Toronto Sun's Eric Margolis Opens Mouth, Removes All Doubt
By ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin "Hognose" O'Brien
Read Part One
Hello, and welcome back to our
examination of Eric Margolis's March 20th Column for the Toronto
Sun, "A-300s, 310s likely flawed." (See the link to the first part,
which ran yesterday). For those of you who are now back with us,
remember that we stopped in the midst of a discussion of Margolis's
claim that "[i]t's now clear the 300-series tails might have
defects, perhaps along their hinge joints." He's referring to the
recent Air Transat accident in which the pilots regained the field
after the rudder departed, and the 2001 American Airlines Flight
587 accident where the entire vertical stab separated inflight.
The two tail failures, one from overstress (AA 587) and one
still unknown, were a 300-600 and a 310 respectively. Since the
parts failed in completely different places, the fact that they
were both the same general design of composite tail is probably not
material (no pun intended) to the investigation. I would be
thrilled to have Eric Margolis explain how the failure of 587s
attachment lugs originated in the "hinge joints," particularly when
that failure happened:
1. exactly where a test part had failed in certification
testing, at almost exactly the same load (over double the certified
lateral gust limit load).
2. exactly where computer analysis (finite element analysis,
FEA, and progressive failure analysis, PFA) said it would fail
3. In the exact manner predicted by FEA and PFA
4. Identically in post-accident testing of test articles in the
5. Nowhere near the hinge joints.
The photo, from NTSB's detailed report on 587, shows the initial
point of failure of 587's vertical stabilizer, the right rear main
attachment fitting. The graphic shows similar results from eight
What does Margolis say about 587?
"In Nov., 2001, the tail of American Airlines flight
587...disintegrated... killing all 260 aboard. Investigators blamed
pilot error, turbulence, and the plane. It now seems more likely
the culprit was delamination of the A-300 tail."
Once again, Margolis reaches his conclusion by fabricating
facts. Disintegrated, huh? I quote from the NTSB: "The vertical
stabilizer was mostly intact. The left and right skin panels
did not exhibit any significant damage, but the six main attachment
fittings and the three pairs of transverse load fittings were
fractured." And delamination? The attachment and load fittings did
not "delaminate," they "fractured." Words mean things, which is
something a columnist needs to know. If you're going to use
highfalutin technical terms to fluff your expertise, you ought to
use the right ones. (At the micro level there were delaminations in
the broken lugs as well as translaminar fractures).
"Since then, I have refused to fly
A-300 or A-310's, about 800 of which remain in service."
All the more reason to ride an A-310 -- you won't run into this
clown. If these planes were somehow prone to shed tails, how how
did they ever manage to launch 800 of them and fly them for years
before it happened? Well, we now turn from Eric's jumping the
shark, to his dislike for flying over schools of them.
"Airlines and manufacturers insist engine technology is so
advanced that long over-water flights are safe. I disagree."
Yeah, that Lindbergh is never going to get to Paris. Oh...
wait.... In all seriousness, it's kind of hard to find examples of
all-engines-flameout recently. Thank God for Canada! There have
also been at least two incidents of 747s FODding all four with
volcanic ash, which led to new procedures to keep clear of volcanic
ash. But hey, Margolis can disagree with airlines and
manufacturers. It's a free country. He doesn't have to fly anything
if he wants "100% safety" -- he can always ride the bus or take a ship when he has to cross the sea.
"On March 17, 2003, a United 777... lost an engine over the
mid-Pacific and had to limp for three hours....If a problem had
developed with the over-stressed second engine, disaster would have
ensued," wrote Margolis (below, right).
OK, so let me get this straight. If
a Canadian crew is over the Atlantic in a twin engine plane with
none running, that's an "aeronautical miracle." United's American
crew is over the Atlantic with one running, that's a potential
"disaster." I guess consistency is not the hobgoblin of at least
one simple mind. Ah, let's move on.
"According to Aviation Week, Boeing's 777s have had 16 in-flight
shutdowns since May, 1995. Airlines insist the aircraft, which have
flown 2.3 million miles, are safe even on a single engine.... I'd
rather pay more and know there is backup when I'm flying at 39,000
feet in pitch blackness over the icy North Pacific."
How do you define safe? In that same period, there has been
exactly one fatality connected with a Boeing 777 -- a ground
service refueler who died in September, 2001, when a broken
refueling coupling on his fuel truck's hose doused him with flaming
fuel while he was tanking a British Airways 777 in Denver. Which is
a pretty tenuous connection with the 777 indeed. All those 16
in-flight shutdowns ended safely for all aboard, but you don't
learn that from Margolis. As far as "I'd rather pay more," that's
brave talk from expense-account boy. And "know there is backup" --
why on earth does he think twin-engine planes have two engines?
Because two was Donald Douglas's lucky number?
By the way, adding engines increases the overall probability of
engine trouble and in-flight shutdowns. I hate to utter something
so tautologically self-evident, but Eric isn't the only one who
doesn't get it.
"Two pilots and a flight engineer
are always better than a two-man crew.... The 1998 crash of a
burning Swissair MD-11 off Nova Scotia, and the 1995 crash of an
American 757 in Colombia might have been averted had there been a
flight engineer to help the confused pilots."
Actually, human performance studies have found,
counterintuitively, that Cockpit Resource Management works better
in a two-person crew than in three. One theory, which is raised in
Jay Hopkins's column in April's Flying magazine, is that with a
third person present, there is always someone listening, and so
people are less forthcoming and forthright that they are when it's
one-on-one. As far as the specific incidents he cites, I defy him
to tell us what a FE could have done in either of those cases.
The American crash on approach to Cali was a navigational error
-- maybe if we went back to the early fifties and added a nav to
the crew, not an FE, but history tells us that there was controlled
flight into terrain even then. The Swissair flight did not have
time from the discovery of fire inflight to crew incapacitation to
set down, period. Jesus Christ Himself couldn't have saved their
lives if you added Him to the flight crew.
"Government regulators, not airlines and cost-saving, should
Oh, yeah, the government never gets safety wrong. People who
work for the government are automatically imbued with all good
human properties. Including infallibility. Anyone who believes this
needs to start wearing a shuttle O-ring around his neck as a
reminder. And does he think that airlines are unregulated? I bet
the FAA and its foreign counterparts kill more trees yearly than
the Toronto Sun. Like everyone in the industry, I'm on the
receiving end of a lot of this paper blizzard. Government and
industry have to be partners in safety, but some entities have
opposite motivations: for the mainstream press, or the trial bar,
accidents and fatalities are positive things: they put food on the
The howlers in the column just keep coming. He bags on airlines
in general but praises Pakistan International. Yeah, they'll get
you to your destination -- insha'allah.
Margolis joins the growing cohort of
major-media mythmakers, like CBS's Bob "Chicken Little" Orr, who
need never fear judicial execution in America, thanks to their
room-temperature IQs (US courts have ruled it is cruel to execute
the retarded). At least, if we judge them by their aviation
reporting. The irony is that airline travel has never been safer,
while at the same time columnistic cowards have the public
quivering in unjustifiable fear.
Let's give Eric one last chance to redeem himself: "For full
disclosure, I was hijacked aboard a Lufthansa A-310 in 1993. This
event did not influence my judgment of the aircraft."
Oy. What a model of logic and probity. All I can say is this:
when the phone doesn't ring, Eric, that's Transport Canada, the
NTSB, Boeing, the airlines and the pilots' unions not calling for