Aviation In Canada

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Aviation News Reporting

Here's another example of why I believe reporters need a lot of help when it comes to aviation reporting. This article appeared in Monday (February 7, 2005) morning's paper.

Plane spins on slippery runway
ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. (CP) -- A plane landing at the St. John's International airport Saturday night spun as it hit a slippery patch of the runway.
No one was hurt and the 7-37 plane suffered no damage during the incident, officials told VOCM radio.
The accident took place as the plane was about to connect to the terminal walkway around 11:30 p.m. The plane was closing in on the ramp from the terminal building when it reached the slippery section of the runway and spun.
Emergency personnel weren't called in, but passengers and crew remained on the plane for about half an hour until maintenance staff could salt and sand the area.
The aircraft was enventually towed the last few meters to the ramp.
Airport manager Ketith Collins described the incident as minor. He said an "incident report" would be filed with authorities.
A number of flights were postponed or cancelled at the airport yesterday morning due to windy conditions and ice.

How many little things are wrong with this, let us count the items. The headline and the opening paragraph indicate the runway was where the plane "spun". Turns out, the "7-37", which we aviation fans know better as a 737, "spun" on the apron, not on the runway. There is a big difference between the two for those in the know. A plane spinning on a runway may be going significantly faster, making any incident much more serious. Speaking of splitting hairs on terms, aviation buffs often refer to the apron as the ramp, not the jetway, walkway, "finger" or whatever you want to call it.

So it "spun", did it? I doubt it "spun", so much as slid a little, or perhaps weather cocked. More likely one main wheel and the nose wheel hit some ice while braking was being applied, meaning there would be a rotational moment created. Perhaps all three wheels were on the "slippery runway", and it weather cocked -- after all, CYYT is known for high winds. In any case, I'd like to challenge the use of the word "spun" as much as many other words used in the article.

They may have sanded the area, but airports in Canada don't generally apply salt to the manoeuvering areas. Salt is well known for its corrosive properties, so urea is the chemical ice melter of choice, not salt. Once again, assumptions creep in. And was this really and "accident", as the third paragraph states? I can tell you that if an airplane really "spun" on the terminal apron, it certainly wouldn't be considered minor.

Lastly, what relevance to our reported incident does the last paragraph have, refering to Sunday morning's wind and ice?

Why am I being so picky? Because inane "facts" creep up like this all the time. For example, a recent headline in Moncton's Times and Transcript detailed how a PA31 landed belly up, since "both the main and emergency landing gear systems failed." This lead some people around me who aren't up on aviation related issues to believe this little Navajo had the normal landing gear, but also had a backup set of landing gear, rather than a backup method of extending the only set of landing gear. It certainly doesn't have more than one set of wheels to land on.