Friday, May 3, 2013

What happened in the cockpit on Air France 447?

What were the pilots doing before Air France Flight #447 plunged into the Atlantic ocean at around 2:00 A.M. on June 1, 2009? Now that official reports from both "black" boxes (the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder) have been issued, we have a pretty good idea. Incidentally, those "black" boxes are actually orange.

Remember Captain Cheslely B. Sullenberger? He was the pilot that successfully landed an Airbus 320 airliner on the Hudson River in New York City, saving the lives of 150 passengers plus the crew on January 15, 2009. This highly experienced Airbus captain recently did a demonstration for CBS News showing the way the Airbus is controlled may have contributed to the crash over the Atlantic, 3 hours and 45 minutes from takeoff.  The Air France Airbus A330-203 airliner was enroute from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France.

The final report (quoted in a Wikipedia article) indicated the crash occurred following a "succession of events." Aviation authorities said there were "temporary inconsistencies between the airspeed measurements, possibly due to the aircraft's pitot tubes being obstructed by ice crystals, causing the autopilot to disconnect." The pilots, who had not received specific training in "manual handling of approach to stall and stall recovery at high altitude executed inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path leading to an unrecoverable aerodynamic stall." The training the report mentions was non-standard at the time of the crash.

Capt. Sullenberger's demonstration is worth a thousand words. What he eloquently explains and shows in the video is, to me, why so many airline pilots I've talked to prefer Boeing controls and automation over Airbus designed aircraft. See what you think by viewing the CBS News video, available via a YouTube post by clicking here.

If you're interested in more information about Airbus vs. Boeing automation and what happened before and during the Hudson River landing, read my column about a book entitled Fly By Wire: The Geese, the Glide, and the Miracle on the Hudson by William Langewiesche, published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York City. Langewiesche tells how Airbus designed their aircraft-controlling- software so the computer--not the pilot--is the supreme command authority in the cockpit. Boeing's automation, however, allows the human pilot to be top dog, not the computer. You can read my piece on this by clicking here.

If you're interested in more information about the book Fly By Wire, click on the Amazon link below: