I'm working a crazy schedule this month. Crazy awesome, that is. For the first time in my five plus years at the airline, I'm working three days followed by four days off. It's crazy having four days off in a row every week. It hasn't exactly been as much of a boost to my homework productivity but it has been a boost to my Netflix queue. Currently, I'm avoiding homework to write about something that happened on a flight last week.

"When something does happen that accellerates the pulse we usually have the ability to problem solve or otherwise mitigate said accelleration."

I've recently crossed the 5,000 hours logged threshold and I'm getting pretty comfortable in my "new" airplane that I transitioned to in 2013. I've got about 1,200 hours in the jet and there aren't a lot of things happening for the first time anymore. Rigamoral and boring is the ideal as a pilot. We strive to limit the exciting or abnormal happenings. When something does happen that accellerates the pulse we usually have the ability to problem solve or otherwise mitigate said accelleration.

Recently on our return flight to Chicago from El Paso, we were in search of a smooth ride at 31,000 feet. Our dispatcher had filed us down low in an effort to avoid the turbulent air above, however, we were bouncing along the cloud tops right at 31,000 feet. I try to reiterate to the passengers whenever we're in turbulence that it's nothing more than an annoying inconvenience, but we still try our best to avoid it. So up we went, 33,000, and eventually 35,000 feet. Even all the way up there we were still grazing the upper reaches of the clouds.

We had only been in flight for about 30 minutes by the time we made it up to 35,000 feet and the ride was finally starting to smooth out as we progressed towards Chicago. As you can imagine, the airspace up at these altitudes is usually pretty busy with airline and business jet traffic. Today was a little less busy as it was mid-day on Sunday, but we still had a decent amount of airplanes crossing our path. When another airplane crosses in front of us, air traffic control will alert us so we can be aware of them. They'll tell us which direction from us they are, which direction they're travelling, and their altitude and aircraft type. This helps us locate them, and ensure they're where they should be and that no collision threat exists.

"Traffic at your 2 to 3 O'clock, north-west bound, leveling a thousand feet below you, is a Phenom."

"Traffic at your 2 to 3 O'clock, north-west bound, leveling a thousand feet below you, is a Phenom." An Embraer Phenom is a very light jet that some private operators fly as well as some corporate and charter companies. This call from ATC was nothing out of the ordinary, we get these types of alerts from ATC probably a hundred times a day. We look outside for the airplane, make sure we're going to miss them, and then we resume reading the instruments (newspaper).

It's also not uncommon for a climbing aircraft to trigger a traffic alert from our anti-collision system called TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System). This alert sounds an aural caution "TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC!" to let the pilot know that an aircraft is approaching and could become a collision threat. At lower altitudes these alerts are very common and almost always never become a resolution advisory (actual collision threat exists). At higher altitude however, these alerts are almost non-existent. Not today.

As the aircraft approached their cleared altitude of 1,000 feet below us, we recieved the "TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC!" alert. Up at 35,000 feet this is acutally pretty rare because climb rates are usually reduced in reduced vertical seperation airspace (RVSM). This alert got our attention and started that accelleration we try to avoid. The TCAS system is designed to alert us of traffic visually, aurally, and if needed, also provide vertical escape guidance both aurally and visually. It's a tiered system that escalates the alerts as needed based on the threat of collision. The system had shown us this aircraft visually at first, as just another airplane near us. Next it will show you an airplane that has a potential for a collision by changing the color and symbol on our display and giving the first aural alert of "TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC!" Finally, when an actual collision threat exists the display changes again to a red symbol and the aural alerts now give commands on what manuever to begin in order to avoid the collision.

"As a testament to the limitations of the human body during times of stress, I never heard the first aural RA."

"CLIMB! CLIMB NOW!" was the resolution advisory we received. The display also modifies our vertical speed indicator to show what rate of climb or descent is required to vertically navigate away from the threat. This was actually a corrective resolution advisory as the first one told us to descend. As a testament to the limitations of the human body during times of stress, I never heard the first aural RA. I think it was "MONITOR VERTICAL SPEED" – even though the aircraft was in level flight, we were experiencing some light mountain wave turbulence which causes the aircraft to oscillate a few hundred feet. Our vertical speed indicator is an instananeous indicator and will sometimes show a climb or descent as much as 1,000 feet per minute for brief moments. This tricked the TCAS into thinking we were in a descent when the RA was triggered.

"The tricky thing here is getting the aircraft away from the threat expeditiously while simultaneously avoiding loading the wing too much and inducing a high altitude stall. Yay we missed them! Boo now we're falling with style!"

After initially commanding us to maintain a rate of descent to avoid the aircraft, the system calculated that our descent was no longer an option to avoid the aircraft and it then commanded us to climb. The tricky thing here is getting the aircraft away from the threat expeditiously while simultaneously avoiding loading the wing too much and inducing a high altitude stall. Yay we missed them! Boo now we're falling with style! Up at this altitude the airplane has a much smaller margin of "too fast" and "too slow," it is inbetween these speeds that we must remain in order to be considered still flying. Entering a high rate of climb at this altitude is usually non-sustainable (and non-habit forming). Our goal in this situation was to climb fast enough to avoid the conflict, but not so fast or too quickly to deplete the energy on the wing to induce a high altitude stall.

Luckily for me and for all the people behind me, we managed to avoid all the pitfalls of the event and complete an uneventful flight. It did take a few minutes for the reality of the situation to register. We spent quite a few moments recollecting what happened and why. It's very rare for this type of event to happen, especially at such a high altitude where aircraft are meticulously seperated from each other.

We never heard the other aircraft on our frequency, so it's likely he had already been switch to a new controller. We don't know if they had the wrong altitude programmed or if they were simply climbing so fast the computer calculated a collision risk. What a lot of people don't know is that scenarios like this one is how our modern day FAA got started. 

I'm Batman

This is an unedited draft I wrote a while ago when I was thinking about how funny I think I am. It's recommended for adults who don't mind a few slurs and swears, so consider yourself warned.


Airline pilots get a bad rap about their drinking habits. God forbid we have a solid 24 hours off in the shittiest hotel on the planet. Oh and thank you Denzel for ruining all the strange I was getting and coke I was snorting.

(IF there is anyone from the FAA, NTSB, FBI, DEA, DOT, here: I would just like to point out that is a joke…) Next time you’re in an airport I want you to count how many hot flight attendants you see. They’re like the white rhino of Africa. That shit is practically extinct and the few that do exist are actively being hunted 24 hours a day. I remember the first time I watched that Denzel movie. I didn’t even want to watch it. I had seen the previews. I’m sure most doctors don’t like watching ER, because most of us are cynical assholes. When you do something professionally that required years of training and you do it every day, first of all you’re probably not watching a show about it and second they likely fucked something up because “IT LOOKED BETTER ON CAMERA.” Well imagine how pumped I was to watch a movie about an addict pilot that brazenly saves the day by simply FLYING UPSIDE DOWN. Wow. Yea, get me some popcorn can’t wait to see this drama unfurl.



Ultimately I didn’t want to ever watch it but I was living with my best friends and they were both non-aviation types so they were REALLY interested in watching ME watch the movie. I’ll never forget the look on my buddies face when the movie started. He’s just staring at me, with this huge grin like “HOW BAD WAS THAT? IS THAT EVEN REAL?” Because he knows what an asshole I am. He knows. He was right. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t ruin it, but I will say this. In the first few minutes of the film you see Denzel who is the captain, he is walking around the airplane in the pouring down rain. Few things: Captains are old as fuck and don’t do walk arounds. People always ask: how do you know which one is the captain? Walker. When they do the walk arounds it is either because they smoke and they want to sneak under the terminal and smoke, or because they have training coming up and they haven’t seen the outside of the airplane in about a year, or it’s sunny and 72 and they feel like taking away the only time I get to walk around outside and curse under my breath about how shitty the captain that I’m flying with is. Sometimes the only thing between me and homicide is that walk outside. Imagine if you were at work and they moved you to a new desk. This desk was the size of two milk crates and it was inside a bullet proof chamber. Your boss said to increase productivity you need to remain at your desk for no less than 5 hours at a time and that you’d be sharing that desk with the worst person on the planet. That’s my job in a nutshell, sometimes. You get to work with a lot of different people but sometimes you’re stuck next to someone in this cramped workspace crucible for long hours on end that the thing that keeps me from just snapping and ending that persons life in a fit of rage and a first class spork is my little walk around the airplane. There’s generally a nice breeze out there, sun is shining, airplane noise in the background, smell of jetfuel killing whatever braincells I haven’t already permanently disabled, and nobody can hear my mumbles of “swear to god if he keeps talking about his ex-wives I’m gonna kill him. I’m gonna fucking kill him.” So if you are sitting on a plane and you see a pilot walking around, look closely, you’ll probably see him mumbling something. Just know that it’s a process and it’s keeping you safe.

Most people I work with, when we spend 16 hours at work, 8 of those hours flying people from point A to point shitty, we just want to have a few drinks and forget about the life choices that brought us to Dayton Ohio.

If you’re from Ohio I apologize, it’s just that I dated a real whore from Ohio and I’ve made it my life mission to ruin that states reputation in hopes it will come full circle back to her. I know what you’re thinking, but no, I don’t hold grudges. Slut. The funny part about her story is I was warned about her years before I even met her. My parents were travelling a lot while I was in flight school and my dad got like super into my training. It was weird because I wasn’t use to that attention and every time I had a big training thing coming up or a test, he was always the first to call me to ask how it went and all that. So apparently when my dad was travelling one day he sat next to a pilot and told him all about me. Let me tell you, as a guy who travels in my pilot uniform on airplanes, I don’t want to hear about your kids flight training. One lovely old lady asked how I liked my career and I smiled and said it’s amazing and I love it but that the training costs have crippled me financially and that I wish it wasn’t such a burden. She looked me dead in the eye and said “well you can always join the military, they’ll pay for it, of course it might kill you. My first husband died in the military.” So I should be dead instead of broke? That’s your advice? Ok, move it along granny.

Anyways, after my dad gushed about my training and about how I wanted to be an airline pilot so badly, he somehow got this guy to call me for “career advice.” I remember being a bit skeptical when my dad called me and told me what he had arranged. “I talked to this pilot and he’s going to call you with some pointers on how to get into the airline industry.” Ooook. Strange.

I remember this phone though. I wish I had recorded it, I really do. Picture me, I’m in this tiny dorm-room at flight school and I’m sitting at my tiny desk with a tiny pen and tiny paper waiting for my tiny phone to ring. Couldn’t afford real flight school, I went to tiny flight school. Anyways, guy calls and we start talking. He’s asking me how my training is going and this and that. Now I’m super naïve at this point when it comes to the airlines and the industry as a whole. I mean I was 23/24 and just about halfway through getting my flight ratings. I had some high hopes that this random guy that my dad convinced to call me was going to give me the keys to unlock my career. Ready for his advice?

“Don’t fuck flight attendants.”

Come again?

“Don’t fuck flight attendants. They’re disease bag whores who only want to get pregnant and get your money. Just let them suck your dick. Seriously. Blow jobs only, that way they can’t get pregnant, you can’t get a VD, and you still get off.”

Like, what should I have written down? I’m on the phone nodding along “uh huh, oh okay, right, of course. I see. Gotcha.” But I’m staring at my pad of paper with literally nothing to write down. I mean, I had questions for this guy. First of all, what’s the name of the flight attendant he knocked up and is getting alimony or child support? Maybe I could just not fuck her because she seems to be the devil, according to him. Like after thinking about the phone call all these years later, having been through some different relationships at the airline, I can just imagine that his wife or girlfriend cheats on him, the next day he meets my dad, and he agrees to give me advice based on his rage and he made the conscious choice to warn me about “Cynthia.”

Furthermore, I was concerned about his understanding of VD. Like, is this guy legitimately out there getting blow jobs from hookers thinking “hah, can’t give me any diseases!” Like, wow! One cross-eyed and broken toothed blow job from a homeless guy could ruin that dudes life and he has NO IDEA! I’m actually a little jealous of that bliss. Even after all that, that isn’t the worst part about this phone call.

The worst part was inventing some intricate lie to tell my dad when he called me next. Here was my dad, super excited about my flight training, excited enough to talk to random strangers about me, and zealous enough to convince that stranger to call and “advise” me. He was pretty stoked to hear this career advice and insight and how I was going to put his info to good use.

That, for me, was one of the first times I felt like I really lied to my dad as an adult. I mean, I had lied to my parents as a kid a lot. You name it I was lying about it. But this was different. This was some real shit that I couldn’t tell my dad. I mean first of all I don’t have that relationship with my parents where we talk about everything. The last thing I’m going to talk about with my dad is blowjobs because god forbid he mention something about mom. “Ah yes, that’s why I married your mother.” Because this would have been a suicide note 10 years ago. “Dear dad, you know why I did it. Jared.”

I pretty much just made up stuff about this random guy to tell my dad. “Oh you know, he was like ‘don’t crash airplanes’ and ‘stay in school’ and ‘no drugs’” and I just casually left out the blowjobs and money grubbing whores.

Anyways, when you’re in a hotel bar, you will often find the same 5 people. Businessman, woman, person, whatever. They’re the same people that you see flying in first class with their laptops and blackberries just typing away at who the fuck knows what. Do you know how annoying it is to fly these pretentious assholes around who complain about everything like “are we gonna get there safely?” and “my salmon is cold.” Like, those are the two worst complaints you could possibly put together. One is a completely unnecessary – but common- concern on planes, the other identifies someone who doesn’t understand the irony and the blessing of eating fish while flying through the sky.

But now after dealing with people like that all day, you sit at the bar and captain productivity is there next to you just clickity-clackity on the keyboard making presentations about how much it costs to produce a vacuum cleaner.

Anyways, next to that guy is almost always someone who isn’t dealing well with being in whatever hotel we’re in. Be it because their flight was cancelled, or their flight was supposed to land in Orlando but they diverted it to Pittsburgh for weather, even though their self proclaimed weather experts. Do you know how pathetic it is to try and convince a pilot that quote “the weather’s fine! We should leave now, we’ll be fine!” Trust me, it’s pathetic, and it happens a lot more than you would think. People will point at their phones and their fancy weather apps and yell and scream about delays or cancellations. Just once, perhaps on my last day, I want to just walk up to them in the crowded gate area and scream back.

“This airline does billions of dollars in revenue a year and operates thousands of flights with millions of passengers and you think your PHONE is the glue that binds this operation together? You don’t see me coming to get a car loan from you and then insisting I get a better interest rate because my PHONE said it was fine!”

Like that moment, that exchange, telling off some asshole passenger for a million different reasons, that’s what pilots spend those long flight hours dreaming about. Well thinking about. Because we never sleep.

Anyways, so this person who’s so not dealing well with being at the hotel, they’re the loud drunk one that everyone else is avoiding eye-contact with. You made eye contact with me? LET’S BE BEST FRIENDS! “Dude….dude….dude. Can you believe it? This bullshit? The plane, was fine. I was on it, we were all on it. Then they said it was like broke, bullshit. Something about a fire or something, but I mean, I didn’t see any smoke! It’s fine!” Do you know how hard it is to keep not only my cool while dealing with this person at every single airport hotel, but also to keep my disguise?

Most pilots at the bar won’t walk in wearing their uniform and aviator glasses, announce their arrival “HELLO I JUST FLEW IN FROM CLEVELAND AND I WANT TO GET SO DRUNK I FORGET ABOUT MY THREE EX-WIVES!” we don’t do that. Well the ex-wives part is true and I don’t understand it. More than two? Either stop fucking or stop getting married, but one of them isn’t working out.

Walking into a bar though, pilots, we’re like Batman. Well, Bruce Wayne really. We’re in street clothes so no-one will recognize us. We get that really deep raspy growl. “ugh. WHERE IS THE BEER LIST?! WHERE IS IT?!”

But that’s seriously how I feel. If I don’t hide my identity from these people there will be questions that I’m not prepared to answer. “OMG. You’re a pilot? Like, OMG. So. What’s it like flying a plane with peoples lives in your hands? Like at any second, like everyone could just die. What’s that like?”

It’s pretty simple actually. Because if you think the pilots are up there flying the airplane and god forbid something catastrophic happens and we have some sort of in flight emergency that requires the decades of experience, years of schooling, thousands of hours of training, all to safely land the airplane, and we’re up there thinking about all the people? Is that really somebody you want in control? Because that person is basically an emotional wreck. I’ve been flying for over 10 years with thousands of hours of experience in all kinds of different airplanes but I’ve never had the airplane do something out of the ordinary and immediately thought “OMG. That woman in 3B is pregnant and travelling with her ill and dying grandmother. I BETTER NOT FUCK THIS UP!” You don’t want that person in charge! You don’t put an emotional train-wreck at the controls of a flying missile! Yet that’s the first thing everyone assumes we think about. Hell, I think most people assume that’s why pilots drink so much is because of the pressure of all the lives in our hands. It isn’t. We’re all selfish assholes who only think about ourselves and we drink because most of the time our job is pretty fucking shitty.

That sounds bad on the outset but the reality is, it’s pretty good to have a selfish pilot who only cares about himself and I’ll tell you why: you’re all sitting behind me. You can’t back an airplane into a mountain like you can a car against a telephone pole. Doesn’t work that way. The day the put the cockpit in the tail of the airplane and all the passengers sit in front of the pilots, that’s the day I would stop flying as a passenger. Because then, pilots would be like “think we can walk away from that one? Yea, fuck it. BOOM.” But as it stands, we’re the first mother fuckers to eat dirt and statistically the highest fatality rate, so we’re pretty keen on not killing ourselves, which in turn works out nicely for everyone else.

Anyways. The bar. The other person that’s at the bar is the family. Dad, mom, and usually miserable fuck 1 and 2. This is the family that booked their vacation on orbitz like 10 months ago and saved $12 bucks by staying 3 hours away from the theme park. Dad’s trying to point out all the things that ROCK about the hotel, mom’s 3 martini’s into her hangover and miserable fucks 1 and 2 are locking in nightmares that will cost them thousands of dollars later in life.

That’s not a dig on my parents, we had some great vacations as kids, but I grew up with one older sister and she was a super cunt. Nothing says sibling rivalry like your older sister sitting on you and tickling you until you pee. And your parents just pointing and laughing at you. Yea. Jokes on her though because when I hit puberty I got fat and she got anorexic and we pretty much reached an understanding.


I’m writing again. As bad as it sounds, amidst a busy semester, I’m writing again for fun. I’ve had these thoughts in my head for quite some time about what I want to write about and what story I want to tell. I’ve wrestled with the ideas and the recollections and I think I’ve settled on an outline and a story.

I’m going to publish it- probably on Amazon Kindle Direct- but I’m going to get it out there. For better or worse, I’m going to jump back on this horse and hopefully tell the story I’ve always wanted to tell: me.

Stay tuned friends.


Human Factors and Mishap: Fatigue and

Its Effects on The Safety of Flight


Fatigue has long been recognized by the NSTB as a high priority item since the inception of their Most Wanted list in 1990.  Several times the NTSB made recommendations to the FAA as well as the NATCA regarding re-evaluation of rest rules and duty time limitations.  Even with new rest rules finally around the corner, fatigue is still an issue and self-evaluation is difficult when impaired with fatigue.  Examining the Colgan flight 3407 accident, parallels can be drawn between the crewmembers inaction and incorrect stall recovery attempt and their level of fatigue.  Countermeasures should include simplification of rest requirement calculations and removal of monetary penalties for crewmembers to remove themselves from duty when sick or fatigued.

Keywords: fatigue, rest rules, duty time limitations, fatigue countermeasures

Human Factors and Mishap: Fatigue and

Its Effects on The Safety of Flight

Of the many human factors and performance topics in existence, fatigue is a top priority for most aviation departments, airlines, flight schools, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  In a 2007 letter to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the NSTB reiterates the concern relating to fatigue and all transportation industries with more than 80 safety recommendations on the topic since 1989 (Rosenker, 2007).  In a similar letter to the acting FAA administrator, Rosenker, (2008) points out that “The Board has included safety recommendations related to human fatigue in transport operations on its annual Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements since its inception in 1990.”  While the FAA has since moved forward with new rest and duty time limits, these new regulations are more complicated and confusing than previous ones.  Using the 2009 accident of Colgan flight 3407, it will be shown how primary factors in the accident are actually results of underlying fatigue and improper rest.


The New Oxford American Dictionary (Stevenson, 2010) defines fatigue as “extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.”  Various causes for fatigue rang from sleep loss to poor sleep quality, diet deficiency, and even intentional sleep restriction.  According to Reinhart, (2008), fatigue is usually one of two different types: acute and chronic.  Acute fatigue can be associated with current events and activities, once the situation is resolved recovery is attained and restful sleep achieved.  Chronic fatigue is more serious and attributed to a cumulative effect of sleep loss over several months, which can lead the body to become vulnerable to illness, and increased stress.

Negative Effects on the Safety of Flight

Some of the negative effects are stated by Caldwell (1997) “…biological limits imposed by fatigue will impair the performance of even the most highly skilled and motivated individuals.  Thus, the fact that missions are being flown only by the most dedicated ‘high time’ aviators offers no safeguard against the insidious threats posed by sleepiness in the cockpit.  The effects of fatigue cannot be overcome by training or experience.  In addition, the impact of fatigue cannot be negated by monetary or other incentives.  Finally, individual pilots cannot be relied on to accurately judge their own levels of fatigue-induced impairments because judgment capabilities tend to suffer along with performance accuracy in sleepy personnel.”

Additionally, Caldwell (1997) goes on to describe the results of fatigue: “As fatigue levels increase, accuracy and timing degrades, lower standards of performance are unconsciously accepted, the ability to integrate information from individual flight instruments into a meaningful overall pattern is degraded, and a narrowing of attention occurs that leads to forgetting or ignoring important aspects of flight tasks.  In addition, the fatigued pilot tends to decrease physical activity, withdraw from social interactions with others, and lose the ability to effectively divide his mental resources among different tasks.”

Fatigue cannot be mitigated directly with training, and a fatigued pilot cannot sufficiently self-diagnose due to cognitive impairments derived from the fatigue itself.  This makes the issue of fatigue management primarily education and prevention.

Mishaps involving Fatigue

Rarely is fatigue listed as the primary factor attributed to an accident or incident involving aircraft, yet it has been listed as an attributing factor in several.  In a Safety Recommendation letter (Rosenker, 2008), the NTSB stated that “[s]ince 1972, the Board has issued 115 human fatigue-related safety recommendations in all modes of transportation, including 32 recommendations addressing fatigue in the aviation environment and 4 intermodal recommendations.”

Additionally signifying the fatigue as an underlying cause Caldwell (1997) states, “Many of the human errors accounting for well over half of all aviation accidents , are probably the direct result of fatigue-related pilot inattentiveness and failures to respond to critical information in the cockpit.  However, fatigue frequently is not cited as a causal factor in air carrier accidents despite evidence pointing to its role in mishaps.”

Continental Connection flight 3407. In February of 2009 a Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 operating as Continental Connection flight 3407 crashed into a residential neighborhood while on an instrument approach to Buffalo-Niagara airport from Newark, New Jersery.

According to the NTSB (“Loss of control,” 2010) prior to reporting for duty for the accident flight, the captain had completed a two-day trip sequence.  Living in Seattle, Washington, the First Officer began her commute to Newark the day prior to the accident flight, commuting all night from the West to East coast.  Several pilots that saw the first officer during her commute stated she looked responsive and alert.  No person that observed either the First Officer or Captain prior to the accident flight described them as drowsy or fatigued.

What the report does show however is that both the Captain and First Officer had habits of sleeping during commutes, or in the crew lounge prior to flight assignments.  While not directly prior to the accident flight, the Captain had spent the night in the crew room 4 days prior and the First Officer spent 6 hours sleeping in the crew room the day of the accident flight.

Prior to departing Newark the CVR recorded the First Officer stating “I’m ready to be in the hotel room” and “this is one of those times that if I felt like this when I was at home there’s no way I would have come all the way out here.”  Additionally she stated “if I call in sick now I’ve got to put myself in a hotel until I feel better … we’ll see how… it feels flying.  If the pressure’s just too much … I could always call in tomorrow at least I’m in a hotel on the company’s buck but we’ll see.  I’m pretty tough.” (“Loss of control,” 2010).

In addition, during the entire flight, both crewmembers failed to maintain a sterile cockpit, which the NTSB stated as a contributing factor in the accident.  The aircraft departed Newark and flew en-route with no remarkable event other than several sounds of yawning from both the Captain and First Officer recorded on the CVR.

On approach to Buffalo-Niagara, the crew noted that the aircraft was accreting significant amounts of ice on the windshield and wings.  While configuring for the approach with flaps and gear, the Captain slowed the aircraft to 135 knots with the gear down and flaps selected to 15° while the FDR showed them at 10° moving towards 15°.  The Bombardier Q400 AFM indicated that with flaps set to 10°, the approach speed minimum in icing conditions is 144 knots (for the weight that the accident aircraft was at).

Approximately 6 seconds later, the stick shaker activated alerting the crew that a stall was imminent.  Providing aural and tactile cues to the pilot flying, the shaker sends vibrations through the control column and deactivates the autopilot.  When the autopilot disengaged, the FDR showed the airspeed was 131 knots.  The Captain moved the control column aft and advanced the power levers to approximately 10° below the rating detent (not quite full power).  It was noted by the NTSB that this initial pitch-up placed the aircraft approximately at a G load of 1.42, further increasing the stall speed of the aircraft, exacerbating the situation.

Throughout the stall, the aircraft oscillated from 45° of roll, left wing down, to 105° roll, right wing down.  While passing through wings level the first time, the stick pusher (automated nose-down movement of the control yoke to reduce wing angle-of-attack) activated and the First Officer selected flaps 0° (yet another stall exacerbation).  The airspeed was now about 100 knots.  The second time the aircraft was rolling through wings level, the stick pusher activated a second time.

The First Officer stated she had retracted the flaps and now asked if she should retract the gear.  At this point the aircraft was 100° right wing down and 25° airplane nose down, and the stick pusher activated a third time.  Four seconds later the CVR records sounds of impact and the CVR recording ended.

Accident Conclusion

While there were several factors contributing to this specific accident, I believe Caldwell (1997) was correct when he stated “Many of the human errors…are probably the direct result of fatigue-related pilot inattentiveness and failures to respond to critical information in the cockpit.”

At first glance, it’s easy to pinpoint the lack of airmanship from the Captain as the primary causal factor.  Listed in the NTSB report were several training deficiencies, failures, remedial training, and unreported events during the Captain’s training and airline career.  You can even point to the First Officer and her decision to retract the flaps during the stall event as a primary factor for the continued stall and eventual impact.

I don’t think the crew made these decisions because they felt they were the correct decisions, or the best decisions for the situation.  I don’t think the First Officer would have retracted the flaps had she been well rested, healthy and alert.  I don’t think the Captain would have used less than full power or inducing accelerated G forces with an excessive pull-up had he been well rested and alert.  I think the entire accident flight error chain can be traced to fatigue, lack of restful sleep, and poor sleeping environment.

The NSTB noted contributing factors to this accident in “Losing Control” 2010, as “(1) the flight crew’s failure to monitor airspeed in relation to the rising position of the lowspeed cue, (2) the flight crew’s failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures, (3) the captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight, and (4) Colgan Air’s inadequate procedures for airspeed selection and management during approaches in icing conditions.”  Subsequently, listed as focus areas were “flight crew monitoring failures, pilot professionalism, fatigue, remedial training, pilot training records, airspeed selection procedures, stall training, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight, flight operational quality assurance programs, use of personal portable electronic devices on the flight deck, the FAA’s use of safety alerts for operators to transmit safety-critical information, and weather information provided to pilots.”

It is my belief that of the contributing factors that the NSTB listed, three of them are directly related to the fatigue level of the crew.

Fatigue Countermeasures

I think the rest rules the FAA has plans to implement will both improve fatigue mitigation and complicate rest requirement calculations.  Currently there are several different ways to determine rest required, compensatory rest, minimum rest and reduced rest limitations.  New regulations will be based on time “behind the door” of the hotel room instead of aircraft block in (which never accounted for post-flight duties, debrief, nor transportation time to hotel), which is a significant improvement.  Additionally the new rest requirements will take into account the crewmember acclimated time zone, start of duty day, and legs flown.  This will help reduce circadian trough fatigue and will provide more protection than previous regulations allowed.

It will however, significantly complicate the determination of required rest and calculation of maximum duty day.

Author Recommendations

I think the new regulations should be simplified to provide the additional rest and more restrictive duty days with fewer scenarios for variation.  While I agree that duty day should be calculated on acclimated start time and legs flown, I don’t think it should be an algebraic formula to determine.

I believe the accident described in detail could have been avoided if the First Officer had confidence that calling out sick would not have cost her pay or an expensive hotel room.  Currently most airlines provide hotel rooms for cancellations or sick calls only when out of domicile.  They expect you to return home when you call out sick, yet they are fully aware that many pilots commute.  I think providing a hotel room for a commuting pilot when sick or fatigued while in domicile is an inexpensive way to encourage pilots to not fly while sick or fatigued.  This First Officer either could not afford the hotel, or could not afford the loss in pay.  Neither of those consequences are more severe than the resulting accident.

I think flight crews should be disallowed from sleeping in crew rooms overnight.  They are often noisy, uncomfortable, and they fail to provide a quality sleep environment or restful sleep.  This gives the crewmember a false sense of well-being.  They perceive that they acquired restful sleep and are now mentally convinced that they’re no longer fatigued.  We know that a fatigued crewmember cannot self-diagnose signs of fatigue and now there is a false sense of security with rest that wasn’t sufficient.


Fatigue is a monster in disguise.  When it finally rears its ugly head it might be too late to mitigate or even recognize.  Fatigue mitigation must be accomplished through crewmember education and prevention.  Once fatigued, a crewmember is no longer capable of sufficiently recognizing their level of impairment.  While the FAA is moving forward with new rest rules and duty limits, the regulations should be simplified to prevent confusion and to promote sufficient rest.  Monetary penalties should be removed by requiring airlines to provide crewmembers that are either sick or fatigued with hotel accommodations no matter where they call out from work.  In addition, crewmembers should not be allowed to fool themselves into thinking they’ve received restful sleep by spending the night in a crew lounge.


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National Transportation Safety Board, (2010). Loss Of Control On Approach, Colgan Air, Inc., Operating As Continental Connection Flight 3407, Bombardier Dhc-8-400, N200wq, Clarence Center, New York, February 12, 2009 (NTSB/AAR-10/01)

Reinhart, R. O. (2008). Basic Flight Physiology. (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Professional.

Rosenker, M. National Transportation Safety Board, (2007). Safety Recommendation (A-07-30 through -32)

Rosenker, M. National Transportation Safety Board, (2008). Safety Recommendation (A-08-44 and -45)

Stevenson, A. (2010). New Oxford American Dictionary. (3rd ed.). Lindberg, C.A.: Oxford University Press, USA.

Dalton's Law of Partial Pressure




Gas Laws and Flight Safety: Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressure



In February of 2007 an aircraft suffered a windshield fracture at altitude. Due to lack of aircraft systems knowledge and flight physiology awareness, the pilot in command chose to depressurize the aircraft while the oxygen system was turned off. This led both pilots of the accident aircraft to lose consciousness for more than seven minutes while the aircraft descended out of control and suffered structural damage. This paper will outline how Dalton’s law of partial pressure pertains to the accident flight and how proper knowledge of this basic gas law could have prevented the accident.

Keywords: Dalton’s law, partial pressure, hypoxia, time of useful consciousness


Gas Laws and Flight Safety: Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressure

Knowledge of the basic gas laws and how they affect pilots and passengers is an essential part of every safe crew member’s awareness. I will first outline Dalton’s Law and how it correlates to altitude induced hypoxia as well as how ignorance for this gas law contributed to an aviation accident. I will then identify the error chain and provide corrective actions to clearly show how this accident could have been prevented.

Dalton’s Law and Hypoxia

The atmosphere that we live and breathe in is a mixture of several gases. The life giving ingredient that is required for almost all life on Earth is oxygen. Oxygen is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas and is the most abundant element on Earth (Reinhart, 2008). Comprising approximately one fifth of the Earth’s atmosphere, oxygen deprivation can lead to several symptoms ranging from visual acuity impairment, slurred or incoherent speech, to total loss of consciousness.

Dalton’s Law

Dalton’s law states that the total pressure of a gas mixture is the sum of the individual pressure (also called partial pressure) that each gas would exert if it alone occupied the whole volume. This law can also be expressed mathematically: PT = P1 + P2 + Ps + Pn; PT is the total pressure of the gas mixture and P represents         the partial pressure value of each gas, which is determined by multiplying the percentage of the individual gases time the total pressure (Reinhart, 2008). Simply put, because each gas represents only a portion of the air that we breathe, as we climb in altitude the pressure of each individual gas decreases with the total decrease in pressure.

Partial Pressure

Each gas will exert its own pressure depending on the percentage of that gas in the mixture. As stated by Mortazavi, Eisenberg, Langleben, Ernst and Schiff (2003), “The proportion of atmospheric oxygen remains constant at 21% at altitudes below 100,000 m. Therefore, the partial pressure of oxygen (PO2 = barometric pressure X 0.21) falls substantially with lower barometric pressure at higher altitude. PO2 at sea level is 159 and decreases by 50% at 5496 m. For each additional 300 m, PO2 decreases a further 4–5 mm Hg.”

As the body ascends, even though the percentage of each gas in the atmosphere remains the same the available molecules of oxygen at a pressure required to pass to a blood cell decreases. This decrease in pressure leads to altitude induced hypoxia.


Hypoxia is defined as an oxygen deficiency in the body and there are several different ways to get hypoxia. Dalton’s law can be used to explain hypoxic hypoxia caused by “high” altitude. As the body climbs in altitude, the partial pressure of oxygen decreases, making diffusion difficult or even impossible in the lungs. This leads to hypoxic symptoms such as euphoria, cyanosis, dizziness, visual impairment, loss of motor control, seizures, and eventually loss of consciousness.

Time Of Useful Consciousness

The time from when an oxygen deficiency begins until a pilot is no longer able to recognize and take action is called time of useful consciousness (or TUC). As altitude increases, TUC decreases, making recognition and action critical.

Accident and Analysis

According to an NTSB report from 2008, in February of 2007 an aircraft accident occurred following an in-flight depressurization. Operated as a 14 CFR part 91 flight, King Air N777AJ was a Raytheon Aircraft Company B200 which required only one pilot. On the accident flight a company employed pilot was the pilot in command and a non-company pilot was also present for the purpose of flight time accumulation. The non-company pilot was not trained nor checked out on the B200 aircraft.


While cruising at 27,000 feet mean sea level the aircraft experienced a windshield fracture. According to the CVR data, the pilot in command was not occupying his duty station but was in the cabin emptying a trash bin, leaving a non-trained pilot at the controls. After the fracture occurred, the pilot returned to his duty station, and made the decision to depressurize the aircraft because he was concerned about the integrity of the windshield. Using non-approved documents, non-approved procedures, and poor judgment, both pilots lost consciousness for more than 7 minutes due to altitude induced hypoxia. During this time the aircraft descended out of control and suffered structural damage and gravity-forces in excess of 4-g’s. Despite the out of control descent, both pilots regained consciousness and were able to successfully land the damaged aircraft.

Error Chain

Like most aviation accidents that occur, a chain of events known as the error chain can be pieced together to determine what eventually led to the accident. Rarely do accidents occur from a single event, but rather a series of errors that lead to a final event. As well as having a clearly defined error chain, this accident flight was also laced with poor decision making, lack of aircraft systems knowledge, failure to utilize manufacturer approved checklists, lack of physiological awareness, and improper pre-flight procedures.

The error chain for this flight began before the flight even started. The checklist found onboard the accident aircraft was not an approved checklist and it did not contain the recommended pre-flight items per the airplane flight manual (AFM). This unapproved checklist didn’t have a procedure for cracked or fractured windshields either. Proving just how inadequate and unprofessional this checklist was, the last item of the Shut Down checklist was “Pajamas…As Req.”

During pre-flight of the oxygen system, the pilot in command stated he successfully tested the oxygen mask and then turned the system off to “save” the oxygen. This was not in accordance with manufacturer recommended pre-flight procedures.

Once the windshield fractured, the error chain continued with the pilot in command’s decision to depressurize the aircraft. The AFM states that following an inflight windshield fracture, cabin pressure should be maintained and safe flight can be continued for up to 25 hours. Post-accident investigation of the windshield showed it to be structurally intact.

These events led to the precipice of the accident when the cabin was intentionally depressurized while the oxygen system was off. When the aircraft was depressurized at 27,000 feet mean sea level, the approximate time of useful consciousness was three to four minutes. Even though post-accident investigations revealed the oxygen system to be fully functional, it was simply never turned on.

Correlation To Dalton’s Law Of Partial Pressure

The pilot in command lacked sufficient awareness and knowledge of Dalton’s law as evidenced by his decision to depart with the oxygen system turned off, and further ignorance by intentionally depressurizing the aircraft. With appropriate working knowledge of flight physiology and the reduction of oxygen’s partial pressure at altitude, the pilot in command would never have decided to turn the oxygen system off prior to departure. Correlation of Dalton’s law with knowledge of decreased time of useful consciousness this accident could have been prevented completely.

Accident Prevention and Conclusion

Although there were several errors in the error chain that eventually led up to this accident, they are all preventable with proper procedures and aircraft systems knowledge. Regarding Dalton’s law, this accident could have been prevented with better knowledge of how altitude affects time of useful consciousness as well as better alertness for potential hypoxia situations. It should have been obvious to the pilot in command that prior to depressurizing the aircraft cabin that the oxygen system should be turned on. This point is over shadowed by the lack of adherence to manufacturer recommendations for aircraft pre-flight and configuration. There should never be a scenario at altitude where the crew would need to first activate the oxygen system prior to donning the oxygen masks.

Utilization of manufacturer recommended checklists, procedures, and operating practices isn’t just a really good idea, it’s required. There is a reason why human performance factors are on just about every pilot check-ride you can attempt, they’re important too. The last frontier of accident prevention that we must endeavor is that of human performance. With nearly every accident occurring because of human error, we must close the gap on preventable accidents like the one I have described.





Mortazavi, A., Eisenberg, M. J., Langleben, D., Ernst, P., & Schiff, R. L. (2003). Altitude-Related Hypoxia: Risk Assessment And Management For Passengers On Commercial Aircraft. (Vol. 74-9, pp. 922-927). Alexandria, VA: Aerospace Medical Association.

NTSB. National Transportation Safety Board, (2008). Full Narrative (CHI07LA063). Retrieved from website:

Reinhart, R. O. (2008). Basic Flight Physiology. (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Professional.