Saturday, July 30, 2011

The human tragedy of Air France Flight 447

The latest information released about the crash of Air France Flight 447 in 2009, killing 228 passengers and crew, is very sobering indeed. David Learmount reports at Flight Global:

As more detail of Air France flight 447's surreal last four-and-a-half minutes emerges in the latest interim factual report by the French investigation agency (BEA), we see yet another example of a crew that lost touch with the aeroplane it was flying.

. . .

The BEA confirms that everything the aeroplane did from the moment the problems started was the result of crew control inputs. At any time during the critical period the appropriate control inputs could have resulted in recovery of control.

AF447's flight recorder on the seabed before recovery

This blog is littered with pleas for regulators to update pilot training requirements to acknowledge how aeroplanes have changed and so has the pilot's job. There is a consistent pattern now of pilot failings that lead to accidents.

No, it's not "pilot error", it's lack of the skills needed for managing modern aeroplanes, and the reason for the lack of skills is the lack of appropriate training, and the reason for that is the regulators' refusal to modernise the training parameters. The airlines are required to train pilots for 1950s aeroplanes and then to put them in charge of 21st century ones.

There's more at the link. The bold print in the last paragraph is my emphasis.

Ever since the data recorders were recovered earlier this year, the fruit of a monumentally difficult two-year operation (for which all credit to the BEA and the ships and crews involved), the aviation industry has been on tenterhooks waiting to hear what would be revealed. Snippets of leaked information had suggested that the fault lay with the crew, rather than with the aircraft. This latest report appears to confirm that while there were problems with the Airbus A330's pitot tube(s), affecting some instruments, it's primarily the crew's faulty response to the problem that caused the fatal crash.

Flight Global has previously highlighted shortcomings in the training of commercial air crew. One hopes this incident will help to produce improvements. Very sadly, that won't bring back any of the 228 who died . . .



Anonymous said...

Unlike Boeing, which has left a lot of crucial decisions to the pilot in command,

Airbus has designed a computer system that makes their planes virtually "stall-proof" and in doing so taken the responsibility away from the pilot in command.

Unfortunately, when the AirBus computers receive conflicting data from various sources (3 Pitot tubes for example),then the computer shuts down and as the theory goes the pilot in command takes over flying the plane. In several cases the pilot in command didn't get the message or training to FLY THE PLANE at the crucial time or became disoriented and panicked thus moving the rudder, aileron or elevator controls in the very opposite direction they should be moved to save the aircraft. (Yup, even pilots with 10 or 20 thousand hours of flight time can and do panic on occasion)

In the book; "Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson", the author, William Langewiesche, gives a great explanation of this type of aircraft control.

Anonymous said...

Any pilot accepting the responsibility of flying hundreds of souls to faraway places has a moral obligation to remember basic flying skills: without reliable airspeed, fly attitude and power.

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, in that order.


Old NFO said...

A large part of the failure also lies with the lack of control feedback on the side sticks... They have NO feel...

MrGarabaldi said...

I was told by one of the guys tat work that the "miracle on the hudson" was previntable if the airplane driver Capt Sully was in a Boeing 737 (an comparable airplane to the Airbus 320) that he was flying. The pitot tubes to the engines were clogged with bird guts and since there was no movement of air to the sensor, the engines immediately went into idle. The computers on the Airbus were programmed that way. The pilots cannot overide that feature.