NTSB says airlines should weigh passengers
- Published Friday, February 27, 2004, by the Associated Press
NTSB makes weighty proposition
Safety board suggests carriers put passengers, luggage on scale
By Leslie Miller
WASHINGTON -- Airlines should at least periodically make passengers
step on a scale to make sure they have an accurate assessment of the
weight a plane will be carrying, federal investigators said Thursday.
The recommendation arose from the National Transportation Safety
Board's investigation of the crash of US Airways Express Flight 5481
last year at North Carolina's Charlotte-Douglas Airport. All 21
people aboard were killed in the crash, the deadliest in the United
States in nearly 2-1/2 years.
The twin-engine plane, operated by Air Midwest, was virtually
uncontrollable because of two fatal mistakes, the safety board
First, the airline's guidelines for estimating the weight of
passengers and baggage were inaccurate. The pilots, therefore, didn't
realize the plane's rear section was too heavy.
Second, mechanics had improperly rigged cables connected to the
elevator, the tail flap that controls the up-and-down direction of
the aircraft's nose. The errors meant the elevator's downward motion
was restricted to half its normal range, according to the NTSB.
Without a fully maneuverable elevator, the pilots couldn't force the
nose of the plane down to compensate for its heavy tail,
As a result, the plane pitched sharply upward just seconds after
takeoff for Greer, S.C., then fell out of the sky.
"The simultaneous existence of these two errors resulted in a
virtually uncontrollable airplane," NTSB chief investigator Lorenda
Ward said in a report presented to the NTSB, which voted to accept
Following the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered 15
airlines to weigh a certain percentage of passengers to determine if
the current guidelines were correct. Checked bags, for example, were
estimated to weigh 25 pounds, and adult passengers in winter were
calculated to weigh 185 pounds.
The survey showed what many suspected: passengers and their bags had
gotten heavier. The FAA issued temporary guidelines adding up to 10
pounds to its estimate for passengers and 5 pounds to luggage.
The NTSB said those guidelines don't go far enough. The board
recommended that the FAA identify situations where airlines should
actually weigh passengers and bags instead of using estimates.
It also recommended the FAA require airlines operating planes with 10
or more seats to weigh passengers from time to time to determine when
they might be heavier -- for example, people wear heavier coats and
carry presents in December.
Terry McVenes, executive air safety vice chairman for the Air Line
Pilots Association, said the challenge will be to come up with a
survey method that's acceptable to airlines.
"The idea of having people getting on scales before they get on
airlines won't make a lot of people happy," said McVenes, who
represents the largest pilots union.
Grant Brophy is an air safety investigator and director of flight
safety and security programs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
in Daytona Beach, Fla. He said airlines ought to adopt technologies
that weigh passengers unobtrusively. They could, for example, put
scales under pads that passengers stand on at ticket counters.
"They've just got to bite the bullet and recalculate this stuff,"
The FAA has been working on that. Since June, a committee has been
examining the average weights of passengers and baggage and how they
vary according to season or geography.
The committee is expected to make recommendations at the end of
NTSB investigators also found flaws in the way mechanics were trained
and supervised, the way their work was checked and the way Air
Midwest controlled the quality of its maintenance. Those problems led
to the improperly rigged elevator cables on the Charlotte flight.
"There were a lot of mistakes made here," said NTSB board member Mark
Rosenker. "I'll call it sloppy."
The NTSB recommended the FAA require improvements to training,
oversight and procedures for maintenance personnel. Among them:
requiring that work on key flight control systems, including elevator
cables, be checked upon completion.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency is already working on the
issues raised by the investigation.
On the Net:
National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov
Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov