The despair Of The British nation.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My Last Aeroplane.

The A320/321.


The Air France Flight AF447 and the report discussed in the article link have uncanny resemblances to the loss of the Air Asia A320 aircraft last Sunday. Of course we have few facts to know what happened but as a retired Airbus pilot I offer some thoughts.

Fly by wire Airbus philosophy was always to build acute reliance on auto pilot flight with scant regard to the basic flying knowledge required of earlier aircraft. A sidestick controller also took away the natural "steering" awareness afforded by a central control column. Boeing stayed with the conventional control column on their first FBW aircraft, the B777. A good move, in my opinion.

Now the Airbus cockpit commonality was a valuable concept allowing crews to move across the range of Airbus aircraft from the A320 through to the A380. However the other drawback with FBW flying was always potential complacency and over reliance on systems and a loss of fundamental flying skills.

That the Air Asia crew appear ignorant of the AF 447 accident or had forgotten the lessons of that terrible crash, must be looked at. Such awareness might cast doubt on deciding to depart into crowded airspace and severe weather en route. I'm not trying to use hindsight here but query why basic airmanship seems to be long forgotten these days.

All indications point to this being a weather related incident. Slowing airspeed and an unexplained slow climb both point to a crew believing they were descending and needed nose up recovery, rather than stall recovery inputs. What is baffling is the Airbus FBW is supposed to oscillate automatically to avoid a stall. Warnings galore are meant to point out flight envelope excursions and demand crew action to recover.

Strangely the AF 447 crew ignored those warnings and clues and it looks very possible this was a repeat performance. This suggests to me that design flaws and philosophy are way off the required safety levels. The "Bus" was a joy to fly. So much was done for the crew, much time was usually available to consider most emergencies and failures.

That said the autopilot off klaxon was a dreadful alert to experience. If buffeted in a violent storm and suddenly required to hand fly an aircraft with ice related speed and attitude instruments compromised, was never a pleasant simulator or real experience to have. Nevertheless a fully trained highly experienced crew should have little difficulty. Sadly this seems to have not been the case, as it was with AF 447.

Whatever, we need a serious consideration as to the fact that over millions of safe flying hours by Airbus and other FBW aircraft, Airbus have a worse record for operational issues. Something is deeply wrong here and was identified in the AF 447 crash. Why has it possibly happened again? Time will tell but as ever, I bet cost cutting and poor training will again be found in the frame.


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