Two aviation updates

By James Fallows

First, about the battered but durable small-airplane, point-to-point travel movement, chronicled frequently over the past ten years (here, for starters), a retrospective from Bruce Holmes, long time "extrepreneurial bureaucrat" from NASA. Holmes was one of the three heroes of my 2001 book Free Flight  and later a force behind the promising-but-doomed company DayJet. (Below, Holmes a few years ago, in a NASA photo.)

HOlmes.jpgHolmes recently returned to his NASA-Langley stomping grounds to give a basically positive "lessons learned" discussion about the DayJet experience. Brief article about his presentation here; his summary below.

[DayJet] was a case of "the operation was successful, but the patient died," but it was only a start, Holmes said. It was a glimpse into an aviation future in which, he added:

--"We need to get to carbon neutral (aviation operation),

--"We need to halve the operating cost and

--"We need scalable airspace capacity."

Godspeed on all fronts.

Second, about the unresolved question of why the Air France 447 crew found itself in the middle of a powerful thunderstorm, this from Bill McHugh, a private pilot in Louisiana:
You may or may not remember some years ago that a 737 flown by TACA Airlines made an emergency dead-stick landing on a narrow levee near the NASA Michoud facility in eastern New Orleans (Google "taca airlines levee landing"). It had lost both engines due to hail ingestion while flying through a severe storm on approach to MSY [the main New Orleans airport]. The landing was successful, with no loss of life or injuries. The captain was hailed as a hero by the passengers and in the press (frankly, I was more impressed by the Boeing test pilots who got the thing back off the ground a few days later).
 
A couple of years after the incident I was attending one of those FAA safety courses at NEW [New Orleans Lakefront airport]. This course was about weather, and one of the speakers was a guy who had worked the NEW and MSY towers for many years. He told us that he had been working the tower the day of the TACA incident, and that he had personally warned the TACA captain no less than three separate times that the storm ahead of him was severe (can't remember what level it was, but it was high) and that it probably contained embedded hail, but that the captain had ignored the warnings and had flown directly into the storm.
 
Point of the story: Even seasoned, professional pilots do stupid things on occasion.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/06/two-aviation-updates/18919/