Lessons from the August 8th mid-air collision over the Hudson

Its been well over a month since the August 8th incident over the Hudson River where two planes collided killing nine people in all. Hence, now is a good time to revisit the story again given that enough time has passed for the events to be better understood and analyzed as it has generated some controversy over air corridors, the role of ATC and what should be done to prevent similar occurrences over a particularly narrow and busy corridor.

In case you do not recall the details of the incident, a small plane collided with a sightseeing helicopter over the busy Hudson River air corridor – a low altitude but busy pathway used by some 200 helicopters and small planes every day. At the end of August, the Associated Press reported that the National Transportation Safety Board had come out with a recommendation that helicopters and small planes be separated on the pathway to prevent further mishaps and it was also reported that a male controller was joking with a female friend over the phone when the collision occurred while his supervisor was out running a personal errand and hence, could not be found after the accident.

However and as usually with such incidents, media coverage has been mixed with regards to accuracy. Hence, it is well worth reading some of the following entries by aviation bloggers who are actual pilots and hence, have a much better understanding of what occurred:

  • To begin with, John Ewing posted a detailed analysis of the events that occurred along with a video showing what happened. He also included a useful list of tips at the end of his entry on how to best avoid such incidents the next time you fly in busy airspace.
  • On the other hand, blog entries by Max Trescott and Rob Mark (Jetwhine) both concluded that incident showed a need for collision avoidance systems to be mandated for light aircraft. However, in an entry entitled Accident over the Hudson: can Max Trescott and Rob Mark (Jetwhine) be wrong? Vincent of Plastic Pilot argued that such systems are not necessary and notes in his argument against mandating them that he used to fly around the very busy airspaces over London and Frankfurt and found such systems were helpful but he also notes the issues involved with mandating their use.
  • Meanwhile, the FAA has also announced that a so-called New York Hudson River Airspace Working Group would be formed to review the procedures and recommend safety improvements for flights that are operating over the Hudson and East Rivers.
  • However, an entry by James Fallows on the Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association (COPA) blog notes that the current procedures involve an innovative and “very useful ‘no fault’ reporting system” where various stakeholders can send in strictly anonymous reports of unsafe operations and are thus assured that they will avoid any disciplinary procedures.
  • Meanwhile, noted “aviation expert” Senator Chuck Schumer wants to make the Hudson corridor IFR but as Vincent of Plastic Pilot points out, there are lessons to be learned from the incident that are best left to real experts like the NTSB and FAA staff.

With the above reports in mind, what is your opinion on what should be done to prevent future collision incidents? Should aircraft collision avoidance systems be mandated or can something else be done to prevent mid-air collisions in busy airspace?

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