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Air France and Airbus on trial 13 years after Atlantic jet disaster

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PARIS, FRANCE — More than 13 years after an Air France jet plunged into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board, the French carrier and planemaker Airbus go on trial in a Paris court next week with relatives seeking light at the end of a long tunnel. (www.airlinerwatch.com) More...

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sconklan
sconklan 14
I don't believe the captain was the one who realized what was happening. If he had assumed the pilot position and taken back over, he probably would have saved the plane, but he did not. It was finally the more senior co-pilot who too late realized the junior co-pilot had the airplane in a stall. As it was, all 3 pilots just ignored the stall warnings. I believe Air France should lose this case. As for Airbus, their fault beyond the pitot tube problem was the fact that the (joy) sticks used by the pilots did not work in tandem.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
Regarding the side sticks I couldn't agree more. How the regulators approved that I'll ever know.
E1craZ4life
Edward Bardes -3
It's pretty much impossible to have a mechanical link between the sidesticks on an Airbus.
boughbw
boughbw 5
It doesn't have to be mechanical. The computers simply need to provide feedback through the sidestick like a stick shaker on other planes or even various kinds of feedback on gaming console joysticks.
dmboss1021
Dan Boss 2
Gulfstream has implemented active side sticks, which provide both the correct "feel" of the controls, and each one moves the other one so a pilot can feel what the other one is inputting.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXhCJYWvwd0 (Active Control Sidesticks)
skylane777
John Nichols 1
And yet it is not difficult to grant controls to one joystick ? Red Herring
baingm
Gary Bain 1
That step as been missed on occasion. Button not pressed long enough, didn't think to do it....
JMARTINSON
JMARTINSON 1
Would that have helped 447?
baingm
Gary Bain 1
The pilot monitoring would have realized the pilot flying was holding the stick in the full aft position so yes it would or at least could have helped.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
They've got them on Gulfstreams (and I don't know what else) why not on the Airbus?
sparkie624
sparkie624 16
This will be interesting... But in reality, I think it was pilot error in not recognizing that they were in a stall and if they had just pushed the nose over they would not have had a problem... All comes down to Pilot Proficiency or the lack there of... When the Captain got back to the Cockpit, he recognized the problem immediately and told them what to do, but was just too late!
ToddBaldwin3
ToddBaldwin3 14
That is because they were flying an Airbus, and the computer won't let the aircraft stall. The relief pilots didn't realize that once the ADCs faulted, they were in alternate law, and in alternate law all those nice protections were gone. Children of the magenta line. They forgot how to fly.
tnbriggs
Terry Briggs 5
They may have never known how to fly if they'd spent all their time in the Airbus' world. Read the BEA report on it a few years back, worth a read. Let's hope we never get to self-driving cars.
boughbw
boughbw 4
I accord pilots far more respect than I give the driving public. I can't wait for self-driving cars to take over for so many yahoos.
sparkie624
sparkie624 3
LOL... that is one thing that really scares me... People will be sleeping as the cars fail... Will be works than that Airbus by the time they are finished. Just like to lose of the Clutch in a Car, now very few can drive with a clutch... Soon people won't be able to drive at all...
elenaps
I have not evidence to back this claim but I sense sleeping drivers are probably better than bad drivers. Aren't car accidents almost %100 driver error? Take those out of the equation and you get Improved Safety. No? :)
ewrcap
David Beattie 2
Having read about a few “self driving” Tesla Crashes, I’m not so sure. But it will ultimately happen.
baingm
Gary Bain 0
Most aircraft accidents are pilot error.
Niabrara
Dan Hung 1
Soon?
sparkie624
sparkie624 8
There is one big difference between Airbus and Boeing....
Boeing believes the Flight Crew should have the final authority over the aircraft
AirBus believes that the Computers should have final authority over the aircraft
I Personally never liked Airbus for this main reason and flying a plane with a Joy Stick and the Joy Stick controlling computers... I just don't trust the system even with its redundancies...
arhude
Steven Rhude 2
Well, until the Max...
ewrcap
David Beattie 4
Gee, if there had just been a way to stop the trim! Like an OFF switch. If only…
baingm
Gary Bain 2
EXACTLY!!!!
E1craZ4life
Edward Bardes 1
If it's Airbus, I'm an air wuss.
Kukri
Kukri 3
I aree with you.
skylane777
John Nichols 1
Not that simple... read the PPrune comments.
bartmiller
bartmiller 12
Had a long conversation with one of AF's most senior pilots when I was deadheading across the Atlantic in an A380 cockpit.

Basically, the failure of the sensors created such an overload of diagnostic data, it was overwhelming.

Second, there was a lack of basic airspeed information, the pilots were basically back to flying by feel and alternate sources of info (INAV e.g.). You're at high altitude and have only a narrow margin between stall and mach. Airspeed control is critical (without a working airspeed indicator).

Combine with Airbus auto thrust (vs. Boeing auto throttle). In Boeing, the autopilot physically moves the throttle levers while in an Airbus, when the autopilot adjusts the thrust, the levers don't move. Which means you can't get an estimate of your power setting in an Airbus by just looking at throttle position.

Add to a lack of basic stick and rudder small plane experience. And this scenario wasn't practiced in the sim.

Then through in a BIG t-storm hiding just behind a smaller one, so when the crew saw the smaller one on radar and flew around it, they ended up in a bigger one. Too much freezing precip for the failed pitot heaters to handle.

In the preceding year, AF had similar failures with less impact. They put a bunch of pilots in the sim to try them out on the scenario and most of them didn't respond properly.

The crew held the stick back in a stall for a long time and flew the plane into the ocean.

Knowing the basic power settings for a safe airspeed at that altitude, then flying those numbers in spite of the indicators, could possibly have kept them in the air.
MikeMohle
Mike Mohle 5
Had the same thing happen in a Beechjet, complete ADC failure under the same conditions including standby steam gauge ASI (using the the same ASI input from [frozen pitot tubes]). But, Beechjet had an AOA indicator that allowed a safe descent with no overspeed (keeping N2s up to keep engine cores warm) to warmer air 410>~260 using TCAS altitude as backup. Of course, there was no complication or confusion with Airbus sticks with no feedback to the pilots.

Next time for recurrent we practiced that in the sim a couple of times + with and without flameouts and in flight restarts, just in case!!!!!!!!!!
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
It is obvious you used a different trouble shooting method then the Airbus crew did, and better training as well.
ewrcap
David Beattie 3
Qantas pilots had a much bigger overload and managed pretty well.
KennyFlys
Ken Lane 2
This was a failure of basic pilot skills.

The two primary pitot tubes iced over. Was heat on? With both failed, the computer went into alternate laws. The standby pitot was functional so they had an airspeed indication. Even if the standby was failed, there's an alternative.

They had power indication. They had pitch information.

Power + Pitch = Performance

It's a basic means of flying in every single airframe.

Instead, we had two idiot pilots fighting each other with opposite control inputs, no cockpit resource management, no communication, no basic skills.

When the truth came out about that incident I went to a safety stand down meeting where a former US Air check airman spoke. Until 447 he did not believe in gouges. Afterwards, he did.

I taught the use of gouges, particularly for instrument students. In every single configuration, in every phase of flight, you should know what a given power input and pitch setting should give you a minimum performance result.
organfreak
Scott Hawthorn 4
Sorry, but I think you meant "gauges" instead of "gouges." Just trying to keep things clear here!
mikeosmers
Michael Osmers 3
He meant gouge. It’s a term that indicates a generalized set of perimeters that ballpark an expected outcome. There are tons of them. For example, flaps up, 4 degrees nose up and 80% N1 will keep you more or less level and stabilize an unstable situation.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
Nobody is taught powere+pitch=performance any more. After two B757's were lost due to covered or blocked pitot tubes / static ports it was a big deal. My airline started teaching that in every sim session and you practiced it.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
RE Para 4 see my comment on side sticks.
toz100
Air France used a French product (Thales) for the pitot tubes which made a lot of problems before the crash also with other airlines which used it. What is really tragic is that a replacement was ongoing but not yet completed at the time of the crash.
boughbw
boughbw 7
Airbus and the BEA (French government) found this was all the pilots' fault.
https://bea.aero/docspa/2009/f-cp090601.en/pdf/f-cp090601.en.pdf

I do not think that it is that simple. Everyone who cares about aviation safety needs to grapple with how we use computers and automation to fly planes. Here--as it is in most airline crashes that do not involve running out of fuel--there were multiple failures contributing to the crash: 1. The Pitot tubes froze-over. 2. None of the on-board computer systems showed the correct data. 3. An overwhelming number of faults were presented to the pilots. 4. The pilots were unable to assess the situation or quickly come to the appropriate response. 5. When the pilots did hit upon the appropriate response, a lack of "feedback" across the two sidesticks prevented the plane from receiving new input or alerting the pilots to their contradictory entries.

The pivotal questions in my mind are:
1. So you have a 100% fly-by-wire aircraft with a high degree of automation. Okay. What happens when the computers stop working?
2. Who is responsible for training the pilots? The manufacturer? The airline? Both?
3. Based on that training, what assurance do we have that they can successfully fly the plane when it is not operating as expected?
4. And of course, what the lawyers want to know: Who do we blame when a plane crashes?

Ironically, the MCAS on the 737-MAX appears to have been designed with an AF447 scenario in-mind. With the larger engines, the 737-MAX is more likely by design to fly itself into an aerodynamic stall with the pilots unaware of the impending danger. MCAS is designed to push the nose down to avoid stalling. With the angle-of-attack indicator not working in the Lion Air flight and the lack of sufficient redundancy among the relevant systems to discern erroneous data from aircraft sensors, and a complete failure to disclose MCAS and woefully inadequate pilot training to disable it, both the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes were caused by a confluence of multiple failures.

Boeing was deservedly dragged across the coals for its failures. Boeing has done a more or less adequate (but not great) job of addressing the questions I put forth. I still have major concerns about the adequacy of training across all airlines flying the MAX, getting at the touchy, self-interested matter of Boeing not wanting to offend its customers (airlines) by insisting they provide higher levels of training to their pilots. That should have its own thread.

I do not find Airbus' and the BEA's response of blaming the pilots even adequate, much less truthful. While the airlines have certainly implemented guidelines and training in simulators for the AF447 scenario, it is unclear that any of the other concerns have been addressed by Airbus. Maybe they have (sidestick feedback, streamlining warnings to better communicate what is happening to pilots, etc...), and please someone correct me if I am off-base here. I get it: yes, the pilots failed to recognize and quickly respond to the situation encountered by AF447, but Airbus and Air France failed to train to the question "What happens when the computers stop working?" It is only stating the most obvious thing in the world to say that the pilots would have readily accepted and used training to ensure the preservation of their lives had it been available to them. They were at their wits' end to figure out what was happening.

Obviously, the families want some kind of justice from this trial. I do not know what that would look like, nor can I pretend to speak for them. But as a member of the public who likes having confidence that airliners won't crash for predictable reasons, I would like to see Air France and Airbus candidly address all of the failures of AF447 and "own" their own, and tell me what they have learned from this crash and how it guided their response.
DracoVolantis
DracoVolantis 1
Its wasn't a matter of "Boeing not wanting to offend its customers (airlines) by insisting they provide higher levels of training to their pilots." It's that the whole sales pitch of the 737-MAX was that "better training was not necessary". Boeing (as I understand) explicitly assured their customers that they would not have to incur in further training costs because the MAX "was just like any other 737" (or something to that effect). So insisting on "higher levels of training" would basically torpedo their sales pitch... And we know what happens when meeting sales targets is the priority #1 of an aviation company...
bladesofsteele
Mark Steele 3
I'm no pilot, but I'm surprised that the conversation doesn't include the two control sticks moving in unison. The inexperienced pilot was pulling back on the stick the whole time, while the other pilot wasn't aware of that. If his stick moved in unison to the input from the other pilot, the outcome would have likely been very different.
owengrzanich
Owen Grzanich 5
The pilot kept pushing up on the stick and the co-pilot was pushing down on his stick which caused the aircraft to stall. Also, the pilot flying the plane when it stalled was less experienced than the other pilots. The computer system shut off because the sensors were frozen, leaving the aircraft in the control of the inexperienced pilot.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
Forward or Back makes a whole lot more sense than Up and Down. Airplanes since time began always pushed forward to go down back to go up.
MikeMohle
Mike Mohle 2
Trial, for what? The Airbus was not equipped with AOA indicator, that would have helped. I do not know if the AOA was offered by Airbus as an option and that option was not taken by AF. Does anyone know?
boughbw
boughbw 2
I would suspect that they are on-trial for pilots flying a plane with neither the pilots nor the plane realizing it was tail-diving into the ocean over four minute period of time, killing hundreds.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
I do not but every airplane built should have an AOA system.
jimjallen
Jim Allen 2
Is this an administrative trial or a jury trial?
Propwash122
Peter Fuller 2
Good question. My quick google-search was unproductive. Wikipedia says many French criminal trials are heard and decided only by a judge, more serious charges jointly decided by three judges and nine jurors.

Seems to me that the prospect of facing criminal charges would inhibit accident investigations, as parties to the investigation might be reluctant to disclose things they fear might be used against them in a future criminal procedure.
patpylot
patrick baker 3
has exact blame and therfore accountabilty been assigned yet, or does the trial evolve into plaintiff's attorneys making mostly baseless comments designed to muddle the situation ? Attorneys do that in France as well as they do in America or Britain. I am not familiar with any such blame-fixing based on recovered aircraft parts pulled up from the Atlantic that could be properly used in a court of law. Incontrovertable proof would suffice
boughbw
boughbw 2
Yes, Airbus and the BEA (French government) determined it was all the pilots' fault. I am not sure that it is really all that easy. https://bea.aero/docspa/2009/f-cp090601.en/pdf/f-cp090601.en.pdf
KennyFlys
Ken Lane 2
From the very start, this was a failure of basic pilot skills.

And, neither pilot appeared to have a proper understanding of how the system works. There's also a case of Airbus not making every detail known to those being trained.

The two primary pitot tubes iced over. Was heat on? With both failed, the computer went into alternate laws. The standby pitot was functional so they had an airspeed indication. Even if the standby was failed, there's an alternative.

They had power indication. They had pitch information.

Power + Pitch = Performance

It's a basic means of flying in every single airframe.

Instead, we had two idiot pilots fighting each other with opposite control inputs, no cockpit resource management, no communication, no basic skills.

When the truth came out about that incident I went to a safety stand down meeting where a former US Air check airman spoke. Until 447 he did not believe in gouges. Afterwards, he did.

Every so often, he would fly across to pick up a new aircraft. He also taught new types to pilot staff. I cannot recall which version but when he started reviewing the instructor manual he found it contained data that was not in the manuals provided to pilots which included information on alternate laws. Airbus was holding out.

I taught the use of gouges, particularly for instrument students. In every single configuration, in every phase of flight, you should know what a given power input and pitch setting should give you a minimum performance result.
ChkPlt
Bryan Guilbeau 1
And don't Airbus side-stick allow "independent" control-inputs (Pilot vs Co-Pilot)? Wasn't that a factor, as well?
bubblecom
Robert Fleury 1
Can someone tell me why, in a world of so much technologies and smart engineers, a multimillion dollars machine with humain beings on board still relies on early aviation pitot tubes and whether the pilots have turned the heat switch on or not? Is this not the 1st question to answer?
skylane777
John Nichols 1
In an honest trial, the true story will be found out. They had a mechanical, but it was far more serious than plugged pitots.
mikeosmers
Michael Osmers 1
Pitot tubes are the primary source of airspeed information just as the static source is the primary source of altitude information. The “heat switch” was on, but even on, in certain circumstances they can and did ice up. That is an engineering and design issue, the reason all the original pitot tubes of that design were scheduled for replacement of a more robust unit.
skylane777
John Nichols 1
Before you get too comfortable with the "co pilot constantly pulling up..." he was reacting to overspeed. "I think we have some crazy speed ... " not to mention the aircraft had hit alpha max, he could do no more harm with aft stick. "The instruments make no sense, we have lost instruments..." if the aircraft was convinced there was no Stall, would you second guess the machine?

Read the CVR, take some time to read a lengthy discussion on PPrune. Then make up your mind...
Armchair quarterflying should not cost AF or AirBus a single sous....


Just sayin'

skylane777
John Nichols 1
Why would any pilot pull so much? Overspeed. Then nose down uncontrollability.There is a reason the recorders are always treated like the murder weapon. Such secrecy, and always read by the involved parties. A very good reason.
skylane777
John Nichols 1
I think they did not diagnose a Stall. With Unreliable Airspeed, engines at full chat, they were mystified... they had Pitch at 10 degrees NU, but NO AoA. Their AoA was upwards of 40 degrees (sic), they had no chance of sussng attitude....
Niabrara
Dan Hung 1
20,000 in a Boing. If you are out of ideas there is one left. 5° pitch and max power will save yo every time. I’ll bet it will work in a Flying Renault also. Yes you eventually need to reference a chart for pitch/ power for your weight.
withersfamily
Lee Withers 1
Do pilots not sense a decrease in air speed? While driving a car you can often feels change in speed, which is aided somewhat by visual reference. I’m assuming pilots don’t do as well because of not having visual reference and higher speeds.
OccamsRazor
Ben Bosley 15
Your senses don't work correctly in the air as they do on the ground. The fluid flow in your inner ear which assists with spatial orientation doesn't work as intended. Without any visual references you will not notice a change in speed.
sparkie624
sparkie624 12
Not necessarily... Keep in mind at that altitude where they lost control, the airspeed is very critical... they can be moving quite fast in forward motion and still not really feel too much change because they are still moving forward.
KicksOnRoute66
Roger Anderson 3
The lack of visual references could confuse the brain and make it hard for you to interpret the feeling and direction of speed.
boughbw
boughbw 2
And the input of engine sound indicating full throttle was misleading as well.
skylane777
John Nichols 1
Plus the intense sound of the airstream. Angle of Attack at 40+. What kind of howling airflow that must have been.
baingm
Gary Bain 1
There was no visual reference that night.
vulcancruiser
Other crews had flown out of similiar situations by knowing a set power that would maintain altitude. The pitot tubes were going to be replaced in the next week. What the flying crew overlooked was that alternate law puts in 15 degrees nose up to the elevator automatically. It mushed into the pond.........
ssobol
Stefan Sobol 3
What make you think that alternate law would put in 15 degs of up elevator? The plane "mushed into the pond" because one of the pilots was holding one of the control sticks fully aft the whole time and the other pilots didn't notice/couldn't figure out what was happeneing.
ssobol
Stefan Sobol 1
P.S. If the pilots had just sat on their hands for 30 seconds when things first went wrong, nothing bad would have happened. The plane would have carried on normally and the pitot system would have recovered.
skylane777
John Nichols 1
Early on, that was the theory. With Master Caution and loss of autopilot, the aircraft was 400 feet low and in a descent, rolling to the right...On auto pilot. Sitting on one's hands was not the call.
withersfamily
Lee Withers 0
I know that everybody will say this is stupid, but why can’t they just be old fashioned and put in a curved tube with a ball in in it for showing level wings and suspended vertical rod and reference marking for up and down. Probably the biggest problem would be that crew would be twistingg knobs and not pay attention. From reports it would have saved a few aircraft.
victorcarreno
victor carreno 7
Lee, There is a curved tube with a ball in it in my airplane. It is called a turn coordinator. In a coordinated turn, you could be banking at 45 degrees and your ball in the curved tube will be exactly in the middle. The force of gravity is countered by the centripetal force. Airplanes also have "stall warning" devices. Some of them require electricity and electronics, others are purely mechanical.
seahorse669
Mark Wilson 0
Stall horns sound nothing like the 'Fasten your seatbelt' ding. Nose DOWN - FULL STOP.
skylane777
John Nichols 2
The Airbus is speed stable. The Boeing is Pitch stable. It flies and quits very differently. These guys did not get aerodynamic cues from the 330. Plus, after the mush began, lowering the nose caused the Stall Warn to sound. Decreasing the Pitch caused extreme roll excursions. The airframe became responsive to input that maintained the Stall condition, not to mention the lack of Stall Warning.
That is what caused Bonin's stubborn aft stuck. The Captain was aware of the Pitch, but did nothing. It was the extreme AoA they couldn't suss. The last comment on the CVR:

CAPTAIN: "...Pitch 10 degrees..." without an Angle of Attack display, if was clear they had forgotten that Pitch and AoA are not the same thing
In this case. Not Even Close....
octonovem
Matthew Nowell 1
I skipped most everything because the first comments were totally without merit. I'm glad that I didn't skip yours Mr Nichols. Because you are one of a very few who understand what happened. Congrats.

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