Pilots can’t fly without computers
Faulty part, poor control cause crash
When I’m up there in the sky, and the aeroplane is vibrating like crazy because of air turbulence, my mind would start wondering if that thin skin of metal protecting me is no stronger than an eggshell.
In December 2014, I flew in an AirAsia Airbus A320 plane on a short trip with my son Fred, and two friends to Yogya in Central Java (to worship Buddha in Borobudur). A fortnight after returning to Singapore, the news reported that a similar AirAsia plane, from Surabaya city (next to Yogya) crashed into the sea en route to Singapore.
After almost a year of investigation, a final report was issued on the cause of the crash which killed all 162 people no board.
From the report, I realised the scary part is not bad weather, but the fact that pilots are too dependent on the computer, and may not know how to correctly handle airborne emergencies that they have not encountered during their simulation training. What’s going on? Are pilots so dependent on computers that when the system crashed, the plane also crashes? – Francis Chin, December 2, 2015
A FAULTY COMPONENT and poor piloting caused AirAsia Flight QZ8501 to crash into the Java Sea on December 28, 2014, killing all 162 people on board.
After nearly a year of investigation, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said on December 1, 2015, that poor maintenance and a fault with the system that helps control the rudder’s movement was a major contributing factor to the crash. Cracked soldering in the component caused it to malfunction and send repeated warning messages to the pilots.
In response, the pilots tried to reset a computer system but in the process turned off the plane’s autopilot, sending it into a sharp roll from which they were unable to recover.
“Subsequent flight crew action resulted in inability to control the aircraft,” said the report. The plane went into a “prolonged stall condition that was beyond the capability of the crew to recover.”
There was miscommunication between the pilots as the plane plunged towards the sea, with the men at one point pushing their control sticks in opposite directions.
The Airbus A320 plunged into the ocean in stormy weather during what was supposed to be a routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. Ships and aircraft from several nations searched the sea but were hampered by strong currents and bad weather. The bodies of 56 of those who died have never been found.
Rescuers faced difficulties in the choppy waters of the Java Sea, but the main body of the plane was eventually located on the seabed by a Singapore navy ship and both black box data recorders were recovered.
Search efforts were finally called off in March, 2015, after almost three months.
Inadequate training, faulty maintenance
Investigator Nurcahyo Utomo said AirAsia pilots flying Airbus aircraft had not received adequate training for a situation when the plane became severely destabilised, as it was not recommended by the manufacturer.
The report said the faulty component, the Rudder Travel Limiter, had suffered 23 problems in the past 12 months, citing maintenance records. The investigation found some inadequacy in the maintenance system, leading to the unresolved, repeated problem with the rudder system, said Mr Utomo.
Before crashing, the plane climbed fast and went into an aerodynamic stall, losing lift. The French co-pilot, Remi Plesel, was at the controls in the moments before the crash, rather than the more experienced pilot.
Eka Santoso – whose brother, sister-in-law and their two children died in the crash – urged AirAsia to take action following its recommendations. “AirAsia must find the people who were responsible for this problem,” he told AFP, referring to the faulty competent, and adding those who failed to fix it should be prosecuted. “It has been proven there was a weakness.”
Air crashes in Indonesia
The crash was the first major setback for Malaysia-based AirAsia, which has enjoyed a 13-year run of success. Group chief executive Tony Fernandes said: “These are scars that are left on me forever but I remain committed to make AirAsia the very best.”
Indonesia’s troubled airline industry has not been able to provide enough qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and updated technology. Ground-based wind-shear detection systems introduced to notify plane crews to issues are absent in many airports around Indonesia.
In the past 20 years 532 people have died in crashes in Indonesia, and 116 people have been presumed dead.
In 2014 alone, there were five major plane crashes in South-east Asia, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 en route to Kuala Lumpur, and the disappearance of MH370 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. – News agencies
Pilots with no manual flying skills
The global airline industry has been struggling to sharpen flying skills at a time cockpits are becoming increasingly automated. Several accidents have raised concerns that pilots lack the skills to respond to emergencies that simulators can’t replicate well.
An Air France Airbus A330 jet in 2009 crashed after crews lost some of their automatic flight controls and failed to recognise they were in a high-altitude stall. All 228 people on the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris died.
The same year, a Colgan Air turboprop crashed near Buffalo, NY. Investigators determined the pilot was never properly trained on how to respond to the type of emergency the aircraft encountered. All 50 people on the plane died.
Airbus said last year it was revising its pilot-training policies to place greater emphasis on manual flying skills.
In recent years, some airlines, including Delta Air Lines, have sent some of their most seasoned instructors back to flight school to learn how to detect and recover for airborne upsets. – Wall Street Journal