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Reminiscing on Hawaii’s Pink Palace and Turkish Airlines’ Faulty Altimeters

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Hawaii's Pink PalaceLast weekend I was at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, aka- The Pink Palace.

I have been coming to this hotel since I was in my early 20s and they’ve just reopened it after a long renovation and restoration.

So much has happened here since it was opened in 1927, and so much of Hawaiian history took place here.

In fact, I remember in 1984 I was here doing a special book called The Day in the Life of Hawaii.
It was a series which we first started with Day In the Life of Australia and we were here with a hundred of the world’s greatest photographers.

We had 24 hours to shoot an entire state, from 12:01am to 11:59 at night and this hotel was featured prominently in that. That was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hawaiian statehood, and you know what 2009 is? It’s the 50th anniversary. Wow, how time flies.

Turkish airlines logoA couple of weeks back there was the crash of the Turkish Airlines 737, which crash-landed short of the runway in Amsterdam. Once again, a “bad word” was used in terms of the investigation, just like the one on Continental Airlines in Buffalo, New York: autopilot.

In both instances, the pilots were flying on the autopilot—nothing wrong with that except if you’re not paying attention because the autopilot makes minor corrections based on the information it’s fed, and that information has to be correct.

You know, it’s interesting, I have a GPS on my boat. You might disagree with me on this but I like to use the GPS but I do not link it to my autopilot. I refuse to do that because if the GPS is wrong by even one degree, I will miss my destination by dozens or even hundreds of miles.

In this situation with the Turkish Airwaves plane, they were flying on autopilot, but there was a faulty altimeter, and the faulty altimeter was so bad that it gave the autopilot bad information that the plane was actually 1,900 feet lower than it actually was. The plane’s autopilot basically throttled down the engines.

Instrument panelThe bizarre part of all this is the pilots knew about it. Remember, the investigators got the black boxes right away, they got the cockpit voice recorders, and they were able to hear the conversation between the pilot and the first officers.

They were fully aware of the faulty altimeter but did not react until the stall alarm warning system sounded. Now what is that all about?

Luckily for a lot of people there were few fatalities—nine people aboard the plane died including the three officers in the cockpit. But here’s the other thing that bothers me about this story— remember it’s a preliminary report—the pilot had been notified that the left altimeter wasn’t working correctly before he ever took off. And previous flight recordings had indicated that the altimeter had problems twice before during landing.

Hello, Turkish Airlines! If you know it’s a problem, you fix it!

I have to say, if there was a faulty altimeter in a plane operating in the United States, that would come under something called MEL. MEL stands for “minimum equipment list” which means if it’s on the list, and it’s not working, you don’t take off. It’s a no-go item.

How they could allow this plane on two previous flights when they knew already the altimeter wasn’t working, to continue to fly, and then to fly it on autopilot? That’s a recipe for disaster.

Airplane in the skyAgain, this is a preliminary report from the Dutch investigators, but once again, I like pilots who fly planes, not monitor systems. And unfortunately today, all too many pilots have been trained to just monitor systems. You have to have the human cross check here, especially if the pilot was told before he even took off, “the altimeter isn’t working.”

I understand if it’s beautiful conditions and it’s 20/20 visibility and you’re told the altimeter isn’t working, and you still want to fly the plane. But why would you ever put it on autopilot? The autopilot is going to operate based on the readings the altimeter is giving it.

Moving right along, it’s a little bit of good news followed by the stupid news, you know about Hyundai, the car manufacturer, they said if you lose your income you get to give the car back at no penalty. Their sales went up about 17 percent.

Jet Blue is basically saying that if you lose your job you can get a refund for your ticket with not penalty or cancellation fee. All very good, all resonating very well with the public. Norwegian Cruise Line unveiled a safeguard to reimburse those who lose their jobs.

And now CruiseOne and Cruises Inc have a “job loss travel insurance policy” covering travel on all cruise lines. Pretty cool! This is the kind of stuff we need to get people back to travel so we feel confident that we can go because we do want to go.

Having said that, I have to go back to the stupid part of travel. Our friends at Ryanair in England announced that they are going to install cell phone service—which they will of course charge you for—to make calls during the flight. They also may be charging to use the plane’s bathrooms. I went nuts on this and you should too.

My announcement is this, my very first call will be to Michael O’Leary, the chairman of Ryanair to let him know I am standing in the aisle of his plane at 35,000 feet, urinating on his carpet because I refuse to pay a dollar and a half to go to the bathroom. It’s as simple as that.

But the person who said it best was Jay Leno. He said, “Well, you know what this means: No more ‘duty’ free.”

By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.

Read more from Peter’s Travel Detective Blog.

Learn more about Oahu, the Pink Palace and Hawaii with Ask the Locals: Oahu, Hawaii.

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