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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Air France 447

I just don't get it.  Regardless of instrumentation, how could 3 experienced pilots not have recognized a stalled condition, even at night in bad weather?  This is like the Colgan air crash in Buffalo, where the plane stalled on approach, and the Captain pulled back on the stick instead of lowering the nose as any student is taught to do within his or her first 10 hours of flying.

So the right hand seat second pilot was flying, and the captain was resting, as they penetrated a storm.  Why?  Why was the least experienced pilot at the controls, and the most experienced pilot in the back?  Knowing the French Way, probably union rules.

The a/c lost airpeed indications causing the autopilot to disconnect, and taking manual control  the pilot pulled up the nose, and the plane climbed 3,000 feet until it stalled.  I know this is a big, heavy a/c, but surely enough "feel" and perhaps airflow sound remains to tell that it's getting awfully slow?  Surely with the pitot  tube iced over, the static ports were still clear enough to see that altitude rise on the analog backups?  Again, any private instrument rated pilot should be able to fly without valid airspeed indications.  But it sounds like the pilots never stopped trying the use their electronic primary instruments only.

And then they never tried to recover from the stall at any time during a mushing, nose high  descent from 38,000, with an audible stall warning going off at least twice. The pilots never commanded nose down.  The airplane rolled left and right through up to 40 degrees.  Surely this was visible on the backup attitude indicator and altimeter?  I don't fly an airliner, and certainly have no direct A330 knowledge, but as far as I know analog backups are still required equipment, but they don't seem to have been used.

I suspect lack of airmanship and over-reliance on automation will turn out to be the cause, and that this is becoming a big problem for the airlines, especially in Airbus aircraft where the entire flight can be automated, and the pilots do very little of what I would call "flying".  In the USA, I believe that the FAA actually requires that certain percentage of approaches and landings in transport aircraft are to be hand-flown, I notice that Captain Dave who flies Airbus airliners often does hand-flown approaches.

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