An Update on Air France Flight #447

The findings are out on the crash of Air France flight #447, and it’s not good.

Basically, there’re a couple of things that stand out of the article (which you can read here) – one of which scares the hell out of me.  The French bureau in charge of investigating the crash (Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses) had to recreate some of the data, because they weren’t sure exactly why the crew would follow the advice of the flight director (that told them to pull up), but ignored – 70 times – the stall alarm.

The only thing scarier?  This quote:

 They also concluded that the still-connected flight director behaved in a way that is not specific to the A330.

This means that potentially every single Airbus flying today could be affected by this.

If you asked me, this needs to be investigated thoroughly – and changes either made to the Airbus programming, or the grounding of all Airbus aircraft.

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One Response to An Update on Air France Flight #447

  1. Nalliah Thayabharan

     The
    accident was caused by the co-pilot induced stalled glide condition and
    remained in that condition until impact. To recover from stall is to
    set engine to idle to reduce nose up side effect and try full nose down
    input. If no success roll the aircraft to above 60° bank angle and
    rudder input to lower the nose in a steep engaged turn. Pilots lack of
    familiarity and training along with system malfunction contributed to
    this terrible accident. Also the following contributed to the accident

    (1)the absence of proper immediate actions to correct the stalled glide

    (2) Insufficient and inappropriate situation awareness disabling the
    co-pilots and the captain to become aware of what was happening
    regarding the performance and behaviour of the aircraft

    (3)lack of effective communication between the co-pilots and the captain
    which limited the decision making processes, the ability to choose
    appropriate alternatives and establish priorities in the actions to
    counter the stalled glide

    During most of its long descent into the Atlantic Ocean, Airbus A330-203
    was in a stalled glide. Far from a deep stall, this seems to have been a
    conventional stall in which the Airbus A330-203 displayed exemplary
    behavior. The aircraft responded to roll inputs, maintained the
    commanded pitch attitude, and neither departed nor spun. The only thing
    the Airbus A330-203 failed to do well was to make clear to its cockpit
    crew what was going on.Its pitch attitude was about 15 degrees nose up
    and its flight path was around 25 degrees downward, giving an angle of
    attack of 35 degrees or more. Its vertical speed was about 100 knots,
    and its true airspeed was about 250 knots. It remained in this unusual
    attitude not because it could not recover, but because the co-pilots did
    not comprehend in darkness, the actual attitude of the aircraft. The
    co-pilots held the nose up. If the co-pilots had pushed the stick
    forward, held it there, and manually retrimmed the stabilizer, the
    airplane would have recovered from the stall and flown normally.
    Air France complained that the copilots did not have enough time to
    analyze the situation. Gravitational stalled glide does not allow
    timeouts, to thoroughly discuss the situation to find out what went
    wrong. The co-pilots – 37 year old David Robert and 32 year old
    Pierre-Cédric Bonin missed the cardinal rule that first they must fly
    the airplane, and after start analyzing the situation, since a falling
    airplane is not going to wait for them. If they did not understand the
    instruments, then instead of pondering on it they should have come to
    the quick conclusion that they did not understand those instruments, and
    apply the unreliable airspeed procedure clearly prescribed for that
    situation, which is a blind, given thrust and pitch setting for the
    given configuration, and let the airplane fly itself, and only after get
    to analyzing what went wrong, and by the time they finished, the
    root-cause (pitot icing) would have probably cured itself. It was the
    safe solution to the problem, but not applied.

    The Airbus A330 performed exactly as it was designed and described when
    the stall warning cut out at the end of valid values, except the
    co-pilots did not know it. Unfortunately, it happens too often with
    catastrophic results that pilots are not familiar with the systems of
    their own airplane, such as in the case of American Airlines 587 over
    Queens, which was clearly the airline’s fault.

    Air France also argued that the stall warning system in the A330 is too
    “confusing”. Every modern airplane is quite a confusing piece of
    machinery. It is full of buttons, levers, all kinds of red, yellow,
    green lights with buzzers, and a host of other indicators and controls
    inside, which can look very confusing indeed, but it is the pilot’s duty
    to reign on them, or not to be pilot.

    Airbus A330-203 is a new generation, highly automated piece of equipment
    with drastically simplified controls, displays, and instrumentation
    compared to older models. Still, pilots with the same human capabilities
    as the ones on Air France flight 447 could very well stay in full
    control in those planes, and many times acted heroically saving
    situations much graver than where the plight of Air France flight 447
    started, such as United Airlines flight UA232 at Sioux City, or Air
    Canada flight AC143, the Gimli Glider. If those pilots could perform
    well in those older, much more complicated aircraft in tougher
    situations, then there is no excuse for the co-pilots of AF flight 447
    to be confused in a generally much simpler and easier-to-fly aircraft.

    The Airbus A320 is a digital fly-by-wire aircraft as the flight control
    surfaces are moved by electrical and hydraulic actuators controlled by a
    digital computer. The computer interprets pilot commands via input from
    a side-stick, making adjustments on its own to keep the plane stable
    and on course, which is particularly useful after engine failure by
    allowing the pilots to concentrate on engine restart and landing
    planning. Some say the Airbus A330 is a “video-game” airplane due to its
    side-stick control, which does not match up in real hard situations.
    But who can say that after the successful ditching of US Airways flight
    1549 on the Hudson River? It was an Airbus A320 with the same side-stick
    control, and it matched up with the hardest situation very well with an
    experienced 57 year old Captain Chesley Sullenberger at the command.
    The Airbus A330 is not a video-game airplane, it is the airlines that
    make it a video-game by cutting corners, taking advantage of its
    superior automated capabilities thinking that it flies by itself, and no
    training and no knowledge of even the basics of the principles of
    flying is required in them for their pilots, as was demonstrated by the
    co-pilots of flight 447, who seemed to be incapable to react even on a
    basic level to the phenomenon of the aerodynamic stall. The co-pilots
    had not applied the unreliable airspeed procedure. The co-pilots
    apparently did not notice that the plane had reached its maximum
    permissible altitude. The co-pilots did not read out the available data
    like vertical velocity, altitude, etc. The stall warning sounded
    continuously for 54 seconds. The absence of any training, at high
    altitude, in manual airplane handling and in the procedure for ”Vol avec
    IAS douteuse” (Flight with questionable Indicated Airspeed) caused this
    terrible accident. Evidently, it might not be what Airbus had on its
    mind designing the aircraft. They might have meant the best of the both,
    an airplane with superior controls, matched with seasoned pilots with
    superior education in the principles of flying and the handling of hard
    situations, best of the best, as airlines are prone to boast of their
    flying personnel, to represent quality improvement in flying safety by
    this pairing. Now, if this piece of equipment falls in the hands of the
    airlines who use it as a video game to save training costs, telling only
    their pilots that “if the red light on the right side blinks, just pull
    the stick back as hard as you can, and let the system do the rest”,
    they can get away with it as long as everything is normal, the airplane
    is good enough for that, but in unforeseeable situations, such as the
    flight 447 en-route to Paris on that night, without any independent
    knowledge of flying in general, the video-gaming with the aircraft may
    ultimately come to a fatal end.

    However, beyond the reasoning and explanations there is still some
    eeriness about the crash, taking in consideration that Air France flight
    447’s pilots just sat there in daze squeezing the control stick, barely
    being able to do more than commenting on how the airplane was falling
    out of the sky until crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, the arrival of
    the 58-year-old flight captain Marc Dubois in the cockpit not making
    much a difference either. The question might arise whether weren’t the
    pilots in a mentally incapacitating state of shock and disbelief?
    Whether do or can Air France test pilots of how well they can keep their
    mental stability under the duress of a catastrophic situation? None of
    it seems to be the fault of the Airbus A330, which needs only good,
    trained pilots to give superior performance for the good of the flying
    public. Very similarly 3 decades ago Captain Madan Kukar’s mistaken
    perception of the Air India Flight 855 situation resulted in causing the
    Boeing 747-237 to rapidly lose altitude and the airplane hit the
    Arabian Sea at 35 degree nose-down angle.

    Practicing recovery from “Loss of Control” situations and improve flight
    crew training for high altitude stalls (simulator training usually has
    low altitude stalls which are significantly different due to energy
    status of the aircraft) should become the mandatory part of recurrent
    training.

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