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Decision on flight prohibition over conflict zones needed sooner
24 June 2021

Decision on flight prohibition over conflict zones needed sooner

In a newly released report, the Dutch Safety Board concludes that it is taking too long to reach a decision to restrict or avoid the airspace above a rapidly escalating armed conflict.

Twice in the past decade, a passenger plane has crashed after it was hit by a surface-to-air missile while flying over a conflict zone. On 17 July 2014, flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine. Flight PS752 crashed in Iran on 8 January 2020. The shoot down of PS752 led the Dutch Safety Board to conduct a review into the implementation of the recommendations in the MH17 Crash report and the conclusions in the report Flying over Conflict Zones.

Airspace management

The protection of civil aviation against the risks of flying over a conflict zone is primarily in the hands of the country where the conflict is taking place. This country may decide to restrict its airspace partially or completely. However, the Board concludes that this rarely happens. Even when the conflict between Iran and the United States escalated rapidly in January 2020, Iran’s airspace remained open. To improve this situation, the Board recommends developing international criteria for when a country should restrict its airspace.

Better risk assessments

In addition to the country of conflict, the airlines have an important responsibility of their own. When tensions rose in Iran in January 2020, this did not prompt airlines to avoid the country’s airspace and aircraft continued to fly over this high-risk area. The airlines did not refrain from flying over Iran because they concluded that the risk of being hit by a surface-to-air missile was unlikely, even while the consequences could have been catastrophic. Nor did any countries advise their own airlines to avoid flying over Iran. The Board recommends that all possible scenarios with catastrophic consequences should be given more weight in the risk assessments of both airlines and governments. In addition, when a conflict rapidly escalates, countries are still taking too long to collect and share new information, carry out a risk assessment and publish an advice. The Board recommends accelerating this process at the European level.

Advising and regulating the Dutch airlines

The provision of information to the Dutch airlines by the Dutch government has improved significantly in the years since the MH17 crash, but the Dutch government still only provides information, and does not issue an advice or a flight ban. Moreover, there is currently no legal basis for the minister to impose a flight prohibition over a certain area. However, other countries do have a legal basis. The Board advises the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Minster of Justice and Security to consider the possibility of imposing a flight prohibition in the law.

Flight Safety Foundation, partners target runway excursion prevention

In a bid to reduce runway excursions, the Flight Safety Foundation and Eurocontrol have released the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Runway Excursions (GAPPRE).

Runway excursions are the most frequent type of accident in aviation and regularly are identified as one of the most serious risks for large and small aircraft. Because of the complexity of the risk factors, preventing runway excursions requires coordination and commitment among numerous

The action plan, which contains recommendations for operators, airports, air navigation service providers, aircraft manufacturers and regulators, was developed by an international team of more than 100 aviation professionals from more than 40 organizations.

The initiative was coordinated by Flight Safety Foundation and EUROCONTROL, and the GAPPRE recommendations have been validated by the Airports Council International (ACI), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

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EASA publishes Annual Safety Review 2020

As an overview of the safety situation in aviation in Europe, EASA published the 2020 edition of its Annual Safety Review (ASR).

The ASR identifies the most important safety challenges faced in European aviation today and supports the decision making for the next edition of the European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS) to further improve aviation safety and environmental protection throughout Europe.


Study: pilots have difficulty detecting drones on final appraoach

Researchers from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Oklahoma State University have conducted a study on the ability of pilots to visually detect small unmanned aircraft on final approach.

In 2018, the FAA received 2,307 reports of pilots having observed unmanned aircraft (UAS), with 22.8% (n = 526) occurring during the final approach phase of flight.  Pilots are forced to rely on visual senses and scanning techniques to ensure the approach path remains clear of UAS incursions. The research evaluated the effectiveness of pilot visual detection of a multirotor UAS during five approach to landing scenarios in which an unmanned aircraft created an incursion into the approach path. During the scripted approach scenarios, the UAS either remained stationary or maneuvered laterally.  Both aircraft and UAS were separated by established vertical safety margins and protocols to avoid an actual collision.
Overall, participants detected the UAS during 30% of the approaches. The static UAS was only detected during 13.6% of the approaches, at a mean range of 647 ft (197 m). The detection rate improved to 50% when the drone was in motion, with a mean detection range of 1,593 ft (485 m).
Vector data was calculated to determine the detection angle of UAS sightings, with the majority of successful detections occurring within 5˚ laterally and 10˚ vertically of center.
The study emphasized that based on the recorded detection distance, pilots would only have a limited margin of error to successfully execute evasive maneuvers, based on the FAA’s Recommended Minimum Reaction Time Required for Evasion criteria.

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FAA and NASA conduct crash test on a Fokker F-28

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) performed a crashworthiness test on a Fokker F-28 aircraft at the Landing and Impact Research Facility at NASA’s Langley Research Facility in Hampton, VA on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

The Fokker F-28 is a regional jet that is used on short to medium-haul flights to transport passengers from hubs to regional airports. A crashworthiness test was conducted to advance safety research on the structural performance of this style, design and materials for this size of aircraft.

NASA conducted a swing test and simulation of a narrow-body transport fuselage section of the Fokker F-28. The test simulated an aircraft crash onto a dirt surface. Data from the test are used by the FAA to develop guidance on how to determine crashworthiness of various aircraft. The data also help researchers ascertain how portions of the cabin interior and occupants of the aircraft react in a crash. Twenty-four test dummies ranging from small children to adults, one weighing approximately 273 pounds were used in this aircraft test.

Test results will also support the development of a new performance-based rule that will simplify the certification process by eliminating or minimizing the use of special conditions to certify aircraft.

The aircraft used in the test was a Fokker F-28 Fellowship 1000 that first flew in 1972. The last operator was Canadian Regional Airlines (C-GCRN), which owned the aircraft from 1998 to 2001.


BEA France reports on methods used to locate debris following A380 engine failure over Greenland

BEA France released a technical report, detailing their search efforts to locate parts engine parts relating to an uncontained engine failure on an Airbus A380 over Greenland in September 2017.

The Airbus A380-800, operated by Air France, was performing a flight from Paris (France) to Los Angeles (United States of America). Following a failure on the N° 4 engine while the plane was climbing to FL370, the flight crew diverted to Goose Bay Airport (Canada). The accident occurred over Greenland, but the Danish Accident Investigation Board delegated the safety investigation to the BEA.

Initially, some large engine parts were located and recovered from the snow. Quite early in the investigation, it was established that the recovery of the missing parts, especially of the fan hub fragments, was the key to supporting the investigation of the cause of the engine failure.

Search and recovery operations of the fallen parts were very challenging. The area is remote and weather conditions are extreme most of the year. Soon after the first parts were visually spotted and recovered, snowfalls prevented further helicopter flights to the site again. Snow finally covered all the parts that were still lying on the ground, preventing any new visual detection.

After a capabilities prospection phase, BEA decided to setup two consecutive operations:
– an aerial campaign, consisting in the use of synthetic aperture radars operated from an airplane, to try to detect and locate the missing parts on the ice sheet under the snow layer;
– a ground campaign, consisting in recovering the parts previously located during the aerial campaign, or in performing a systematic search with help of ground penetrating radars in case the aerial phase was unsuccessful.

The technical report details all the work carried out on these search operations. Despite the amount of work and efforts deployed, the fan hub fragments were not reliably detected at the end of June 2018. A new search operation will be launched in 2019.


ATSB issues report on Australian aviation wildlife strike occurrences 2008-2017

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued a report on Australian aviation wildlife strike occurrences 2008-2017. 

The ATSB states that, between 2008 and 2017, there were 16,626 confirmed birdstrikes reported to the bureau. The number of reported birdstrikes increased in recent years, with 2017 having the highest on record with 1,921. Despite being a high-frequency occurrence, birdstrikes rarely result in aircraft damage or injuries. Of the 16,626 birdstrikes in this reporting period, 99.8 percent were classified as incidents, while 19 (~0.1 percent) were classified as accidents and another five (~0.03 percent) as serious incidents. Nine birdstrikes, or approximately 0.05 percent of the birdstrikes in the ten years, resulted in minor injuries to pilots or passengers. There were no reported serious injuries or fatalities associated with a birdstrike occurrence in the ten-year period.

Domestic high capacity aircraft were those most often involved in birdstrikes, and the birdstrike rate per aircraft movement for these aircraft was significantly higher than all other categories. Both the number and rate of birdstrikes per 10,000 movements in high capacity operations have increased in the past two years 2016 – 2017. In contrast, the number of birdstrikes in low capacity operations and general aviation has remained relatively consistent in the most recent two years.

The number of birdstrikes involving a bird ingested into an engine in high capacity air transport operations has risen in recent years with about one in ten birdstrikes for turbofan aircraft involving a bird ingested into an engine. Additionally, over the ten-year reporting period, there have been 11 occurrences involving one or more birds ingested into two engines of turbofan-powered aircraft.

The five most commonly struck flying animals in the 2016 to 2017 period were flying foxes, galahs, magpies, and ‘bats’ (many of which were likely to be flying foxes) and plovers.

Compared to birdstrikes, non-flying animal strikes are relatively rare, with 396 animal strikes reported to the ATSB between 2008 and 2017. The most common animals involved were hares, rabbits, kangaroos, wallabies, and foxes. Damaging animal strikes mostly involved kangaroos and wallabies

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Dutch Safety Board: better handling of overflying conflict zones by airline industry since MH17

Worldwide, airlines are handling the risks associated with overflying conflict zones more deliberately, according to a report published by the Dutch Safety Board. The Board investigated the level of implementation of their recommendations on the MH17 crash investigation.

Since the crash of MH17, the issue has been incorporated into the international Standards and Recommended Practices, manuals and management systems of aviation organisations, including ICAO and IATA, the Safety Board states. Manuals have been published that devote specific attention to overflying conflict zones. In addition, more and more accurate information on conflict zones is now available for States and airlines to incorporate into their risk assessment operations.

Aviation safety
The investigation shows that a range of measures has been implemented. However, the effect on flight safety is difficult to measure. States and airlines around the world are aware of the issue at stake and devote more attention to it. Stakeholders no longer assume that open airspace over a conflict zone actually guarantees safe passage. Airlines are taking a more structured approach to analysing the risks and uncertainties, scaling up to a higher risk level at an earlier stage. Some airlines state that they now decide more quickly to refrain from overflying specific areas if no clear information relating to such areas is available.

Information on conflict zones
Progress has also been made on sharing threat-related information. For instance, the European Commission now organises meetings with representatives of EU member states and relevant EU bodies to analyse, on the basis of consolidated information from the intelligence services, the risk levels for overflying specific areas. Areas classified as ‘high-risk zones’ during the meeting are listed in a ‘Conflict Zone Information Bulletin’ that is published by EASA and made available to airlines and passengers worldwide. ‘Rapid Alerts’ can be deployed to instantly share information about suddenly escalating situations. This is how the EU member states collaborate to provide more adequate insight into the risks on a global scale.

In the Netherlands, a special agreement has been established that ensures the exchange of threat information between the Dutch government and Dutch airlines. There are meetings to discuss non-public threat information. These activities have resulted in a network, which ensures that information can be exchanged quickly in urgent cases, too. Moreover, Dutch airlines can turn to a dedicated information desk established by the Dutch intelligence services if they have specific questions.

Risk assessment
Airlines around the world have stated that they have become more aware of the risks of overflying conflict zones since the crash of flight MH17. Many airlines now make a more active effort to gather accurate information and are more willing to share it with other airlines. There are States, such as the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany, that provide information and/or advice to national airlines, or even impose a ban on overflying specific conflict zones. That information is published to make it accessible to other airlines as well. In combination with the EASA bulletins and any information provided by (commercial) agencies, airlines now have access to more and generally more accurate information for their risk assessment operations.

Areas of concern
The follow-up investigation shows that important steps have been taken in recent years to control the risks associated with flying over conflict zones more effectively. It is essential for changes already implemented to be consolidated and for stakeholders to carry through with the subsequent steps they have announced. However, there are still issues that need to be addressed by nations and airlines. The investigators found that very few changes relating to airspace management by nations dealing with armed conflict within their territories have been made. Also, airlines require more detailed and complex information to perform adequate risk assessments. Information on suddenly escalating and/or new conflicts is another area of continued concern. In this context, the willingness and trust to actively inform other parties about (potential) threats are vital, something that does not come naturally in every region of the world.

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Study: Analysis of wake turbulence occurrences at Sydney Airport

The ATSB advises flight crews of the increased likelihood of encountering wake turbulence when on approach to Sydney Airport.

An ATSB analysis has concluded there is a disproportionate rate of pilot reported wake turbulence occurrences for aircraft arriving at Sydney Airport compared to other major Australian airports.

Sydney Airport is the only major Australian airport currently with parallel runways. The distance between these runways is such that they are treated as individual runways and do not require the application of the wake turbulence separation standard by air traffic control for aircraft operating to a single runway. None of the wake turbulence occurrences involved a breach of the separation standard.

More than half of the wake turbulence occurrences during arrival at Sydney Airport were associated with one or more of three factors: high arrival densities across the parallel runway; wind blowing across the parallel runways from the longer to the shorter runway, especially when a heavy or super heavy aircraft was arriving on longer runway; and arrivals following an Airbus A380. The ATSB advises flight crews of the increased likelihood of encountering wake turbulence when on approach to Sydney Airport, particularly in peak periods, when operating on Runway 34 Right with the wind coming from the west or north-west, and/or when following an Airbus A380.

The ATSB has issued a Safety Recommendation to Airservices Australia to introduce measures to reduce the frequency of wake turbulence occurrence at the airport.

Sydney Airport runway 34L and 34R

ATSB released its annual statistical review of Australian aviation safety occurrences over 2017

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released its annual statistical review of Australian aviation safety occurrences over 2017.

In 2017, nearly 200 aircraft were involved in accidents in Australia, with 203 involved in a serious incident (an incident with a high probability of an accident). There were 40 fatalities in the aviation sector in 2017, which was a significant increase from the 21 fatalities in 2016. There were no fatalities in either high or low capacity regular public transport (RPT) operations, which has been the case since 1975 and 2010 respectively.

Almost half of all fatalities that occurred in commercial air transport operations during the study period occurred in 2017. During 2017, there were 14 fatalities from 21 accidents in commercial air transport operations, 21 fatalities from 93 accidents in general aviation operations, and five fatalities from 53 accidents in recreational aviation operations.

Terrain collisions were the most common accidents or serious incidents for aircraft involved in general aviation, recreational aviation and remotely piloted aircraft in 2017. Aircraft control, followed by terrain collisions, were the most common occurrence type associated with an accident or serious incident for aircraft involved in air transport operations.

Wildlife strikes, including birdstrikes, were again the most common type of incident involving both commercial air transport and general aviation operations.

The accident and fatal accident rates for general and recreational aviation reflect their higher‑risk operational activity when compared to commercial air transport operations. They also reflect the significant growth in recreational aviation activity over the last ten years and this sector’s increased reporting culture. The total accident rate, per hours flown, indicates general aviation operations are nine times more likely to have an accident than commercial air transport operations, with recreational operations around twice as likely to experience an accident than general aviation operations.

The fatal accident rate, per hours flown, indicates general aviation operations are around fifteen times more likely to experience a fatal accident than commercial air transport operations, and recreational operations are almost 30 times more likely to experience a fatal accident than commercial air transport operations.

Since 2016, the increased availability and use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) saw them match helicopters as the second highest aircraft type for reported accidents. However, there were no collisions with other aircraft, fatalities or serious injuries relating to RPA reported to the ATSB. While the consequences of an accident involving an RPA have been low to date, their increased use, and possible interactions with traditional aviation, is an emerging trend in transport safety that will continue to be monitored closely by the ATSB.

Australian Air Transport accidents and (serious) incidents 2008-2017

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