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"NTSB warns pilots to feel wings for ice"

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

NTSB warns pilots to feel wings for ice
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- In a rare move, federal safety officials on Wednesday are
sending a letter to all pilots warning them to run their hands along their
aircraft's wings before takeoff to make sure tiny amounts of ice haven't
formed and increased the risk of an accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the unusual alert, targeted at
pilots of smaller planes, stemmed from discussions about icing during the
investigation of the Nov. 28 crash in Montrose, Colo., that killed the
14-year-old son of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and two other people.

NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said the accident raised the issue, though
investigators haven't determined that icing caused the crash.

"We know the Ebersol crash was in icing conditions, but we don't know it was
an icing incident at this point," Lopatkiewicz said.

Ice on a wing disrupts the flow of air, which can cause the wing to lose its
lift and the plane to dive.

The safety board said that most pilots don't know that a thin layer of frost
or ice could have consequences as severe as those caused by much larger ice

"Fine particles of ice or frost, the size of a grain of table salt and
distributed as sparsely as one per square centimeter over an airplane wing's
upper surface, can destroy enough lift to prevent that airplane from taking
off," the NTSB said.

The safety board said in its letter that pilots may not understand the risk
posed by a nearly imperceptible amount of ice.

"From an aerodynamic point of view, there is no such thing as "a little
ice," the board said. "No amount of snow, ice or frost accumulation on the
wing upper surface can be considered safe for takeoff."

A pilots' union representative took issue with that claim.

"Airline pilots understand the issues involved in aircraft icing," said
Chris Baum, manager of engineering and accident investigation for the Air
Line Pilots Association, the biggest pilots union.

"The existing training and operating procedures are sufficient to ensure
that the airplanes are operated without ice and operated safely," Baum said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said regulations
clearly state that pilots have to make sure the aircraft's wings are free of

"Pilots have to use whatever means necessary to make sure the wings are safe
to fly with," Brown said.

The safety board said the only way to tell if there isn't any ice on the
wing is to touch it.

The alert is aimed at smaller planes, such as corporate jets, regional jets
and private aircraft.

Pilots of larger planes, such as Boeing 747s, have such rigorous anti-icing
procedures that the warning doesn't apply to them, Lopatkiewicz said.

"We've never lost a 747 due to icing," Lopatkiewicz said.

On the Net:

National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov


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