JANUARY 17 2008 - 14:00 GMT
The wonder is how few accidents and incidents there are per aircraft/hour or aircraft/mile flown. Statistics using passenger miles are relatively meaningless as a comparison with other forms of transport or even with staying at home, but they are good too.

The crash-landing of a Boeing 777 landing from China at Heathrow today looks like an unusual combination of engine-failure, wind shear and some resulting less than ideal conflict between automatic and human control reactions. Landing on the grass and losing the undercart was possibly, in the circumstances, the luckiest outcome possible.

Since the pilots and the black boxes will have all the info the first thing to do is get runway 27 left operational pronto before delays get inbuilt.for the day. The incident is no big deal, moving it is. Clearly the aircraft is a well-built ship. The absence of fire was critical too. Pilots did very well in the final stages to avoid stall as well as the main road, though the force of the landing means it did in effect stall at the end. They can use the runway for take-off's anyway, the environment can be ignored for a while.

15:15 GMT
The usual 21st century civilian reaction has set in: all short haul flights out of Heathrow have now been cancelled for the day. Pathetic. Nobody has any authority to organise anything, responsiblity is divided amongst the carefully bureaucratically designed operation and legally responsible departments. It is the same situation that pertains in our political system where instead of Peter Hain being told his departmental assistants were incompetent and he should pay a penalty to the charity of his choice for not paying attention, there are people saying he has committed a criminal offence! A criminal offence my fucking foot. He could be sacked, have custard poured over his head, or have a variety of indignities inflicted, but failing to ensure that legitimate donations were not declared on time is not a criminal offence - it's a stupid mistake, but harmless, so not criminally negligant either. It is a parliamentary affair to be dealt with by parliament. If this has been made a crime, requiring police involvement, then this government has itself to blame.

In Greece for example, the pilots of this BA aircraft would be arrested immediately of course. I remember in the 1960s Greek airline pilots were arrested frequently, whenever there was an incident in fact. Perhaps the UK is moving in this direction. Conspiracy and malfeasance is assumed unless the contrary proved.

The latest from the BA Captain is that they lost all power and avionics and fly by wire and had to glide it in on vaccuum backup. That explains exactly what happened.
Great flying!

Now look at this:

When I said above "The incident is no big deal" I did not mean that finding the cause is not a vital task. I assumed that there would be few factors that were not known or discoverable from the black box. However, in view of the fundamental nature of what went wrong I can appreciate that moving this aircraft is not a good idea until certain things have been established. The PPL holder observer on the ground who says he heard a lot of noise from the engines as the plane either banked steeply to head for the field or dropped a wing recovering is not inconsistent with engine failure. It takes time for sound to travel and when the observer heard a loud engine noise, the engines would have already failed more than 5 seconds earlier.

16:30 GMT
We now have the BBC commentator saying she hopes the pilots will get counselling! For God's sake woman, the are PILOTS! They don't need counselling!! There is at least some good that might come out of this - hopefully some of the public who are nor prepared for the occasional lethal accident, of which they may well be part, will give up their unnecessary farting about all over the globe just to get out of the office or away from their homes.

If it turns out that the cause of this accident is to do with digital electronic system and networked systems and/or wireless interference, then we will be in very deep water indeed..

I am delighted to hear that runway 27 left has been kept open for take-offs and flights will continue past the usual cut-off time to get through the backlog. Perhaps we do indeed have some people with gumption in charge after all.

JANUARY 18th 2008
18:00 - The intermediate finding of the AIB according to the BBC is that the crew were unable to increase the engine power at 600 feet, 2 miles out. Such an increase would be quite a normal requirement at that point with the unercarriage extended, flaps either fully extended or about to be so, and the headwind speed dropping as the ground approached. Manual override of the auto-throttles still had none of the expected result. It is not clear to from the BBC report whether power remained fixed at an inadequate level or if it reduced even further, but it seems likely to me that it remained fixed. That would account for what happened better than a complete engine failure, as the gliding characteristics of a 777 with gear and flaps down are that of a brick, and retracting them would not, in the circumstances have solved the problem without serious loss of height, of which there was none to spare.

It seems the co-pilot did the flying while the captain grappled unsuccessfully to get the required power restored. A very good effort by all concerned.

JANUARY 21 2008
Here's a piece from yesterday's TIMES which sums up the orthodox view in the media.

Computer failure ‘most likely’ cause of accident

Computer failure emerged yesterday as the most likely cause of flight BA038’s crash-landing, as its wreckage was removed from the southern runway at Heathrow Airport.

British Airways technical staff believe that the Boeing aircraft’s computerised control system caused both engines to fail during its final descent towards Heathrow on Thursday. All 136 passengers and 16 crew survived.

The aircraft was just two miles from touchdown and at a height of 600ft when it lost power suddenly. John Coward, the Senior First Officer, averted disaster by landing the craft just within Heathrow’s fence.

Experts said that a simultaneous mechanical failure of both engines was “unthinkable”. They suggested the fault must lie in the computer system that controlled the engines.

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“There are separate autothrottles, a left computer and a right computer . . . everything is split,” a former 777 pilot said. “For both engines to fail at the same time it has got to have been commanded.” The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is examining all possibilities and has downloaded full data from the flight recorders. Its initial report made clear that it would focus on “the range of aircraft systems that could influence engine operation”.

Computer malfunction in 2005 almost caused a Malaysia Airlines 777 to stall, by slowing its airspeed from 270 knots to 158 knots and putting it into a 3,000ft climb. The pilot prevented disaster by disconnecting the autopilot and pushing the nose down. Another glitch last year caused a 777 to lurch to the right over the Atlantic. The captain had to quickly disengage the autopilot.

As BA’s stricken aircraft was moved to a hangar yesterday, other hypotheses were being aired. One was that a “bird strike” had shut down both engines. The impact of large birds hitting the fans inside the engine can cause damage, but no witnesses noted seeing flocks of birds near by. Another theory is that water got into the fuel.

The preliminary report from the AAIB into the incident is expected to be released in 30 days.

My view:

JANUARY 23rd 2008
It has been suggested to me by those in the airline fraternity that:
 " simultaneous loss of thrust on both engines has to be fuel contamination." End of a long flight, low fuel, fuel warming up at end of descent, it makes a lot of sense. I also read somewhere recently of another case of Chinese fuel being contaminated with water due to poor storage techniques. It appears that the crew action was highly commendable.


I ruled out fuel problems because I thought it didn't fit the facts.
The facts I thought it didn't fit were these.

1. Fuel contamination at airfields outside the control of UK, European or US authorities is a known risk
   It's consequences can be fatal. In China it was a given. Therefore special steps would be taken to
   avoid it at all stages, before delivery to the aircraft and then before delivery to the engines.
2. Running low on fuel at the end of a long flight is a classic situation which can aggravate a number
    of potential problems associated with fuel.
3. The above are a part of basic aviation lore dating back to the days of the Wright brothers. Every
    pilot has probably spent as much time making sure personally that his tanks are clean, studying
   the results if not, or discussing with others responsible for this than any other single pre-flight
4. The flight was not full, so the maximum amount of fuel could and should have been loaded to ensure
    the proper reserve with bags to spare.

If any if the suggested fuel problems are indeed the cause of the accident then I suggest that Walsh should
 resign, the captain and copilot should be sacked along with any BA staff in China or elsewhere responsible
 for any known defective arrangement that was not taken into account and made the subject of corrective
 actions, and none of the above should be allowed to take up employment in aviation anywhere on this
 planet for the rest of their lives.

For the moment I still rule this explanation out for the reasons stated above.
But at the end of the day it is going to be fuel, and how it is delivered to the engines, whatever name we give to the reasons for its restriction or failure: electronic, mechanical, chemical or a complex mix of these. We are not talking about ignition problems, seizure or disintegration of parts. The big questions are (a) the trigger (b) the results and (c) the impossibility to correct or override. It's a great case.

One of my first comments was "It's no big deal, the thing to do is get the runway back in use before we really do have an accident as this is just the type of scenario where one thing leads to another while people are distracted". Boy was I wrong there. It is a big deal.

JANUARY 25th 2008
Here's a sensible report at last from ITN. I insert it here in full.

Heathrow engines 'did not cut out'

ITN - Friday, January 25 06:42 am

Both engines of the British Airways jet that crash-landed at Heathrow were still running when it came down.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) has issued updated findings indicating its inquiry may now focus on the aircraft's fuel supply system.

Various theories about what caused the jet to lose power have been put forward, including the possibility of fuel contamination.

In the update, the AAIB repeated that the Boeing's twin Rolls-Royce engines failed to respond to demands for more thrust as it came in to land.

It said: "The engines both initially responded but after about three seconds the thrust of the right engine reduced.

"Some eight seconds later the thrust reduced on the left engine to a similar level.

"The engines did not shut down and both engines continued to produce thrust at an engine speed above flight idle, but less than the commanded thrust."

The AAIB said it was carrying out a "detailed analysis and examination of the complete fuel flow path from the aircraft tanks to the engine fuel nozzles".

Recorded data shows the aircraft had enough fuel and its autothrottle and engine control systems had worked as expected, the AAIB said.

The AAIB intends to publish a preliminary report within 30 days of the incident.

Disaster was narrowly avoided when the Boeing 777, carrying 136 passengers and 16 crew, lost power in mid-air as it approached the airport on January 17.

It has emerged American investigators have recorded six previous engine failures involving the same type of aircraft.

The most recent was in September 2006, when a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777's right engine shut down near Brisbane, Australia.

The US National Transportation Safety Board's website lists another five incidents, including one in August 2005 where a 777 lost thrust after taking off from Perth, Australia.

A British aviation industry source stressed seven engine failures was "not a large figure" given the aircraft's long flight history and questioned how similar the previous incidents were to the BA crash-landing.

The Boeing 777 is certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its Rolls-Royce engines are certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: "We regulate BA as an airline, so we need to be content they are meeting all regulations and requirements.

"As far as any modifications or inspections are concerned, that would come from the AAIB recommending it and the FAA or EASA making it a legal requirement after consulting with the manufacturer."

JANUARY 27th 2008
Information filtred through yesterday that the air temperature at cruising levels during the flight reached an unprecedented low. If there was any water at all in the fuel, this could have therefore been frozen to a long way below zero celsius or ready to freeze on contact with the right surface. If there was a blockage cause by ice in any part of the fuel lines, why did it show up so late?
Possibly because of the following reasons:

Toward the end of a long flight from China there was still the legal reserve of fuel for overshoot and diversion but all good pilots would be using what fuel they had as economically as possible. That means using airbrakes and the braking effect of the undercarriage as late as possible on the approach. There is no need to use the engines to compensate for gear and flaps before they are really required. So descent would have been achieved by a low power setting, using airbrakes (if at all) to reduce to the limiting speed for undercarriage extension. The undercarriage is then the airbrake down to the speed for the final approach, with flaps being used incrementally and minimally. Only when, with gear down and some flap extended, and the speed reduced to the final approach speed, is a noticable increase in power required.

It was at that moment that a restriction in fuel flow would be discovered. That is what was noticed.
The effect would likely not be exactly the same for each engine. It wasn't.

For the moment, for me, that is the most likely cause of this accident. However I am working on very limited data.

On Feb 19th I put my money on the following solution:
(if right, I stand to win £25 from others with different ideas)
Some combination of water, paper and impurities
within the fuel in the tanks, possibly very small in quantity, maybe including what might be called debris, got frozen to a very low temperature during the flight, forming deeply frozen 'sludge' or maybe little lumps
It got drawn into the fuel lines toward the end of the flight, not completely blocking these lines or the filtres. However, when a rapid flow was demanded when the gear and flaps went down it jammed these frozen obstructions more firmly. This explains the initial response to the demand for power followed, with slightly different timing by each engine, with a reduction back to a quite inadequate fuel flow.

After the landing, the frozen obstructions would have melted away.

It seems likely to me that the fuel tanks are never regularly emptied totally, inspected with lights and hoovered out. It is probably assumed that nothing but fuel goes in, and that any water is purged by the usual drain cocks. Both these assumptions are possibly false. There may well be occasions when small amounts foreign materials and water gets in, that the two can mix, and do not get taken out.

If one engine was affected more than the other, is it possible that the FADEC on the least affect engine reduced its power to match the other on instructions from the autopilot to maintain longitudinal symmetry in the absence of outright engine failure either side?

This hypothetical interpretation of the events is no longer a simple case of fuel contamination and does not imply serious negligence by the pilots, fuellers in China or BA senior management. It does unfortunately add to the modern litany of new 'lessons to be learned' that is added to in our fast moving world.

MARCH 6th 2008
If the engine trouble was caused by police jamming equipment, then the Police would be very seriously implicated and more responsible than any other party. Their equipment is deliberately designed to make other electronic systems fail. They would be obliged to have considered the possibilities of its effects on all types of electronic system before commissioning it and to have drawn up rules to be observed before deploying it. Airport approach paths are only one obvious instance where it could cause a lethal accident. That was why, I assumed at the time, the investigators had not thought it a possible likely cause.

In all such cases one has to look for an exceptional ingredient. Two were offered on this web site: the exceptionally long cold flight and the PM's arrival at the time of the landing. If the obvious precautions above were indeed not standard procedure then we are back to including electronic jamming as a possibility. That is much more serious than the fuel/sludge-ice scenario. If the police can do this so can others. So the 'lessons have been learned' mantra would apply to the police in one way and the designers of computerised aircraft control systems in another, but the serious liability for this one would rest with the police.

MAY 13th 2008
Three months later we have a provisional official theory on the cause of this incident.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph...

Heathrow crash landing 'caused by fuel freeze'

By David Millward, Transport Editor
Last updated: 2:32 AM BST 13/05/2008

The crash landing of a British Airways Boeing 777 at Heathrow may have been caused by abnormally cold conditions over Russia, air investigators have said.

On Monday, in an interim report, the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) said the drop in temperatures to -105F (-76C) may have caused the fuel in the aircraft to thicken during the flight which meant it was unable to get the additional thrust needed to land.

Further tests will be carried out to establish precisely what happened.

The circumstances leading to the worst aviation accident at Heathrow in more than 30 years will raise some concerns over the safety of the Boeing 777. However, neither Britain's safety regulators, Boeing, nor Rolls Royce, the engine's manufacturers, have recommended operational changes.

There are 667 Boeing 777s in service – with 40 in the British Airways fleet – and it is regarded as one of the safest airliners in the world. None has been lost since the plane first flew in 1995.

In its report the AAIB has focused on the "region of particularly cold air" between the Urals and Eastern Scandinavia during the 10-hour flight from Beijing to Heathrow.

It found that temperatures plummeted far lower than would have been expected for the region.

As a result, AAIB experts are examining what this would have done to the fuel and whether this would have caused a change in its consistency. Although the weather was unusually cold, it was not unprecedented and such problems have never been reported before.

The AAIB has established that the fuel used on the aircraft was of high quality.

While the average freezing temperature of aviation fuel is -53F (-47C), tests showed that the fuel used on the airliner does not turn to ice until -71F (-57C). Tests also found that the fuel temperature throughout the flight never dropped below -29F (-34C).

Even though the fuel did not become frozen it could have thickened to an unusual extent, which could have restricted its flow. Fresh tests on fuel are being carried out both at Rolls-Royce's engine plant in Derby and Boeing's factory in Seattle.

A number of other theories have been ruled out by the AAIB. They include birds flying into the engine or ice blocking the engine intake.

David Learmount, the operations and safety editor at Flight International, said all the evidence was starting to point towards the consistency of the fuel. "There might have been an issue with viscosity – with the fuel becoming thicker and flowing less well," he said.

Story from Telegraph News:
* * *

Although in this report it says the fuel was of high quality in my view this does not rule out the possibility of a certain amount of foreign matter collecting in the bottom of the tanks, possibly absorbing water, freezing solid at -34C and reaching into the supply, filters and pumps as the tanks ran low. The alternative theory of the Police anti-terrorist radio frequency barrage is not mentioned here at all. If that were to be involved it would have very serious implication both for FADEC security and Police operating standards. The disturbing thing is that the AAIB has made no comment on the RF intererence theory. That indicates that either they do not want to dignify it with consideration as a possibility or they cannot come to an agreement amongst their number on a suitable statement at this time.

AUGUST 23rd 2008
The Madrid crash.
I have no idea as to the cause, but as to what happened the only guess I could come up with at the time is this:

There was a fire in the port engine on takeoff; the pilots had some disturbing readings and effects, they feared it was just not going to fly for some reason including the high ambient temperature
The city is 2000ft above sea level and it was about 30C at the time of the crash. Although V1 had been passed the pilot in charge may have estimated that the number of unknowns were such that a take-off, circuit and landing were less likely to end in survival than an attempt to stop, even if it meant going through the runway end. He decided to abort using reverse thrust.  Because the starboard reverse thrust was the only one that worked, due to port engine being shut down or failing, the aircraft veered right, raising the port wing and dropping the starboard wing, thus defeating plan B which included stopping straight ahead, wings level. Possibly one pilot dealing with the engine fire and shut down and the other flying it caused a muddle. Either way we should not leap to a conclusion of pilot negligence or malpractice at this stage.

As for those calling for 'justice' they should be asked if they want affordable fares and flights to wherever they want to go, whenever they want it, or a life guaranteed without accidents. Calls for 'justice' are meaningless unless someone failed to do their job through failure to apply their self properly to their duty when they could and should have done.

AUG 25th - I have hear a suggestion that they did not have the flaps set to take-off position. That would account for V1 being passed and the pilots still deciding the plane was not going to fly, or that it stalled and they rotated and dropped a wing. Believing that you must have set take-off flap when in fact you haven't can really skew the interpretation in a pilot's mind of what is happening and what needs to be done next. Of course if that is the case it is a clearcase of pilot error. If it is, it will be clear that the pressure after the first aborted takeoff had 'got to' the crew.
We must await the official report.

AUGUST 28th 2008
According to the report in Daily Telegraph, my first diagnosis that the severity of the crash was due to asymmetric reverse thrust could be right after all, but there is still a need to explain the cause for the decision of the pilot, after passing V1, to then decide they had to abandon take-off.

Spanish crash plane had known mechanical problem

The Spanair aircraft that crashed in Madrid last week killing 154 people had a known problem with the reverse thrust mechanism in one of its engines, it has emerged.

Mechanics had detected the fault three days earlier but the plane was not grounded. Instead the system was deactivated in one of the engines and it was allowed to continue flying.

The malfunction was due to be repaired at a later date, sources said, because the service manual of the twin engine McDonnell Douglas-82 allows the plane to fly temporarily with just one thrust reverser.

As a stop gap measure wire was used to block the flap that directs air flow and helps the plane brake after landing, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported, adding that the measure fell within Spanish safety standards.

According to sources quoted in the Spanish media one of the engines discovered in the wreckage of flight JK5022 was found to be in reverse.

Investigators are exploring the possibility that the earlier reported fault led to activation of the reverse thrust mechanism which could have caused the plane to veer violently to one side on take-off.

They are also considering whether the pilot activated the system in an attempt to abort take-off after failing to pick up enough speed on the runway.

Several of the 18 survivors of the accident have reported that the plane appeared to lack the necessary power to take to the air and video footage shows that it used more than one kilometre more of runway than is usually required.

One of the team of investigators searching for the causes of the crash on August 20 said the plane had managed to take off before veering to the right and slamming into the ground tail first.

The back of the aircraft broke apart and the fuselage bounced three times before crashing into a shallow ravine and bursting into flames, said Francisco Javier Soto. But he warned it was too early to expect definitive answers as to what caused the disaster.

"A preliminary report will be issued within a month," he said.

SEPTEMBER 4th 2008
Although the report on the Heathrow 77 crash is still provisional, it looks like ice in the fuel supply lines is still the favourite.

The important part for the report is this:

Ice can form when the fuel temperature drops to around -1C (30.2F) to -3C (26.6F) Generally the ice crystals simply float and drift in the fuel without causing harm.

Only when the temperature falls further does the ice stick together.

Within the fuel system a heat exchanger is used to increase the fuel temperature, but it is possible the blockage might have occurred before this point.

The investigation team have built a test rig and introduced pre-prepared ice into the fuel system to see if it would clog up.

But the amounts they had to put in to make this happen were far greater than is normal.

Despite that, the scenarios being considered by the AAIB are based on the idea that the ice formed gradually in the system and was released as the plane prepared for landing.

That is exactly how I envisaged the process back on January 27th (see above) when it was revealed that the flight had endured very low outside air temperatures for a very long time, followed by an approach using low, steady power setting until more was demanded as the gear and flaps went down, at which point the accumulated ice packed into blockage points. It still remains to be demonstrated beyond doubt, but I think I have won the money. That's £5 from each of you, fellas, I think.

Here is an excellent report in The Independent. Well done guys - the non-technical press isn't always crap. The only point I would add is that the temperature of the fuel in the tanks remained way below freezing as the aircraft descended and commenced the approach. The sudden demand for high fuel flow could then either have just been impossible in restricted fuel lines, or dislodged some build up to cause it to acumulate at a constricted point that aggravated the problem. Whether this occurred first for one engine and then the other, or whether the autopilot and FADEC systems matched engine perfomance to the lowest to handle the directional control is not covered here.

Safety fears over future long-haul flights

Ice in fuel system caused Heathrow crash, says report

By Michael Savage
Friday, 5 September 2008

Airlines are being urged to implement new safety measures for long-haul aircraft after investigators found that the crash-landing of a Boeing 777 at Heathrow was probably caused by ice in its fuel system.

The previously unknown problem was revealed in a report into the accident on 17 January involving a British Airways flight from Shanghai. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch is urging European and US regulators to introduce interim measures for all Boeing 777s powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines to prevent a similar incident.

It also wants the aviation industry to ensure that fuel systems can cope with the potential build-up and sudden release of ice. The findings could result in long-haul flights being made to fly at lower altitudes to prevent the build-up of ice crystals inside their fuel tanks.

Flight BA038 was seconds away from touching down when it lost power. The pilot did not even have time to warn his 136 passengers to brace themselves before he realised the jet was not going to reach the runway.

In what was the most serious incident at Heathrow for 30 years, passengers were flung forward as the aircraft stalled 400 yards short of the south runway, skimmed a perimeter fence and careered to a halt on a grass verge. One person suffered a broken leg and eight others received minor injuries. It later emerged that the cockpit crew could not get the required thrust as the jet approached Heathrow.

AAIB experts now believe the formation of ice meant that fuel could not be delivered fast enough to the 777's Rolls-Royce Trent engines. They ruled out any problems with the quality of the fuel or mistakes by the crew.

The AAIB report – the fifth released so far – concluded: "The investigation has shown that the fuel flow to both engines was restricted – most probably due to ice within the fuel feed system. This ice is likely to have formed from water that occurred naturally in the fuel whilst the aircraft operated for a long period, with low fuel flows, in an unusually cold environment."

Although the Boeing's fuel did not freeze, its temperature fell to -34°C (-29°F) and stayed there for about 80 minutes. Investigators said the problems might have been caused by the length of time the fuel temperature was below zero, coupled with the sudden change in fuel flow demanded as it attempted to land.

The report added: "Although the exact mechanism in which the ice has caused the restriction is still unknown in detail, it has been proven that ice could cause a restriction in the fuel-feed system. The risk of recurrence needs to be addressed in the short term whilst the investigation continues."

The AAIB suggested the problem could be solved with the use of military technology which combats the formation of ice. It added: "Operational changes to reduce the risk of ice formation causing a restricted fuel flow at critical stages of flight could be introduced. Such changes could be implemented quickly, but must not compromise the safe operation of the aircraft."

The investigation into the crash is continuing with testing at Rolls-Royce in Derby, and at the home of Boeing in Seattle. BA said it was working closely with the investigation team.

Following the release of yesterday's report, a spokesman for the US Federal Aviation Administration said it would be issuing an airworthiness directive to all US carriers operating Boeing 777 aircraft.

This was likely to recommend "changes in procedures for pilots to follow in certain cold weather conditions", as well as "changes in certain fuel procedures on the ground". While it would not be an emergency directive, he added, it was likely to be issued within 24 hours and would have immediate effect.


OCTOBER 16th 2008
"Earlier this month, the first official report into the crash of Spanair flight JK5022 said investigators were focusing on a problem with the plane's wing flaps and the failure of a cockpit alarm to sound. ...." BBC News.         See my entries August 23 and 28 above.

It seems that when the engineers disconnected the faulty temperature indicator, the warning system to guard against take-off without the correct take-off flap setting was on the same circuit breaker. In the pressure to take off again after the delay and get back on schedule or at least as near to it as possible, the pilots must have overlooked the flap setting. The alarm that would have warned them had been unknowingly disconnected...

This remains to be proved of course in the course of the current hearings. If it is the case it will be a classic example of 'recursive coincidence' building an accident from remote possibility, to probability, to tragic event. The final additional killer was the asymmetric reverse thrust. All of this the result of operational and financial pressure on an airline fighting for survival.

In the wider context it is a classic example of how, in a world where we operate on a knife edge, the general public are forever fed a reassuring version of health and safety and their rights to absolute security - an absurd dream - while our space agencies juggle with lethal satellite debris, our security services with deranged suicide bombers, our treasurers with ruthless financial gladiators ready to bet the farm on making a killing regardless of the consequences and our armed services with bands of squabbling, primitive sects armed with the latest weapons from our own advanced amouries.

The current financial crisis is a sort of reverse synergy, in which the individual action of every player serves to undermine the wealth and health of the whole. This could lead to a temporary collapse of free market capitalism as the controlling methodology, just as it did in wartime. After that, having proved that simplistic theories such as communism and capitalism are just small but interesting routines that can play a part in the great game of human evolution and socio-economic experimentation, we might be able to move on!

JANUARY 17th 2009
Some good news: a bird strike takes out two engines, but the landing in the Hudson river is 'textbook'.

It's not every time the captain is an ex-military civil airline top safety expert, but the plane survived the touchdown as intended and the crew performed perfectly.

Quick thinking and the correct decision - to forget about making an airfield approach and go for the river - was followed by a perfect landing on the water and a textbok evacuation backed up by local shipping. I am surprised that a plane with take-off fuel on  board did not sink faster once the water was allowed in, but it was not that full a flight.

Bird strikes have always been a risk. The best way to deal with them has been considered to have the engine's front turbine blades mash them up so much they pass right through. Chickens are usually used to do the tests. A flock of geese hitting BOTH engines proved too much in this case.

Not much use putting a grill in front of the engines a a grill stuffed with geese is not good either and a broken grill going through with the geese even worse. A knife-edged grill that cut up the geese before they hit the turbine blades would still not get over the problem of too much goose at a time. Suggestions welcome.

MARCH 13th 2009
I win my bet from February 19th above.

Tests support BA crash ice theory

Official tests have proved that a build-up of ice in the engine could have caused a British Airways plane to crash-land at Heathrow.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has now asked aviation regulators to look at solutions to the problem.

But the AAIB said it was "a major scientific challenge" and simply using an anti-icing fuel additive more widely has many "drawbacks".

The Boeing 777, with 152 people on board, crashed in January 2008.

In its first interim report into the accident last September, the AAIB suggested that ice was the most likely cause.

Now it has carried out detailed tests to determine just how such a situation could have arisen.


The second interim report, released on Thursday, said that during the flight, from Beijing, ice may have developed in the fuel pipes.

Then shortly before landing, due to factors such as turbulence or engine acceleration, a large amount of ice may have been dislodged and suddenly released into the fuel system, causing a blockage.

As a result, the flow of fuel to the engines was greatly reduced, leaving them without sufficient power less than a minute before touchdown.

This is clearly a major scientific challenge, possibly taking several years to complete
Air Accidents Investigation Branch report

The plane eventually came down just beyond the airport's perimeter fence.

Its captain Peter Burkill and co-pilot John Coward were hailed as heroes for their part in landing it without any loss of life or serious injury.

The report said: "Ice in aviation turbine fuel is an industry-wide problem and currently the mechanism by which it accumulates and is released within an aircraft and engine fuel system is not fully understood.

"The military, and some business jet operators, have used anti-icing additives in aviation turbine fuel.

"The widespread use of such additives would reduce the risk from ice in fuel. However, its introduction worldwide would not only require changes to the infrastructure and ground fuel handling systems, but it could also lead to increased aircraft maintenance."

The AAIB said aircraft manufacturer Rolls-Royce had already announced it had developed a modification to the fuel system that would allow it to cope better "in the event of a fuel system ice release event".

But investigators called on the entire industry to do more to explore the potential role of anti-ice additives and the problem of ice formation generally.

It added: "This is clearly a major scientific challenge, possibly taking several years to complete, so the regulatory authorities are urged to jointly initiate such research."

MARCH 13th 2009
I had refrained from comment on this Turkish Airlines accident. I will continue to do so apart from saying, in connection with the final paragraph in this report, I doubt if the pilots in question had ever acquired anything resembling what I would call 'flying skills' which, once acquired, are not easily lost. My sympathies to the passengers. This report is from the Times on March 5th 2009

Turkish Airlines pilots ignored faulty altimeter before Amsterdam crash

A faulty altimeter and apparent inattention by the pilots caused the Turkish Boeing 737 crash in Amsterdam, the accident investigation showed yesterday.

The investigators' preliminary report confirmed the widespread theory that the pilots let the automatic systems slow the plane to a dangerously low speed as it approached Schiphol airport.

At 450ft, as the pilots scrambled to speed up, it stopped flying and flopped on to the ground, killing the three flight deck crew and six others on board.

The radio altimeter had "told" the automatic flight system that the plane was 8ft below the surface when it was still nearly 2,000ft in the air. This caused the autothrottle to pull back the power to idle, as if the plane were touching down. Normally, pilots are expected to monitor the performance of the automated approach system.

According to a conversation recorded between the plane's captain, first officer and an extra first officer on the flight, the pilots had noticed the faulty altimeter earlier but did not consider it a problem and did not react, the chief accident investigator said.

With power almost non-existent, the automatic pilot attempted to keep the aircraft on its landing path and may have started "flaring", or pulling the nose up for landing.

The plane then slowed almost to stalling speed while still some way from the ground. The emergency warning systems came into action, sounding a warning and shaking the control columns to alert the pilots to the impending stall.

They applied maximum power but it was too late for the Boeing to regain flying speed and recover from the stall. The plane hit the ground at 110mph, the report said. While the main undercarriage sheared off, as designed, the nose wheel dug into the ploughed field, subjecting the flight deck to brutal deceleration. The pilots did not survive the violent stop.

The pilots' awareness of their predicament was dimmed because low cloud and mist prevented them from seeing the runway below and ahead of them as they began their descent from 2,000ft. However, the pilots would normally have been expected to react immediately to the autothrottle command to cut power, especially since they were aware that the radio altimeter was possibly faulty.

The radio altimeter is used in large aircraft as a supplement to the less accurate traditional barometric altimeters that take their reading from the pressure of the atmosphere.

The instrument panel in front of the pilots would have been displaying their correct altitude, taken from the main altimeters, while the usually more accurate radio altimeter was feeding into the flight system.

The description of the fatal final moments of the Turkish airliner contrasts with accounts from Turkey and some passengers of heroic pilots who saved a crippled aircraft from worse damage.

If confirmed, the failures by the pilots would make the Amsterdam incident at least the fourth in 13 months in which pilot error has caused an airliner to stall and crash. The others were at Madrid last August, near the French city of Perpignan in November and near Buffalo, New York, last month.

The initial accident findings are certain to intensify debate over the dangers of pilots losing their basic flying skills as a result of relying on the sophisticated electronics that control airliners through most of their flights.

JUNE 6th 2009
It looks like the Air France A300 had its electrics and engine computers (FADECs) fried by a massive lightning strike, rendering the plane uncontrollable. There will need to be some thinking done on this problem, or some weather avoidance in violent tropical convergence zones. There is also discussion about inadequate pitot head heating. This could, if the iced up, affect airspeed readings. If the FADEC (Fully Automated Digital Engine Control) has only that to rely on and the pilots no other sense of airspeed and no overide control, that could of course produce a problem. Could a combination of this and a lightning strike have led to a complete loss of control.

JUNE 7th
We now hear from the meteorologists that there was no indication that the plane was entering an unusually violent are of storm or turbulence. This must heighten speculation as to other causes of a sudden failure of all systems and pressurisation.... there will be a serious effort to find the black boxes, however hard it may be. 7 bodies have been found so far and some debris.

JUNE 22nd 2009
In planes with computerised controls, it could become the case that passengers perceptions of safety may include puzzlement as to whether the convolutions of flight are caused by computer malfunction, computer programmed reaction to extreme turbulence, or just severe turbulence being handled as well as well as it could be by any large aircraft in these conditions.

Jet Plunges From The Sky In Turbulence Scare

Monday, June 22 12:28 pm

SkyNews © Sky News 2009

Terrified passengers were thrown around the cabin when the plane they were travelling in suddenly plummetted towards the ground.

Seven people suffered minor injuries when the plane struck "severe turbulence" while cruising over Malaysia in the dead of night.

The Qantas Airbus A330 - the same model as an Air France jet that ditched into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1 - had been en route from Hong Kong to Perth.

It had 219 passengers and crew on board.

Many were not wearing seatbelts and were hurled around the cabinet as the jet plunged down.

The cabin lights had been dimmed during the overnight flight, which left those on board confused and panicked in the dark.

"It appeared like we'd just dropped out of a 30-storey building," passenger Keith Huxtable said.

"It was dark... people screamed," he added.

Qantas has defended its fleet of Airbus A330s, blaming the incident on freak weather conditions.

"There is nothing to link the aircraft to anything untoward," said company spokesman David Epstein.

He also dismissed any link to other A330 accidents including the Air France disaster.

Earlier, the first 11 of 50 bodies recovered from the doomed French jet were identified.

Six passengers and one crew member were treated for injuries during the Qantas flight, Mr Epstein confirmed.

The captain reported minor damage inside the cabin, he added.

Australian government safety officials are investigating the incident, which is not the first to rock Qantas passengers in recent months.

A computer malfunction on an Airbus A330 flying from Singapore to Perth in October caused the jet to nosedive twice, leaving 12 passengers and crew seriously injured.

The Australian airline underwent a safety review last year after a series of problems, including an oxygen tank explosion on a Boeing 747-400 that ripped a hole in the jet's fuselage last July.

The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines. No one was injured.

JULY 2nd 2009

I detect the odour of a can of worms here, which some of those involved can ill afford to have opened in these financially uncertain times.

Air France Jet 'Did Not Break Up In Mid-Air'

Thursday, July 2 03:39 pm

SkyNews © Sky News 2009

A doomed Air France jet did not break up in mid-air but plunged vertically into the Atlantic Ocean, investigators have revealed.

"The plane was not destroyed while in flight," said Alain Bouillard, who is leading the probe into the June 1 crash for the French accident investigation agency BEA.

"The plane appears to have hit the surface of the water in flying position with a strong vertical acceleration."

He explained that flight 447 hit the water belly-first, but with a straighter descent than a more familiar diagonal landing.

All 228 people aboard the plane were killed when it plunged into the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

Life vests found among the wreckage of the Air France plane were not inflated, Mr Bouillard went on.

Speaking at a news conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, he said the search for the jet's black boxes had been extended by 10 days and will continue through to July 10.

The flight recorders emit a signal for a limited time.

Mr Bouillard also said the plane's defective airspeed sensors were a "factor but not the cause" of the Airbus A330's crash.

"It's one of the factors, but not the only one," he said, as the BEA released its first report on the disaster.

Mr Bouillard said control of the flight was supposed to have passed from air traffic controllers in Brazil to their counterparts in Senegal, but that never happened.

He said the pilots of flight 447 had tried three times to connect to a data system in the Senegalese capital Dakar, but had failed, apparently because Dakar never received the flight plan.

"This is not normal," he said, adding that investigators were also trying to find out why it took six hours after the plane disappeared before an emergency was declared.

He also reiterated that France had not yet been granted access to post-mortem reports on bodies taken to Brazil.

SEE APRIL 3rd 2011

DECEMBER 23 2009

The article in the Times is well worth reading. Looking back at Bouillard's contention that 'defective airspeed sensors were a factor but not the cause' of the accident, I would say they were the cause, the other considerations about the pilots possible failure to counteract it were factors.

SEE NEW ENTRY MAY 06 2010 - Black boxes located - OR ARE THEY?!

For Airport Security see AIRPORT SECURITY

JANUARY 25th 2010
BEIRUT (AFP) – An Ethiopian airliner carrying 90 passengers and crew exploded in a ball of flames and plunged into the sea off Lebanon during a fierce storm early Monday, officials and witnesses said.
We shall see. At the moment I have no idea as to the cause.

FEBRUARY 9th 2010
The final report is out on the Heathrow Boeing crash
The AAIB concluded that an engine component, called the fuel oil heat exchanger, on the crashed Boeing was likely to stop working in a combination of soft ice and with a fuel temperature below -10C (14F).
Would those who bet me a fiver I was wrong at the time now pay up please? Only one has, nobly, back in March last year when the provisional conclusions were published.

APRIL 15th 2009
The Polish Presidential plane crashed while attempting to land at Smolensk on April 10th.

The day after the crash it seemed from an eyewitness that the pilot was making a sudden bank at low level immediately prior to the crash.  My first thought was that on his first sight of the runway he was a bit low and not quite lined up, so tried a quick jink, aiming to bank rapidly right and then left (or vice versa) as this was the only alternative to climbing back into the clag and making another approach. But airliners have wide wings, and these are out of sight of the pilot, and trees that do not appear ahead of you when your gaze is fixed on the runway are not appreciated as the hazard they really are when one wing, out of sight and out of mind, clips them.

Now we have a bit more data. The pilot was youngish for the job, under pressure to land, and there is no ILS at Smolensk North so it was probably a GCA talkdown, in Russian. Unless a pilot is used to GCA and the controller is very good, this can be tricky in really bad weather. Corrections in height and heading have to be narrowed down to the very minor by the time you are below 300 feet above ground level. So the scene I imagine is that before the ground and the runway ahead finally came into view, the pilot had accepted he was slightly off the centre-line but did not want to make any quick corrections. However, he was also slightly low, as he would certainly have been trying to avoid being too high and being unable to touch down near the threshhold.  Result: a combination of factors at the last minute - a quick decision, too much bank required at too low an altitude, a loss of lift, and a wing touches the trees.

He must have thought he was home and dry just a second before it was a total disaster. It also seems that the Russian controller was not happy some time before that and had recommended a diversion.

All this could be wide of the mark so I await the official version.

APRIL 15 continued....

Volcanic Ash Forces UK Flight Ban Extension

SkyNews © Sky News 2010
All flights in and out of the UK have been grounded until 1pm Friday at the earliest because of a huge volcanic ash cloud that has hit the UK.

My view at this early stage:
The ban was premature and unnecessary in a great many cases but it will now make some sense as the cloud is less well defined. This could go on for days, weeks or even years if this volcano doesn't shut up. I guess it is so difficult to implement intelligent restrictions and safeguards that this is the only way. The world is going this way, no judgment or discrimination is allowed. Eventually the refusal to take risks or accept fatalities could prove fatal for practically all of us. Seeking ever more privilege and power with safety could achieve the opposite end, just as seeking ever more wealth can end in bankruptcy.

APRIL 16th 2010
Flights stopped till Saturday 17th now...

APRIL 19th 2010
Spain is open but most of the rest of Europe still closed to civil airliners. Personally I am not convinced that NATS/EURO-CONTROL should have to take responsibility other than to assess the dangers and give advice. However I can see that demands of aircraft in flight to route on an ad-hoc basis on occasions to avoid the cloud could put a strain on controllers and systems. Reducing the traffic would entail many judgments by airlines/airports/air-traffic-control which could be challenged by users claiming preferential treatment.
More attention might be paid to how the US handles Mount St Helen's blow-offs, though there the have to advantage of one country and one language (how long will that last!!) which makes decisions and rapid, flexible implementation at all levels possible.

I think if I hear anyone say after this 'lessons have been learned' I will vomit. I am not casting nasturtiums though, this was a bit out of left field and in the current 'health and safety' climate (which I deplore but have to live with) the lesson I would like to see learned is by striking airline staff - I hope this wakes the idiots out of the hypnotic trance their leaders have put them in. Has Derren Brown tought people nothing yet?

15:15 GMT - UK Northern airports open on discretion. That's something

OOPS - It's erupting again...

APRIL 21 2010
Those of you who are interested and have time to read, here is a page in brilliant blog on some of the conflicting considerations, facts and probabilities at [The link goes to the page]

For those of you in a hurry, here is the story.

1. The blanket ban was precipitate and lasted too long. However, it is difficult to pin the blame on this on any one institution, organisation or government department.
2. The financial and human cost of the ban seems not to have been appreciated as it was put at value ZERO into the equations used to come up with policy decisions.
3. The risk to aircraft and passengers seems not to have been appreciated either as it was put at value INFINITY, in the lack of available evidence to the contrary.

As a result of the above, the loss of life and money caused by implementing a complete and widespread ban was disregarded completely, while any loss of life or money resulting from an aviation incident was considered completely unacceptable and something for which all authorities involved in the air transport in question would bear liability in law.

We do not yet know how many people have died because if the ban on flights. It could be none or 100 or 1000. If it is less than a plane-load, there can be some justification for erring on the side of protecting the travellers, as we can assume that if an informed, warned plane taking a sensible route had got into difficulties then a ban at that stage would stop more than a plane-load being lost. Bear in mind that travellers would have had a choice if informed there was a risk, whether to take it, assuming their carrier (BA for instance) was prepared to fly a given route, while the person waiting for a kidney via an airline has not choice in the matter and was treated as expendable.

As far as the UK government were concerned, they asked the national and global specialists (aero-engine manuacturers, vulcanologists, meteorologists, CAA, ICAO, NATS and EUROCONTROL and chief scientists) if they could come up with scientific advice so that they could avoid taking a political decision until it was anonymized by wrapping it into some mathematics (which would be well beyond the criticism of any tabloid newspaper hacks). Unfortunately the boffins said YES! They could come up with some advice, but it would take a day or two. In the mean time, as I have said, the risk remained theoretically infinite because of the the flawed thinking I have criticised from the start. Since this flwed thinking permeates our society, there is no way to override it or complain.

The work done to come up with the mathematical cover-job was phenomenal. These guys and their computers are amazing. It was because they could do it (or pretend to) that we had to wait for them. A clued up individual could have done it all in his or her head on day one with sensible guesswork based on the info available and satellite and other data available - but it would never have stood up in court. Now, all those trying to get compensation in court will be trapped between the unmeshable law and logic of Acts of God and Secular Science. To be trapped there means you are on your own, people, and will be for years on all matters of this ilk until the biggest penny in the universe has dropped. It will eventually, though I will probably be gone when it does.

There is no point in complaining about the inadequate measures to get people home. To call it a shambles is silly - there was no way to avoid such a shambles and it will take time even now flights are back.

As a pilot, I assume every time I leave the ground as a passenger I may die, and I would advise everyone to assume the same. If you are not prepared for that, don't fly. It is still safer to fly from London to e.g. Paris, Rome, Moscow, Sydney or or Tokyo than to drive, bike or walk or go by coach or (in most of these example) by rail.

APRIL 22 2010
The page above discusses the various complaints about the effects of shutting down the airspace fr several days. I am glad Michae O'Leary of Ryanair has agreed to abide by EU rules on passenger compensation, even though he intentd to claim it back off the governments. If it was not for the EU Mr O'Leary wouldn't have a business, or the protection of the law for it, or his grossly subsidised use of services and fuel, subsidised because he piggybacks on a large amount of infrastructure and systems in which he has not invested pro rata. He's an arrogant little twerp, but one has to hand it to him as he calls the bluff of governments who don't dare thwart him as he provides the equivalent of licensed drugs to a public in need and service providers who need the extra business.

Skip to MAY 15 for more volcano news

MAY 06 2010
[SEE JULY and DECEMBER 2009 above re the Air France flight 447 from Rio.]
Today we were treated to the following news from the BBC:
"Air France say they have located the black boxes from flight 447 from Rio, but may not be able to retrieve them because they are no longer transmitting."

I take it therefore that they have NOT located the boxes but have located the area in which the main parts of the wreckage and (they assume) the black boxes have ended up. Or maybe they got a breif, faint signal from this area at some time earlier and have now detected it from recorded scans of the area.

Go to MAY 30th for more on this incident.

MAY 16th 2010
The Iceland volcano has been spewing away more or less and now, more, with a wind change to bring fall-out over Europe.

Many UK airports are closed until Monday morning because of volcanic ash from Iceland, with more disruption likely over coming days.  will give you links to enlargable maps of the volcanic cloud for the story today.

Things getting better... the updates are at

MAY 30th 2010
An excellent documentary on the Air France flight 447 from Rio accident on BBC 2 suggests (possibly) that after a nightmare descent the crew had recovered some level of control but then, in the dark with no reliable speed indication hit the water in a deep stall at a high rate of descent. The initial loss of airspeed data, caused by supercooled water at 35,000 feet (similar to what we used to call freezing rain when encountered at lower altitude and less excessively low temperatures) created a situation that the pilots could not cope with, requiring skills they had not practised and an instant application of emergency procedures that were delayed by their dealing with the flood of error and warning messages that overtaxed them at the outset. The storm they flew into may have been hidden on their radar to some extent by a smaller storm.

The truth is the current amount of air travel puts demands on our society that will from time to time mean the measures we take to provide more, faster, safer travel will occasionally trip up. In this case the pitot head heaters might have been changed sooner when it was learned from previous instances they could not handle all conditions, as training all pilots to cope with what happens in the extremes experienced in this particular case is probably unrealistic. In my opinion, they got stuck in a deep stall and did not have the skill to get out of it, in the dark with no faith in their instruments. As the altitude was running out out they did not dare put the nose down.

JULY 31 2010
Islamabad - A300 crashed off-course in the hills on approach on Wed 28th. The black box has been located. More here in due course

The plane — an Airbus A321 model — was ordered to take an alternative approach to the runway at Islamabad airport but apparently veered off course, the Civil Aviation Authority said earlier this week.

Officials said the plane, which was flying to Islamabad from the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, lost contact with the control tower before the crash, which occurred during stormy weather.

The impact of the crash was devastating, scorching a wide swath of the hillside and scattering wreckage over a half-mile (1-kilometer) stretch. Most bodies were so badly damaged that identification will require DNA testing, officials said.

Airblue is a Pakistan-based carrier that has flown since 2004. The airline has said the plane that crashed had no known technical problems.

NOVEMBER 30th 2010

The clumsy 25-year-old co-pilot, working aboard an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Pune in India on 26 May, had "inadvertently [pressed] the control column forward", according to the official report into the incident.

No one on the flight was injured, but the report indicates that the 113 passengers were "very much scared and were shouting loudly" during the terrifying dive.

The report also says that the co-pilot "probably had no clue how to tackle this kind of emergency", adding: "Appropriate action shall be taken against the involved crew".

APRIL 3rd 2011
Wreckage from an Air France jet lost over the Atlantic nearly two years ago with 228 people on board has been found, French investigators say.

MAY 1st 2011

One of two flight recorders from an Air France plane that crashed in 2009 off the coast of Brazil has been recovered, officials say.

France's Bureau of Investigation said in a statement that the device was "in good physical condition".

MAY 31 2011
After reading this report, where there is the occasional problem of translation, it is clear to me that the pilots of the Air France flight 447 from Rio (black box found as shown above) got the aircraft into a deep stall, did not know they were in one, and/or did not know how to get out of it. I would like to know a lot more about the history and training of the crew. The lack of cockpit conversation expected in this report indicates to be that it is a very incomplete rendering of what went on in the cockpit.

Click here for the English Language report.

JUNE 10th 2011
This anonymous letter referring to the Air France accident above should be read carefully.

Letter of the Week: Airbuses Fly "Like a Video Game"

I would like to offer my comments and perspective with regard to the Air France Flight 447 accident. I have been a A-330 captain since 2003 and have over 4500 hours in the aircraft. While many A-320 pilots undoubtedly have more series time, I believe this probably makes me one of the most experienced A330 pilots in the world.

When asked how I like the aircraft, I tell people that there is likely no easier airplane to take over an ocean, and that the systems design and presentation is superb. That said, the automation is more complex and less intuitive than necessary, and the pilot-aircraft interface is unlike that of a conventional aircraft. Most important with regard to this accident is the fly-by-wire sidestick control. The sidestick itself has a very limited range of motion, making inadvertent over-control very easy. Of even greater significance, the stick itself provides no "feel" feedback to the pilot. That is, unlike a conventional aircraft, the pilot does not get a sense through pressure of how much input is being sent to the control surfaces. The most important advice I give to pilots new to the Airbus is to treat the aircraft not as an airplane, but as a video game. If you wait for the sidestick to tell you what you are doing, you will never get an answer.

Taking into consideration that Air France 447 was at FL 350 (where the safe speed envelope is relatively narrow), that they were in the weather at night with no visible horizon, and that they were likely experiencing at least moderate turbulence, it does not surprise me in the least that the pilots lost control of the aircraft shortly after the autopilot and autothrust disconnected.

Let's keep in mind that these are not ideal conditions for maintaining controlled flight manually, especially when faced with a sudden onslaught of warning messages, loss of autofllght, confusing airspeed indications, and reversion to "alternate law" flight control, in which certain flight envelope protections are lost.

A very bad Airbus design feature is thrust levers that do not move while in autothrust. They are instead set in a detent which would equal climb thrust in manual mode. If the pilots did not reset the thrust levers to equal the last cruise power setting, they likely eventually ended up in climb power, making it difficult to reset the proper cruise power setting and adding to what was likely already a great deal of confusion.

But the real problem probably occurred immediately after the pilot flying grabbed the sidestick and took over manually. Unfortunately, airline pilots rarely practice hand-flying at high altitude, and almost never do so without autothrust engaged. As a result, we forget that the aircraft is very sensitive to control inputs at high altitude, and overcontrol is the usual result. Because the Airbus sidestick provides no feedback "feel" to the pilot, this problem is dramatically compounded in this aircraft.

I believe the Air France pilot grabbed the sidestick, made an immediate input (because as pilots, that's what we tend to do), and quickly became quite confused as to what the aircraft was truly doing. This confusion likely was exacerbated by fixating on airspeed indications that made no sense while trying to find a power setting with no airspeed guidance.

When transitioning from autopilot to manual control at altitude in the Airbus, the most important thing to do at first is nothing. Don't move a thing, and then when you do, gently take hold of the sidestick and make very small inputs, concentrating on the flight director (which, in altitude hold, should still have been providing good guidance). Of course, this is much easier said than done with bells and whistles going off all over the place, moderate turbulence and a bunch of thunderstorms in the area. As I said before, treat it like a video game.

So why did the Air France pilot find himself at the limits of sidestick travel, and then just stay there, maintaining a control input that simply could not logically be correct? When things go really bad and we are under intense pressure, it is human nature to revert to what we know from previous experience. Remember, the Airbus flies like no other aircraft in that the sidestick provides no feedback to the pilot. It is a video game, not an airplane.

I believe the Air France pilot unintentionally fell back on all of his previous flying experience, in which aircraft controls "talked" to him when he moved them. Distracted by many confusing inputs, he instinctively expected to be able to control the aircraft by "feel" while dividing his attention to address other matters. I've seen it happen in the simulator, and in an Airbus this is a sure way to lose control of the aircraft and is possibly the most dangerous aspect of Airbus design philosophy.

One last note: Airbus pilots often claim that the aircraft "can not be stalled." When the flight controls are in "normal law" this is a reasonably true statement. However, in "alternate law," as was the case here, stall protection can be lost. If we ever practiced this in the simulator, I don't remember it.

Lest anyone think I am blaming the Air France pilots for this accident, let me be clear. Despite all of my experience in the aircraft, I am not the least bit certain that I would have been able to maintain control under the same circumstances. I do feel certain that were you to spring this scenario on pilots in a simulator without warning less than half of them would have a successful outcome. Safely flying the 320, 330 and 340-series Airbus requires something of a non-pilot mindset.

Name Withheld

Editor's Note:

We have spoken with the writer of this letter to confirm his identity and honored his request for anonymity.

So, what is to be done? Either the training or the control system, or both should be adjusted.

Expert comment from across the pond:
It seems to me that BEA will have a difficult task writing the final accident report on AF 447.
From what has been published it would seem that a major review of the Airbus control law policy is required which pits BEA against a major and successful aircraft manufacturer that has very strong lobbying powers in Paris.
The FAA reaction to the accident conclusions will be very closely watched.
All in all it has the makings of a time bomb.