Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Details on Southwest 1380

There are new details emerging about the deadly Southwest Airlines engine failure yesterday. The NTSB reports that a fan blade on the engine was missing and there are striking parallels between yesterday's accident and a 2016 incident on another Southwest 737.

The 737-700 uses CFM 56-7B engines manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines. The original CFM 56 first ran in 1974 and has been continuously updated since then. The -7 version of the engine dates back to 1995 and is used on a large number of 737 variants. The shutdown rate of the CFM 56 is reported to be only only one for every 333,333 hours and the engines log an average of one million flight hours every eight days.

The CFM 56 is classified as high bypass turbofan, meaning that most of the air that passes through the engine flows around the sides through bypass ducts rather than through the engine's combustion section. The engine's fan is the large rotating set of blades that can be seen at the engine inlet. Behind the fan is a series of compressors, turbines and igniters that first compress the intake air, mix it with jet fuel and then it burn it under high pressure to create thrust.

The CFM 56 has had a history of fan blade problems, although most of the incidents occurred with older versions of the engine. In 1989, a 737-400 fitted with CFM 56-3C engines suffered a fan blade failure. The pilots of the British Midlands jet shut down the wrong engine and the damaged engine subsequently quit completely. The resulting crash killed 47 people and injured 74 in what became known as the Kegworth air disaster. Two other 737-400s fitted with the same engines experienced fan blade problems shortly after, resulting in a fleet wide grounding of all 737-400s while fans were replaced and engine controls were modified to reduce the engine's maximum thrust.

The -7 version of the engine experienced a comparable problem in 2016 when Southwest Flight 3472 experienced a fan blade separation very similar to yesterday's incident. On the flight from New Orleans to Orlando, the 737-700 suffered a fan blade failure that also caused engine parts to puncture the cabin pressure vessel and led to a depressurization. There were no serious injuries and the incident led to a requirement to inspect fan blades for corrosion and cracks caused by metal fatigue.

CNN reports today that NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that one of the accident aircraft engine's 24 fan blades was missing and that there was evidence of metal fatigue where the blade attached to the spinner hub.

Sumwalt cautioned against drawing conclusions based on the earlier Southwest incident. “We want to look at this particular event and see what the factors are surrounding this and maybe they’re related and maybe not,” he told Flight Global. “We need to understand what’s going on here.”

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said after the incident that the engine had been inspected on April 15 and returned to service. It is not clear if the recent inspection included checks for metal fatigue or focused on the fan blades.

Although it is still early in the investigation, it seems that fan blade separation due to metal fatigue is the likely cause of the accident. If this is confirmed, the NTSB and FAA may issue an inspection directive similar to 2016. With the CFM 56-7B powering some 13,400 airliners worldwide, inspections could be an expensive proposition in terms of both compliance and scheduling. In addition to Southwest, the 737-700 is operated in the US by several other carriers including Delta, United and Alaska Airlines.

When asked about the parallels between Southwest 3472 and whether the NTSB would recommend a fix or inspection for fatigue in the fan section, Sumwalt answered, “I don’t have that information right now. Our focus is getting out the door at headquarters and getting on this airplane so we can get up to Philadelphia.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Gorsuch Sides With Court Liberals - And It's a Good Thing

“But the Supreme Court” was the rallying cry for Trump supporters in the 2016 election. This was replaced by, “But Gorsuch” after President Trump's appointment of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat of Antonin Scalia last year. Imagine the consternation then when Justice Gorsuch joined with the liberal wing of the Court to rule against the Trump Administration this week in a prominent immigration law case.

In truth, Gorsuch's ruling is exactly what should have been expected from a strict constructionist jurist. This is what most Republicans have claimed to want on the bench, but, unlike judicial activists, a constructionist judge can be expected to rule against partisan interests when the facts of the case require it.

This was the case in Sessions v. Dimaya. A legal immigrant from the Philippines, James Dimaya, was convicted of two burglaries. The Trump Administration ordered Dimaya's deportation under a federal law that requires mandatory removal of any immigrant convicted an “aggravated felony.” The law refers to the definition of “aggravated felony” in the US Code, which is a “crime of violence” to encompass “any … offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” The Trump Administration's position was that Dimaya's two nonviolent burglaries were aggravated felonies under the law. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court held that the definition of “aggravated felony” was unconstitutionally vague.

The ruling, even though it did not include most of the Court's conservatives, was directly in line with how Justice Scalia would have likely ruled. In fact, the ruling in Sessions v. Dimaya follows a precedent in which Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for a unanimous ruling. In Johnson v. United States (2015), the Court ruled that a similar definition of “violent felonies” was also too vague.

In both cases, the justices resisted the temptation to fill in the blanks and decide what Congress meant when it established the statute. Even though many conservatives would have been pleased if the two cases had been decided differently, if the Court had presumed to know the intent of the legislators who wrote the law they would have been guilty of legislating from the bench, something conservatives purport to abhor.

Scalia was a strong opponent of trying to divine what legislators meant when they crafted laws. In a different dissent, Scalia famously railed against the practice, which often leads justices to rule based on their own opinions rather than the letter of the law, saying, “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

“If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again,” Scalia explained in a different speech. “You think the death penalty is a good idea? Persuade your fellow citizens to adopt it. You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it. That’s flexibility.”

If the Trump Administration wants to deport burglars, it should persuade Congress to pass a law that explicitly says immigrant burglars should be deported rather than trying to redefine burglary as a violent crime.

The Supreme Court's ruling in Sessions v. Dimaya may have been a loss for the Trump Administration, but it was a sorely needed victory for the rule of law. It should inspire Congress to be more specific in new laws and leave less room for interpretation by prosecutors, judges, bureaucrats and presidents.

It looks more and more like Neil Gorsuch will be the kind of justice that America needs.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Southwest Engine Failure Kills Passenger

A Southwest Airlines flight from New York's LaGuardia airport to Dallas suffered a catastrophic engine failure yesterday that left one woman dead. The fatality was the first US airline death in nine years.

Southwest 1380 was a Boeing 737-700 twin-engine airliner operated by the Dallas-based, low fare airline. The flight is typically scheduled to take just under four hours. The aircraft left the gate at LaGuardia at 10:27 a.m., three minutes early, and took off 16 minutes later.

As the airplane climbed to its planned cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, it suffered what appears to be an uncontained failure of the left engine. Radar data from shows that the plane only attained an altitude of about 32,000 feet before it started its descent. By this point, the plane was northwest of Philadelphia and about 20 minutes into the flight.

Generally, when pilots say they “lost an engine” they mean they lost power on the engine. In this case, it looks as though the Southwest crew lost large pieces of their engine. Pictures of the engine show the cowling at the front the engine nacelle peeled back or missing with much of engine's interior exposed.

On the portion of the air-traffic audio that has been released, a Southwest pilot tells the controller, “We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit.” This indicates that the crew suspected structural damage after the engine explosion and didn't want to stress the airplane with high speed flight.

Jet engines contain a number of fans and turbines that spin at a high rate inside the engine cowling. In the case of Southwest 1380, it appears that finely-machined guts of the jet engine came apart violently, turning fan blades and other engine parts into shrapnel that peppered the fuselage. One of the pieces of engine hit a cabin window, causing a small hole and injuring a female passenger. A passenger reported that the crew was trying to plug the hole when the window completely shattered, pulling the female passenger partly outside the plane.

The woman's head and arms were outside the window and “passengers right next to her were holding onto her. And meanwhile, there was blood all over this man's hands. He was tending to her,” passenger Marty Martinez told CNN.

Airline cabins are pressurized by excess air from the engines. Contrary to popular belief, it takes a large hole to affect the cabin pressure. There are even holes built into the fuselage called outflow valves that allow excess cabin air to be dumped overboard to prevent overpressurization. In the case of window breaking, the engine air cannot keep up with the pressurization demands of the cabin and the airplane experiences a rapid decompression.

In a rapid decompression, the air inside the airplane rushes out quickly with a loud noise and the temperature quickly drops to below freezing. Wind and engine noise through the open window add to the chaos.

A rapid decompression is a maneuver that jet pilots routinely train for in the simulator. The pilots first don their oxygen masks since the thin air at high altitudes will render a person unconscious in a matter of seconds. The next step is to put the airplane into a steep dive to a safe lower altitude while making sure that the passenger oxygen masks have deployed in the cabin.

This steep, controlled dive may have given some passengers the incorrect idea that the airplane was descending out of control. FlightAware shows that the airplane descended from 30,000 to 10,000 feet, which is considered a safe altitude for an unpressurized aircraft, in about five minutes as it turned toward Philadelphia.

As the crew approached the airport, the pilot said, “Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well? We've got injured passengers.” She said that airplane was not on fire, but repeated, “Part of it's missing.”

“They said there's a hole and someone went out,” she added.

The plane landed uneventfully in Philadelphia about 20 minutes after the engine failure. One passenger was killed, but there were no other serious injuries reported among the 143 passengers and 5 crew members. Seven passengers reported minor injuries. The entire flight lasted only 40 minutes.

The only fatality was Jennifer Riordan, of Albuquerque, N.M., the New York Daily News reported. Riordan, vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo, is assumed to be the female passenger who was pulled partially out of the window, but this has not been confirmed.

US airline accidents have become exceedingly rare. The last fatal accident was in 2009 when the crash of Colgan 3407 left 49 passengers and crew dead as well as one person on the ground.

There have been similar accidents in US history where the endings were more tragic than Southwest 1380. In 1989, an engine exploded on a United Airlines DC-10, severing the flight controls and leaving the crew airborne with no way to control the airplane. Using the throttles for the remaining engines, the crew of United 232 was able to steer the plane to a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa that left 111 of the 296 passengers and crew dead.

A year earlier in 1988, Aloha Airlines Flight 243 suffered a rapid decompression when a section of the cabin ceiling peeled off the aircraft at 23,000 feet. A flight attendant was sucked out of the 737-200 over the Pacific Ocean near Maui and her body was never recovered. The crew safely landed the airplane with no further deaths.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said that the engine had been inspected on April 15 and had flown about 40,000 cycles. It had been about 10,000 cycles since the engine's last overhaul.

“I'm not aware of any issues with the airplane or any issues with the engine involved,” Kelly said.

The cause of the catastrophic engine failure is not known. While extremely reliable, jet engines are not infallible. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that board sees “about three or four [uncontained failures] a year, but not all involve US airlines. With airlines flying about 17 million hours annually, three or four failures is about as close to error-free as any transportation system can get.

In fact, aviation machines are so reliable that the weak link often lies with pilots and maintenance personnel. Southwest has been fined several times by the FAA for maintenance violations, but this is not unusual in itself. Many of the violations are technical and other airlines such as United and Delta have also been fined by the FAA.

In modern times, our machines are so reliable that we forget that flying five miles above in the earth in a pressurized metal tube that hurtles along 500 miles per hour is inherently dangerous. Things can and do go wrong, sometimes for no apparent reason and with no one to blame. It is at that time that the pilots truly earn their pay. The pilots of Southwest 1380 certainly earned theirs.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trump Quashes Haley's New Russia Sanctions

President Trump has put the brakes on new Russia sanctions designed to punish the Putin regime for its support of Syrian chemical weapons attacks. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the sanctions on Sunday on CBS' “Face the Nation.”

“You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down,” Haley said, adding that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin “will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn't already, and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.”

Not so fast, said the White House.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that President Trump was “upset” with the sanctions roll out because he was “not yet comfortable” with them and had not given final approval. After Haley's comments on television, the Trump Administration notified the Russian Embassy that no new sanctions were coming per a statement by a Russian Foreign Ministry official.

The confusion is characteristic of the Trump White House in which policy statements often seem to be made on a whim without the prior knowledge of senior advisors. For example, last month's announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum caught many White House officials by surprise as did his announcement that the US embassy in Israel would be relocated to Jerusalem.

There were conflicting reports over whether Haley made her statement before the sanctions were authorized or whether the president changed his mind about sanctions that were previously agreed upon. One source told the Post that Haley made “an error that needs to be mopped up” while others say that Haley is very disciplined and cautious and consults with the president over policy before making public statements. Haley has not addressed the comment since her appearance.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.” Other White House officials characterized the sanctions as being in a “holding pattern.”

The debate over new sanctions comes at a time when there are several problem areas in US-Russian relations. In addition to the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, there is tension over Russia's role in the Syrian civil war and Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Further, Russian hackers have been implicated by US intelligence officials in cyberattacks on the US power grid.

President Trump has a history of slow-walking sanctions on Russia. A near-unanimous Congress passed sanctions on Russia in 2017, but the Trump Administration has still not implemented them. A State Department spokesman said in January 2018, “Sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.” The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) allows President Trump to postpone the implementation of sanctions if he judges that the sanction targets are reducing their involvement with Russian defense and intelligence organizations. The Trump Administration did impose sanctions on 21 individuals under four Executive Orders.

The Trump Administration has also approved weapons sales to Ukraine. Since approving lethal aid to help Ukraine fend of Russian-backed insurgents, the US has delivered Javelin anti-tank missiles and launchers to the beleaguered nation even though the call for arming Ukraine was removed from the 2016 Republican platform.

In March, the US and its allies expelled scores of Russian diplomats to protest the murder of a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain. The Washington Post reported that Trump was reluctant to expel the Russians, but finally agreed on the condition that “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching [the number of diplomats expelled by Britain, France and Germany].” The paper reported that Trump was furious when the US expelled more Russians than the other countries.

The conflict in the White House underscores the tension between President Trump, the outsider, and his advisors, many of whom are longtime Republicans with traditional conservative national security views. The White House staff seems to be pushing for a more aggressive Russia policy while Trump, the Russophile and admirer of Vladimir Putin, seems to be resisting. Advisors like Haley put their powers of persuasion to the test, but President Trump makes the final call.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, April 16, 2018

Pence Staffer Withdraws After President Objects to 'Never Trump' Background

Why would Mike do that?” sources say President Trump wondered aloud before instructing Chief of Staff John Kelly to get rid of Vice President Mike Pence's new national security advisor.

A report by Axios says that President Trump was disturbed that Pence had appointed Jon Lerner, a deputy to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, to his staff. Axios cited three sources who say that Trump did not like the fact that that Lerner had helped create attack ads for the Club for Growth during the Republican primaries and considered him to be a “card-carrying member of the Never Trump movement.”

Trump's order came as Pence and his staff were enroute to Peru for the Summit of the Americas last Friday. When Pence became aware of the president's plan to dismiss Lerner, he called the Oval Office and was able to persuade the president to let Lerner stay. Over the weekend, Lerner withdrew from consideration for the position, CNN reported.

“Tonight Jon informed the vice president that he was withdrawing from coming on board as national security adviser and the vice president accepted his decision,” Alyssa Farah, Pence's press secretary, said. There is no indication at the moment that Lerner will leave his position with Ambassador Haley.

Last week, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post wrote that Lerner would work for both Pence and Haley, an unorthodox arrangement that concerned some in the White House. “Over the past year,” Rogin said, “Pence and Haley have been coordinating closely on foreign policy, advocating long-held GOP foreign policy positions such as increased pushback against Russia, stronger pressure on North Korea, more resources for Afghanistan, a tougher position on the Assad regime in Syria and more. Now the two officials will have the same key adviser on national security.”

A Republican source close to the Administration told CNN that Lerner's appointment had caused “a big damn mess” in the White House. Kelly reportedly said that Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff, had not fully disclosed Lerner's anti-Trump background while Ayers told associates that Kelly, Haley, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and others were in the loop.

Axios reported that some White House officials also questioned Lerner's lack of foreign policy experience. Lerner and Ayers had worked on Nikki Haley's 2011 gubernatorial campaign in South Carolina where Lerner served as a pollster and political strategist. Pence's team had argued that Lerner had performed well in his role as Haley's deputy.

Trump has historically given Vice President Pence a free hand in choosing his staff. The objection to Lerner was reportedly the first time that the president has interfered in Pence's personnel appointments.

The kerfuffle underscores the importance that President Trump attaches to personal loyalty. The president is apparently still sensitive enough about Republican primary attacks during the campaign that it is problematic if former Trump critics inhabit positions in the Administration that are too close to the West Wing.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Comey Book Makes All Sides Look Bad

Most of the focus on former FBI Director James Comey has been on his comment in an ABC News interview that Donald Trump is “morally unfit” to hold the office of president. Trump is not the only president that Comey took aim at recently, however. In his new book, Comey accuses President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch of interfering in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails in much the same way that Trump interfered in the investigation of Michael Flynn.

In his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which is due out on Tuesday, Comey described the problem of political statements that had “jeopardized” the credibility of the Clinton investigation. He specifically cited statements made by President Obama that seemed to absolve Clinton of criminal wrongdoing.

Contributing to this problem, regrettably, was President Obama. He had jeopardized the Department of Justice’s credibility in the investigation by saying in a 60 Minutes interview on Oct. 11, 2015, that Clinton’s email use was 'a mistake' that had not endangered national security,” Comey wrote in a passage cited by the Washington Examiner. “Then on Fox News on April 10, 2016, he said that Clinton may have been careless but did not do anything to intentionally harm national security, suggesting that the case involved overclassification of material in the government.”

Comey continued:

“President Obama is a very smart man who understands the law very well. To this day, I don’t know why he spoke about the case publicly and seemed to absolve her before a final determination was made. If the president had already decided the matter, an outside observer could reasonably wonder, how on earth could his Department of Justice do anything other than follow his lead.

“The truth was that the president — as far as I knew, anyway — he had only as much information as anyone following it in the media. He had not been briefed on our work at all. And if he was following the media, he knew nothing, because there had been no leaks at all up until that point. But, his comments still set all of us up for corrosive attacks if the case were completed with no charges brought.”

Comey also described a 2015 meeting with Lynch in which the attorney general allegedly asked him to describe the Clinton investigation as a “matter,” rather than an investigation. When he asked what the basis for the request was, Lynch answered, “Just do it,” a response that Comey says indicated that there was “no legal or procedural justification for her request, at least not one grounded in our practices or traditions.”

Comey said that he and others in the FBI saw Lynch's request as political, but that he did not see it as interfering in the investigation... or matter. “Though I had been concerned about her direction to me at that point, I saw no indication afterward that she had any contact with the investigators or prosecutors on the case,” Comey wrote.

Comey also denied that FBI agents had shown any personal prejudice in the investigation. “I never heard anyone on our team — not one — take a position that seemed driven by their personal political motivations. And more than that: I never heard an argument or observation I thought came from a political bias. Never,” Comey wrote. “Instead we debated, argued, listened, reflected, agonized, played devil’s advocate, and even found opportunities to laugh as we hashed out major decisions.”

Loretta Lynch fired back at Comey's accusation in a written statement obtained by the Daily Wire. Lynch insists that she followed Justice Department policy in “neither confirming nor denying the fact of an ongoing investigation.” Further, Lynch states, “At no time did I ever discuss any aspect of the investigation with anyone from the Clinton campaign or the DNC.”

“I have known James Comey almost 30 years,” Lynch's statement concludes. “Throughout his time as Director we spoke regularly about some of the most sensitive issues in law enforcement and national security. If he had any concerns regarding the email investigation, classified or not, he had ample opportunities to raise them with me both privately and in meetings. He never did.”

Looking at the big picture, a pattern begins to emerge. Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch appear to have subtly attempted to manipulate the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton without overtly interfering. Obama's statements seem to be very similar to what Comey claims President Trump did when he overtly said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Lynch's request to use the word “matter” seems very much like President Trump's request that Comey announce that he was not under investigation.

Comey never spoke out against any of the pressure applied to get him to influence investigations until after he was fired by President Trump. While Comey did refer to the Hillary matter as an investigation in both his July 5 press conference and his October 28 letter to Congress, he was unable to explain his actions except to write, “It is entirely possible my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”

The more that emerges from the Trump-Comey feud, the worse all sides look. Both the Obama Administration and President Trump seem to have engaged in similar “swampy” tactics to steer investigations away from political allies while Mr. Comey seems to be pliant and incompetent. Rather than conspiring with one side or the other, Comey seems to have tried to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Is Now Open To Joining TPP

After railing against the Trans Pacific Partnership during the campaign and removing the United States from the treaty, President Trump signaled last night that he is open to rejoining the trade deal.

The president tweeted at about 11:00 p.m. Thursday night, “Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama. We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!”

One of Trump's first acts as president was to withdraw the US from the TPP, which was never ratified by Congress. Trump signed the order to leave the treaty on January 23, 2017, only three days after becoming president. At the time, he said, “Great thing for the American worker, what we just did.”

Also on Thursday, the president also told a group of elected officials from “farm states” that he had asked economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to consider whether the US should join the trade pact per Politico. It isn't clear what changes Trump would seek or whether other countries would agree to reopen negotiations on the trade deal that has already been ratified.

The move toward acceptance of the free trade deal is a radical departure for President Trump, who has spent the last several weeks talking about implementing protectionist tariffs on a long list of imported products. Trump has also engaged in a rhetorical trade war with China, which is not a party to the TPP.

During the campaign, Trump was critical of trade deals such as NAFTA and the TPP. At a campaign stop in Ohio in June 2016, he said, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country, just a continuing rape of our country.”

It is not clear what changed Trump's opinion of the TPP, but it is possible that he realized that the pact is needed to counterbalance Chinese influence in the Pacific region. The TPP includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. In recent years, Chinese trade and investment in Latin America has been growing in addition to the influence it already wields in Asia.

If Trump can successfully complete his 180-degree pivot on the TPP, it would not mark his first such reversal. The president has previously changed his mind on several issues from immigration to gun control to varying receptions from his base. Trump's anti-trade rhetoric won him support from blue-collar factory workers in the Rust Belt who believe that free trade pacts have been responsible for American job losses. If these voters are angered by Trump's reversal on the TPP, the president's pivot toward free trade might be short-lived.

Originally published on the Resurgent