Analysis of the FlightAware.com flight-following site by AINsafety has revealed that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17 was between 150 and 300 nm farther north than some previous flights by the airline on the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur route. AIN learned, however, that some of FlightAware.com's data tracks over Ukraine were created using information estimates. The question still remains whether the jetliner would have been shot down had it adhered to a more southerly track. However, alternative site FlightRadar24.com does not reveal any such deviation from the usual course and appears to use actual ADS-B- and ATC-derived flight data.
The airspace in eastern Ukraine was open at the time of the crash. Malaysia Airlines and many other international carriers continued to fly through it, even though several other airlines had chosen to reroute away from the conflict zone. Malaysian transport minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said MH17 followed the route it did because the airspace was deemed to be safe above FL320 and was being regularly used by other commercial flights.
After the crash, the airspace was fully closed by Ukraine, and several national aviation authorities, including the FAA, banned aircraft registered in their jurisdictions from overflying the area around the Simferopol and Dnipropetrovsk flight information regions. In April, the FAA issued a notam barring U.S. flight operations from nearby Crimea, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. It remains unclear when or if international investigators, including a small NTSB team, will be allowed to access the as yet unsecured accident site. The FAA said it plans to re-evaluate the airspace prohibition by the end of October.
The number of fatalities from business jet accidents worldwide in this year's first half has already exceeded the total number for all of last year, according to statistics gathered by AIN. In the first six months of this year, 29 people died in seven crashes of U.S.- and non-U.S.-registered business jets compared with 23 people killed in eight mishaps in all of 2013.
N-numbered business jets were involved in four accidents that killed 15 people in the first half of this year versus nine fatalities in three crashes last year. The following U.S. jet models were involved in Part 91 fatal accidents in the first half of 2014 (fatalities shown in parentheses): Challenger 601 (1), Citation I (4), Gulfstream IV-SP (7) and IAI Westwind (3). In January through June last year, two U.S. jet models suffered fatal crashes: a Learjet 60 (2) and two Premier Is (7).
Part 135 charter/air taxi jet operations were involved in just one nonfatal accident in each of the comparable periods. Fractional jet operations under Part 91K had no accidents in the first half of this year versus one in the same time frame last year and also experienced one incident during each period.
Worldwide, turboprops were the only segment of the turbine business fleet that reduced fatal and nonfatal accident numbers over the comparable first halves. In the first half of this year, 16 people died in six crashes involving U.S.-registered Part 91 propjets, compared with 18 fatalities in eight accidents last year that included one operating under Part 135. U.S. turboprops also had fewer nonfatal accidents: seven so far in 2014 (six under Part 91 and one under Part 135) and 12 in the first half of last year (all Part 91 flights).
The pilot of an MBB-Kawasaki (Eurocopter) BK117B2 flying a trauma recovery mission at 5,000 feet agl in South Australia last year saw a number of hydraulic fluctuations on the helicopter's system indicators just before the aircraft experienced an uncommanded and violent pitch up. That excursion was followed closely by a left roll and descent, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
The pilot instinctively pushed forward on the cyclic but was unable to regain control until the helicopter had descended to approximately 800 feet agl, at which point the pilot returned to the departure airport, Port Pirie. Nobody on board was injured, and the helicopter sustained only minor damage.
While the ATSB did not identify any mechanical issues as the cause of the hydraulic fluctuations or pitch up, the bureau did discover that the helicopter was being operated at a weight, density altitude and airspeed conducive to a stall on the retreating main rotor blade. Weather conditions were identified as an exacerbating factor. The ATSB said an uncommanded pitch up and left roll are characteristic of such a stall.
The ATSB later said the pilot's pushing the cyclic forward delayed recovery from the stall and that this type of incorrect recovery could have resulted in a complete loss of control.
An Australian company has created a cockpit lighting system that might also solve the persistent issue of pilot spatial disorientation.
With current technology a pilot must first recognize disorientation using the attitude indicator and other supporting flight instruments. The Go Light, which has received provisional patent approval, is a system of cockpit lights that gives pilots a constant reference point of the horizon in their peripheral vision.
"The Go Light mitigates unrecognized spatial disorientation and allows pilots more freedom to concentrate on other instruments while maintaining an almost subconscious and accurate awareness of their attitude," said the system's creator, pilot Russell Crane. He added that the Go Light is the first attitude indication instrument to provide a full illumination function that would bathe the cockpit in a field of light visible to pilots at all times.
The system includes external pivoting fuselage lights to replicate the in-cockpit system outside the aircraft.