DAVE HIGDON'S INSIDE TALK ON AVIATION

DAVE HIGDON'S INSIDE TALK ON AVIATION

WHERE WAS THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION when Continental Airlines painted over the leading edges of its DC-9-10s?

That question arose out of the National Transportation Safety Board inquiry into the November crash of one of the Continental jets at Denver. Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas recommends no paint on the leading edges of DC- 9-10s, the earliest version, and in fact never painted them. According to a board official, any paint should be no more than two one-thousandths of an inch thick and sanded so the edge of the paint merges smoothly with the metal.But the Continental jet involved in the fatal crash apparently carried a burr of paint ranging between eight and 10 one-thousandths of an inch. Such burrs increase the aircraft's stall speed by 2.5 knots. If water were clinging to the edge and froze, as some investigators suspect happened, the increase in stall speed would have climbed perhaps to 10 knots. Continental's flight manuals contain no notation of the speed differences.

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ANY ICE SHOULD PRECLUDE FLIGHT, McDonnell Douglas said at the hearing.

And McDonnell Douglas also recommends that DC-9-10 operators impress on their pilots that the aircraft should never be flown with any visible ice. Survivors testifying at the hearing said they saw ice on the wing. Apparently, the de-icing mixture used at Denver Stapleton that snowy November day didn't meet other manufacturer recommendations. With the mix used, an expert said, de-icing would only be good for five to six minutes. The ill-fated jet spent 27 minutes between de-icing and starting its take-off roll.

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WHO POLICES FAA ADHERENCE to its own regulations?

That question also arose out of the Continental crash inquiry. Knowledgeable sources and on-the-record testimony revealed that the FAA examiner who gave the captain his qualifying check flight in a DC-9 simulator approved the captain without making him perform required stall maneuvers. The maneuvers included full stalls, approach to stalls, stall recovery, and other slow-flight maneuvers. But because the examiner was training a new examiner, the process was marred by distractions. So when the captain asked if the examiner planned to waive the stall series, the examiner agreed and signed the captain off as qualified. But according to the FAA's own regulations, the maneuvers are required, non-waivable items. The captain apparently earned his DC-9 rating as a result of the FAA examiner breaking the agency's own rules, said the investigator.

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ALASKAN AIR CARGO CARRIERS and commuter operations will be examined in detail next month.

The National Transportation Safety Board plans to broaden the scope of field hearings initially slated to investigate a pair of small carrier crashes in the 49th state late last year. The state accounts for a disproportionate share of accidents. An official said the board wants to look into the situation to see if any ways exist to improve the safety of Alaskan flight.