Dec

11

 Here's the long awaited black box transcript of what happened during the crash of Air France Flight 447. So many kinds of errors, combined with irrational thinking, false data, no data, and misconceptions caused this plane to splash. The parallels of the last few minutes of this flight are very similar to the thoughts and actions of that moment when a trader is digging his own grave. This transcript is worthy of much detailed analysis and discussion. I'm sure that the analysis of the transcript can better help speculators upgrade their worse case scenario plan.

Chris Tucker, air traffic controller at JFK, responds: 

 I have recently discussed this incident with a USAirways check captain. There are several problems– the first appears to be poor or insufficient training– partial panel operations are a part of the core instrument flight training curriculum– this is basic stuff. Figuring out which instrument or instruments that are unreliable is not that difficult. The other instruments combined can give a clear picture of the aircrafts situation. See a nice lesson plan in partial panel operations here.

 The second and most glaring problem to me is the disconnect between the two control sticks. Airbus uses a side mounted joy stick instead of a forward mounted control column with yoke. In most aircraft, the other pilot is always aware of the position of the control column because as the other pilot makes adjustments– his own column moves in synch– he can see it. So if the pilot in the left seat is pulling back on the yoke, the right seat pilot is aware of it and if this is the absolute wrong thing to do (as was the case here) he can bring his expertise to bear and help fix the problem. But that is not the case with the Airbus, and in this situation the pilot not flying was completely unaware that the pilot flying was holding the stick back.

The way this system is designed, in my opinion, is insane. The pilot not flying has little idea what the flying pilot is doing unless the flying pilot informs him– which should be mandatory in a situation like this.

It occurs to me that the even though all of the information necessary to fly the aircraft safely was right in front of them, that these two pilots became scared, very scared and stopped thinking properly. This is a big problem and it can only be addressed through training. Any pilot can tell you that when the aircraft stalls the immediate response is always to lower the nose and add power. Always. This is a part of training that should be done so thoroughly that it is imprinted on the student permanently.

So why did Bonin persist in holding back the stick? I find it difficult to believe that a pilot in a heavy, long haul international aircraft is so unfamiliar with his planes systems as to not understand the difference between operating in "normal law" - where the onboard computers will not allow the aircraft to stall– and "alternate law" where the computers will allow this. This is critical knowledge and I doubt their training regimen permits them to forget it– even if operation in "alternate law" has never occurred in the past. But something prevented them from believing that the aircraft was stalled– regardless of the blaring and continuous stall warnings.

I cannot say why this pilot behaved as he did, but I can say something that I say to all my trainees on the radar. "The best possible thing to do with the time available to you is to think". From this one premise you can elicit behaviors that will promote it. I like to wait until the trainee is very, very busy and say "stop talking– just stop for a few seconds and look at the situation and think about it. You have plenty of time to do what you need to do." It is my understanding that when you are talking you are not thinking– so we try to reduce the number of clearances, try to combine instructions, keep the chatter on the frequency down. Stopping and trying to think about the situation, even in the midst of chaos, is the best thing you can do to fix it. Why this didn't happen on that flight deck is beyond me. 


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