Airworthy.US

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Welcome to Airworthy.US!
 
Opinions expressed herein are solely the author's and do not reflect that of any other entity, either living, no longer living, or not yet living.
 
This site is dedicated to restoring the concept of airworthiness to its role as the foundation upon which commercial/civil aviation rests.
 
Restoring airworthiness begins with enlightening those responsible for ensuring the airworthiness of commercial/civil aircraft, which includes virtually everyone in the commercial/civil aviation industry.
 
The goal of design engineers, test & development engineers, manufacturing engineers & mechanics, pilots, maintenance technicians & providers, and all other functions that support them in the design, certification, manufacture, operation, and maintenance of type certificated products is to ensure and maintain the airworthiness of the type certificated product.
 
Airworthy is clearly defined in US Federal Law and is implemented throughout United Sates Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14CFR), a.k.a. Federal Aviation Regulations, or the FARs.
 
Airworthiness has become obscured in recent years. As industry rushes to implement layer upon layer of new "quality" programs and processes, the very meaning of airworthiness is becoming lost. As aviation enters its second century in the nation where powered, heavier-than-air flight was first achieved, the restoration of airworthiness is essential.
 
An article, published in the Plainfield, Illinois weekly newspaper, The Enterprise, on January 29, 2003, illustrates the point and emphasizes the urgent need to re-establish the rule of law that helped make aviation America's showcase industry.
 
That copyrighted article is reprinted here with the author's permission:

Open Book

NTSB Report: ValuJet Flight 592

Gavel

AD 91-21-07

Nuts and Bolts

FAA Unapproved Parts Notifications

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What Really Brought Down Flight 592?  
(c) 2003 Mark E. J. Fay
 
Within days of ValuJet Flight 592's May 11, 1996, disaster, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did some very unusual things. Those things, and others, lead me to believe that: The oxygen generators did not start the fire; An unapproved part started the fire, and; The FAA conspired to cover up this information.
 
ValuJet Flight 592, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, crashed near Miami and claimed 110 lives. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in accident report #DCA96MA054, stated that fire was initiated by one or more oxygen generators loaded in the forward cargo compartment. The report implies that the loose-load oxygen generators, without safety caps installed, actuated from being jostled around. The oxygen generators undoubtedly intensified the fire, but consider the possibility that the oxygen generators did not start the fire.
 
There is evidence strongly suggesting the FAA, immediately after the accident, suspected a different ignition source and took steps to cover it up, or at least reduce the impact if that different source were to become known.
 
A day or two after the accident, the deputy director of Douglas Aircraft Company's spares division gave an assignment to a staff specialist. The deputy director told the specialist that the FAA, on or about May 12, 1996, had asked American Airlines personnel at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW) how they procured primary longitudinal trim relays, part number 9207-10296, used on DC-9-32 airplanes.
 
American Airlines was a maintenance contractor to ValuJet at DFW. Under Federal Law, that particular aircraft replacement part, at that time, could be sold for installation on a DC-9-32 only by Douglas Aircraft Company. Records showed that Douglas Aircraft Company had never sold that part number. The deputy director instructed the specialist to help the relay manufacturer, Leach International, convince the FAA the relay sold to the airline was essentially identical to the relay Douglas Aircraft Company installed on new aircraft at production. In their discussion, Leach informed the specialist there was an FAA mandated maintenance action, an Airworthiness Directive (AD), applicable to the relay.
 
Airworthiness Directive AD 91-21-07 (and Douglas Aircraft Company Alert Service Bulletin A27-316, dated January 4, 1991, incorporated into law by reference in the AD) applied to the ill-fated DC-9-32. The AD states, "To eliminate overheating of the primary longitudinal trim relays and the possibility of fire in the forward cargo compartment, accomplish the following."
 
The requirement was to replace the relays prior to the accumulation of 8,000 flight hours, and thereafter at intervals not to exceed 8,000 flight hours. Flight 592 had 68,400.7 total flight hours at the time of the accident according to the accident report. Were the relays replaced within the period mandated? Even if the relays were replaced as required, could one "overheat" in less than 8,000 hours?
 
The Alert Service Bulletin was even more damning. Its Reason paragraph states, "Four operators reported six instances of overheat failure of the primary longitudinal trim contactors (relays). Contactor failures have resulted in smoke and burning behind the right side cargo liner at the forward side of the forward cargo door. In some instances smoke was reported in the main passenger cabin."  The Reason statement ends, "In one case an intercostal (metal aircraft structure) was damaged and required replacement." Parentheses are mine.
 
Leach also told the specialist the FAA was pushing Leach, immediately after the accident, to obtain FAA Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) on the relay. With PMA Leach could legally sell the relay directly to airlines. Leach obtained PMA May 29, 1996 (Ref. PMA No. PQ2059NM, dated May 29, 1996). The FAA granted PMA based on a licensing agreement betweeen Leach and Douglas Aircraft Company dated May 22, 1996.
 
Obtaining PMA within 18 days of the accident was a minor miracle. It was especially noteworthy because Douglas provided the PMA assistance (license) within 10 working days of the accident, a process that ordinarily took months. And, the FAA granted PMA within three working days of Leach's application.
 
I can vouch for these things because I was the Douglas Aircraft Company spares specialist. If the primary longitudinal trim relay did not ignite the oxygen generators, why did the FAA focus on ensuring that that specific part number relay received FAA-PMA virtually instantaneously after the crash? There are other relay part numbers in the AD, but the only part number the FAA pushed Leach to apply for PMA was 9207-10296 - the part number of the relays installed in the doomed airplane.
 
A cursory understanding of the worldwide aircraft replacement parts business is needed to understand the import of the foregoing. There is a relatively constant annual turnover of $10B in that business. Unapproved, bogus, or illegal parts comprise several billion dollars, or more, of that annual trade. The FAA has been struggling for years to control it. The last thing the FAA needed was for 110 deaths to be attributed to an unapproved part. By ensuring Leach obtained PMA on the part, the FAA anticipated the question, if it were asked, "Is the primary longitudinal trim relay FAA approved?" The FAA could truthfully respond, "Yes it is." Only a skeptic would rephrase the question, "Was the relay FAA approved at the time of the crash"?
 
There was a powerful champion in the crusade to eliminate unapproved aircraft parts. The FAA's parent organization is the Cabinet level Department of Transportation (DOT). The Inspector General of DOT when 592 crashed was the young, ambitious, and zealous Mary Schiavo.
 
She was outspoken. She declared that virtually all airplanes were flying with bogus parts installed. She and her team prosecuted numerous cases involving unapproved parts. Millions of dollars in fines and years of incarceration were meted out to unapproved parts miscreants under her leadership.
 
One of her reports quotes a convicted illegal drug dealer as saying, "I quit dealing in illegal drugs and got into the illegal aircraft parts business because there's more money to be made and you meet a better class of people," or words to that effect. She cited problems at ValuJet months before the accident, and refused to fly them for safety reasons.
 
She spoke out about the FAA's failings. Ms. Schiavo left government service and "resigned" her post just shy of two months after the crash of Flight 592. Even though she stated no one pressured her to resign, the FAA must have been greatly relieved she was no longer liable to investigate a certain unapproved part.
 
Additional reasons to suspect the relays started fire aboard Flight 592 include the following.
 
*The NTSB assumes the oxygen generators actuated as they rolled around the cargo compartment when the firing pins struck the percussion caps. Tests at Douglas Aircraft Company facilities in Southern California failed to prove the oxygen generators could self-actuate. With great difficulty, and under conditions unlikely to be encountered in flight, the oxygen generators eventually actuated, according to a colleague who participated. Those tests are not cited in the NTSB report.
 
*Did the primary longitudinal trim relay generate sufficient heat to actuate the oxygen generators? If not directly, did they ignite passenger cargo in the forward cargo compartment, which in turn ignited the oxygen generators?
 
*The report speculates that the flight crew attempted to reduce thrust on both engines for emergency descent. The right engine went to flight idle about six minutes into the flight. The left engine did not respond to inputs to reduce thrust, resulting in asymmetric thrust.
 
There were no right roll indications in the Flight Data Recorder heading data. The airplane was in a sideslip condition, most likely with the left wing down. This would cause the cargo to shift to the left, supporting the possibility the fire started, not where heat damage was most pronounced, but to the right - the location of the longitudinal trim relays.
 
*In static tests the FAA pulled the pins and actuated the oxygen generators. Two of the five tests resulted in no fire. (Ref. NTSB report, pp. 54-55)
 
*The NTSB's report cites "...heat damaged wire bundles were not routed near the breached area of the cargo compartment, whereas the boxes containing the oxygen generators were loaded into the area directly beneath the breached area of the cargo compartment." (Ref. NTSB accident report, pp 100-101.)
 
This begs the question, "Were the heat damaged wire bundles those routed, near the relays,'...behind the right side cargo liner...' as cited in Alert Service Bulletin A27-316?"
 
The FAA knew there was an unapproved part on Flight 592, believed it might have caused the fire, and hoped to cover up that information.
 
Is the FAA guilty of aiding and abetting the unapproved aircraft replacement parts industry?
 
END OF ARTICLE
 
CORRECTION: AD 91-21-07 was incorrectly listed as AD 91-27-07 in the originally published article. The author apologizes for the error. Please use the link at right to review AD 91-21-07.
 
EDITORIAL POLICY:
The information published here is intended to be factual. Airworthy.US apologizes for any mistakes. We will correct errors as we become aware of them. Any opinion expressed is intended to be obvious.
 
UPDATES:
 
May 11, 2007
Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the tragedy, now mostly forgotten except for victims' families and friends, and those involved in the cover-up, known as ValuJet Flight 592.
 
The trail has not gone completely cold, but the effort to keep the investigation alive seems, at times, impossible.
 
To those who had hoped there would be closure to the case and that justice would be served, have faith; the truth may yet be revealed. 
 
JUNE 2005 - AIRWORTHY.US POSTS COMPLETE 1999 ValuJet Flight 592 - SabreTech TRIAL TRANSCRIPT
 
The entire transcript of the 1999 ValuJet Flight 592 - SabreTech Trial has been posted here. The 13 days of the trial are available by links at the bottom of each page. Read the testimony of the prosecution's "expert witness." Read Scott Aviation's courtroom demonstration with doctored oxygen generators. Read also the disallowed testimony of the conference call operator who overheard ValuJet executives discuss their fears of FAA learning of a door they left open that otherwise might have contained the fire.
 
 
MARCH 2004 - THE 5/11 CONSPIRACY & ELECTION '96:
As additional information is obtained, the evidence is mounting that the cover-up was a much wider web of conspiracy and obstruction of justice than originally believed.
 
While the FAA was bent on preventing the populace from learning that a bogus part was the cause of 110 deaths, the White House was intent on maintaining the delusion that recent start-up airlines provided safe commercial air transportation, on a level equivalent to the major carriers, to a segment of the population previously unable to afford it.
 
Several high-level governmental heads rolled following Flight 592's crash, SabreTech became the proverbial "punished innocent bystander," ValuJet, the not-so-innocent, was rewarded by being allowed to stay in business, and Bill Clinton became the first Democrat elected to a second term as President in 60 years.

 

NOVEMBER 2003 - SECOND FOIA RESPONSE: 
In early October 2003, Airworthy.US submitted a second FOIA request, this time for the entire file on the P/N 9207-10296 SUPs investigation.  The response was received on November 19, 2003. 
 
The investigation file provides a good deal of information.  Noteworthy is that the file, in the final report, determined that Leach International violated 14CFR 21.303, and that primary longitudinal trim relay P/N 9207-10296 was unapproved until Leach received PMA on May 29, 1996.  Leach, according to the report, never admitted violating the law.
 
The report raises many questions however.  Why is the first document in it, aside from the SUPs Report filed on 5/13/96, dated 6/11/96 - one month after the ValuJet 592 accident, and 13 days after Leach was granted PMA?
 
Also, why wasn't American Airlines, purchasers of the parts that were the subject of the Suspected Unapproved Parts Notification report, mentioned in the investigation report?
 
Additionally, the investigation determined that the relays, a total of 350 according to Leach records, were airworthy even though Leach did not produce P/N 9207-10296 relays in accordance with the requirements of PMA (14 CFR 21.303) until May 29, 1996, when the FAA granted Leach PMA.  How did the FAA travel back in time to review the production of those 350 relays?
 
Leach was fined $100,000 according to the file.  It does not say whether Leach ever paid that fine.
 
The investigation file supports Airworthy.US' claim that the longitudinal trim relay, P/N 9207-10296, installed on ValuJet 592 was an unapproved part. 
 
According to FAA Airworthiness Directive AD 91-21-07, relay 9207-10296 could have started the fire that claimed 110 lives on that fateful May day in 1996.
 
OCTOBER 2003 - FOIA RESPONSE:
In early September, Airworthy.US submitted a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request for the Suspected Unapproved Parts Notification that was filed about the time of ValuJet 592's accident . 
 
On October 1, 2003, Airworthy.US received a copy of the Suspected Unapproved Parts Notification that was filed by an FAA Inspector at Dallas-Ft. Worth on May 13, 1996 against eight longitudinal trim relays, part number 9207-10296.
 
According to the Suspected Unapproved Parts Notification, the relays were discovered at American Airlines supply warehouse at DFW Airport on May 13, 1996!  That was the Monday following the Saturday crash of ValuJet Flight 592! 
 
Was the inspector there by mere coincidence?  If so, it ranks as one of the most extraordinary coincidences of all time.
 
The FAA was well aware of the illegal nature of the part.  Why didn't the FAA post the Unapproved Parts Notification on the FAA's Unapproved Parts Notification website?  Visit the FAA Unapproved Parts Notification site via the link, above and to the right.
 
AUGUST 2003 - SUP REPORT WAS FILED!:
Combing through notes taken during May and June, 1996, in the ongoing effort to uncover leads and objective evidence, Airworthy.US discovered a previously overlooked revelation; a Suspected Unapproved Parts Notification, FAA Form 8120-11, was filed circa May-June 1996, on the longitudinal trim relay, part number 9207-10296!
 
The FAA was fully aware of the bogus/unapproved/illegal relay. The official FAA form had been submitted to the FAA's Suspected Unapproved Parts Program Office! The reported parts were not even new, but were acquired on the used/surplus parts market in unknown condition by American Airlines, whose parent, AMR, was ValuJet's maintenance contractor at Dallas-Fort Worth, according to the NTSB report!
 
The FAA site, Unapproved Parts Notifications (see link, above - right) lists nothing about the relay, or the filed report.
The NTSB report fails to mention anyhting about the SUP Notification, or the relay.

 
JULY 2003 - CASE CAN BE REOPENED!:
Mary Schiavo has informed Airworthy.US that the case can be re-opened if cover-up can be proved.
 
The first step is to provide evidence that the FAA covered-up the bogus/unapproved/illegal longitudinal trim relays. Airworthy.US has provided testimony above. It is not enough to warrant re-opening the case by itself, however.
 
 
CALL FOR INFORMATION:
If anyone has any information about VJ 592 that will help to re-open the the case, please contact airworthy77(at)earthlink(dot)net. All serious correspondence will be greatly appreciated.
 
Specific objective evidence needed includes a copy of the Suspected Unapproved Parts Notification on the longitudinal trim relay filed around May-June 1996 (Now in possession of Airworthy.US via the Freedom of Information Act).
 
Also needed is anything in writing, e.g. a memo or letter from the FAA, that may have implied, or expressly directed, that employees were to ensure no bogus/unapproved/illegal installed part or component was to be discovered on 592.
 
Also, anyone close to Leach International, a former or current employee for example, who has knowledge of the FAA pressuring Leach to apply for PMA on the longitudinal trim relays shortly after the accident of May 11, 1996, please come forward.
 
If you know someone who was involved or has any information, please encourage them to contact Airworthy.US.
 
The evidence is out there. It is only a matter of time until it is found.

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BRIEF EVOLUTION OF AIRWORTHINESS:
  • The US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
  • Air Commerce Act of 1926.
  • Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938.
  • Federal Aviation Act of 1958.
  • Public Law 103-272, July 5, 1995, section 44704(d) states, "The Administrator (of the FAA) shall issue an airworthiness certificate when the Administrator finds that the aircraft CONFORMS TO ITS TYPE CERTIFICATE and, after inspection, IS IN CONDITION FOR SAFE OPERATION."
AIRWORTHINESS DEFINED:
1) CONFORMS TO ITS TYPE CERTIFICATE;
2) IS IN CONDITION FOR SAFE OPERATION.

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TYPE CERTIFICATE
In order to comprehend the primacy and importance of type certificate (TC) and safe-for-flight as the two parts of airworthiness, it is helpful to know what receives a type certificate. There are three "products" deemed to be of sufficient complexity as to require their own type certificates; aircraft, engines, and propellers.
 
Because an aircraft incorporates engines and propellers into its type certificate, it is logical to think of the aircraft type certificate as the highest, most comprehensive level. No offense is intended to engine or propeller type certificate holders.
 
A TC is best described as analogous to a genetic code. It is useful to think of the TC as the DNA of a large, aluminum and steel, complex, hydro-mech-electro-computer-controlled bird, albeit one lacking the quality of life. One could argue that pilots are the life-force and brains of an aircraft; design engineers the creator-gods; the FAA keepers of the laws of the universe and witnesses to its "birth," and signatories of the birth certificate (certificate of airworthiness, or C of A); and mechanics the doctor-caregivers, etc.
 
Consider, for a moment, that at the time of original issuance of C of A, an aircraft conforms 100% to its TC, and is in condition for safe operation. From first flight, however, the aircraft begins to wear and age.
 
All civil aircraft must be airworthy before they are allowed to fly, each time they fly. The TC includes maintenance requirements and schedules for inspecting and replacing certain, specific items. Maintenance, repair, and alteration of the aircraft, when accomplished in accordance with the applicable sections of 14CFR, will ensure the aircraft maintains its airworthiness. Replacement parts must conform to their approved design and be safe for installation on the aircraft. Not performing maintenance in accordance with the TC, or installing a replacement part that cannot be shown to be airworthy, renders the aircraft unairworthy.
 
The point here is that if the requirements of the TC are not strictly adhered to, if the genetic code is altered and not FAA approved, or if it is not maintained or is allowed to break down, the aircraft could be considered a mutant in our analogy. It is no longer airworthy.
 
Airworthy.US can hear the protests, "But many changes, repairs, and modifications are minor, and airworthiness is not affected." That argument is potentially one of the more dangerous threats to airworthiness. Until and unless tests and/or analyses are performed that determine that changes, repairs, and modifications comply with the applicable sections of 14CFR, then the airworthiness of that changed, repaired, or modified part, system, assembly, or structure is unknown. The aircraft is not airworthy.
 
SAFE OPERATION
Of the two conditions necessary for airworthiness; conformance to type certificate, and in condition for safe operation, safe operation is the lesser understood.
 
You may have heard the inane phrase, "Safety is no accident." It may sound cute, but it doesn't go very far in instilling confidence that the commercial/civil aviation industry has a grip on safety. In condition for safe operation, or safety-of-flight, is much more than a slogan.
 
Airworthy.US will generally refer to transport category airplanes, but the definitions are the similar for other category aircraft, engines, and propellers.
 
14CFR Part 25, Airworthiness Standards: Transport Category Airplanes, establishes design requirements and defines safety. Section 25.1309 directs that equipment, systems and installations that are required by the 14CFR (a.k.a. the FARs) must be designed to function as intended under any foreseeable operating condition, and so that the occurrence of any failure condition which would prevent the continued safe flight and landing of the airplane is extremely improbable (on the order of 1 X 10e(-9) or less /flight hour*), and the occurrence of any other failure conditions which would reduce the capability of the airplane or the ability of the crew to cope with adverse operating conditions is improbable (on the order of 1 X 10e(-5) or less/flight hour, but greater than 1 X 10e(-9)/flight hour*).
 
*FAA Advisory Circular AC 25.1309-1A defines continued safe flight and landing: "The capability for continued controlled flight and landing at a suitable airport, possibly using emergency procedures, but without requiring exceptional pilot skill or strength. Some airplane damage may be associated with a failure condition, during flight or upon landing."
 
Quantitatively therefore, any failure condition that has occurred, or may occur, whose probability is greater than on the order of 1 X 10e(-5)/flight hour (one in 100,000/flight hour) is a safety-of-flight concern.
 
Qualitatively however, AC25.1309 describes a probable failure as one that is anticipated to occur one or more times during the entire operational life of each airplane. And improbable failure conditions are those not anticipated to occur during the entire operational life of a single random airplane. However, they may occur occasionally during the entire operational life of all airplanes of one type. Further, extremely improbable failure conditions are those so unlikely that they are not anticipated to occur during the entire operational life of all airplanes of one type.
 
DEFINITION: Aircraft Incident:
An occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the capability for continued controlled flight and landing at a suitable airport, possibly using emergency procedures, but without requiring exceptional pilot skill or strength. Some airplane damage may be associated with a failure condition, during flight or upon landing. (Ref: FAA Order 8300.10, Vol. II, Chapter 210, paragraph 1.A.(1), and Advisory Circular AC 25.1309-1A).
 
DEFINITION: Aircraft Accident:
An occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft that:
"Takes place between the time the first person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and the last person has disembarked
"Results in death or serious injury
Serious Injury is defined as that which;
"Requires hospitalization for more than 48 hours, within 7 days from the date an injury was received,
"Results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose),
"Causes severe hemorrhages, and/or nerve, muscle, or tendon damage,
"Involves second or third degree burn, or burns affecting more than 5% of the body surface, and/or
"Involves damage to any internal organ.
"Causes substantial damage to the aircraft: damage or failure that adversely affects the structural strength, performance, or flight characteristics of the aircraft, and would normally require major repair or replacement of the affected component
"Exceptions include, but are not limited to:
"Engine failure or damage limited to an engine
"Bent fairings or cowling
"Dented skin or small puncture holes in the skin or fabric
"Ground damage to rotor or propeller blades
"Damage to landing gear, wheels, brakes, tires, flaps, engine accessories, or wing tips."
(Ref: FAA Order 8300.10, Vol. II, Chapter 210, paragraph 1.A.(1)).
 
DEFINITION: Flight operation:
"The operation of an aircraft that takes place between the time the first person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and the last person has disembarked." (Ref: FAA Order 8300.10, Vol. II, Chapter 210, paragraph 1.A.(1)).
 
See also, FAR Sect. 25.571 Damage Tolerance and Fatigue of Structure.
"An evaluation of the strength, detailed design, and fabrication must show that catastrophic failure due to fatigue, corrosion, or accidental damage, will be avoided throughout the operational life of the airplane."
 
See also, Control Systems, 25.671(c)
"The airplane must be shown by analysis, tests, or both, to be capable of continued safe flight and landing after any of the following failures or jamming in the flight control system and surfaces (including trim, lift, drag, and feel systems), within the normal flight envelope, without requiring exceptional piloting skill or strength. Probable malfunctions must have only minor effects on control system operation and must be capable of being readily counteracted by the pilot."
 
FAA Order 8130.2C, paragraph 9.b. notes that "If one or both of these conditions (conforms to type certificate and in condition for safe operation) are not met, the aircraft would be considered unairworthy." Parenthetical phrase added.

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