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  • After a helicopter crashed in thick fog at a small village on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, it was announced that four people were killed including Northern Ireland’s richest individual Lord Ballyedmond. It appears, however, after an already intense amount of investigation, that there is more to this story than meets the eye including a pre-existing lawsuit.
    Police were called to the scene at 7:30pm a few weeks ago. They were able to confirm that the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter was civilian owned, not a military aircraft and that there were only four people aboard the helicopter.
    EEAST sent a number of resources to the site of the accident, including two ambulance officers, three ambulances, two doctors and one rapid response car. Customers of local businesses reported that there was a lot of fog in the area at the time of the crash.
    What many people do not know, however, is the fact that the owner of the helicopter, Ballyedmond, was in litigation with Agusta regarding problems with the helicopter and potential defects.
    The Conservative peer lodged a claim against the manufacturer last year. He said he wanted a refund, claiming that the helicopter had a number of problems, which included a hole in one of its blades, oil leaks and failures in communication systems. It is reported by experts that there were possible issues with the in-flight mapping systems as well, but an AgustaWestland spokesperson was not able to confirm or deny these allegations.
    It has not been determined whether fog actually played a role in the crash although aviation expertshave already come to the defence of the pilot saying visibility was extremely poor in the area on that night.
    Bystanders and other people in the general area took to social media soon after the incident to warn their peers of what was going on in the area. While this is not the first instance of guerilla news reporting, it is a great example of how quickly news can spread. One person wrote on Twitter that he actually saw the helicopter come down near his house just minutes after it happened.

  • While federal officials have continued their investigation into the UPS crash that occurred last year in Alabama, the carrier’s pilots are requesting they be covered by the same rules that require passenger airline crews to get more rest.
    These pilots have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to bring them under the requested regulations. Commercial airline pilots limit their flying time to eight or nine hours. Additionally, passenger airline pilots are required to work shorter hours in the event that their shift continues overnight.
    Cargo pilots, on the other hand, are not required to have as much rest. Loose regulations permit longer times on duty and allow these pilots to fly beyond eight hours. Additionally, there aren’t any special limits on pilots that are flying overnight.
    Unfortunately, when pressed for an answer, the FAA determined that any revisions to the final rule would cost the industry upwards of $500 million.
    UPS and other cargo carriers are represented by the Cargo Airline Association, which submitted comments to the government that the costs of changing these regulations would overwhelm the benefits.
    UPS refused to comment on the lawsuit stating that this is an issue between the union and the FAA. The company did said that it opposed the legislation requiring cargo pilots to be covered by this anti-fatigue rule because it feels that the current rules in place are more than sufficient.

  • A recent decision made on behalf of the 1st Circuit is a clear reminder that HR professionals should pay more attention to their at-will disclaimers when it comes to guaranteeing employment.
    Richard Bisbano worked for Strine Printing Company as a sales representative who specialized in commercial printing. One of his many primary clients was CVS who terminated its relationship with Bisbano after learning about a kickback scheme. Bisbano was paying automobile lease payments for a CVS employee in exchange for a business referral. After Strine learned of this scheme, they discharged Bisbano.
    After his discharge, Bisbano filed a litany of employment and contractual claims against Strine claiming the company had created a contract guaranteeing his continued employment. The agreement was based on verbal assurances, according to Bisbano.
    Strine quickly disputed the oral promise citing the employee handbook that stated employment was “at-will for an indefinite period”.
    The 1st Circuit noted that in Rhode Island, the rule stands that when an employee receives written notice of an at-will employment relationship, the reliance on a subsequent oral promise to the contrary is completely unreasonable. It was ruled that this would not be used as grounds for a lawsuit.
    The court granted Strine’s request for a pretrial dismissal.
    At-will disclaimers have been at the forefront of the human resource industry after the NLRB issued two advice memos on the legality of these disclaimers.
    Human resource management should always remember that an at-will disclaimer shouldn’t be written in a way that could be interpreted to require employees to refrain from seeking to change their at will status. Disclaimers may lawfully restrict which of the employer’s representatives are authorized to modify these disclaimers, however, all verbiage must be clear that nothing in the handbook creates any type of lawful contract.

  • The European Union may opt to dismantle barriers to operating pension plans in multiple Member States.
    There is an overhaul expected of the EU’s Pensions Directive that will remove the taxing requirement that defined benefit pensions plans must be “fully funded at all times” if they operate in more than one EU Member State. This has long been considered an obstacle to cross-border pension provision, a provision which the European Commission wants to encourage more of.
    For many employers, the cost of correcting a deficit makes cross-border defined benefit plans an issue. If and when cross-border plans aren’t subject to these tough funding rules, employers will be able to look at cross-border plans with a new perspective.
    The Commission’s proposal for a revised Directive will likely be published within the next few months. This Directive will probably include other changes that will make it easier for all types of pension plans. A shift towards a user-friendlier regime would benefit everyone, not just employers with cross-border pensions for their employees.
    Another helpful change, according to HR experts, would be a greater clarity over precisely what constitutes cross-border activity. That way, there would be more benefit to an employer wanted to avoid having to comply with cross-border rules, as well as for those wishing to comply.



  • In an effort to combat the increased number of helicopter accidents, the Federal Aviation Administration launched the Rotorcraft Safety Initiative (RSI).
    Between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013, the United States helicopter industry saw a 100% increase in the amount of fatal helicopter crashes over the same time period in 2011-2012. This marks the highest number of fatal accidents in the United States since 1994. Commercial and EMS sectors account for approximately 50 percent of the fatal helicopter accidents.
    While Lance Gant, assistant manager for the FAA’s rotorcraft directorate, acknowledges that aerial application and training will help the problem, he knows that this won’t be the be-all and end-all.
    “We are looking for ideas,” Gant said.
    Air-safety advocates have long been criticizing the helicopter industry for their pattern of failed initiatives, to increase the safety of their pilots and customers. Aviation experts are calling this Rotorcraft Safety Initiative a definitive step in the right direction.
    The FAA will evaluate the results of the RSI team’s report, which was scheduled to be delivered last month and then decide on next steps based on their evaluations.
    The International Helicopter Safety Team also said that their group has a goal of reducing helicopter accidents by as much as 80% by 2016. This group is also using data from prior accidents to help the cause, using three important guidelines in its work. These include: the fact that solutions need to be driven by actual accident data, the helicopter community stakeholders worldwide must provide analyses and safety improvement recommendations must be measurable.
    Some experts believe that it would benefit both the FAA and the International Helicopter Safety Team to join forces for this mission.


  • In a landmark ruling, the National Transportation Safety Board Judge Patrick Geraghty dismissed the $10,000 fine the FAA levied against Raphael Pirker.
    Pirker, a Swiss citizen, was fined for flying a small, unmanned Ritewing Zephyr at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on October 17, 2011. Pirker was hired by a marketing company to supply aerial photographs and video of the UVA campus and med center. The Zephyr is an electric flying wing that weighs less than five pounds.
    The FAA fined Pirker because he was operating the flight for compensation and because they found that he was flying the aircraft in a “careless or reckless manner”. This violates federal aviation regulations (FAR) Section 91.13(a).
    Aviation experts attest that this is the first federal case ever involving the operation of commercial drones in the US. Pirker sought to have the case dismissed claiming that there was an absence of a valid rule for application for the regulation that the FAA said he violated.
    In his ultimate ruling, Geraghty said that the FAA didn’t have a basis for asserting FAR Part 91 authority over Pirker’s operation. He added that only advisory guidelines apply to the model aircraft. This ruling, according to aviation experts, casts an affirmative doubt on the agency’s ability to regulate unmanned aircrafts.
    The dismissal cited that the FAA historically exempted model aircraft operations to voluntary compliance with the guidance expressed in AC 91-57.
    After the ruling, the FAA issued an official statement saying that it will appeal the ruling. The agency said that it is concerned about how the decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground level.

  • The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently published a new requirement in certification that says aircraft manufacturers must submit certain pieces of data deemed important by EASA for safe operations.
    The requirement called “operational suitability data”, or OSD, applies to both aircraft and helicopter manufacturers. The goal of this new requirement is to contribute to the recommendations investigators make in accident reports.
    The process begins when the aircraft manufacturer proposes what data the EASA will evaluate against the new rule for approval. Much like the airplane flight manual, OSD is approved as part of the type certificate. This means that this data must be kept current.
    While part of the data request is mandatory, there are recommended elements to the new requirement. EASA’s rulemaking directorate, Peter Corbeel, said that national aviation authorities and experts would be the figures that decide whether users will have to comply with a recommendation.
    Simulator data is only required if the manufacturer refers to the device as a way to define pilot training.
    EASA have provided the aviation industry time to transition, as Master Minimum Equipment Lists (MMELs) for in production models for example, don’t have to be approved until December 2015, giving the industry almost 2 years.
    The mandatory OSD succeeds the voluntary operation evaluation board process.

  • On February 27th, the CBI and TUC sent out a joint letter to the Pensions Regulator emphasizing concerns about the latest draft of the Code of Practice for funding defined benefit pension (DB) schemes.
    The CBI and TUC feel DB scheme deficits are hurting business growth and investment across the UK, whilst also threatening benefit rights. The CBI has long been an advocate of making sure an employer’s need for growth is taken into consideration during scheme funding negotiations.
    To prove their point the CBI conducted a pension survey that revealed 70% of employers claim DB deficit function costs have a direct impact on business investment. Almost half said that funding requirements affected their ability to borrow.
    The CBI feels that there needs to be a balance between the need to invest and grow, with the need to fund their pension schemes. The CBI and the TUC agree that the Regulator’s approach doesn’t go far enough to fix the situation and open the door for more opportunity that is being missed to reduce the amount of risk employers incur.
    In response to the joint letter, the Pensions Regulator’s interim chief, Stephen Soper, said the principles in the new draft DB Code of Practice is designed to encourage a better dialogue between employers and scheme trustees. It’s designed to help better manage risk and facilitate the growth in the employer that ultimately needs to happen.
    Soper also relayed that the Pensions Regulator was grateful for the feedback and he believes that many of the concerns will be addressed.

  •  First severance agreements were under fire by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and now it appears that 401k plans might be challenged on compliance issues. Last year the Department of Labor (DOL) looked into different company 401k plans and found that the majority of them ran foul of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in one way or another.
    The average fine last year for findings of plan errors was $600,000 per plan. Approximately 75% of the 401k plans audited by the DOL resulted in some kind of fine. Even more shocking is the fact that 88 people, including plan officials and corporate officers, were criminally indicted for 401k offenses.
    These numbers speak volumes and prove that human resource professionals need to reevaluate their company’s 401k in the event that a compliancy audit comes up.
    Errors the DOL found included a range of issues, the most common issue being the exclusion of certain compensation like bonus payments, overtime and vacation pay.
    Incorrect asset valuation came in at number two. The easiest way around this, according to HR experts, is having the plan audited by an outside source who can clearly document the plan’s valuation.
    Finally, many of the 401k plans audited were found at fault for making prohibited transactions. These can be anything that constitutes a conflict of interest or misuse of plan assets.


  • Most of us are familiar with severance agreements.  Typically, a company decides to downsize and offers departing employees some kind of financial package in exchange for their silence and pledge not to divulge proprietary information.  Usually, these severance agreements include an agreement on behalf of the departing not to file an employment lawsuit.  Recently, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against one very popular company and the lawsuit revolves around their severance agreement.    

    The EEOC filed suit against well known pharmacy chain CVS alleging that their severance agreements are overly broad, interfering with the employee’s right to file complaints with them.         

    Human resource experts are referring to this lawsuit as a landmark one since the wording in CVS’s agreement is found in virtually all companies’ pacts.  The Agency said the drug store’s, “five page single spaced Separation Agreement…deters the filing of charges and interferes with the employees’ ability to communicate voluntarily” with federal agencies.         

    The EEOC cited six specifics within the severance agreement that they felt were too vague.  These were found under headings titled: Cooperation, Non-Disparagement, Non-Disclosure of Confidential Information, General Release of Claims, No Pending Actions, & Employment Breaches. 

    Hidden within the document is a statement that says:

    “[n]othing in this paragraph is intended to or shall interfere with Employee’s right to participate in a proceeding with any appropriate federal, state or local government agency enforcing discrimination laws, nor shall this Agreement prohibit Employee from cooperating with such agency in its investigation.”

    This small disclaimer was not enough to appease the EEOC though, who are requesting that CVS stop using the separation agreement altogether and wants to order them to institute policies informing employees of their rights.  Furthermore, the EEOC would like CVS to create a 300-day window for former employees who were subject to this agreement to allow them to file a charge of discrimination, requiring CVS to cover legal costs.

    CVS has yet to respond to the lawsuit. 

  • Even though it appears that Unison has lost its latest legal challenge regarding upfront fee for tribunal claims, the High Court left a window open for the situation to be reviewed at a later date.          

    The conclusion of the ruling was the introduction of an upfront fee for tribunal claims against employers would remain in place.  While the court did acknowledge the fact that some of Unison’s claims were “pertinent” this wasn’t enough for the Lord Chancellor to overturn the current fee system.         

    The High Court was asked to consider the discriminatory and unlawful underlying nature of the upfront fee.  It was suggested that paying an upfront fee, as a condition of legal redress, violated the principle of justice.           

    The ultimate ruling, while judgment has been passed, suggests that the basic arguments presented should still be tested because the evidence isn’t robust enough to have a longstanding practice be overturned.  Some experts claim that the application was rejected on the basis that it is just too soon to assess the impact of the fees regime.     

    The Employment Tribunal fees weren’t introduced until last year and the whole reason for the fees was to deter unmeritorious claims.  Official employment tribunal figures will come out later this year and will basically determine if Unison is able to change the High Court judgment. 

    Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said that the decision by the High Court was very disappointing but the fight will continue to provide clear evidence that proves the point.

    “The bottom line is that the government should not put a price on justice,” Prentis said.  “We strongly believe that these fees are unfair and should be dropped.”  

  • Due to intense demand by aviation industry experts, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering approving the installation (and use) of Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) II aboard helicopters.

    The TCAS II has already paid for itself in regions like Europe and Africa, which have documented reports of avoided collisions because of the resolution advisories that the TCAS II provided.

    For several years, operators in regions like the North Sea have been using TCAS II successfully but the FAA is still concerned about the possibility of certification challenges.  Most of the industry’s interest in installing TCAS II in helicopters is related to offshore operations.

    Even though the TCAS II has proven its worth, FAA experts are wary of dangers and limitations that stem from the fact that the TCAS II specification requirements are modeled for transport-category airplanes.  Algorithms require speeds of 1500 feet per minute, which rotorcrafts aren’t always capable of achieving to begin with.  Traffic density could even be considered an issue because too many rotorcrafts with TCAS in one area could create unnecessary resolution advisories.

    A recent study being reviewed by the FAA evaluated TCAS II in fixed-wing rotorcrafts with performance characteristics extremely similar to a helicopter.  The study resulted in the conclusion that the rate of climb should be treated as a variable.

    Additionally, the vertical polarization of the upper directional antenna poses a problem because there is a possibility that it may prevent the system from seeing aircrafts directly above.  This would mean that, in theory, the helicopter could be instructed by a resolution advisory to climb up into a collision.

    The FAA is currently working on determining whether the pros outweigh the cons and if they will move forward with the certification process.

  • The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (aka ALPA) have said that the rumor of a pilot shortage in the United States simply isn’t true. Thousands of airline pilots who are working overseas or who are furloughed have made it extremely clear that they would prefer to fly for a US airline, or live in the United States but that it just isn’t on the cards right now.
    President of ALPA Captain Lee Moak said that there might be a shortage of qualified pilots who are willing to fly for US airlines right now, only because of recent instabilities, poor pay and lack of benefits. However, Captain Moak also said that there are thousands of pilots willing to work for the United States aviation industry under the right conditions.
    “Highly qualified and experienced US airline pilots are either furloughed or working overseas and eager to return to US airline cockpits,” Captain Moak said.
    When surveyed, many furloughed pilots said they would absolutely return to an American airline if the situation presented itself.
    The key to preventing a “real” pilot shortage, according to aviation experts, is producing consistently profitable results in the industry to create more stable working conditions. Captain Moak said that Congress could support this type of consistency by implementing a pro-growth aviation policy that reduces the tax burden on airlines, giving the industry an opportunity to be competitive in the international marketplace.