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Jet buffeted by winds before overshooting Halifax runway: investigator

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  • HALIFAX — The Boeing 747 cargo jet that overshot a Halifax runway this week had touched down in rainy conditions while being buffeted by a crosswind with a potential tailwind, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Thursday.

    The four crew members suffered minor injuries and the empty SkyLease Cargo plane was badly damaged on Wednesday when it slid 210 metres off the end of Runway 14 at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

    As it skidded down a slight, grassy embankment, the plane hit a large localizer antenna, its landing gear collapsed, two of its four engines were torn off and there was a small fire under the tail section — caused by one of the severed engines.

    “I believe it was the pilot’s request (to use) that runway, but that’s preliminary,” lead investigator Austin Adams told a media briefing at a hotel near the airport.

    He said weather data recorded seven minutes before the aircraft landed showed the wind was gusting at 33 kilometres per hour from the west at 250 degrees.

    The aircraft, headed in a southeasterly direction, was hit by a strong crosswind, which included the potential for a “quarterly tailwind,” Adams said.

    “Ideally an airplane wants to land into the wind,” he said, but added that landing decisions are also based on the aircraft and the runway’s navigational aids.

    Aviation analyst and former safety board investigator Larry Vance has said it appears the plane landed with a tailwind — something he called an “immediate red flag.”

    Airplanes typically take off and land into the wind, which offers pilots more lift and, as a result, more control.

    However, all aircraft are designed to land with a crosswind or tailwind, though each aircraft has its limits, said TSB investigator Isabelle Langevin. She said the board will be looking into the limits for the Boeing 747-400.

    When asked why a pilot would choose to land on a wet runway while dealing with a tailwind, Adams said it all comes down to what was decided in the cockpit.

    “I don’t want to speculate or state anything,” he said. “I want to engage the crew and speak with them about their decision-making process.”

    Flight KKE 4854, which had arrived from Chicago just after 5 a.m. after a two-and-a-half hour flight, was to be loaded with live lobster destined for China.

    The safety board, which is an independent agency, says there has been an average of nine overrun incidents every year in Canada since 2013.

    “The consequences can be particularly serious when there is no adequate runway-end safety area or suitable arresting material,” the board said in a statement.

    A runway-end safety area is a buffer strip that extends past the end of a runway. It gives planes extra stopping distance and can reduce damage and risk to passengers in the event of an overrun.

    Transport Canada requires an extra 60 metres of prepared surface at the end of most runways, though it recommends an additional 90 metres for a total margin of 150 metres. The International Civil Aviation Organization recommends a 300-metre buffer strip.  

    Langevin said Runway 14 in Halifax has an extra 140 metres, falling 10 metres short of the recommended guidelines — though the cargo jet slid 210 metres off the end of the runway.

    In the days ahead, Adams said his team will interview the crew and analyze the data from the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder. They also plan to talk to witnesses, air traffic controllers and airport personnel.

    As well, the investigation will review radar data, weather conditions, aircraft systems, maintenance records, pilot training and operational procedures.

    If the investigation uncovers any safety deficiencies that present an immediate risk, that information will be immediately relayed to the public and safety officials.

    The investigative team includes about 15 people, including a “human factors specialist” who will examine the decision-making process of those involved in the accident, Adams said.

    The specialist will probe human performance, he said, including assessing whether fatigue was a factor on the overnight flight.

    The 183,500 kilogram jumbo jet attracted dozens of onlookers Thursday, with cars parked along the Old Guysborough Road on the airport’s eastern edge.

    Children and adults appeared equally gobsmacked by the massive plane, resting just feet from a barbed-wire fence that separates the airport from a public, two-lane road.

    Some sightseers snapped selfies, while others sipped coffee from their car or strolled along the chain-link perimeter.

    It’s unclear how long the aircraft will remain a tourist attraction, with investigators saying they will keep inspecting the jet as long as necessary.

    “It’s always complex because you don’t know what you will uncover,” Langevin said. “As we gather data and we start analyzing it, it may lead us in a different direction. Nothing is ever straightforward.”

    The runway will remain closed while the investigation is ongoing.

    Michael MacDonald and Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press





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    National

    Air force getting more planes but won’t have pilots, auditor warns

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  • OTTAWA — Auditor general Michael Ferguson fired a bullet at the Trudeau government’s plan to buy second-hand Australian fighter jets on Tuesday, revealing the air force doesn’t have enough people to fly the planes it already has.

    Ferguson said military commanders first alerted the government to the personnel shortage in 2016, when the Liberals were planning to spend billions of dollars on 18 new Super Hornet jets to supplement Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet.

    But the government brushed aside those concerns and pressed ahead with the purchase while providing only minimal increases to training and other measures to make sure the Canadian Forces had the pilots and technicians to use the new planes, Ferguson said.

    The Liberals eventually scuttled the Super Hornet plan due to a trade dispute between Super Hornet-maker Boeing and Montreal rival Bombardier, and are now planning to buy 25 used Australian jets for $500 million.

    But the auditor general’s report said the military’s firm assessment – and his own – is that the result will be the same: planes we can’t use.

    “The (Defence) Department stated that it needed more qualified technicians and pilots, not more fighter aircraft,” the report reads: “In our opinion … without more technicians and pilots, the effect on fighter-force operations will be small.”

    Ferguson, whose previous report on fighter jets in 2012 helped blow up the Harper government’s plan to buy a fleet of F-35 jets without a competition, backed up his most recent assessment with some stark numbers.

    For example, in the last fiscal year, 28 per cent of fighter pilots flew fewer than the minimum number of hours needed to keep their skills and 22 per cent of technician positions in CF-18 squadrons were empty or filled by inexperienced staff.

    And between April 2016 and March 2018, the air force lost 40 trained fighter pilots and produced only 30 new ones. Since then, another 17 have left or said that they planned to leave.

    The auditor general’s findings are likely to add fuel to the fire that has been smoldering around the Liberals when it comes to fighter jets, with opposition parties and defence analysts criticizing how the government has handled the file.

    Many have been calling for years for the Liberals to launch an immediate competition to replace Canada’s CF-18s, which are already 35 years old, but the government has insisted on taking its time.

    The government is expected to formally launch a $19-billion competition for 88 new fighter jets next spring, but a winner won’t be picked until 2021 or 2022. The first new fighter jet won’t arrive until 2025.

    In the meantime, despite plans to spend upwards of $3 billion over the next decade to keep them in the air, Ferguson warned the CF-18s and used Australian fighter jets will become increasingly obsolete.

    The $3 billion does not include any actual upgrades to the planes’ combat systems, which have not had significant overhauls since 2008.

    “Without combat upgrades, the CF-18 will be less effective against adversaries in domestic and international operations,” the auditor general’s report reads.

    “Flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations.”

    Unlike in his previous report, in which he raked defence officials over the coals for misleading parliamentarians and ministers about the F-35, Ferguson said most of the current problems are out of the military’s hands.

    That includes the government’s controversial decision in September 2016 to increase the number of aircraft the air force needs to keep ready for missions.

    “It was a significant change as it came at a time when the Royal Canadian Air Force was already facing low personnel levels, was managing an aging fleet and had not yet identified a replacement fleet,” the auditor general’s report reads.

    “The change reduced operational flexibility and would require National Defence to increase the number of available aircraft by 23 per cent.”

    The Liberals have defended the move as necessary to ensure Canada meets its domestic and international obligations, but critics have said it just provided policy cover for the planned purchase of Super Hornets without a competition.

    Ferguson’s report did not delve into the justification for the policy change nor did it review the competition to replace the CF-18s.

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    Canada’s embassies and diplomats unprotected despite warnings, auditor reports

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  • OTTAWA — Canada is not properly protecting diplomats and staff who face security threats at Canadian missions abroad, including many in locations at high risk of terrorist attacks, violence and espionage.

    Federal auditor general Michael Ferguson’s report on security at Global Affairs Canada’s embassies and consulates found “significant” failings in many places that need immediate attention.

    Physical security, such as barriers, video surveillance, alarms and X-ray machines were missing or not working properly.

    Assessments of threats and vulnerabilities at many of Canada’s missions were also woefully out of date and, for a few, missing entirely.

    Construction projects to upgrade security in most of Canada’s missions were at least three years behind, mainly because of poor oversight.

    The AG found many of these problems had been flagged years ago, but recommended steps to address these deficiencies were not in place.

    The Canadian Press


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