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NTSB says airlines should weigh passengers

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  • 2/27 Associated Press
    Published Friday, February 27, 2004, by the Associated Press NTSB makes weighty proposition Safety board suggests carriers put passengers, luggage on scale By
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2004
      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
      Associated Press

      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
      concluded.

      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,
      investigators said.

      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
      the findings.

      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,"
      Brophy said.

      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
      March.

      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
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