Speed up automation

I was pleased to see the letter from Eurocontrol programme manager Seppo Kaupinnen on automation in air traffic control (Flight International, 25-31 May). It seems particularly apposite that the same issue should cover the report on the ATC-induced mid-air collision over Überlingen.

I have considerable regard for the work carried out within Mr Kaupinnen's department, but significant safety and capacity improvements through automation have now been promised for over 30 years. I believe Eurocontrol is wrong to pursue the development of software tools that almost exclusively merely advise the controller. While a human being makes the tactical decisions and issues the instructions over a VHF link there will always be a limit to capacity and a risk that the instructions are wrong.

True automation would use computers to generate conflict-free trajectories and to adjust them in real time for changing circumstances. Separate computers would be provided to monitor the solutions for correctness and to act as back-ups. VHF RT would remain in use for a while, but soon existing capabilities to uplink clearances directly to the aircraft flight management system (FMS) would be used. There would, however, always be a role for controllers who would be there to manage the airspace as a resource and handle exceptions and emergencies.

Überlingen should be a wake-up call. Eurocontrol, the airlines and the ATC service providers should immediately get together and put genuine automation on a fast track.

David Parkinson

Guildford, Surrey, UK

Paradigm or paradox?

Your timely story on UK supplier co-operation (Flight International, 1-7 June) highlights a real danger for UK aerospace, but may be misleading in identifying suppliers as the sole cause of the problem.

Having worked with many of those "mom and pop operations", I think many already understand the need to co-operate and add value. However, this new paradigm can quickly become a paradox as a new "virtual supplier" emerges, which is difficult for contemporary procurement teams to deal with. I would not defend supplier complacency, but even those investing heavily in new methods are then confounded by traditional policies and the behaviour of some customers. For them, a new management "roll-up" is an easier means to rationalise suppliers, but these can ultimately lack the innovation and flexibility of a privately owned small- to medium-sized enterprise (SME) network. The alternative of co-operation and collaboration is worth pursuing.

The UK industry's Innovation and Growth Team highlights the danger of losing its SME lifeblood and advocates collaboration, but the resulting enterprise must be practically capable of doing business. The immediate legal and commercial hurdles are not insurmountable, but they are significant and time consuming - creditworthiness alone is a serious inhibitor. The Canadian/US Aeroalliance.com model works and is looking for UK capability in a response to globalisation issues. The biggest potential barriers may lie not with suppliers, but in the "hysteresis gap" that exists between the evangelists and practitioners that populate the top-tier buying communities.

Mike Caffyn

EB2B Associates, Sherborne, Dorset, UK

Revisit carrier decision

The delays in the short take-off and vertical landing variant (STOVL) programme of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (Flight International, 8-14 June) add weight to the argument that UK plans to build an adaptable 60,000t carrier should be revisited. Boeing F/A-18 C/Ds could be leased cheaply, short term from the US Navy. This would negate the need for a less-capable JSF as the UK could wait longer for the F-35 and would have a reasonable-sized air group whenever a new carrier is commissioned. In the meantime UK pilots could train on USN carriers.

A slightly longer carrier with a wider deck would allow the BMT design to keep the ski jump and have arrester wires and two catapults on an angled deck. It is more cost effective to do this while building the carrier, than at a future refit. It would allow USN, US Marine Corps and French navy cross decking as well as the use of Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and future unmanned aerial vehicles from 2015 that need to use catapults.

The build-cost budget limit needs to be revisited as it is too low to provide for survivability and automation and extra defence expenditure should be raised to fund the carrier, without cutting other defence programmes. Consideration for an additional deck or mezzanine for UAVs should be considered as a force multiplier, leaving space on the main deck for manned aircraft.

Tony Linden

Reading, UK

Why not use racing car data?

In Comment, "Clearing the air" (Flight International, 8-14 June), you assert that little data exists about the crashworthiness of composite structures.

Isn't it time we looked at the racing-car industry for crash test data? It has been building crash-survivable monocoque structures from carbonfibre-based composites for many years. These structures have been tested (and proved to work) both in the laboratory and in real- life situations on many occasions.

On post-crash safety, I don't think I've ever seen a race marshal wearing any special protective clothing (unless fighting a major fire) when attending a crash of one of these cars.

Surely if there's a problem with airborne free fibres, then they should be provided with some form of air filtration? Or is the risk so small it doesn't warrant any special measures and this is just a case of scaremongering so we can add even more cost to our overburdened industry?

Steve Rice

Horsham, Sussex, UK

Push for single engine rules

Bob Crowe challenges the UK Civil Aviation Authority to justify its opposition to the approval of single-engine instrument meteorological conditions (Flight International, 11-17 May), but he probably knew the answers he would get before he wrote his letter.

I was surprised that the CAA did not rise to the bait and tell us once again why it so opposed to what other European nations are willing to accept. The level playing field we hear so much about does not appear to be in evidence in this particular case.

In a report about the same topic in the same issue, the final paragraph says: "Ultimately, all Joint Aviation Authorities countries need not concur. It is sufficient for a consensus to support the proposal, with any dissenters providing an appendix to a formal recommendation for adoption."

Would an appendix still forbid what Mr Crowe strives for?

Mike Newman

Dunstable, Bedfordshire, UK

Ice worries

Of 108 Cessna 208 hull losses, 16 have been attributed to engine failure. Some were due to fuel mismanagement caused by pilot error or design. An idiot-proof fuel system would seem essential.

More disturbing are the 15 accidents with 29 fatalities in which airframe icing was cited as a factor and 17 more with 30 deaths in which it could have been. Certification of any slow, fixed-gear, strut-braced aircraft for flight in icing conditions may be unwise and European night mail flights, the primary use envisaged for the type, couldn't avoid them in winter.

The aircraft's pilot operating handbook says: "Flight into freezing rain, freezing drizzle, mixed conditions or severe icing must be avoided.

Whenever icing conditions are encountered, immediate action should be taken before performance is degraded to a point where a climb, normally the best action to take, may not be achievable due to residual ice build-up."

How this advice would translate into realistic operating instructions, other than prohibition of flight in icing, remains to be seen. Night flying and icing are closely related, although some conveniently see them as separate issues.

Piston twins are used for very little commercial night flying in Europe, which makes a comparison spurious.

Graham Smith

Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK

CTC acquired McAlpine

Your coverage (Flight International, 8-14 June) of the acquisition of McAlpine Aviation Training (MAT) was correct in most particulars - but not in the most important one. MAT has been acquired, not by McAlpine or CTC McAlpine, but by CTC Aviation Group.

As your article correctly states, this enables us to bring together ab initio and type rating training to create a vertically integrated flight training organisation under single management. It positions CTC to meet growing demand from our airline partners and supplements the rapid expansion of our existing training facilities in Southampton with the addition of training centres in Bournemouth, in the UK, and in New Zealand.

Chris Clarke

Chairman, CTC Aviation Group, Southampton, UK

Source: Flight International