Committee Corner
News from ALPA's Committees

Air Line Pilot, March 2005, p.24-28

ALPA Weighs In on the A380

The numbers are staggering: Wingspan, 261 feet 8 inches. Length, 239 feet 3 inches. Height, 79 feet 7 inches. Maximum gross takeoff weight, as much as 1.3 million pounds. Passenger capacity, 550 growing to as many as 853. Range, with all seats filled, about 8,100 nm. Price, about $290 million.

ALPA Engineering & Air Safety

Airbus SAS rolled out--actually, the new parlance is "revealed"--the A380 with theatrical ceremony on January 18. ALPA's first vice-president, Capt. Dennis Dolan, who is also president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, attended the ceremony. 

Ten days later, the European consortium announced a Chinese order for the A380, swelling their order book for the airplane to 154 orders and commitments from 15 customers. FedEx will be the launch customer for the freighter version, the A380F, expected to enter service in 2008. 

The A380 is the first of a new generation of airliners, new large aircraft, or NLAs. At least a dozen U.S. airports, and more around the world, are bracing for the arrival of this latest "aluminum overcast." Some airports are spending tens of millions of dollars to modify runways, taxiways, bridges, and gates to accommodate the A380. 

ALPA has been participating in ongoing meetings of a government/industry group, the New Large Aircraft Facilitation Group, whose purpose is to ease the introduction of the A380 into service at U.S. airports. A number of issues remain unresolved. 

ALPA also has used every venue at its disposal to communicate with Airbus, plus the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), line pilots' concerns about several aspects of development and introduction of the A380. 

In April 2004, ALPA safety representatives met with senior Airbus officials at the Association's Herndon, Va., offices to discuss progress of the A380 design and development. At that meeting, ALPA asked for more information regarding several issues of concern, including 

Capt. John Cox, then ALPA's Executive Air Safety Chairman, wrote to the head of the Airbus delegation that met with the ALPA pilot safety representatives and staff engineers, stating, "Of course, at this stage in our discussions and in the development of the aircraft, we still have many questions, and several issues continue to be a concern to us. They include: How an aircraft that is nominally ICAO Code F will operate into Code E airports [which Airbus has proposed], the prospects for full-scale evacuation testing, ARFF [aircraft rescue and firefighting] requirements at alternate airports, airport requirements in general, wake vortex strength determination, and auto-recovery EGPWS operation." 

Since then, ALPA's A380 Project Team, led by First Officer Dave Hayes (Northwest), the ALPA Wake Vortex Separation Project Team, led by Capt. Dave Smith (Alaska), and the ALPA Airport and Ground Environment (AGE) Group, chaired by Capt. Mitchell Serber (Comair), have continued to carry the ball for ALPA. 

F/O Hayes gave Air Line Pilot this progress report not long after the A380 "reveal": 

"Two things have changed since our June 2004 letter," he notes. 

"First, the senior Airbus official with whom we met has moved to a different position within the company. We haven't had the opportunity to meet with his successor yet. We look forward to meeting him and discussing how pilots might best interface with Airbus. 

"Second, some issues have resolved themselves through the normal processes in place between the regulators and manufacturers and through some discussions with ALPA. For example, we understand that Airbus does not now intend to install the auto-recovery EGPWS on the A380. We'd expressed our concerns on how it would work operationally--the pilots would be non-voting members of the flight crew in the original Airbus proposal. They wouldn't have any way to override the system. Anytime anyone proposes to build an automatic system that pilots can't override, it gets our attention," he cautions. 

Another system originally proposed for the new airplane was the onboard oxygen-generating system. F/O Hayes reports, "We've heard that won't be installed after all."

Moreover, he explains, "Fuel tank inerting technology separates nitrogen and oxygen from engine bleed-air and uses the nitrogen to inert the tank, or make it less flammable. The technology to use the separated oxygen for additional cabin air has apparently become too cumbersome; therefore, the oxygen by-product will be dumped overboard. The initial passenger versions of the A380 will not have a center fuel tank; therefore, inerting will not be necessary."

ALPA senior staff engineer Joe Bracken adds, "The FAA is looking at a novel aspect of the design of the A380--the air cycle machines are located in the leading edge of the wing. Because this may result in higher wing tank temperatures, the FAA is evaluating the need to reduce the flammability of the fuel in those tanks. This situation may be resolved simply by adding extra insulation in the area of the air cycle machines." 

Airbus originally proposed using existing A330 and A300 evacuation data to prove that the A380 met evacuation requirements. "They wanted to use A330 certification data for the upper deck and A300 data for the lower deck," explains F/O Hayes." We don't want the first time the aircraft needs to be evacuated to be the first time the aircraft is evacuated." 

Another ALPA concern regarding evacuation is that the height of the airplane--especially the upper deck--might lead to more balking by passengers reluctant to jump from so high. Also, the Association is concerned that some passengers may decide to walk or run down the wide stairs, like those of a cruise ship, from the upper deck to the lower deck. 

Yet another concern: Because the A380 has so many exit slides, and some of them necessarily converge where they meet the ground, passengers using them will likely run out of room at the bottom of the slides. A passenger pileup next to the airplane would not be conducive to minimizing injuries, or to permitting ARFF personnel to approach the airplane. 

Regarding wake vortex testing, another certification requirement that Airbus proposed to resolve by computer modeling alone, the FAA has advised ALPA that Airbus has agreed to conduct flight tests in which the A380 wake vortices will be measured by lidar on the ground. Members of ALPA's A380 and Wake Vortex Separation Project Teams will likely witness these tests, alongside representatives from the FAA and EASA. 

The aviation press has reported that the FAA is going to require Airbus to conduct additional strength analysis and testing of new materials used in the A380. 

F/O Hayes continues, "We asked Airbus for more information about non-destructive testing of these new materials, mostly out of concern about the ability of airlines to maintain the material in service. Regarding American Airlines Flight 587--the A300 that crashed in Belle Harbor, N.Y., in November 2001--some aviation safety experts think that the airplane might have been weakened by a previous, documented encounter with severe turbulence. 

"We're concerned about the capability of operators to conduct NDT of these materials. If you hit them with a catering truck, which happens all the time in the real world, what have you damaged?" he asks. "So we're interested in what NDT methods are going to be assigned to the operator, and what are relegated to the manufacturer, and under what rules. These are questions we're going to be asking other manufacturers who intend to use composite materials in their airplanes. Some of these materials are fairly exotic and require using sophisticated imaging techniques for NDT." 

On a different subject, F/O Hayes reports, "From the briefings we've had on the airplane, A380 cockpit design and operability appear to be very much like those of other members of the Airbus fly-by-wire family. Handling qualities and characteristics will be addressed in certification flight testing. But we haven't had the opportunity to discuss with Airbus the interoperability of pilots with some of the aircraft systems." 

One interesting twist to the design philosophy of cockpit commonality, which has market appeal by reducing training costs, is that commonality can lead to stagnant design. "We [ALPA] see cockpit technology as evolutionary, not stationary," says F/O Hayes. "You must make sure that your processes allow you to keep pace with evolving technologies." 

ALPA has not historically developed the degree of rapport with Airbus that it has with Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, exemplified by Boeing sharing the prestigious Collier Trophy, awarded for development of the B-777, in 1996 with ALPA and other stakeholders with whom Boeing worked closely. 

However, as Capt. Cox wrote to the leader of the Airbus delegation that met with ALPA pilot safety representatives in April 2004, "Our experience with dialogue with manufacturers has demonstrated that through continuing such productive discussions, ALPA can become a valuable ally in the introduction of new models into service when we are able to help explain processes, products, features, and philosophies to our members." 

And, as F/O Hayes points out, "We have the expertise to help make an optimized design."

--Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor

Implementing Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum Procedures in North American Airspace

ALPA's Air Traffic Services Group, working with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, has been involved for several years in implementing reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) procedures in oceanic and European airspace. In the United States, ALPA was a key member of the FAA/industry RVSM Working Group, which developed the plan to expand RVSM to domestic U.S. airspace. 

ALPA Air Traffic Services Group

On January 20, the FAA and Nav Canada implemented RVSM from FL290 through FL410 inclusive. The vertical separation minimum was reduced from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet and provides six additional flight levels. All flight levels comply with the standard hemispheric rules for direction of flight. RVSM will enhance ATC flexibility, mitigate conflict points, and enhance sector throughput. 

Operators will gain fuel savings and operating efficiency benefits by flying at more fuel-efficient flight levels and on more user-preferred routings. 

The FAA implemented RVSM in the airspace of the lower 48 states of the United States and Alaska, plus Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico High Offshore Airspace and the San Juan FIR. At the same time, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South American regions also implemented RVSM in their airspace to provide a seamless operating environment for pilots traversing those borders. 

Your company will notify you of its compliance with RVSM requirements and provide you with the necessary changes to the company's operations specifications and operating procedures. When your dispatcher files a flight plan, the suffix for RVSM-capable aircraft will be /Q for advanced RNAV-capable aircraft (U.S. only) and /W for all other RVSM-capable aircraft. 

Both the FAA and Transport Canada have developed extensive databases of RVSM-compliant aircraft that will allow them to determine if operators of noncompliant aircraft are filing flight plans into RVSM airspace. Additionally, to identify problems, both organizations constantly monitor the performance of aircraft at altitude and compliance with the RVSM standards.


If you are unsure if your aircraft is RVSM-compliant, contact your dispatcher. 

For both mountain wave and significant turbulence encounters in RVSM airspace, an additional concern is the sensitivity of collision avoidance systems when one or both aircraft operating in close proximity receive TCAS advisories in response to disruptions in altitude-hold capability. When the pilot experiences weather-induced altitude deviations of approximately 200 feet, the pilot must contact ATC and state "Unable RVSM due to (state reason, e.g., turbulence, mountain wave)"; e.g., "United 123, FL320, unable RVSM due to severe turbulence." When pilots encounter mountain wave, they must contact ATC and report the magnitude and location of the wave. When a controller advises a pilot of merging radar targets, the pilot may request a vector to avoid flying directly over or under the traffic. 

Avoiding Weather and Squawking 7700--What Pilots Need to Know

FAR 91.123 requires pilots to exercise their emergency authority as pilot-in-command when they deviate from an assigned air traffic control clearance. How does this apply to avoiding weather? 

ALPA Air Traffic Services Group

To avoid weather, most pilots expect that they will have to do a little advance planning and some minor radio coordination. Let's face it--in such situations, air traffic controllers rarely impose greater restrictions on us than, for example, "You may deviate right, but not left." 

That changes if you hear "Unable deviation--squawk 7700 and say intentions." Several flight crews have heard this phrase and have called ALPA to complain. Here's the rest of the story: 

"Unable deviation--squawk 7700" is not the controller declaring an emergency for you. Controllers have the authority to do so in certain circumstances--but this is not one of them. In this situation, the controller is telling you that you will have to use your emergency authority to deviate from your assigned clearance, as he or she cannot approve what you are requesting. 

Occasionally situations arise when you want to deviate and the controller has nowhere to let you go; for example: 

Air Traffic Order 7110.65 doesn't give much guidance on what to say when a situation like this develops. An upcoming FAA Air Traffic Bulletin is intended to give controllers some suggested phraseology. 

For example, a controller might say, "I cannot approve that request. If you deviate left/right, you do so under your emergency authority. State intentions." This is a clear explanation of the controller's restriction and should suffice to tell the pilot-in-command that he or she has to make a decision. If that thunderstorm line ahead is bad enough, the safest decision might be to turn around. 

Remember, if the controller says that he or she cannot approve a deviation, you need to (1) understand that he or she can't just make it happen, and (2) deviating on your own authority carries some risk. Ultimately, that must be the decision of the pilot-in-command. 

Most of us will go through our entire career without hearing the phrase, "Unable deviation--squawk 7700." Remember the six P's--"Prior planning prevents pretty poor performance." Give the controller as much advance warning as possible to provide you with the best options in a timely manner. The last-minute demand to deviate may result in "Squawk 7700--you're on your own, partner."

--Capt. Larry Newman (Delta), Chairman, ALPA Air Traffic Services Group