Cracks on American Airlines Boeing 767 planes “cause for concern”

Experts from American Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing are working overtime to inspect all Boeing 767 aircraft in the AA fleet.

The inspections were ordered after cracks were detected on a 767 which regulators say could have resulted in the loss of an engine.

During the past two weeks, inspectors found problems on three of the planes, promoting calls for “additional action.”

The cracks were found in engine pylons, which are the structural members that hold the engines on the wings, though none of the parties involved are going as far as to claim there is any danger.

This is not the first time Boeing planes have had issues with engine pylon structures – cracks in engine fuse pins were to blame for the 1992 El Al Boeing 747 crash in Amsterdam, killing 43 people.

According to FAA records, one of the planes found to have serious safety issues had only flown 500 trips since its last major inspection – which is prompting Boeing to recommend more regular safety inspections. At the moment, the pylons are only inspected after 1500 flights.

Of course, everyone involved is quick to point out that the safety concerns are not the result of missed or botched inspections. American Airlines says it expects to finish all inspections of its 56 Boeing 767s today.

If the FAA does alter current safety inspection rules, about 360 Boeing 767s will have to be inspected in the United States, along with hundreds more in use abroad.

[Image from: Flickr/Deanster 1983]

Photo of the Day (6.16.09)

Today’s Photo of the Day is relevant for several reasons. The shot of the tarmac on the way to Paris was taken by Kent Wien, our resident pilot who is actually currently on layover in the middle of a BOS-CDG-BOS turn.

This week is also the week of the 45th Paris Air Show, the massive biannual event that brings thousands of suppliers, manufacturers and press to Le Bourget for updates on all of the new technology. It’s the biggest air show in the world, and both Kent and Grant will running around collecting data for Gadling. Stay tuned later this week for updates from the show.

Oh, and if you’ve got any cool photos that you’d like to share with the world, add them to the Gadling Pool on Flickr and it might be chosen as our Photo of the Day. Make sure you save them under Creative Commons though, otherwise we can’t use them!

Cockpit Chronicles: St. Elmos Fire, Falcons and Segway-ing through Paris

Rich, the relief co-pilot, looked over my shoulder and pointed to the radar.

“Looks like you’re painting some weather there.” He said.

I looked down, noting the sea of green ahead.

“It doesn’t have much vertical to it.” I replied, which meant the clouds hadn’t developed into anything that would produce much in the way of bumps.

“I think it’s just heavy rain.” I said.

After flying around Hurricane Ike and Hanna, it was nice to get away from the Caribbean weather by escaping to France. Sure, there may be some specks of yellow among the green Rich had pointed out, but this was no real thunderstorm from what I could see.

Soon we entered the clouds from above. The sunrise we had been enjoying was gone now and the cockpit was a bit darker. As we descended towards 20,000 feet, St. Elmos fire began to sparkle on the front windshield. This phenomenon looks like lightning, but it’s actually static discharges occurring right on the glass just in front of our faces.

Rich grabbed my camera to film the scene. [Video after the jump]

As we approached Paris on the arrival, we broke out long enough to see the sun trying to peek above the cloud layer. Moments later we flew through a few small build-ups. This weather was hardly painting on the radar, yet these were some powerful little clouds. The airplane bumped and shook for the next ten minutes causing Rich to give up with the camera. He couldn’t film much longer anyway, since we were about to reach the 10,000 foot sterile period.

Checking in on the radio behind us was a U.S. Airways flight that was beginning to pick up the same ride conditions we had. Since I was working the radios, I gave a quick pilot report about the moderate turbulence we had just flown through, hoping the U.S. Airways flight might do a better job avoiding it than we did.

It turned out Rich made a good call. The green weather with specks of yellow turned out to be rougher than anything I’d ever experienced in Europe. Fortunately we were through it by the time we reached 10,000 feet.

Captain Frank finished off the approach with a nice landing at Charles de Gaulle.

We talked about our plans as we rode the bus into the city.

I’ve always wanted to do it. Maybe this was the layover to give it a try. The reflective vests and helmet makes you look so goofy. Could I get past that? I mean, it is a form of transportation, and I do like gadgets. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to convince Rich to join me.

Of course I’m talking about taking a tour of Paris on a Segway. City Segway Tours offers as many as three of these tours a day during the summer with the rides tapering off as winter approaches. So I would have to do it on what would likely be my last Paris trip, number 17, of the year.

At 70 Euros, it doesn’t come cheap, but amazingly Rich really wanted to give it a try. He’s a bit of an adventurous type, who’s currently heavily involved in his new hobby of beekeeping. Since touring around Paris on a Segway wasn’t something he’d done yet, it didn’t take much to convince him.

Fat Tire had an opening on their 6:30 p.m. tour, so Rich and I had some time to roam around the city. I told Rich that Grant Martin, the editor of Gadling who normally resides in Michigan, was just a few miles from the hotel playing a competitive game of Frisbee at the Cité Universitaire.

We had some time to kill and we agreed that it’d be interesting to see what was involved in a competitive Frisbee game, so we walked over to the park where he and his girlfriend had met up with his sister and some others for a game.

It was apparently the nicest day of the summer according to the local media with warm 70+ degree temperatures, perfect for hanging out in a park and I suppose ideal weather for a Frisbee match.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t see a real Frisbee match, since a local falconer was out flying two of his birds at the field. It gave Rich a good opportunity to take the pictures below while I shot some video.

Grant trying to determine if this bird would be using the field for the rest of the day…

The falcon unexpectedly took off after a kid ran towards it. (See video below)

We agreed to meet up with Grant and the ladies later that evening if we survived our Segway experience.

We met Lisa at Fat Tire Bike Tours and City Segway Tours at their office near the Eiffel Tower and she immediately made us sign away any rights and agree to pay for any damage we may do to the machines. That didn’t dissuade us, so we took the next step and picked out helmets before joining the five other riders.

Our guide, Dana, was an enthusiastic American who was rather adept at Segwaying through Paris. She gave us a good thirty minutes of instruction on how to operate the Segway.

Before we knew it, we were all getting comfortable with the motions needed to step on, move, turn and most importantly, stop Dean Kamen’s amazing little invention. The tour takes four hours and covers the major sites of Paris. Rich and I had seen these landmarks before, but we couldn’t stop grinning.

In just a few minutes we completely forgot just how dorky we looked on the Segway and we began enjoying the freedom it provided.

Our concerns with the €70 per person had been put to rest almost immediately. This was worth it.

It’s easy to underestimate just how fast 12 miles an hour is, until you’re on a Segway. We flew through the parks, mostly at a comfortable 1/2 speed, occasionally ‘opening it up’ a bit to feel the wind blow through our hair while demonstrating our prowess to the other riders.

I struck up a conversation with one of the riders who had his new camera damaged a few days earlier. He wondered if I might forward him some pictures and video, and I told him I was writing this up for a blog, and I could at least sen
d him a link.

Much to my surprise he was a fan of Gadling and he was pretty sure he’d read a Cockpit Chronicles. Or at least he thought.

So I vowed to send him this story–a post I’m sure he’ll remember, if only because he was actually there.

Dana gave everyone the option of stopping for a drink and an appetizer at a café, or simply taking a rest break at a Creperie/Bistro so we could spend more time running around the city.

Everyone decided to keep the rest break short and continue our tour as we were really enjoying the zippy little wheels. I was amazed that battery life wasn’t an issue even though we were almost constantly moving for the four hours. These machines never seemed to slow down.

For a novice, riding a Segway is almost more demanding than a bike tour, since your feet and calf muscles aren’t used to the corrections and weight-shifting required to speed up and slow down.

I was able to balance the device, even while shooting video along the way. I may regret this, but I’ll go ahead and share the video:

I know I’ve recommended the Fat Tire Bike tour of Paris and Versailles in the past, but you just might have to forgo those, and give the Segway a try. No one in our group regretted it.

We met up with Grant and his girlfriend over at the Latin Quarter at almost 11 p.m. Grant’s sister Chi twisted her ankle playing Frisbee and couldn’t join us for drinks and dessert. I would have enjoyed talking with her–to get her viewpoint on what it’s like as an expat living in Paris for the past few years. I guess I’ll just have to keep reading her blog. Here’s the day from her perspective along with some great pictures of the Falcon demonstration.

We’re no longer flying to Paris for the winter, so it’s time to bid farewell to this amazing city. It was more expensive this year than in years past, but far more memorable, too.

Now it’s back to the Caracas, Miami, and who knows what other trips we’ll see this winter. Stay tuned…

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston.

Cockpit Chronicles: How pilots choose their schedules

Today’s flight was a turn (out and back in the same day) from Boston to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. The airplane was a 767, which is always nice to fly. We’re able to fly either the 757 or the 767 using the same procedures and training. I think most pilots prefer flying the 767 versus the 757. It’s something we don’t see as often and it handles differently — a little like going from a Honda’s power steering (the 757) to a Cadillac (the 767).

We had some snow pass through Boston a few hours before departure but the airplane was already de-iced and ready to go by the time we arrived. Since the flight time was over 8 hours for the day, we had a relief co-pilot (FB) on board. Tom was the FB, which meant he would typically do the walk around inspection while I did the interior preflight. I stayed nice and warm while loading the FMS (flight computer that stored our flight plan and works similar to a GPS) and checking the equipment.

The flight down to Santo Domingo went without a hitch. We talked a bit about what trips everyone would be flying in March. For most pilots, there are two dates around the middle of the month that are almost like Christmas. The first is the day our bid sheets come out and the second is the day we get our schedule for the next month. A bid sheet is a print out of every possible schedule we can fly. It shows the trips and the days you’ll be flying them. You simply arrange your preferences in the order you want to fly them and hope someone more senior doesn’t pick the schedule that you’re hoping for.

For those pilots flying the 757 and the 767 internationally from Boston, there are 27 different schedules we can choose that fly four different kinds of trips:

  • Turns (one-day trips) – to Saint Thomas, Santo Domingo or Aruba. These high time trips give you the most days off.
  • A three-day Barbados – not much flight time, which means you’ll fly more days in a month, but the full day on the beach on the second day makes up for that.
  • The two-day London – a high time trip that most pilots prefer.
  • The three-day Panama City and Caracas – that departs very early the first day and gets back after midnight on the third day.

These trips change every couple of months, which is why the bid sheet is eagerly awaited every month. Even though there aren’t many different destinations to choose from, I can’t remember a time when we’ve had so many quality trips. I’d be thrilled to hold any of the first three trips above. The Panama City and Caracas layovers tend to go junior, meaning the pilots with the least amount of seniority usually fly there. Even after 15 years at the company, I’m relatively ‘junior’ on the list, with 4/5ths of the other co-pilots above me. The first six pilots usually choose the London flights, and the Caribbean turns where you’re home every night are usually the next most popular.

If you’re at the bottom 20%, you’re likely to find yourself on reserve, which is like being ‘on call.’ If someone calls in sick, the company will call you to fly. Usually you find out what you’ll be doing the day before. Reserve pilots usually fly less often than a scheduled pilot would and they get paid a flat 90% of a full schedule.

I’ve been lucky enough to hold a line for the last six months straight, but I was awarded a reserve schedule for next month. Hopefully I’ll get called out for a NY or Miami based trip (they often run short of pilots there) to someplace we don’t fly to from Boston.

We go to training every nine months, and I’m scheduled to go down for five days of training next month. Of course I’ll be writing about that.

As we approached Santo Domingo today, we had our usual challenge in understanding the controllers there. The tower controller was especially difficult to understand. Since the runway is closed for repairs, we’re landing on what was formerly the taxiway. Because of this, we had to turn around on the runway to taxi back to the gate. After our runway “U-turn” we were looking straight at a Cessna Caravan a few hundred feet off the ground heading toward us. The Caravan pilot obviously saw us, and I’m sure he just continued his approach until it became completely obvious that the controller’s plan wasn’t going to work. He went around and lined up again for landing a few minutes later.

Maybe I’ll bid around flying to Santo Domingo for a while. With just a little more seniority I should be able to reliably hold the Panama City/Caracas trips. And once you get a schedule, you are free to trade around, which is how I’ve been able to fly to London and Barbados on occasion.

With your seniority number deciding what trips you fly, what base you fly from, when your vacation occurs and, most importantly, when you will upgrade to captain, you can imagine just how important this number is to pilots. It’s so important, in fact, that it can even hold up an airline’s merger plans.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on each of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.