Monthly Archives: March 2008

Delta in-flight safety video: the power of (some kind of) communication

Delta Airlines recently uploaded an aviation in-flight safety video to Youtube. The video is similar to those broadcasted on every commercial flight before departure but it is for sure one of the most watched ever.
First of all, it was uploaded on the Internet and it is available to everybody. Second, Delta choose a beautiful flight attendant for its video.

Each time I fly I always think that the safety videos deserve more attention since the briefing contains information that might be useful in case of emergency. Since frequent flyers don’t pay attention to them and people scared of flying are focused on the take-off and usually don’t concentrate on the clip, only a few passengers watch the safety video (I’m among them). Delta had a clever idea to use Katherine Lee (that has been nicknamed Deltalina, from Delta-Angelina, from her resemblance to Angelina Jolie) because the informational video was watched by thousands in the World (CNN interviewed both Katherine and the clip’s director) from their chairs with positive consequences for both passenger’ safety and marketing purposes. Furthermore, it is very clear (easy to understand also for a non-mothertongue), slightly hilarious and thus enjoyable and effective.

Well done!

USAF vs Information Leakage

The USAF decided to deny the access some websites, the ones containing the word “blog” (and a few others according to the information provided on some forums and websites on the Internet), to its personnel in order to prevent some important information to be disclosed without control. Even if the majority of its users, especially those deployed abroad, used the blogs to provide information to their relatives, some witnessed things that could not be unveiled and shared their thoughs in a way that was considered dangerous. Information Leakage is one of the major threats to the military secrets even if restricting users’ web access is only a minor solution. First of all, some of the most important information are stored on sites that are not correctly protected or hardened and are consequently ofter hacked by both internal and external visitors. Then, it must be considered that if a military wants to disclose secrets, in both an intentional or unintentional way, he could do that with alternative means or from his home laptop or smartphone.
The blocks on the navigation were implemented using Blue Coat proxying technology. This kind of system use an internal policy that is matched on the destination URL requested by an internal user. If the destination IP address is matched against the list of blocked sites, the user is redirected elsewhere, to a blank page or to a default page. Otherwise he can surf. The black list (the list containing those sites that can not be accessed) can be category-based (hence automatic) and/or custom. Since categories and subcategories on these systems are wide, adding a category to the black list could lead to false positives, that is to say that a user could be denied from accessing a permitted website. In this case a manual exclusion is required (with effort needed to track exclusion requests and to analyse them).
According to what some important magazines reported, all the URLs containing “blog” are currently banned but it is still unclear if other domains, like wordpress.com or pages.google.com, where blogs can be hosted but don’t contain the explicit word “blog”, are among the denied destinations (for instance I still don’t know if this site can be accessed by Air Force bases). Actually, not only Blogspot was cut off the “white list” containing the “good sites” but also some social networking websites have been restricted on military network for various reasons. Youtube, Photobucket and MySpace have been banned because of bandwidth they eat while reputable media should be still available to everyone. Even if, officially, the problem is tied to the Information Leakage, someone speculated the risk is that the military could use the social networks (without disclosing classified information) to share opinions against their commanders or to convince troops that the war it’s not worth fighting. There are also productivity explainations: watching videos, uploading pictures and blogging is wasteful Internet usage. However there’s not much consistence in blocking blogs and permitting ESPN, News and commercial email. Using Gmail, people can still send and receive email, and chat. Using a commercial email address, a military can still upload its pictures to Photobucket by sending them to the configured email address and can still post its thoughs on a blog by forwarding the text to his wife or friends that are not blocked by any Firewall or Proxy. So there are only two options: leaving free access (but evangelise personnel on the risks of Information Leakage for their own safety) or blocking everything but those sites needed for their specific activities or work. Since the second options would have a deep impact on the morale, the first one its smarter to me.

Was the BA038 jammed by Gordon Brown's motorcade?

I was informed about one of the most intriguing theories heard so far dealing with the BA038 crash landing, by Scott, a visitor who wrote an interesting comment on one of my previous posts dealing with the G-YMMM accident. Here’s Scott’s comment:

Prime Minister Dr. Gordon Brown’s motorcade was passing under the approach path of BA038. His security system utilised a RF transmitter to block out any cell-phone triggered devices. Apparently this system has a two mile range, and it caused the Boeing 777 EEC’s (electronic engine controls) to sense a “overboost” situation, thereby commanding a reduced-thrust situation for the engines, simultaneously.

Even if the final report was not issued yet (at the moment, there’s no confirmation about the possible interference by the AAIB) this theory focuses again on an EMI (Electromagnetic Impulse) as the cause of the crash landing of the British Airways B777. It must be remembered though that the initial reports don’t say anything in particular about possible intereferences: “The autopilot and the autothrottle systems behaved correctly and the engine control systems were providing the correct commands prior to, during, and after, the reduction in thrust”.
It is possible that Gordon Brown’s motorcade use electomagnetic signals to jam remote controllers, mobile phones and other wireless devices. The cellphones are in fact used to trigger bombs and jamming can prevent them from sending input signals to remotely activated bombs. Such a risk is concrete and, for example, in 2005, during the Rivolto Open Day in Italy, for a certain period of time, all the cellphones in the airport and around were prevented from connecting to the GSM network (switching off the local cells in that case) as a security measure against terrorist attack that could be planned against Italian Prime Minister, Ministry of Defense and many authorities and VIPs that were attending the Air Show. I don’t have any idea about the power, frequencies and range of a jamming system like that one used (if used) by the British PM’s motorcade and if it can interfere with the aircraft systems. What made me think is that the jamming system caused problem to the landing 777, it should have interfered with other aircraft’ systems and with many electronic devices nearby. Furthermore I don’t know if this system is always switched on when the motorcade moves because if so, there would be many reports of interferences in and around London. For sure, jamming exists and it can have cause some troubles: a few years ago, an alleged signal emitted by ECM equipment at Nellis AFB (even if this thing was never officially confirmed), affected remote controllers, garage openers and remote door openers for automobiles in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. If the AAIB report will point to the jamming as the root cause of the BA 038 accident, there will be a serious reasons for studying in detail how to shield aircraft systems better to resist to accidental (like the presumed one on Jan. 17) and/or intentional jamming of commercial flights (but not only) departing and landing from civilian airports.

Lufthansa 044 wingstrike: how the newspapers changed their opinion

I think that the wingstrike at Hamburg was most probably caused by a pilot mistake in the “decrab” of the A320 just before touching down. My opinion is based only on the analysis of the famous video made by a spotter just outside the airport’s fence and it is a qualitative evaluation that I’ve explained in my previous post on the same subject.
Initially, almost all media coverage reported that the pilot flying the A320 was a hero, because able to prevent a disaster (without analysing the accident under a technical point of view); when Lufthansa declared that a young female pilot, named only Maxi J., was flying the LH 044 when it was invested by the gust of wind, many journalists drastically changed their opinion. The hero, on the following days, had become the more experienced Captain Oliver A. who flew the second approach after recovering the aircraft from the dangerous attitude. Many newspapers changed their opinion on the mishap when it was unveiled that the approach was flown by a female First Officer and simply could not understand why an experienced pilot had allowed his less experienced female colleague to land the airplane in stormy weather conditions. First of all, an in-depth analysis is paramount to determine the cause of the wing strike. Even if I think the pilot made a mistake during the “decrab”, my opinion doesn’t depend on the gender of the pilot. Then, it is not surprising that the pilot flying was the F/O, as it is a common for pilot and co-pilot to swap roles on commercial flights. Co-pilots have to comply with the same training requirements as captains and must be able to face with the some problems and to perform the same tasks. I was not surprised that a co-pilot was landing the plane at Hamburg: if the captain has decided to leave the colleague land, he was confident that she could do it in safety considering the wind, visibility, runway, etc. at the destination airport.

Trip report: Rome Fiumicino (FCO) – New York JFK (JFK) Round-Trip

Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Rome Fiumicino (FCO) – New York John F. Kennedy (JFK)
Flight: AZ 610
Scheduled departure time: 13:50
Type of aircraft: Boeing B 767-343/ER
Registration: EI-CRM “Amerigo Vespucci”

Since I preferred flying directly to NYC, as I had already done in 2005, I had planned my trip as to fly the first leg to Newark and to return from JFK. I had booked 6 seats (me, wife, parents and friends) on AZ 644 (departing at 10.10LT and arriving at 14.15LT) towards the end of December, carefully choosing them according to my needs but, some weeks before departure, I got a phone call from Alitalia informing me that my flight to EWR had been canceled and I had to replan my trip with another flight. Since I was not willing to make any stop before NYC I had only another option: flying to JFK (the reason for flying to Newark instead of JFK on the first leg was also to visit again EWR). My option went on AZ 610, a flight departing later from Rome (13.50LT) but flying directly to JFK where I would land sensibly later (some 4 hours later). I had lost a few hours but at least I would have kept the advantages of a non-stop flight.
On Feb 27, I arrived at the airport quite early, checked in, got my boarding passes and went through the security check and customs clearance. Before reaching the departure gate, I had a breakfast, bought some magazine and did some shopping. I had also plenty of time to surf on the Internet and check my email thanks to the WiFi connection provided by one of the airport’s Wireless LAN to my Nokia smartphone. We reached the departure gate using the skytrain some 30 minutes before take-off and isnce boarding was about to start the area was crowded. I regretted seeing that the aircraft for this flight was a B767 that has not received the new color scheme yet. Just a few minutes to have a look at the boarding of a Thai B747-400 and American Airlines B767, and I heard the first call for Alitalia 610.


Boarding started some 20 minutes before take-off and was quite fast, since the aircraft was almost empty. I took an Italian newspaper, was pleased by the cabin crew and made my way towards my window seat or row 18 located in Economy a few rows past the Business class.
Push back, taxi and take-off from RWY 25 were extremely smooth and, shortly after departure, the flight attendants started to serve lunch. The lack of a PVT entertainment system made the flight somehow boring; furthermore, the movies were hard to hear with the earphones provided. Another unacceptable thing was that the air conditioning seemed not to work properly: at least 4 or 5 rows of the Economy Class flew for 10 hours in a tropical weather while the rest of the cabin had a fresh temperature. Even worse and really astonishing under a certain point of view is that, for the first time since I fly, pilots did not make a single announcement during all the flight. No presentation, no details about the flight time, weather, route, nothing.
Flight progress was available every now and then on the TV: the route we followed was quite straight. We overflew Sardinia, Barcelona and passed North of Santiago de Compostela before reaching the Atlantic Ocean heading more or less directly towards New York. According to FlightAware, we followed this route:
ESINO UZ924 KOLUS UM603 ALG UM601 VERSO UM601 BCN UN725 STG UM440 KOPAS 4400N 02000W 4400N 03000W 4200N 04000W 3900N 05000W 3800N 06000W SLATN N10A BERGH A300 OWENZ CAMRN CAMRN4
Weather was not very good and we encountered slight to moderate turbolence along the route. Head wind sometimes above 100 kmh made the trip longer than average.
Despite AZ610 was a complete day-flight, the cabin crew acted like it was night flight and switched off all the lights and asked passengers to close their windows shades. However, cabin temperature in my area was very hot and I could not sleep. Cabin crew was friendly and attentive but could not do anything about the failure in the air conditioning system. About 1 hour before arrival, we were offered a snack and hot and cold drinks and then cabin crew distributed the US immigration forms.










We landed at 18:00LT on RWY 04R and taxied for 11 minutes to reach the gate at Terminal 1. We taxied on RWY 31R (where we overtook a Finnair MD-11 taxing on the parallel B taxiway) and parked next to a Turkish A330.

Immigration control was next step after a queue of about 30 minutes. The officer was very friendly and after leaving the digital finger print of my hands and being photographed, I could collect my luggage and pass through the customs. I was soon outside the terminal looking for my shuttle bus to Grand Central Station greeted by a temperature well below 0° Centigrades. My new adventure in NYC had just begun.












After some sunny and freezy days in NYC I took my flight back to Rome.

Sunday, 2 March 2008
New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) – Rome Fiumicino (FCO)
Flight: AZ 611
Scheduled departure time: 21:00
Type of aircraft: Boeing B 767-343/ER

Registration: EI-CRM “Amerigo Vespucci”

The return flight was definitely better even if the aircraft was the same and the air conditioning had again problems (I was on the right hand side of the aircraft window seat on row 16 this time). Crew was nice and pilot was very comunicative. The pilots warned us about the turbolence we were going to expect after 6 hours of flight because of a jetstream (less than on the first leg) and provided updates throughout the rest of the flight. The route flown by AZ 611 is the following:
HAPIE3 YAHOO DOVEY 4200N 06000W 4300N 05500W 4400N 05000W 4500N 04000W 4500N 03000W 4400N 02000W 4500N 01500W SIVIR UN460 RIVAK UN460 FOUCO UT187 LERGA UM728 SODRI UM728 BTA UL146 ELKAP
After a night oceanic flight I woke up while the aircraft was overflying France. Then we headed direct to ELB and followed the standard arrival procedure to Fiumicino, where we landed around 11.00LT on RWY 16L.