latest June 10th 2011
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
that a simultaneous mechanical failure of both engines was
“unthinkable”. They suggested the fault must lie in the computer system
that controlled the engines.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
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
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 preliminary report from the AAIB into the incident is expected
to be released in 30 days.
strike can be ruled out, water in the
fuel does not fit the facts.(see below entry 23
Jan, but then new evidence in entry Jan 27th)
failure' of some sort is almost certain as the engines are controlled
by computers. If a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine
controlled by the computers cannot be overriden other than by selecting
full emergency power.
As to what
caused the computer failure, theories abound from the jamming system
used by police escorting the PM to the airport to people on board all
starting up their mobile phones to a deliberately directed beam from
the ground. If there are separate FADEC systems for each engine they
must both be linked to an autopliot/autoland computer. I am now
interested in learning how a FADEC system can or cannot be overriden by
selecting full emergency power manually, and if this was correctly
attempted and yet still failed. We have to wait the results of the
to a Guardian report one engine was still turning after the
undercarriage collapsed, but I assume the captain cut the fuel
manually at that time to avoid fire. Modern aviation fuel is thankfully
not very volatile.
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
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.
special steps would be taken to
avoid it at all stages, before delivery to the aircraft
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
his tanks are clean, studying
the results if not, or discussing with others responsible
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
staff in China or elsewhere responsible
for any known defective arrangement that was not taken into
and made the subject of corrective
actions, and none of the above should be allowed to take up
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
But at the end of the day it is going to be
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,
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
Various theories about what caused the jet to lose power have been
put forward, including the possibility of fuel contamination.
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
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
engines did not shut down and both engines continued to produce thrust
at an engine speed above flight idle, but less than the commanded
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
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
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.
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
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.
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."
2008 Information filtred through
yesterday that the air temperature at
cruising levels during the flight reached an unprecedented low. If
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
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
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
deliberately designed to make other electronic systems fail. They would
obliged to have considered the possibilities of its effects on all
electronic system before commissioning it and to have drawn up rules to
observed before deploying it. Airport approach paths are only one
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
then we are back to including electronic jamming as a possibility. That
more serious than the fuel/sludge-ice scenario. If the police can do
can others. So the 'lessons have been learned' mantra would apply to
in one way and the designers of computerised aircraft control systems
another, but the serious liability for this one would rest with the
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Spanish crash plane had known mechanical problem
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.
By Fiona Govan in Madrid for the Daily
Last Updated: 6:17PM BST 28 Aug 2008
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Ice in fuel
system caused Heathrow crash, says report
By Michael Savage Friday, 5 September 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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.
NOW SEE THE ENTRY FOR FEBRUARY 9th
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
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
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
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
Tests support BA crash ice theory
Official tests have proved that a build-up of ice in the engine
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Dozens of passenger jets using Heathrow have a potentially fatal
creating a “high probability” of another failure like the one that
last year’s British Airways crash, according to the American air safety
Rolls-Royce, which makes the engines, is working on a safety
the Boeing 777s will remain in service with the flaw for another 18
Until the change is made, more than 220 Boeing 777s with Rolls-Royce
including 15 operated by BA, will continue to be vulnerable to ice in
fuel supply causing a loss of power in the engines.
The US National Transportation Safety Board highlighted the danger
in a report
yesterday. The British Air Accidents Investigation Branch also issued a
report yesterday on the problem but avoided mentioning the continuing
The 152 people on board a BA 777 had a narrow escape in January last
the aircraft lost power in both engines during final approach and
to grass just inside Heathrow’s perimeter fence. The aircraft’s landing
was ripped off but only one passenger was seriously hurt thanks to the
skills of co-pilot John Coward and Captain Peter Burkill.
Another 777 with Rolls-Royce engines, operated by Delta Airlines,
power in almost exactly the same way last November after ice blocked
fuel supply. The pilots managed to take emergency action to correct the
failure, known as engine rollback. This incident occurred despite
introducing new safety procedures last September that it claimed had
The US safety board said yesterday: “With two of these rollback
occurring within a year, we believe that there is a high probability of
something similar happening again.” It said that “the only acceptable
solution to this safety vulnerability” was to redesign the flawed
in the engine.
Rolls-Royce admitted that the component, the fuel/oil heat
flawed but said that the replacement part had to be tested and
would not be ready for installation for up to 12 more months.
Other airlines operating 777s with Rolls-Royce engines include
Airlines and American Airlines.
The board recommended that airlines should be compelled to fit the
within six months of it being available for installation, meaning that
could continue flying with the flaw until August next year.
Rolls-Royce is hoping to accelerate the modification programme to
installation before next winter, when the risk of ice forming in the
system is much greater. It declined, however, to set any deadline for
removing the flawed components. “We are working closely with the
airworthiness authorities to certify and deliver this modification as
as possible,” it said in a statement.
British Airways said that it would not be withdrawing any 777s from
“Absolutely not. That’s not something that’s been suggested in any of
reports,” a spokesman said, adding: “We wouldn’t operate any aircraft
was unsafe to do so.”
The spokesman said that BA, in common with all operators of 777s
Rolls-Royce engines, had taken a number of actions to reduce the risk
building up in the fuel supply, including ordering pilots to accelerate
certain points on long flights through cold air to increase fuel
The board said that the precautions, while reducing the risk of
loss, could be a dangerous distraction for pilots. “They add complexity
flight crew operations. Because the recovery procedure requires a
the aircraft may be exposed to other risks,” it said.
In a separate report on the BA crash, the British Air Accidents
Branch said that more research was needed into why ice accumulated in
fuel supply.It said that mixing an anti-icing additive into aviation
was one possible solution but this “has many drawbacks”, including the
for more regular maintenance.
The problem of ice blockages has grown in
recent years with the popularity of
ultra-long-haul flights over the poles, meaning that many more aircraft
flying at a high altitude in extremely cold air for several hours.
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 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article5846088.ece
Turkish Airlines pilots ignored faulty altimeter
before Amsterdam crash
Charles Bremner in Paris
A faulty altimeter and apparent inattention by the pilots caused the
Boeing 737 crash in Amsterdam, the accident investigation showed
The investigators' preliminary report confirmed the widespread
theory that the
pilots let the automatic systems slow the plane to a dangerously low
as it approached Schiphol airport.
At 450ft, as the pilots scrambled to speed up, it stopped flying and
on to the ground, killing the three flight deck crew and six others on
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
This caused the autothrottle to pull back the power to idle, as if the
were touching down. Normally, pilots are expected to monitor the
of the automated approach system.
According to a conversation recorded between the plane's captain,
officer and an extra first officer on the flight, the pilots had
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
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
ground. The emergency warning systems came into action, sounding a
and shaking the control columns to alert the pilots to the impending
They applied maximum power but it was too late for the Boeing to
speed and recover from the stall. The plane hit the ground at 110mph,
report said. While the main undercarriage sheared off, as designed, the
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
mist prevented them from seeing the runway below and ahead of them as
began their descent from 2,000ft. However, the pilots would normally
been expected to react immediately to the autothrottle command to cut
especially since they were aware that the radio altimeter was possibly
The radio altimeter is used in large aircraft as a supplement to the
accurate traditional barometric altimeters that take their reading from
pressure of the atmosphere.
The instrument panel in front of the pilots would have been
correct altitude, taken from the main altimeters, while the usually
accurate radio altimeter was feeding into the flight system.
The description of the fatal final moments of the Turkish airliner
with accounts from Turkey and some passengers of heroic pilots who
crippled aircraft from worse damage.
If confirmed, the failures by the pilots would make the Amsterdam
least the fourth in 13 months in which pilot error has caused an
stall and crash. The others were at Madrid last August, near the French
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
sophisticated electronics that control airliners through most of their
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.
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
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
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. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100125/ts_afp/lebanonplanecrash
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
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
the time now pay up please?
Only one has, nobly, back in March last year when the provisional
conclusions were published.
See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8504734.stm APRIL
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.
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
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.
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.
view at this early stage:
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... http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8624178.stm
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?
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
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
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 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8636461.stm
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
Skip to MAY 15 for more volcano news MAY
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
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.
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.
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".
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
We have spoken with the writer of
this letter to confirm his identity and honored his request for
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