's it going to take? Is it going to take people, several more tragedies? How many more tragedies is it going to take for the people to just tell us the truth. Aging aircraft. You can't just maintain something for hundred's of years.

>Grose: If you ran a taxi fleet, would you like to be replacing parts in your

1968 cars or would you buy new cars? I think this is where we're at and I

think that unless we get an end-of life- criteria out of the FAA, that's what

I'm really urging now. Aging aircraft just is an excuse or a description,

actually for what you're doing to keep old airplanes alive. But I want an end

of life.

>Rehm: Just to be clear, you want these planes phased out at what point?

>Grose: Well I haven't got all the criteria, and I think the FAA is well

qualified to set the criteria, I'm not arguing with that. But I would like to

see them do that, rather than just talk about how to extend life in an

existing airplane.

>Rehm: And Mr. McSweeney, you think that's not a relevant point?

>McSweeney: For those people who think aircraft age, and should be destroyed at a certain given age, I suggest that maybe at the end of the month they go to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. And they look at the experimental aircraft association fly-in there. Then look at all of those wonderful old airplanes that are probably better now than they were when they were built, because people have taken care of them, they've replaced the material that needs to be replaced and in fact is as safe as any aircraft could be.

(EDITOR NOTE: Now Mr. McSweeney is making a comparison of 'vintage old airplanes, and old classic cars,' that do not operate the many hours and cycles that everyday operating airplanes experience. He is making a comparison like 'apples to pears.' At risk are AIR TRAVEL PASSENGER LIVES! Maybe that's part of the problem. We need NEW BLOOD in the FAA that will look at the REAL WORLD instead of living in the past!)

>Rehm: Mr. Grose what about that, that the airlines themselves will make that decision?

>Grose: Well, that's why we have a public advocate known as the FAA. In other words, the FAA operates in the public's interest. We don't have a voice apart from them. And they have very strict regulations on the front end for the life of an airplane. How do you certify it? How many tests does it go through? What I'd like to see them do is not abandon it because Chanel's earlier point is that it's an economic thing that's driving them, not a safety decision regarding the life of an airplane, Tom McSweeney has already admitted that he's joined with the airlines in saying what's economically feasible rather than what really is safety.

>MacLeod: No.1 safety issue, whether or not the FAA can have a dual mandate was a red herring from the beginning. They were there to ensure safety. That was what the FAA was always there for. How do you promote an industry that's unsafe? It's a red herring. They were always there to ensure the safety of our fleet and they do that today. And they do that through a number of directives. Rules are one of them. Mr. Grose talks about it as though we don't follow them. We do follow them. Chanel talked about like we didn't follow the rules. Tell her the truth. The truth is that over the course of a lifetime of an aircraft, 99 percent of it is replaced.

(EDITOR NOTE: Macleod's statement that 99% of the aircraft is replaced is irresponsible and inaccurate. As Mr. Grose quickly observed it simply isn't true. If it were, then there would be no need for the industry efforts to identify and repair aging aircraft after the Aloha accident in the late 1980s. Canvas all the airlines and ask them what percentage of structure, functional parts and aircraft wire systems in their airplanes have been completely replaced over a period of 15 to 20 years. I would venture to say, less than 20% falls into MacLeod's statement of "99 percent of it is replaced." Largely that 20% would include the required changes of engines and components because they have reached their time in service limits.

As heard at the NTSB TWA 800 hearing in Baltimore by the expert wiring panel, "the wiring system in an A/C is installed for the life of the airplane!" So MacLeod's statement that ". . . 99 percent of it is replaced is a lie! [Isn't it reassuring to have someone of importance, concerning maintenance, makestatements like this.] It would cost the airlines millions of dollars and ground an airplane for weeks just to replace the wiring systems. Consider the industry dragging their feet on many other less costly programs, don't hold your breath waiting for them to do this on their own. A Boeing engineer made the statement recently, that at best, no more than 5% of the A/C wiring system is replaced during the life of an A/C!)

>Grose: That's not true at all.

>MacLeod: When is aging, Mr. Grose, what part of it would you have mandatory retirement?

>Grose: You're absolutely ridiculous saying that 99 percent is replaced.

[MacLeod said: "The maintenance can indeed replace the whole aircraft over a period of years, so what is aging? I mean, as Mr. McSweeney said earlier, as Tom said earlier, we could have a whole new aircraft after 15 years if we upgraded it in accordance with the service bulletins that are produced by the manufacturer. The truth is that over the course of a lifetime of an aircraft, 99 percent of it is replaced.]

A Boeing engineer interviewed on the 28th of July was asked what percent of an airplane's wire system is replaced during the life of the airplane? His reply was "less than 5%." How can MacLeod and McSweeney make statements like they made? They don't know? Are they trying to mislead the traveling public with untruthful statements?

For the full transcript, call Diane Rehems at 1-800-433-8850.

Patrick A. Price 7/25/98

IASA Safety’s Comments on the above:

Aircraft Age? Let’s talk about its mortality.

The only true chronometer of airframe life remaining (versus the simplistic concept of "age") is an aircraft’s fatigue spectrum as measured by its fatigue index (or FI). This is calculated from the measurements made by an installed fatigue meter’s counters. It is a function of both "usage" (i.e. flight hours) and the type of flying it has done. A military aircraft’s FI accumulation rate can be very variable (eg ground attack GR1 Tornado versus an Air Defence Tornado ADV) because of the altitude, IAS, operating weight and g spectrum. A long haul airliner will have a very different FI calculation than a commuter plane of the same type because the latter will accrue more landings per flight hour and will operate at a generally lower all up weight. The only true measure of "condition" is the inspection report that results from a tear-down overhaul. However, the geriatric "aging" of an aircraft is a totally different ball of wax. It is a compendium of FI, flight hours, years since manufacture and TLC. The "years since manufacture" is pertinent to components (like energy carrying wiring and data cabling) that are not lifed but which are only replaced after failure (i.e. following fault-finding), iaw AD’s, "on condition" inspection directives and following NDI (non-destructive inspection). FI can reasonably predict such things as main-spar cracking but corrosion rates and sites are a function of the aircraft’s operating environment and exposure duration. For instance Air Nauru and Aloha would suffer a much higher rate of salt-water corrosion and engine sulfidation damage than (say) a US midwestern commuter operator flying the same airframe. Now, if halfway through its service life, an Aloha 737 airframe was purchased by Air Midwest that operator would be wise to have his acquisition surveyed carefully before he completed the sale. Corrosion damage to airframes and their wiring is accelerated rapidly by warm, moist, salt-laden climes. This is where FAA would have to factor in an aircraft's owner-history (and his geography) as well as all the other factors before they could rationally "life" a particular aircraft model. Some components, such as wiring, undercarriage, pumps and windscreens, definitely have a finite life. Some can be reconditioned – some cannot. You cannot remove a loom and bench-test it like you can do to avionics boxes, CRT’s and instrumentation. Inspection of wiring is a misnomer because it cannot be effectively inspected in situ. The bits you can’t see (i.e. where harnesses turn corners and disappear through conduits, ducts and bulkheads) are precisely the points where fraying, cracking and shorting out can occur. A resistance check will not disclose that the insulation is about to (or has) given out along its length somewhere. What you are left with is the end-game solution of re-wiring the airframe and counting it as a necessary operating cost – or chucking the whole aircraft at a declared end-of-useful-life point as determined and decreed by a competent operating authority. Unfortunately that point is presently likely to be short of the point of nil economic return where an operator would voluntarily retire an aircraft due to escalating maintenance costs. What we are arguing here is that the FAA has proven that it does not have the will to make those necessary flight safety decisions. Their public claim that "much of that airplane including the wiring will be replaced over a period" is patently false. There is a dishonest inference there that wiring is being replaced as some sort of ongoing program of rejuvenation. No such program exists. The greater lie of "maintenance can indeed replace the whole aircraft over a period of years" is not even misleading, it’s nonsensical. A figure of 99% is just totally out of touch with reality. Even if you counted "remove, repair/refurbish and replace" items it would not approach 25% based on weight, bulk, volume, parts register or rivet-count. The fall-back on the specious reassurance that the "paper-work will be OK" is the refuge of a bureaucratic scoundrel and really gets down to the fundamentals of what the FAA is all about – dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Introduction of vintage or antique aircraft into the discussion is a total misnomer because most of them are kept in mothballs outside of Oshkosh. They are not workhorses nor do they carry thousands of fare-paying passengers.

I can recall about twenty years ago doing a visit to the Naval Air Rework Facility at the NARF at NAS Alameda. I was very impressed at the thoroughness of their tear-down overhaul on P3 Orions. As a P3 pilot I knew very well that salt-water corrosion was a paramount engineering consideration for both airframe and engines. When I asked the Senior Engineer Airframe Rework about "what they found, was it always what they expected?" I assumed that they would always find the same levels of corrosion in the same nooks and crannies on similarly lifed birds. That was not the case at all and it was as simple a matter as some Naval Air station’s having better designed, more effective rinse-rack’s (or bird-baths) or some Sqn’s pilots taking the time to go divert through some rain during deployment to out-stations without rinse-racks. Without tear-down inspection no-one can assure quality. The whole concept of QA or quality assurance is about visual inspection (borescoping), functional testing and NDI (xray, ultrasound, dye penetrant etc) and then signing off components (and then the whole) as being as guaranteed as technology can be that failure is neither imminent nor will be problematical. Technology is actually allowed to fail but true maint QA is ensuring that, as a logical sequitur to design and build standard, it must fail safe. I was a Hawker de Hav’s maint test-pilot at their Perth WA facility for years and I learnt a lot there, the hard way, about the true QA credo.

That brings us down to the wire as they say. With wiring that has a proven aging problem (like Kapton) we are no longer in the realm of safety and there can be no QA (i.e. when it fails it just does not fail safe). Anyone who says there can be wiring QA is a rogue and a scoundrel with a hidden agenda. The evidence is mounting that many accidents have been caused (and many more narrowly averted) by such a low-tech flaw as an insulation that can’t cut the mustard for the design life of the aircraft. When the very next wiring-related inflight fire brings down a passenger-laden jet the FAA will have blood upon its hands – simply because there is enough evidence now upon which to act. The barn-door closing exercise of making "inspections" mandatory is about as valid as preventive dentristry telling people to keep an eye out for holes in their teeth.

OK, so the solution stems from the above premise. Who gets stung the most from the heavy duty litigation following on from an aircrash, in particular one where wrongful death is easily proved due to revelations about known wiring type (not installation) defects? Why, the manufacturer of course. Under the new compensation regime we are talking cumulative multi-billion dollar damages and the insurance companies just won’t stand for it. They’ll hike carrier’s and manufacturer’s hull and passenger liability premiums to the point where it does make economic sense to go for genuine QA. And just how do we then do that? It will cost more on the average airline ticket but the FAA will just have to decree a strip-down date for each aircraft according to a formula that takes into account its operating spectrum, flight hours and numbers of landings. At that time the aircraft, for re-certification, will have to be flown back to the manufacturer’s base and overhauled; re-lifed if you wish. Call it an integrity check – because the travelling public will like that term. A new warranty will be issued freely within the cost and all mods and AD’s will be checked as having been properly implemented. Why can’t that be done at an operator’s home maintenance base? In some cases (eg Qantas) they can obviously be licenced to conduct integrity checks. In others, the operators lacking the expertise will obviously have to ship in a Boeing team to supervise for a few weeks – whatever’s cheaper. We’re only talking about twice in the life of an airframe – say at the 2/3rds and 7/8ths point of the decreed FAA lifing (in hourly terms that equates to 89K and 119K hrs of a lifed 135k life-time). It should not be the same as the merchant marine with their rusting cargo hulks forever plying their unregulated trade under flags of convenience, but there’s presently not a lot of difference. Here we’re talking about, in most cases, National Flag carriers transporting paying passengers. Where that’s not the case perhaps it would be reasonable for cargo-haulier’s airframes to meet a lower level of compliance. What just will not do is a persistently fraudulent stance by an FAA that is in denial. There is a mounting problem with geriatric jets and it is the wiring aspect that is of paramount concern.

If you want to see an "aftermath" from a pilot’s viewpoint I suggest you now read my harrowing account of what probably did occur - and what might otherwise have been, in the case of Swissair Flight 111.

It’s At URL: responses.html

But it’s also partially reproduced below for convenience:

Then read: landings3.html

And go to:


Emotive? Perhaps. On the Money? Almost for sure.

Comment (by JS): I’m not a visionary but when it comes to applying my imagination to what happened in the Swissair accident I have no trouble conjuring up two entirely separate theories:- of what did transpire - and what might have been  (in different circumstances). In the first instance I see the innocent low-key beginning of the happenstance, the advice to ATC and cabin crew, the follow-up R/T, the descent checklist and then its rapid escalation through donning of masks and goggles and serious checklisting. Then come the profoundly disturbing staccato images – an atmosphere of great urgency (anxiety, concern but no fear), awareness of the deteriorating environment and restricted peripheral vision, unexpected autopilot disconnect, frustration about having to wait until over-water before commencing the dump, denser smoke, upgrading the emergency, deploying the ADG, fuel starvation flame-out of number two tail engine with many resulting warnings and cautions, sudden cockpit darkness, CRT's blank out, floodlight reflections, misting goggles, instrument power failures and an alarming realization that your partial panel attitude-flying instrument scan and control inputs are very haphazard -even chaotic, eyes streaming with tears, the annoying ceaseless audio of uncancelled system alerts and warblers, intercom and R/T mistakes and confusion, ATC distractions, EICAS announcements, unanswered cabin staff queries, a pervasive and growing feeling of consummate helplessness, breathing and vision difficulties; a Flight Attendant invades the cockpit, evidently distraught - then disappears, total uncertainty as to where the checklist is at. Then, as a vaguely discerned finale ..... seeing the collapse of the other pilot with no-one to help, a feeling of immense solitude, the agony of hot molten plastic dripping from above, difficulty in concentrating, total loss of attitude and altitude awareness and eventually, on the threshold of unconsciousness, the sensation and increased noise levels as the aircraft is accelerating under g and entering its terminal unusual attitude - but peaceably, a final ethereal dissociation from recovery (as a task) because of the mental detachment that stems from the asphyxiating ingestion of toxic smoke. A last poignantly dutiful but pointless pull on the control column as the MD11 tightens into its final graveyard spiral into the waters off the cove. Declaration of a final Mayday and any thought of external succour is totally irrelevant to such a scenario. No apologies for graphic depictions, you’ve got to see the word-picture distinctions I’ll now try to make.

In my second apparition I see a three man crew undergoing the same initial conspiracy of circumstance. In this scene the smoke detector alerts them and the captain declares: "activate the smoke checklist". After the (memory recall items), immediate action preliminaries of full-face masks, ATC and cabin staff alerting, the next step is dependent upon captain’s discretion. However, as with the Swissair instance, visible confirmatory smoke and fumes are evident and this is where the outcomes based approach makes the difference: the Captain orders "select the Flight Essential Bus, you have control". "Deploy the EVAS" (i.e. the inflated plastic aid to instrument vision). They feel a thump as the ADG slips down and locks into place in the slipstream and a charging light illuminates on the CIWS. The first officer is now responsible for ATC comms and flying the aircraft – nothing else, so he begins a gradual descent as per his edicts to ATC. He’s declared a Pan, he’s squawking emergency and he automatically has priority, so ATC must divert other traffic and clear levels below him. It’s called "take control of your destiny", it’s not an apologetic approach. It's no longer the polite "request" - it's "require". The aircraft is now on its "virgin" bus, previously isolated from the normal electrical system and presumably having 100% integrity because of that. The captain and the flight engineer commence the challenge/reply portion of the checklist actions. It is evident that despite his killing the normal electrics, the smoke build-up is continuing, that there is a self-sustaining conflagration behind one of the overhead panels. He orders: "Call Mayday, Hold 230 knots, commence fuel dumping to 50 kilo and inert the flight deck". The FE pulls a lanyard on the bulkhead-mounted nitrogen canister and grabs the foam extinguisher from its bracket. The FE, in anticipation, has already (per the checklist) shut off both EDC’s so that there is no inflow to the cockpit but he doesn’t open the outflow valve – so there is only a gradual depressurization. The flight deck door is already closed so, for their purposes, the cockpit is hermetically sealed and the flame-retardant nitrogen-rich atmosphere dampens the fire. In the absence of oxygen, and with no stoking electrics, no materials fire can take hold. The FE then sprays the adhesively congealing and sealing foam spray onto the overhead panel and the smoke emanations cease. It is now up to the captain. After a pause, he considers the danger is past and orders: "Depressurize and vent smoke, continue with the smoke elimination checklist". Flight is continued, masks off, to their divert field in their significantly reduced (but not crippled) configuration. They have no weather radar, airframe or engine anti-ice but at the lower altitudes they’re not likely to need it. Flight instruments, hydraulics, avionics and comms are sufficient for recovery. There is no point in further tempting fate and trouble-shooting as the Nitrogen and foam operation was a one-shot affair. A two-man band working fate or a three-man consortium with a game-plan? Given the alarming scope and urgency of the task, vive le difference.

It is possible with today’s technology to change the outcome of the in-fuselage fire-in-the-air challenge. To date it’s been a mish-mash apathetic and disorganized approach to resolving an unidentified issue. I’m advocating both a CRM and multi-disciplinary, technical, take-charge/outcomes-based methodology. I readily concede that there are more forms of inflight fire than one confined to the cockpit or electrically initiated. However, if the cargo despatchers and security are doing their jobs we are probably talking about the worst case scenario here. Cabin fires outside the cockpit ( or wing events for that matter) make it more important that there is a third man with the technical know-how to go aft, look into it and keep the captain properly informed.

However there’s a lot of inertia out there. Many CEO’s just have their fingers crossed that the Swissair report will be couched in terms that enables it to be dismissed (like Valujet, TWA800, Silkair….) as just another "one off".... but casualty figures will probably  mount as jets get older and electrics continue to be the silent servant but also tragically, sometimes, the swift unseen suffocating savage.

If you feel that there is something missing from this argument (or have something to add) please feel free to comment at my web-site. There is a precursor there to the above (which discusses a saner way to approach the handling of inflight electrical fires).

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