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Significant Regulatory & Related Activity

Sun, Nov 21, 2010 — David Evans

Regulatory & Other Items

From the obvious to the belated to the inexplicably absent, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to demonstrate a surprising capacity for bureaucratic ineptitude. On 8 October the FAA issued a non-mandatory letter regarding the transport of shipments of lithium batteries, which have caused more than one fire on aircraft. An outright ban of such shipments by air seems more prudent.

Then on 3 November operators were informed of a dangerous condition regarding emergency oxygen equipment and given 2 years to conduct inspections. A time of 2 months for the inspections seems more appropriate.

On 19 November, the FAA issued its proposed rules for a new pilot’s license, which includes a photograph of the bearer but not a biometric identifier on the plastic-covered card. Congress called for an ID with a photo and a biometric identifier. The regulation as proposed, declared Rep. John Mica of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is “embarrassingly inadequate.”

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8 October 2010                     Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) No. 10017

Risks in Transporting Lithium Batteries in Cargo by Aircraft

According to the SAFO, shipments of lithium batteries “do not require a Notice to the Pilot in Command (NOTOC) to alert the crew of their presence on-board an aircraft.”

Closely packed shipments of lithium batteries pose a fire hazard.

Closely packed shipments of lithium batteries pose a fire hazard.

The situation seems unconscionable, as a shipment of hundreds of lithium batteries poses a grave risk of an uncontrolled in-flight fire. A lithium battery conflagration is immune to suppression by Halon.

The SAFO describes the hazard:

“The explosive potential of lithium metal cells can easily damage (and potentially perforate) cargo liners, or activate the pressure relief panels in a cargo compartment. Any of these circumstances can … [allow] rapid fire spread within a cargo compartment to other flammable materials. For this reason, lithium metal cells are currently prohibited as bulk cargo shipments on passenger carrying aircraft.”

2006: a UPS DC-8F is destroyed by a fire started by a lithium battery

2006: a UPS DC-8F is destroyed by a fire started by a lithium battery

The FAA is considering “additional appropriate [regulatory] actions to address these safety risks”, but in the meantime, operators carrying shipments on cargo aircraft should take the following recommended action:

1. Request customers identify shipments of lithium batteries on documents.

2. Stow the shipments in belly holds with fire suppression. (Despite the ineffectiveness of Halon 1301, we note.)

3. Evaluate training, stowage and communications protocols in the event of an unrelated fire.

4. Pay special attention to shipment handling.

The SAFO adds:

“We note … that United Parcel Service Flight 006 crashed in the United Arab Emirates on September 3, 2010. Investigation of that crash is still underway, and the cause of the crash has not been determined. We are aware, however, that the plane’s cargo did include large quantities of lithium batteries and believe it prudent to advise operators of that fact.”

One would think a prohibition of such shipments would be more appropriate, given the hazard posed by an 1,100º F conflagration that is close to the melting point of aluminum: 1,220º F.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has called for a prohibition on lithium battery shipments until rules — not SAFO recommendations – are in place designating the batteries as hazardous cargo. (See Aviation Safety Journal, August 2009, “Pilots Union Seeks Ban on Lithium Battery Shipments”)

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3 November 2010                         FAA

FR Doc 2010-27745                       Docket No. FAA-2010-1042

Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), Boeing 737-700, -800 and -900 airplanes, plus B747-400F and 767-200 and -300 airplanes

Requires, within 2 years, an inspection of the crew oxygen mask metal storage box, and replacement of same if a burr in the inlet fitting is discovered. The unsafe condition is described thusly:

“This AD [airworthiness directive] results from reports indicating that certain crew oxygen mask stowage box units were possibly delivered with a burr in the inlet fitting. The FAA is issuing this AD to prevent an ignition source, which could result in an oxygen-fed fire, or could cause an inlet valve to jam in an oxygen stowage box unit, which could result in restricted flow of oxygen.”

One presumes that both cases could result simultaneously: a raging oxygen-stoked inferno in the cockpit and a mask with restricted airflow.

It appears that Boeing’s quality assurance protocols could stand review; as many as 40 newly manufactured airplanes could be affected.

Comments due by 20 December 2010.

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19 November 2010                        FAA

FR Doc 2010-29192                        Docket No. FAA-2010-1127

NPRM, Requirements for Pilot Certificates

The FAA proposes to create a wallet-size pilot license that features a photograph of the bearer. The only photograph on the existing license is of the Wright Brothers. The 18-page NPRM comes 9 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and 20 years after the FAA attempted to “correct deficiencies in the FAA’s aircraft registration and pilot certification systems …”

The present pilot's license: no photo of the licensee; not biometric identifier

The FAA would begin to issue a pilot license that contains a photograph of the bearer when the rule becomes effective. The FAA claims that this action is in response to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004. This law requires not only a photo of the bearer, but also a biometric identifier and be resistant to tampering or counterfeiting.

Pilots with existing licenses would have 3-5 years to upgrade their wallet licenses, depending on the type of certificate. Pilots with an airline transport rating would have three years to comply. Private pilots would have 5 years to comply with the new requirement. Annual cost of the effort is estimated at $19 million. The FAA anticipates processing 4.4 million photo IDs from 2010-2029. Assuming all pilots have the upgraded licenses by 2029, the elapsed time would be 25 years from passage of IRTPA and 28 years from 9/11.

According to the NPRM:

“This proposal responds to IRTPA by requiring a digital photo on all pilot certificates. Congress has mandated that the FAA improve pilot licenses by including a photo on the license. The proposal requiring owners to personally appear before authorized persons and to produce proof of identity including photo identification would be a significant help in the prevention of fraudulent and fictitious registration.”

Comments on the proposal are due 17 February 2011.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has already received mail on this NPRM. The day the NPRM appeared in the Federal Register, 19 November, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sent an alarmed letter which said, in part:

Mica's mad

Mica's mad

“I was astounded to hear details of the FAA’s proposed rule regarding improved pilot licenses. Six years after the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was enacted, the FAA has still failed to implement the improved pilot license mandates as intended by Congress. I wrote the provision included in that law, which required the FAA to issue improved pilot licenses that are tamper-proof, contain a photo, and are biometrically enabled. Over the years, I have made repeated inquiries about FAA efforts to implement the biometric mandate …

“Biometrically-enabled pilot licenses will allow for identification verification, improve security, and result in greater screening efficiencies. As you know, biometric technologies are currently employed for access control at the most sensitive and secure government facilities. The rule the FAA has proposed this week is embarrassingly inadequate. That the FAA continues to ignore the benefits of biometric technologies and fails to pursue timely implementation of the biometric mandate is completely unacceptable ….

“By failing to require the new pilot licenses to be biometrically enabled, FAA is again ignoring a clear mandate to improve security. Your attention to this matter is appreciated.”

In a press release, Mica added, “After years of delay, FAA is finally crawling towards compliance with the photograph requirement, but they inexplicably continue to ignore the Congressional directive to also include biometrics.”

This is the second time in two months that Mica has written angrily about the pilot license impasse. On 19 October he wrote Babbitt and Janet Napolitano, head of the Homeland Security Department, describing the faltering attempt to produce an effective, tamper proof license for tens of thousands of airline pilots as a situation “that looks like a Three Stooges episode.” (See Aviation Safety Journal, October 2010, “Pilot License Fiasco”)


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