The M&M theory

M&Ms. No, not the candy. I speak of the twin “Ms” that generate action from government. They are: Money and Media. Any effort to generate interest in addressing a problem or issue will not be effective unless it contains one or both of these “Ms”

For instance, your congress is now considering legislation to address the safety anomalies associated with  the regional airline industry: low pay for pilots, pilot fatigue, minimum training standards and aircraft inspections.  Do you know how long these issues have been around? A long, long time. Pilot groups and unions have been vocal concerning the standards of these carriers. They have written, faxed and emailed their legislators with no result.

Then, there’s a tragic crash in Buffalo, N.Y. with relentless and ongoing media attention. The “M” (as in media) has obtained a response from the previously unresponsive. Once again,  the M&M theory is validated.

Regional airlines transparency

The relationships between the major carriers and the regionals are now getting scrutiny in the wake of the  the most recent accident in Buffalo.  If an airplane is painted in the colors and logo of a major carrier,  passengers are led to believe that the operator of the airplane IS the major carrier. Of course  that is not true. The major airlines began to use what were then called commuter airlines to serve smaller airports after deregulation in 1978.

One must remember the time when service to those smaller markets was provided by the major airlines. With the advent of deregulation, airports that had been served with 727’s DC-9s and 737s sometimes found themselves with no service at all as the big airlines abandoned them. The larger, short haul jets no longer served those communities and passengers found themselves flying in a small twin engine propeller airplane instead of jets. In time small “regional” jet airplanes were developed and they began to be flown by small operators under their own names.

Then someone got the idea to brand those flights as United, Continental, American, etc. Thus, the big carriers were able to regain a presence in the markets they had pulled out of at much lower cost. They were able to avoid the cost of a unionized, senior workforce and the capital costs of larger airplanes. There were no legacy costs because there was no legacy.

The branding was (and is) a facade. Although some regionals have made a concerted effort to mimic the operational sophistication of larger airlines with some having success, many do not have the resources, support or the will to do so.

The public needs to know which airline they are actually flying on so that they ay be able to make an informed choice.

Pilot training and accidents

This from USA Today : “In nearly every serious regional airline accident during the past 10 years, at least one of the pilots had failed tests of his or her skills multiple times, according to an analysis of federal accident records.

In eight of the nine accidents during that time, which killed 137 people, pilots had a history of failing two or more “check rides,” tests by federal or airline inspectors of pilots’ ability to fly and respond to emergencies. In the lone case in which pilots didn’t have multiple failures since becoming licensed, the co-pilot was fired after the non-fatal crash for falsifying his job application..”

The experience level of airline pilots continues to drop due to retirements, layoffs and  pilots who are leaving the profession due to the deterioration of  the quality of the career. It should be a time for increased hiring and training standards but this is not the case. Over the past two decades the emphasis has been on cost reduction.  Classroom time has been cut. Flight simulator time in many cases been cut. Training in the actual airplane is almost non-existent.  Manuals provided to the pilots have been trimmed down to eliminate sections that someone sitting in an office has determined as unnecessary.

Automation has reduced the basic skill set requirements for pilots. In the pst it was almost unheard of to have an airliner in operational use enter into a stall. Today, lack of airspeed monitoring  comes up in accident investigations.

The airline customer has shown that the cheap fare is the driving market force. The traveller assumes that all airlines are equal when it some to safety because the FAA is overseeing them.  In fact, safety standards are all over the map. The standard starts in the carrier’s flight operations department and trickles down to the line pilots. The mindset of those in charge and the commitment to establish a high quality standard for crews is key. Those in charge must have the fortitude to wage a battle with the airline’s corporate executives to spend money for an unseen benefit.

Continuing to sign off a marginal pilot is cheaper than letting him or her go and hiring a replacement.

Coqui frogs pollute Hawaii with noise

Over sixty thousand acres of the Big Island of Hawaii have been infested with the Coqui frog. The frog is a native of Puerto Rico where natural predators keep the population under control. In Hawaii there are no natural predators. Thus, the population is rapidly increasing. A female lays approximately 100 eggs every 21 days. The survival rate is around ninety percent. It is an explosion.

Coqui are about the size of a quarter and and a single frog generate 80 decibels of noise with their two note call. Only the males call. Eighty five decibels for extended periods has been shown to cause hearing loss.

Residents of some areas of the Big Island people must sleep with earplugs.

Sellers of real estate are required to  disclose the existence of the frog  and property values decrease accordingly.

Efforts to the control the pest have been sporadic and inconsistent. The State of Hawaii has shown little support for control.  The County of Hawaii has had a rather anemic program that has lost its funding. The U.S Department of Agriculture likewise has provided ineffective assistance.

Grass roots efforts by concerned citizens have had little official support or funding and, in spite of the valiant efforts of those few, the war is being lost.

The effect on tourism to date has probably been minimal, but sooner or later the word will get out to mainstream media that the noise pollution caused by the Coqui has diminished the visitor experience.

Perhaps the financial impact of the frog will generate interest in a government control plan. It is clear that come sort of  biological method will be required. This will require extensive research. Nearly 4.5 million dollars in federal stimulus money is going to fight invasive species in Hawaii. Zero dollars have been allocated to fight the Coqui frog.

This is an important environmental issue and needs to be included in this funding.