Tag Archives: airport

Airport bans toy soldier's three-inch rifle from plane… because it's a safety threat

The article linked below from Daily Mail Online is just a snapshot of what can happen in airports around the world. It’s hard to believe a small toy can pose a threat to aviation safety but the story is interesting because brings airport security under spotlight: on one side, we have large airports where people can reach the tarmac exploiting a series of security breaches (as showed by an Italian journalist at Milan Malpensa in December); on the other one, there are large airports where security checks are a little excessive and a three-inch long resin firearm, embraced by a figure, is considered a potential threat to a flight. Perhaps it is time to find the right balance between permissiveness and paranoia?

Read the full story of the “soldier’s rifle” here:

Push back from the tractor operator's point of view

A few weeks ago, Des Barker sent me the following interesting pictures showing the impact of a civilian plane with a tractor. The text of the email explained that on Jan 1, 2009, “after pushback from the gate in LA, the pilot throttled up to taxi before the tractor and bar were disconnected”.

The images let me think how dangerous, some normal airport activities, can be, so I asked to my friend Giovanni Maduli, who works at Rome Fiumicino airport, to explain how the push back of an aircraft takes place. This is what he explained:
“Even if the push back is performed using different kind of tractors, the main rules remain the same. Using both the tractor that “catches” the nose wheel gear or the one with the push back towbar, the first thing to do is to insert the “NOSE GEAR LOCKPIN”. This pin acts on the valve that inhibits pressure to the nose gear. Then the steering height must be checked so as to avoid the tractor from impacting and damaging the landing gear doors. Some aircraft have a “red stripe on nosewheel doors” marking.
During the push, the towing tractor can’t exceed the maximum steer radius and speeds; should the safety pin break, there would be a loss of directional control. The ramp operator and the crew in the cockpit must be in radio contact: via headseat, by means of the aircraft’s interphone system; or by means of walkie-talkies. Any emergency or problem must be immediately notified on the radio. Two operators use the towbar tractors model Fresia, with the help of a ramp technician: one operator seats on the back of the tractor (on the opposite side of the driver) to help this latter whose visibility is obstructed by the aircraft when it is angled by 45° to be aligned with the taxiway’s centerline and can’t check for any obstacle. With the other kind of tractor, the “Kalmar”, the push back is easier since the nose gear is directly connected to the tractor and not by means of a tow bar. This kind of tractor requires a single operator (the driver). The “Fresia” model towbar tractor requires much more attention. The push back can’t be performed if there are more than 50% of the engines at IDLE. A series of safety bolts, that must be checked before the hook up, prevent the bar from stressing the nose gear structure. The bolts are calibrated to sustain an amount of stress that does not damage the gear. When the bolts break, a quick reaction of the ramp operator is required to prevent any injury or damage to the aircraft.
When the push back is completed and the aircraft is on the taxiway’s centerline, the pilot radios the “Parking Brakes On” to the ramp operator, who gives the driver the clearance to disengage the tractor. Radio contact between the ramp operator and the cockpit must be kept until the tractor is outside of the aircraft cleared taxi route”.

Airport Network Failures…

Look at the following picture. It was taken by my friend Rage at the Terminal B of Barcelona airport on Jan 7, 2009. Can you notice something weird?

If you look closely, you can see a “NETWORK FAILURE” message among the departures. Failures can happen. I work in the IT area and everyday I have to deal with the concepts of Redundancy, Back Up, Storage, High Availability, Disaster Recovery, etc. What it is really strange in this case, is not the failure itself but the fact that the error message appears on the display. This is what I consider a dual mistake: a communication and a design error. Let me explain what I mean.
That message doesn’t contain any useful information for a passenger departing from the Spanish airport. It answer no question but creates confusion: since travellers are not aware of the type of failure, they don’t know if the message refers to something within the display (is the airport network down? are departures affected by some kind of routes network problem? etc.) or outside it (the source of the information displayed at the Terminal B). Under an Security point of view, providing that message is risky too: if the failure is the consequence of a hacker attack, giving him the confirmation that the hack was succesfull is not a clever idea. Next time he could achieve a DoS (Denial Of Service) basing on the first successful attack. So, programmers, LAN and IT managers at the airports should prevent some error messages to be broadcasted.

Under a design point of view, a network failure is a symptom that something in the “chain” has failed: there was a Single Point of Failure (SPF), the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) did not succeed, the Back Up plan did not work, the configuration was not correctly implemented, the Hardware was obsolete or at full capacity, etc. There can be many reasons for a failure (or a network one). For sure, they must be avoided, especially if the network is used to trasmit mission critical information: in this case, a fault can be catastrophic. Risk Management should be performed, in order to assess those assets that must be hardened, to mitigate the risk of loss or deterioration of the assets, and to monitor the risk in accordance with a particular metric in order to keep it to an “acceptable level”. Even if the flying operations and the Air Traffic Control are those fields where Aviation Safety focus more often, the IT department of an airport must be seriously taken in consideration. Even if applying effective countermeasures and contingency plans can cost a lot, underestimate the damage that can be inflicted by a poorly maintained Local Area Network or Hardware Component could lead to a disaster. A few examples: On Apr. 20, 2002 a power supply problem makes the Rome Fiumicino Tower mute betweek 4.40 and 5.20 LT. On Mar 16, 2003, a network failure causes a radar black out at Rome ACC based in Ciampino around 22.00LT: all intercontinental flights to Fiumicino are diverted to Malpensa, Rome Radar switches to procedural control and take off are blocked until midnight. On Aug. 2007 a malfunctioning NIC (Network Interface Card), which allowed computer to interconnect to the LAN (Local Area Network), on a single desktop computer of the immigration control in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, experiences a failure. A total system failure affecting other computer of the same immigration system occurs at 14.00LT and lasts some 9 hours. All international flights are delayed by some hours. Thousands passengers have to wait for hours at the airport. A second outage on the Customs systems is caused by a power supply failure. Customs computers with a life of about 4 years were at their four-year phase and had to be replaced. In July 2008, a failure of the Dublin airport radar system causes fear and many grouned flights. Tracks vanish from the controllers’ radar screens. The first failure lasts 10 minutes, the second time the controllers have to close the airport to all inbound flights. As a consequence, 200 flights are delayed, diverted or cancelled. Ryanair, that is the main airport’s user, claims that more than 13.000 passengers are affected with a cost to the airline of about 1 million GBP. The shutdown was caused by a faulty network interface card (once again) but was actually a double fault, since the LAN recovery failed too. The following is an excerpt of an interesting article on the Dublin event published by the Irish Times (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0920/1221835128140.html):

When it subsequently emerged that there had been a series of faults in the radar system since June 2nd, Ryanair called on the Department of Transport “and Ireland’s useless aviation regulator” to explain why there was no contingency plan for the repeated IAA computer system failures at Dublin airport.

Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion suggested that a back-up system may be needed if the upheaval was not to repeat itself, but industry sources said a back-up system would cost as much to install as an initial system.

However, yesterday’s Report of the Irish Aviation Authority into the ATM System Malfunction at Dublin Airport maintained that while “worldwide, air navigation service providers cannot rule out the possibility of failures” the IAA was “confident that the measures recommended by the system supplier Thales ATM and now being implemented will minimise the effect of a recurrence of like or similar failures of its ATM system in the future”.

The report revealed that the root cause of the failures at Dublin airport was a faulty network interface card and that all of the Dublin failures had the same root cause.

It concluded that the failure was not “a single point of failure” but was caused by a double failure – a hardware failure of the network interface card and a failure of the local area network recovery mechanism.

The IAA said the system had been “stable” since July 9th and added: “IAA engineering, air traffic control, safety, support and management staff worked around the clock to resolve the issues as quickly as possible.”


Thales ATM, suppliers of the radar system at Dublin airport, recommended:

• That additional network monitoring be undertaken. Monitoring tools and a “passive analyser” should be installed for the early identification of any similar malfunctions. This work has been completed.

• That a software programme to protect the local area network recovery mechanism be developed. This programme is currently being tested.

• That changes in procedures in relation to hardware testing be made before insertion in the operational system. These changes have been implemented.

• Thales ATM is also studying other potential improvements in the network design to prevent a recurrence.

• A spokeswoman for the IAA said it and Thales ATM had jointly supplied engineers to work on the problem. While it did not expect to have its costs refunded by Thales ATM, neither did it expect a bill from the company for its time.

A new era in Italy's civil aviation

On Jan 13, AP 2853, an Air One A320 from Palermo Punta Raisi to Rome Fiumicino and AZ676, a B777 from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to San Paolo in Brasil, both taking off at 06.10 were the first revenue flights of the “new” Alitalia owned by CAI (Compagnia Aerea Italiana), that integrates both the obsolete state-run airline and Air One. The old company ended in bankruptcy on Jan 12, after 63 years of operations: the last flights were the two shuttle flights between Rome and Milan while the last landing in Fiumicino was AZ329 from Paris. The last flight of the old Air One was the AP2956 from Milan Linate to Fiumicino taking off at 21.50LT. The new company (newco), that has received Air Operator Certificate numbered 130 as the previous one, AOC 1, was revoked since the previous company disappeared) is owned by a group of 25 Italian investors that bought the company in a deal worth around 1 billion Euro.The new privatized airline that has in Air France-KLM a “minority” partner with a 25% share in the “newco” (worth 322 million Euro) will have its main operating base in Rome Fiumicino airport, that will become one of the hubs of the AF/KLM group. Fiumicino should take the routes to the Mediterranean, the Far East and South America while Malpensa, should a sort of multi-hub approach in Italy will be applied, should become a major hub for intercontinental North bound routes. Actually, the future of Malpensa is not clear now as it is tied to that of Milan Linate airport. The newco has hired 12.500 employees out of the 23.500 of the combined of the two airlines. 70 destinations will be served, 13 of which will be intercontinental.
So far, the entire fleet has been operating with the previous liveries, meaning that the aircraft previously belonging to Air One, at least for the moment, will keep their current colour scheme and markings. The logo is the same, flights use the old radio callsigns, the crew uniforms will not change: there main differences between the old and the new era concern the personnel (12.628 instead of about 23.500) and the fleet that, according to the released figures, is made of 148 aircraft from both airlines: 25 less than the old one. The new company
The following pictures show the last night of the old Alitalia (comprising leafleats of a mock funeral held by the personnel) and the dawn of the new one at Fiumicino airport of Jan 13, with the flights arriving into Rome using the old airline codes. Interestingly, the first flights of the new Alitalia were postal flights and not revenue ones.