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May 18, 2009

Do not read this post if you're taking a commuter plane anytime soon



Because if you do you'll have that same depressed feeling you get after reading an article about commercial chicken farms, in that case determining to never again eat chicken in any way, shape or form.

Until the memory fades and there you are again with your nuggets.

Fair warning.

A May 16, 2009 New York Times story which appeared on yesterday's dead tree version front page strips away the illusion and makes you understand why the laws on interns working without sleep were passed.

Caveat lector.


Pilots' Lives Defy Glamorous Stereotype

Alex Lapointe, a 25-year-old co-pilot for a regional airline, says he routinely lifts off knowing he has gotten less sleep than he needs. And once or twice a week, he says, he sees the captain next to him struggling to stay alert.

Neil A. Weston, also 25, went $100,000 into debt to train for a co-pilot’s job that pays him $25,000 annually. He carries sandwiches in a cooler from his home in Dubuque, Iowa, bought his first uniform for $400, and holds out hope of tripling his salary by moving into the captain’s seat, then up to a major carrier. Assuming, that is, the majors start hiring again.

Capt. Paul Nietz, 58, who recently retired from a regional airline, said his schedule wore him down and cost him three marriages. His workweek typically began with a 2:30 a.m. wake-up in northern Michigan and a 6 a.m. flight to his Chicago home bases. There, he would wait for his first assignment, a noon departure.

By the time he parked his aircraft at the last gate of the night, he was exhausted. But he would be due back at work eight hours and 15 minutes later. “At the very most, if you’re the kind of person that could walk into a hotel room, strip and lay down, you might get four and a half hours of sleep,” he said. “And I was very senior. I was one of the fortunate guys.”

The National Transportation Safety Board's inquiry into the Feb. 12 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 outside Buffalo [top] has highlighted the operations of the nation’s regional airlines, a sector of the aviation industry that has grown to account for half the country’s airline flights and a quarter of its passengers.

The details of that world have surprised many Americans — the strikingly low pay for new pilots; the rigors of flying multiple flights, at lower altitudes and thus often in worse weather than pilots on longer routes, while scrambling to get enough sleep; the relative inexperience of pilots at the smaller airlines, whose training standards are the same, but whose skills may not be.

In hearings last week in Washington, witnesses and safety officials raised questions of whether the crew of the plane that crashed, killing all 49 people on board and one on the ground, had been adequately vetted and whether they might have been hampered by, among other factors, fatigue.

But regardless of whether training, fatigue or the cost-cutting that has hit the entire industry are ultimately determined to have contributed to the crash of Flight 3407, interviews with current and former regional pilots make vividly clear the daily challenges they face.

Peek inside a crew lounge at midnight in Chicago, and one could easily find every recliner occupied by an off-duty aviator trying to sleep despite the whine of a janitor’s vacuum cleaner.

In any city with a sizable air hub, a search of Craigslist for the term “crash pad” will turn up listings for rooms for rent, often for $200 a month or less, a short drive from an airport, where a dozen or more pilots, unable to afford hotels, may come and go, barely letting the mattresses cool.

But many regional pilots, paid entry-level wages that are sometimes no better than a job at McDonald’s, can not afford even a crash pad.

“I know a guy who bought a car that barely ran and parked it in the employee lot at his base airport, and slept in his car six or seven times a month,” said Frank R. Graham Jr., a former regional pilot and airline safety director who runs a safety consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C. Pilots for some regional airlines have been known to sleep in the aisles of their planes.

Like the two Flight 3407 pilots, who caught free rides on planes from Florida and Seattle to their flight from Newark to Buffalo, pilots at regional airlines routinely hopscotch across thousands of miles to get to work. Some live with their parents, as the plane’s first officer, Rebecca L. Shaw, did. Others, like Mr. Lapointe, live near former bases of operations that were shut down because an employer went out of business or a route was dropped.

Mr. Lapointe lives in Wakefield, Mass., 15 minutes from his old base in Boston. Since November, he has had to get himself to Kennedy International Airport in New York.

For Captain Nietz, a 27-year veteran, the biggest indignity was flying hungry. Delays were so routine that he seldom left his plane all day long, even “to grab a biscuit.” With food service long discontinued, he said, the only bites to be had were “the occasional peanut — and the airlines charge the crews for bags of peanuts and cheese and crackers.”

The renewed worries over commuter planes come as passenger airlines, regional and mainline, have achieved unprecedented levels of safety. Passenger deaths per million flights are down by more than two-thirds in the last 10 years. The 49 people on board the Buffalo flight were the first in 30 months to die during a scheduled flight on a passenger carrier.

But of the six scheduled passenger flights that have crashed since Sept. 11, 2001, only one has been from a major carrier. Four, including the one in Buffalo, were commuter flights; a total of 133 people died on those flights. (The fifth, a 50-year-old seaplane in Miami, was in neither category.)

And one of the worries about commuter pilots, fatigue, is also a problem for the mainline carriers; in fact, in some operations, the big airlines are more vulnerable. They are now conducting flights of 16 hours, across more time zones than a pilot can be expected to adapt to.

Senator Bryron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, who is chairman of the subcommittee on aviation, said Thursday that the group would hold a series of hearings next month. He said he was “stunned” by the Buffalo crew’s lack of sleep and relative inexperience.

“We need to understand, is this an aberration, or are standards sufficiently lax or insufficient, or insufficiently enforced that we need to be concerned about a much broader set of issues?” he said.

There is nothing wrong with commuting cross-country to fly, said Roger Cohen, the president of the Regional Airline Association, a trade group; after all, he pointed out, Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the US Airways pilot who ditched his crippled Airbus A320 in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, lives in Danville, Calif., and is based in Charlotte, N.C.

Mr. Cohen said he did not know what fraction of pilots commuted long distances to the city where they were, in airline parlance, “domiciled.”

“Anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, pick a number,” he said. But he said he did not think that number differed much between regional carriers and mainline carriers.

The Federal Aviation Administration, while it enforces one set of safety standards, says it does not know how the safety of the commuter airlines compares to the safety of the big carriers. It is working on that question because of the planned Senate hearings.

To the extent that Senator Dorgan’s hearings address pilot fatigue, they will not be the first such effort. In 1995, under pressure from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Air Line Pilots Association, the F.A.A. proposed shortening pilots’ workdays and redefining duty hours to include the time spent getting from plane to hotel and back.

But the airlines, which deny that pilot fatigue is a significant problem, opposed the changes, and the agency eventually backed off.

Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and aviation writer who spent years at a regional carrier, acknowledged that fatigue is a murky problem, with many causes and varying effects on different pilots, that is difficult to nail down as the main cause of an accident.

“But the fact that you can’t make this easy and direct link isn’t reason to ignore the problem,” he said. “Obviously it’s there.”

For Mr. Weston, the 25-year-old pilot from Dubuque, life in the regional air business is a little like being an extra in a movie. The planes he flies some days are labeled United Connection, others Delta Express. But his employer is an airline few people have ever heard of: Republic.

It is a quick hop by air but a six-hour drive from home to his base in Indianapolis, where he stays overnight with an aunt before starting his four-day workweek. His workdays run 12 hours, sometimes 16, far from home.

He said this really was a dream job for him and many of his fellow pilots, even though some have to hold down second jobs.

Asked if he flew for pleasure, he laughed.

“I can’t afford it,” he said.



You want more?

You're so horrified you can't help but ask for seconds?

You came to the right place.

For your entrée, how about today's Washington Post editorial, below?


The Scary Skies

Frightening revelations at hearings on crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407

Aviation experts say that airplane crashes are usually the result of a collection of failures. After three days of hearings last week into the crash of Buffalo-bound Continental Connection Flight 3407 on the snowy night of Feb. 12, we know that the frightening failures began long before the doomed turboprop plane took off from Newark, N.J. The details that emerged should make even the most experienced air traveler nervous.

Capt. Marvin Renslow, 47, listed just one of the three times he failed a critical pilot test when applying for a job with Colgan Air, the operator of the crashed airliner. He failed twice more after he was hired. First Officer Rebecca Shaw, 24, had gone 36 hours without proper rest (regulations require eight hours of rest before flying) by commuting from her home in Seattle on two flights. The hearings revealed that 78 of the 137 Newark-based pilots for Colgan had commutes ranging from more than 400 miles to more than 1,000 miles. Both Mr. Renslow and Ms. Shaw apparently violated company rules by sleeping in the crew lounge at the Newark airport. So low were their wages that they each had at one time held side jobs while working for the airline. Mr. Renslow ($55,000) stocked grocery shelves in a store near his Tampa home; Ms. Shaw ($16,200) worked in a coffee shop.

The problems in the cockpit were astounding. Cockpit voice recorders picked up Mr. Renslow and Ms. Shaw chitchatting about their lives and careers, in violation of federal regulations that prohibit nonessential conversation below 10,000 feet. They were on their final approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport in the middle of a snowstorm when Ms. Shaw said, "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. . . . I've never experienced any of that." They were oblivious to the ice buildup on the plane's wings and to the rapid decline in airspeed. Only the shaking of the pilot's yoke got Mr. Renslow's attention. But instead of allowing the plane to descend to pick up speed, he yanked the nose of the aircraft up. The plane crashed seconds later, killing all 49 on board and one person on the ground.

Regional air carriers are an essential part of American air travel. According to the Regional Airline Association, about half the scheduled flights in the United States are flown by them, and 74 percent of the nation's airports are served only by regional airlines. The association says that its members must meet the same safety standards for training, maintenance and flight operations that the Federal Aviation Administration sets for large commercial airlines. But as last week's hearings made horrifically clear, there's a gap between what is supposed to be and what is. Considering that the past five crashes of commercial passenger aircraft in this country have all been of regional carriers, we hope that the shocking testimony leads to increased vigilance that will close that gap.

May 18, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Re-cyclos Magical


Designed by Bodo Sperlein.

May 18, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How come some of yesterday's posts were all messed up, with crazy text placement and whatnot?


Long story short: Because something went south in TypePad's application Saturday afternoon, such that I spent about four hours trying to simply get two posts to look the way they normally do, without success as any fool can plainly see (above and below).


I've repeatedly tried to get in touch with someone at TypePad for the past two days but since Friday morning


there's been no status update and I guess everyone's on vacation or something.


May 18, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hermès Swisscard


Travel card, 1.97" x 3.15" x 0.16", contains paper knife, scissors, tweezers, pin, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, screwdriver with 4 heads, LED light and a ruler in a barenia leather case.

Stainless steel tools, plexiglass base.


Don't need the signature Hermès barenia leather case?

Then you're in luck 'cause you'll have enough left over for lunch.


May 18, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chanel N°5 — Directed by Jean-Pierre Jenet, starring Audrey Tautou and Travis Davenport

Such "films" are the new new thing for fashion houses.

Christian Dior's first, entitled "The Lady Noire Affair," starring Marion Cotillard, directed by Olivier Dahan and conceived by John Galliano, will premiere next week at the Cannes Film Festival, the first of four planned by Dior, all to be released over the next two years.

There's even a Twitter page for Dior's movie.


the trailer for the Dior film.

May 18, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

光る泥だんご (Hikaru dorodango) — Literally, 'shining mud balls'


A Japanese art form, now undergoing a revival.

Learn how to make your own here.

[via Milena]

May 18, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

WolframAlpha — 'Computational search engine'


What's new?

[via Marshall Minshew]

May 18, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Cockroach Flash Drive


From the website:


A functional 2GB thumb drive is cast into a cockroach made of urethane rubber (which, unlike organic rubber, will last indefinitely).

A green light strobes in the roach's translucent abdomen when the drive is engaged.

The legs and antennae are very flexible but have high tensile strength.

Includes protective cover for the USB connector.

Pre-formatted for both Mac and Windows.




[via 7 Gadgets]

May 18, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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