.The “Clincher” in Air Crashes and Miracle Landings #AF447 #QF32 #AmeliaEarhart #AirDisasters #NTSB

My tweet entitled “Determining Piloting Factor in Air Crashes and Miracle Landings” received a certain amount of interest and I am looking into the concept more deeply.

Now I think “Clincher” sums it up better.

While an accident or the avoidance of one is usually the result of a whole series of factors, both technical and human, a single factor or combination of factors at the end (or taken overall) is the clincher–something that makes all the difference. This is not necessarily related to responsibility. It can be just a matter of luck or bad luck.

AF447

I cited the case of the Air France Flight AF447 that dropped like a brick into the South Atlantic after the most junior of the copilots left in the cockpit put the aircraft into a steep climb and stalled it. There were many contributory reasons for the disaster but the clincher in my opinion was that he did not believe the aircraft could be stalling (despite some fifty warnings) because they had set the thrust for TOGA (take off go-around) which at ground level would pull them out of one. At high altitude all TOGA did was to push the nose up and stop the aircraft diving, gaining speed and recovering.

Miracle on the Hudson

The clincher in the Miracle on the Hudson was the coupling of Sully’s successfully ditching the aircraft without it breaking up with the presence of the calm river and rescue craft able to reach them within three minutes, not forgetting that (unusually for a domestic flight) the aircraft had life rafts.

QF32

For Qantas QF32, where an engine of an Airbus A380 disintegrated after taking off from Singapore with shrapnel impairing some 95% of the systems, the clincher was the superlative teamwork over the hour and a half prior to landing coupled with the deft landing of the greatly overweight super jumbo at just the right spot.

Had the landing been too hard or delayed, the undercarriage could have collapsed either on touchdown or on the grass beyond the runway. In either case fire would very likely have broken out.

Worst-ever Multi-aircraft disaster (Tenerife)

In the worst multi-aircraft accident ever, the collision of two 747s in fog on the runway at Tenerife, the clincher was the rush to take off coupled with simultaneous radio transmissions making one warning of the other aircraft being still on the runway being unintelligible. (A clincher preventing the disaster could have been the the flight engineer being forceful in saying the other 747 was very possibly still on the runway, though admittedly his position was difficult.)

Amelia Earhart

Our book starts with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart on her attempt to circumnavigate the world in 1937. The clincher there was her failure to ensure she could receive (and determine the direction) of radio transmissions from the Coast Guard cutter Itasca waiting beside minuscule Howland Island on which she was supposed to land.

Conclusion

Not every crash or miracle landing has a clincher but it is something worth trying to identify, even though the essential cause and responsibility often lie elsewhere. It can lead to a better understanding of the event.

SYD-LHR NON-STOP in 2023?

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The recent New to Sydney extra-long-haul test flight by an almost empty Qantas 767 garnered a lot of publicity. It was actually only an hour and a half longer than the regular SIA Singapore to New York flight with an Airbus A350.

No doubt lessons were learnt regarding how the monitored 40 passengers and crew found the experience. It would also have been a first step in trying get the pilot and cabin crew unions to agree to terms.

One thing that seems to have been overlooked amidst all the hullabaloo is that Qantas were talking about what they call “Operation Sunrise” (Non-stops from Australia’s East Coast to London and New York) starting–subject to them being considered financially profitable–starting in 2022. However, they now seem to be talking about them starting in 2023, if they do.C

Could this be because they are determined to keep Boeing in the running? Airbus with their A350 would surely be ready for a start in 2022.

One reason for Qantas’s hesitation may be the Rolls Royce engines on the A350, though these seem to have been performing well unlike many on 767. Qantas were not happy with that engine maker’s response to the disintegration of one of their engines that had it not been for the outstanding performance of the crew might well have resulted in the loss of an A380 superjumbo.

As we say in the piece in our book on QF32, Rolls Royce initially did not say much about the possible cause because BP had got into a lot of trouble through saying too much after the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster. Qantas retorted that it was not that BP said too much they said the wrong things.

Whatever the truth, it is is difficult to see how Qantas can come to a decision about the choice of aircraft as promised before the end of the year. What is certain, Boeing will be offering great prices.

Boeing Lawyers & MIA

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Very illuminating Article by Scott Hamilton in Leeham News the replacement of McAllister by Deal mentioned that many of the problems over the 737MAX and other Boeing programs came about before McAllister’s time. However he has been accused of being MIA when it came to dealing with them.

I wonder whether Boeing people prefer to be MIA because they cannot talk sensibly having been warned by the company’s not to admit anything–even things that are patently obvious.

For example, at an early press conference given by Muilenburg he ungraciously left without comment to avoid answering questions that deserved an answer.

The Determining Piloting Factor in Air Crashes and Miracle Landings–737 MAX & AF447

When one looks at the an air crash or the miraculous avoidance of one you can sometimes pick out a key factor or rather combination of factors that was the determinant. Of course, as usual, had many other factors been different it would not have happened.

For instance, in the case of the 737 MAX crashes it seems to be–as the NTSB and Sully Sullenberger (in a letter to to the New York Times Magazine) just pointed out–it was the confusing cascade of alarms and strange behavior of the aircraft with virtually no time to work out a solution that was the determinant.

Take the case of AF447, the Air France A330 that crashed into the South Atlantic after the captain (who had only had an hour’s sleep the night before) left two first officers in the cockpit when he went for his routine rest–seemingly not in his bunk next to the cockpit but in the cabin where his female companion was sitting.

The aircraft then flew into a storm. The computer could not make sense of the airspeed data because the pitot tubes had iced up. The autopilot disengaged with the systems passing into alternate law meaning the computer would not stop the pilots doing something stupid.

Manual control had passed to the most inexperienced of the first officers, who for some reason put the aircraft into a steep climb causing it to eventually stall and “drop like a brick”.

The captain did eventually return but only realized too late what was happening when the junior copilot said he had been “pulling back all the time”.

Our book Air Crashes and Miracle Landings details all the contributing factors, both technical and human. However, the determining factor seems to be that the pilot in command (the most junior) believed they could not be stalling because as he said on the CVR, “We are in TOGA (TakeOff Go-Around, aren’t we?”. However, TOGA only gets one out of a stall at low altitude not high up in thin air.

Had the engines situated low under the wings not been at a such a high TOGA setting, the nose of the aircraft would have dropped and in a dive with plenty of height they would have regained enough speed for the aircraft to begin flying again rather than mulching downwards.

Nowadays, all pilots will know how to recover from a high-altitude stall.

To sum up, in the case of AF447, TOGA made the pilot wrongly believe they could not be stalling despite 50 warnings, and TOGA stopped them recovering.

Ultra-Long-Haul QF9 & “Project Sunrise”

Out of curiosity I have been following QF9, Qantas’s 17+-hour flight from Perth to London. Because of the prevailing wind the return flight QF10 is only some 16 hours.

QF9 has gone very smoothly with hardly any disruptions or the need to land prematurely, though I noted one case where it seemed the 787 was going to land in Vienna, but eventually did not have to do so.

On one occasion, a disruptive passenger did necessitate a return to Perth two hours into the flight. On another occasion a bird strike as the flight from Melbourne came in to Perth resulted in the cancellation of the onward leg to London.

It seems that Qantas were surprised at how quickly that flight coupled with the shorter QF10 return became profitable. This has made them even more enthusiastic about their “Project Sunrise”–non-stop flights from Sydney to Europe and to the US East Coast (NYC)–adding three more hours onto the flight.

Before discussing Project Sunrise there are some observations I might make regarding QF9.

Many Economy Seats and “Ungodly” Arrival Time

Firstly I am surprised at the large number of (relatively uncomfortable) Economy Class seats. Qantas say they can charge a premium even for these seats, though at times reviewers have mentioned discounts. Others have mentioned upgrades.

Secondly, the flight arrives at the somewhat inconvenient time of 5:05, often landing even earlier. I wonder whether this time was chosen because it makes QF9 almost the first flight of the day with no risk of it being put in a holding pattern and having to declare a fuel emergency to get priority landing.

Project Sunrise

For Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and so on Qantas is considering a four class layout with First in addition to Business, Premium Economy and Economy as on QF9. Ideas such as having bunks in the cargo area under the cabin floors have been abandoned, it is said because of the extra weight. It must be difficult getting the degree of discomfort in economy right so as not to take passengers away from more profitable Economy Plus and Business classes. It seems the trick will be to have an exercise area to get people out of their seats from time to time without them opting to stay there.

Passengers on QF10 interviewed on their return to Perth have said they would like a bar/cafe area. The problem with that is that some passengers, especially from Economy, would hog the spaces. Rationing time there might cause ill-feeling and be difficult to police.

Choice of Aircraft

Qantas were very lucky with the Boeing 787. As a launch customer they were quoted very keen prices. Then when deliveries were delayed because of initial problems they were paid compensation for being unable to use them. Then when they finally received them (better later models) they benefited from the original discounts.

Boeing and Airbus are competing for supplying the aircraft for Project Sunrise, and at once time it seemed that Qantas (being pleased with Boeing) only invited Airbus to the party for ideas and to get a better deal from Boeing. Now with Boeing having to deal with the 737 MAX fiasco not to mention finding the General Electric engine they would use needing more work, it seems Airbus may be in the lead with their A350-1000 ULR as Boeing may not be able to meet deadlines–no longer will they be able to lever through authorizations and approvals with the FAA.

Qantas have said they should decide on an aircraft by the end of 2019 but Project Sunrise will depend on it being judged PROFITABLE.

787 DELIVERY FLIGHTS TO BE USED TO SEE HOW PASSENGERS AND CREW WOULD FIND LONG PROJECT SUNRISE FLIGHTS

Shortly, three new 787s being delivered to Qantas will be flown non-stop from London and the US East Coast to Sydney with merely 40 test passengers to simulate Project Sunrise flights and see how such long flights would affect both passengers and crew.

At a recent press conference Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said, “Qantas will run three separate research flights, using newly-built 787s before they go into regular service, to assess well-being and comfort. Between October and the end of the year, we’ll collect these aircraft from the Boeing factory in Seattle, position them in New York and London, and fly direct to Sydney.” 

One aspect of great worry for Alan Joyce in deciding whether Project Sunrise is viable is coming to a satisfactory agreement with the pilots who are not only concerned about salaries but also about fatigue and what happens in the event of diversions.

Should Project Sunrise work out it could be great for Qantas. But there are still a number of ifs

“Vultures” is misnomer.

Some people are accusing airlines and tour operators raising prices following the collapse of Thomas Cook of being “Vultures”. This is somewhat unfair and could mean…

Seats being priced at discount prices for the off-season being gobbled up when a company goes bust and none at all left for those who really need to travel.

This brings us back to people griping about how expensive travel and holidays are once the school holidays start, forgetting the fact that they are artificially low off-season, and some people can take advantage of that.

It is a matter of supply and demand, though some companies are adding flights or capacity which can reduce prices.

Should some extra-large passengers be given priority boarding to assigned seats?

Great difference in size of passengers.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) found a theoretical problem with the center of gravity of A320neo aircraft with the new Space Flex cabins and issued an air worthiness directive. This has resulted in Lufthansa and British Airways leaving the last row of six seats empty with not even crew allowed to sit there. It is expected that a software fix will solve the problem–only possibly occurring in unlikely circumstances at takeoff.

For details see this article in ONE MILE AT A TIME.

However, surely a short-term fix would be to have exceptionally heavy passengers sit as far forward as possible commensurate with their class of travel and have some small people (including children?) at the rear. If this were applied to only a few individuals it would make a world of difference, for even one or two exceptionally heavy people sitting far forward would shift the center of gravity forward significantly. Of course, one would have be sure they were not sitting in toilet at the back at takeoff!

Surely worth considering as selling six more seats per flight worthwhile.

Placing just FEW exceptionally heavy (or small) passengers “strategically” to adjust centers of gravity very simply might also be worth considering in general and not just for the A320neo.

AF447 French judges drop charges against Air France–Blame pilots

The French prosecutors had wanted to charge Air France but not Airbus, but the judges decided to overrule them saying the pilots were essentially at fault. The judges said pilots in similar situations had been able to deal successfully with the glitch, the computer passing control over to the pilots because the pitot tubes measuring airspeed had iced up.

Our book, Air Crashes and Miracle Landings explains not only the technical aspects but also the many human ones including the captain having having brought his “companion” from Paris for the layover in Rio de Janeiro and had only had an hour’s sleep, which he admitted on the CVR, but the investigators did not mention until it was revealed in the course of the judicial inquiry and was seemingly not in his bunk next to the cockpit when needed. The relationship between the two first officers left at the controls was not good, and so on.

F.A.A. Urges Commercial Flights to ‘Exercise Caution’ Over Persian Gulf

A US reviewer initially lost us a lot of sales for our second edition taking offence at our piece on how a fabulously expensive US warship designed to fight World War III found itself larking around with Iranian gunboats and in the process shot down an Iranian airliner on a scheduled flight. (The loss of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was just possibly a consequence of this.)

Interestingly, it was not so much the captain’s decision to fire that was the problem, but the circumstances, in that he was at the time chasing Iranian speedboats (mini-gunboats) with a billion dollar ship to claim combat experience when he shouldn’t have been.

In fact, our account was accurate, as Australia’s “60 Minutes” TV program confirmed.

The original all-in-one second edition of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings has a detailed account (See extract). [Note: Large print edition does not have detailed accounts of military actions.]

President Trump and the MAX

In early comments on the Boeing 737 MAX disasters Donald Trump tweeted that airliners were becoming too complicated (Click here).

The problem with that is that the 737 MAX in many respects is not a modern airliner. It is based on design work done in the 1960s and is not a fly-by-wire aircraft with an integrated control system.

The article to which we supply the “Click Here” link explains this.