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Air France 447 Crash Cause Discovered


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Wow, that's almost incomprehensible. It's no wonder the other two guys didn't even think of it. It's amazing how every time I read about a crash in an Airbus, the technology seems to compound pilot error rather than mitigate it. Damn shame so many people had to pay such a high price for it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Pilot error? Certainly, but there's so much more to it than that. From defective pitot tubes, (a known issue that Airbus decided didn't merit a mandatory fleet grounding for replacement, choosing instead to replace them as each aircraft came in for inspection) to design philosophy (where the pilot is a technician, an equipment operator; where an engineer is believed to be able to anticipate EVERY eventuality) to a training philosophy that believes training can substitute for experience. To lay this solely at the feet of the crew ignores so much- but it is an ignorance that benefits Airbus, Air France, and the European model of commercial aviation.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting read. I remember having a discussion on this and saying it was purely pilot error some time ago, not sure where though. However, I now believe it even more.

European model of commercial aviation? Airbus? I can't say those are the reasons for the crash.

First of all the crew ignored basic training by not checking the weather and planing ahead. I'm, not a pilot but a sailor and if a sailor does that we'd call him a retard. Weather is nothing to mess with - no matter what equipment you have. Yes, the pitot tubes iced - but this is not a Cessna flying at low altitude in sunny weather. It was at an altitude of 10.000m or so and climbing to over 11km in the middle of a tropical storm. On top of that the outside temperatures were even higher than usual.

If under such conditions a pilot initiates a course change (drag), reduces throttle and then, when the speed indicators fail due to ice over pulls the nose up instead of keeping it level... that's nothing but pilot error.

After this they keep climbing, ignore the stall warning (not talk about it either) and at such an altitude (over 11km...!) not even take their chances and push the nose down that's not just pilot error that's murder. Even amateur pilots like us would've most likely tried that, possibly before all else. They could've eventually checked their speed through GPS even - not sure if you can do that in a commercial plane but I can do it on a boat and in my car.

The (senior) co-pilot actually did say to level the plane and gain speed - but the younger co-pilot again, after the stall was under control, pulled back.

Instead of keeping focus on the instruments, and even the speed indicator was de-iced again, the senior co-pilot ignored what was going on. Didn't watch the altitude or climb rate at all but "only" called the captain.

The whole thing goes on - even after the captain returns and hears a stall warning he doesn't believe it's necessary to check the AoA at all. This whole ordeal is unbelievable.

So all in all if you mean modern fly by wire and automation with "european model of commercial aviation" I must say that maybe it's not enough yet? Maybe the computer has to take over route planning as well to not plunge airliners into tropical storms to begin with. No one would even feel well to drive a car during such weather but this crew felt it was cool to fly their liner into it.

Secondly the unlinked controls are not an issue either. As said above the senior co-pilot didn't care at all about AoA - even after he did for a second and that fixed all problems he ignored to check on it after the plane stalled again. Not to mention it was still in a climb.

Thirdly I believe it's not a problem of european airlines in general. Air France and Lufthansa etc. have very good track records and if you compare the track records you'll see this was an exception. But it also was a deadly one and it indicates that todays training is eventually either not able to filter out the "bad guys" properly or it is insufficient in training pilots. Probably both happened here.

And lastly I also disagree with you on that issue of training vs. experience. The captain returned and didn't even bother to check on the AoA. Experienced? Yes. Trained? Maybe he lost his sharpness. It seems very unprofessional to overlook the simplest thing during a stall really.

Although I'm not a RL pilot I've been in many critical and life-threatening situations and I know how it feels if your limbs start shaking under adrenaline rush - but I never lost the mental sharpness and especially not the basics I was trained for. The way I see it the crew managed to do wrong what it could. It was a really, really bad day.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Madfish, please don't construe the following as any sort of personal attack, but it's clear that your understanding of commercial aircraft operations is rudimentary. The following is only meant to increase your understanding of the many factors at play, all of which contributed to the accident.

"First of all the crew ignored basic training by not checking the weather and planing ahead"

This is incorrect. An airline flight is planned by a team, which includes licensed dispatchers, meterologists, and others, who generate a release that contains the flight plan, NOTAMs, fuel planning and a weather package, in addition to many other bits of info. This information is reviewed by the captain (and often the rest of the cockpit crew) who then signs the release before the aircraft is allowed to depart. Additionally, the captain conducts a flight crew briefing to discuss the flight, including any areas of significant weather. Enroute turbulence is of special importance to the cabin crew. Thus, there is no possibility that the crew was unaware of the existance or possibility of severe weather.

"Yes, the pitot tubes iced - but this is not a Cessna flying at low altitude in sunny weather. It was at an altitude of 10.000m or so and climbing to over 11km in the middle of a tropical storm"

Pitot heat is required, by certification, to be capable of keeping the pitots ice free under moderate icing conditions. While severe icing is, by definition, icing that overwhelms the anti and deice capabilities of an aircraft, AF447 was not in severe conditions and yet had pitot icing issues. Why was this? The pitot heat was faulty. This was a known issue, that had caused similar failures on other A330 aircraft, and the faulty tubes were replaced as aircraft came in for scheduled maintenance. Significantly, Airbus chose not to issue an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that would restrict the operation of A330 aircraft until the faulty pitot tubes were replaced. Why? I can only speculate, but it seems to me that Airbus was thinking to avoid the negative publicity that follows a fleetwide grounding and/or that the risk wasn't worth the cost of a fleetwide grounding. Bottom line: the tubes should have worked, were known to be faulty, and a conscious decision was made to not mandate immediate replacement. This places at least some of the blame upon Airbus.

"If under such conditions a pilot initiates a course change (drag), reduces throttle and then, when the speed indicators fail due to ice over pulls the nose up instead of keeping it level... that's nothing but pilot error.

After this they keep climbing, ignore the stall warning...............The whole thing goes on - even after the captain returns and hears a stall warning he doesn't believe it's necessary to check the AoA at all. This whole ordeal is unbelievable"

The old guys all say that the first thing you should do when faced with an emergency is wind the clock, or wind your watch, or sit on your hands- the point being that to begin fixing a problem before you know what the problem is, is a recipe for disaster. Take some time to determine what's going on before you start doing things. Here then, is where blame can rightly be assigned to the crew- they made control input before they understood what was happening.

But it isn't that simple. Consideration must be given to how the crews were trained, to the design philosophies of Airbus, and to the specific flying qualities of the A330. Consider this opinion, from an experienced A330 pilot, published in the June 6, 2011 issue of AVmail:

I would like to offer my comments and perspective with regard to the Air France Flight 447 accident. I have been a A-330 captain since 2003 and have over 4500 hours in the aircraft. While many A-320 pilots undoubtedly have more series time, I believe this probably makes me one of the most experienced A330 pilots in the world.

When asked how I like the aircraft, I tell people that there is likely no easier airplane to take over an ocean, and that the systems design and presentation is superb. That said, the automation is more complex and less intuitive than necessary, and the pilot-aircraft interface is unlike that of a conventional aircraft. Most important with regard to this accident is the fly-by-wire sidestick control. The sidestick itself has a very limited range of motion, making inadvertent over-control very easy. Of even greater significance, the stick itself provides no "feel" feedback to the pilot. That is, unlike a conventional aircraft, the pilot does not get a sense through pressure of how much input is being sent to the control surfaces. The most important advice I give to pilots new to the Airbus is to treat the aircraft not as an airplane, but as a video game. If you wait for the sidestick to tell you what you are doing, you will never get an answer.

Taking into consideration that Air France 447 was at FL 350 (where the safe speed envelope is relatively narrow), that they were in the weather at night with no visible horizon, and that they were likely experiencing at least moderate turbulence, it does not surprise me in the least that the pilots lost control of the aircraft shortly after the autopilot and autothrust disconnected.

Let's keep in mind that these are not ideal conditions for maintaining controlled flight manually, especially when faced with a sudden onslaught of warning messages, loss of autofllght, confusing airspeed indications, and reversion to "alternate law" flight control, in which certain flight envelope protections are lost.

A very bad Airbus design feature is thrust levers that do not move while in autothrust. They are instead set in a detent which would equal climb trust in manual mode. If the pilots did not reset the thrust levers to equal the last cruise power setting, they likely eventually ended up in climb power, making it difficult to reset the proper cruise power setting and adding to what was likely already a great deal of confusion.

But the real problem probably occurred immediately after the pilot flying grabbed the sidestick and took over manually. Unfortunately, airline pilots rarely practice hand-flying at high altitude, and almost never do so without autothrust engaged. As a result, we forget that the aircraft is very sensitive to control inputs at high altitude, and overcontrol is the usual result. Because the Airbus sidestick provides no feedback "feel" to the pilot, this problem is dramatically compounded in this aircraft.

I believe the Air France pilot grabbed the sidestick, made an immediate input (because as pilots, that's what we tend to do), and quickly became quite confused as to what the aircraft was truly doing. This confusion likely was exacerbated by fixating on airspeed indications that made no sense while trying to find a power setting with no airspeed guidance.

When transitioning from autopilot to manual control at altitude in the Airbus, the most important thing to do at first is nothing. Don't move a thing, and then when you do, gently take hold of the sidestick and make very small inputs, concentrating on the flight director (which, in altitude hold, should still have been providing good guidance). Of course, this is much easier said than done with bells and whistles going off all over the place, moderate turbulence and a bunch of thunderstorms in the area. As I said before, treat it like a video game.

So why did the Air France pilot find himself at the limits of sidestick travel, and then just stay there, maintaining a control input that simply could not logically be correct? When things go really bad and we are under intense pressure, it is human nature to revert to what we know from previous experience. Remember, the Airbus flies like no other aircraft in that the sidestick provides no feedback to the pilot. It is a video game, not an airplane.

I believe the Air France pilot unintentionally fell back on all of his previous flying experience, in which aircraft controls "talked" to him when he moved them. Distracted by many confusing inputs, he instinctively expected to be able to control the aircraft by "feel" while dividing his attention to address other matters. I've seen it happen in the simulator, and in an Airbus this is a sure way to lose control of the aircraft and is possibly the most dangerous aspect of Airbus design philosophy.

One last note: Airbus pilots often claim that the aircraft "can not be stalled." When the flight controls are in "normal law" this is a reasonably true statement. However, in "alternate law," as was the case here, stall protection can be lost. If we ever practiced this in the simulator, I don't remember it.

Lest anyone think I am blaming the Air France pilots for this accident, let me be clear. Despite all of my experience in the aircraft, I am not the least bit certain that I would have been able to maintain control under the same circumstances. I do feel certain that were you to spring this scenario on pilots in a simulator without warning less than half of them would have a successful outcome. Safely flying the 320, 330 and 340-series Airbus requires something of a non-pilot mindset.

The crew was in fact screwed in that very special way that only an Airbus can screw you- by the design philosophies that underlay it's developement. Understand that I hold the abilities of the Airbus design and construction engineers in high regard, but they have a worldview that causes them to use their considerable talents in ways that can lead to disaster.

And what is this mindset? Let me explain.

The airline that I flew for was the lauch customer for the Dornier 328Jet, and our initial crews were trained in the Netherlands by some of the same engineers who designed the aircraft and it's systems. One of our captains asked what would happen if the flight displays all failed at the same time? The engineer confidently replied that this was not possible, and proceeded to demonstrate why, using the systems diagrams. He was supremely confident in his work, and was certain that he had considered every possibility.

The captain who had asked the question, a month or so later, experienced a total flight display failure shortly after entering an overcast.

It is impossible to consider every eventuality. Or, Ernest K Gann put it in his superlative 'Fate is the Hunter', every now and then "...some totally unrecognizable genie has once again unbuttoned his pants and urinated on the pillars of science".

How does this relate to AF447? Consider that the A330 will stop displaying AOA information, and stop sounding the stall horn below certain airspeeds. Why? In short, because some engineer decided that below a certain airspeed, AOA and stall warning were not needed, likely because no one would ever fly so slowly. It was impossible.

Impossible, until AF447, that is.

The crew made an ill-considered control input, and because the aircraft went outside of the design engineer's conceptual flight envelope, were deprived of information that could have led to their salvation.

And this is the 'European model' that I reference. This idea that we can consider every eventuality and train for it, and design for it, and eleminate it.

Bullshit. We can't. Thus, the design philosophy of the A330 must share some of the blame.

You reference the safety record of carriers like Lufthansa and Air France, and they are quite good, but consider this: the path to the right seat of an airliner is very different for a Lufthansa first officer and ANY U.S. carrier's first officer.

The Lufthansa pilot candidate will have been thoroughly screened prior to being hired, then sent to an ab-initio school in Arizona where he will recieve absolutely excellent training, and upon completion of that trianing, with approx 300 flight hours of experience, will complete his type-specific ground and simulator training, also absolutely excellent, and then will be in the right seat flying passengers. Lufthansa has had excellent results with this method of training. It produces pilots who have had excellent training, but little experience.

The US carrier's pilot candidate will, typically, begin his training for a private pilot's license, whether at some FBO or at a formal flight school, because he wants to, and as long as he has the funds and perform at some minimal level. He then progress through his instrument rating, and finally obtain his commercial certificate and multi-engine ratings. He will have about 300 hours flight time. From there, he will typically follow one of two tracks- either a flight instructor's certificate and a starvation diet, or flying freight in ill-maintained aircraft in any and all flight conditions, late at night.

And a starvation diet.

As our prospective airline FO builds his time and experience, he hopefully aviods killing himself, and eventually finds himself with a corporate flying job, or flying charter, and eventually at a regional airline. From there he will build still more time and eventually present himself for an interview at a major carrier with an average of 5000 hours of flight time. This is the American model. It produces pilots who have had uneven training- some excellent, some terrible, but have a much greater store of experience. And remember that experience isn't simply a log of hours, but of what you experienced during those hours.

And, knowing that we can't think of everything, that we can't train for everything (Air France released a statement that it wasn't the flight crew's fault, because they weren't trained for this particular situation) which pilot would you rather have?

The pilot with excellent training whose ability to meet a situation is limited to what's in the airline's training syllabus, or the one that, in addition to his airline's syllabus, can remember that one time, back when he was flying clapped out Cessna 206's, when he suffered a wierd instrument failure on dark and stormy night?

Compare the CVR transcripts of AF447 with United 232. United 232 had a total hydraulic failure that Douglas' design engineers calculated at odds of a BILLION TO ONE of occuring. Al Haynes and his crew were able to call upon their training, and their considerable experience, to devise a workable solution to their predicament.

Air France, Airbus, and the crew all contributed to what happened that night. To think otherwise ignores the facts.

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Very good analysis, Jeff. I feel like I'm well informed on the subject now. It's amazing how well using shagged out equipment trains you for all eventualities.

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I've been flying now for 46 years. The last 26 have been with a cargo airline flying DC-8's, DC-9's and the last 21 years in B-747s. Of that time I was in the training department for 17 years and 5 of those years as an APD (Aircrew Program Designee) doing FAA type ratings for the company in the 74. I learned a great deal about pilot training (if you really want to know something....teach it). And some things that I thought were pretty cut and dried I found out were anything but. Many years ago in our training syllabus we taught 3 types of stall recovery, Clean, Takeoff/Departure, & Landing. In all 3 of these scenarios the maneuver was taken to the stick shaker and then recovery initiated. The shaker comes on at 7% above stall. All the recoveries were with max power and hold your altitude (so keep back pressure on the stick because you have not stalled the aircraft). In reality this maneuver was for the purpose of teaching windshear recovery where you encounter a shear near the surface and initial a recovery and pitch the aircraft to the shaker and then just try to keep the airspeed on the edge of the shaker and hold your altitude or climb. I decided many years ago that this maneuver was not teaching actual stall recovery.

So in all of my training and checks I administered I started having the pilot do a full stall of the aircraft and make an actual recovery in the simulator. In this case you had to drop the nose (or reduce your AOA) to get the aircraft back. What brought this about was reading about a DC-8 crash by a cargo carrier many years ago in which the crew went up on a maintenance test flight one night with a check airman/instructor pilot and a new hire to do some inflight training. (The biggest lesson I learned in teaching pilots was what we were instilling into that aviator. Anytime you get stressed you will revert to what you were taught to do automatically, without any thought of what you are doing.) In the case of this DC-8, one of the problems with the aircraft was the stick shaker was not working. When the instructor had the trainee do an approach to stall maneuver with no stick shaker they stalled the DC-8. As they started losing altitude they reverted to what they were taught to do so many times in the sim which was set max power and hold your altitude. They fell 10,000' to the ground without ever initiating a proper stall recovery.

So I gave a crew a blocked pitot tube after takeoff. This caused the airspeed to become an altimeter. The higher you go the higher the airspeed goes. I expected them to recognize this and with (at the time) INS display of the actual ground speed and using proper power to attitude references they could handle the problem easily. And yet that was not the case. The Captain continued to pitch up to try to control his airspeed. He reached a pitch attitude of 25 degrees nose up with and indicated speed of 330 kts. Physically impossible to do, yet when the aircraft got the stall buffet he told the FO to report sever turburlence. Then when the stall was fully enveloped and the aircraft started to roll off into a spin as he was rolling the ailerons in the opposite direction with no effect he ask the Flight Engineer what happen to his hydraulics and why he had no control response. In the mean time I'm in the back watching this unfold and starting to understand that what I thought would be a simple problem/recovery had not become life and death. Now I start to see how planes crash. I repeated this maneuver with several other crews (well experienced) and got the same results. Only 1 Captain ever figured it out and he was a retired company check pilot.

In this day and age because of the economy many airlines are looking for ways to cut back expenses. Many of those cuts come in training, reducing ground training and sim times. Feeling that the technology makes up for less training. Either they have forgotten and never realized how important training is and exactly what you are doing to the aviator during that training. Experience can replace training but you have to live long enough to gain that experience. (Experience is what you have now but you needed 10 seconds ago).

I'm sad to say that I include my airline in the group that have cut back training. I left the training dept. because I strongly felt that our cutting training back was a very bad idea. The company no longer wanted line pilots to do the training but to hire outside retired instructors for less money. So I just fly the line now and really enjoy that without having to worry about dealing with the training dept and the FAA all the time.

Sorry about the ramble.

NOTE: Today the FAA requires a full stall recovery in every training scenario since the AF accident. I personally told several inspectors about my observations many years before that accident.

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~S~ Chaps,

That made for a fascinating read. Thanks for taking the trouble to share your knowledge and experience Erco and Capt'

Madfish you can see that the DDz is a great place to learn about way more than just IL2. Looking forward to virtual flying with you soon. :thumbsu:

~S~ Painless.

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Not a ramble at all, Jack. It shows how even a fully trained pilot can mistake one fight situation as another, not understanding that their instruments are "lying" to them. They fail to see the whole picture, and trust their basic instincts. Good post!

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~S~ Cap'n Jack, great post! (btw, I saw the Dreamlifter in Wichita the other day) One of my continuing gripes is that we all profess to 'train like we fly, and fly like we train', and then concoct training scenarios that are good, primarily, for checking the boxes on the syllabus. The FAA doesn't help, seeming to subscribe to the philosophy that adding ever more one-size-fits-all training events is the way to safety, all the while ignoring that the more events they add, the more our training events become check the box exercises.

Every so often you'll run across an instructor, like you, Jack, who will give you situations that challenge your abilities in a more real world way. In addition to the flight instrument failure you describe, one of my favorites is having the student purposely fail to add power after leveling at an MDA, and then dealing with the resulting low altitude stall (after a five count at the shaker, to simulate the 'huh?' factor). A far better way to deal with the 'landing configuration' stall. Like you say, when the chips are down, you will fall back on your training. Isn't it better if your training consists of more than canned situations?

I've started teaching, as an offshoot of CRM, methods of coming to grips with those situations that lie outside of your training. Presently, the heart of the strategy is to collect good information, discover the shape of your problem, and then relate it to relevant elements in your training/experience. It's a work in progress, and any thoughts you have would be most welcome.

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Madfish, please don't construe the following as any sort of personal attack, but it's clear that your understanding of commercial aircraft operations is rudimentary. The following is only meant to increase your understanding of the many factors at play, all of which contributed to the accident.

No worries, you're entitled to your opinion of course. However, once again I must disagree with some things. Especially now that you mention some new aspects.

Also let me mention something general here. I always try to see the flaws of the plane first because it's much easier fixed than pilots and their skills. But that's not really the issue here I fear.

"First of all the crew ignored basic training by not checking the weather and planing ahead"

This is incorrect. An airline flight is planned by a team, which includes licensed dispatchers, meterologists, and others, who generate a release that contains the flight plan, NOTAMs, fuel planning and a weather package, in addition to many other bits of info. This information is reviewed by the captain (and often the rest of the cockpit crew) who then signs the release before the aircraft is allowed to depart. Additionally, the captain conducts a flight crew briefing to discuss the flight, including any areas of significant weather. Enroute turbulence is of special importance to the cabin crew. Thus, there is no possibility that the crew was unaware of the existance or possibility of severe weather.

I never tried to say that they didn't know about the weather but that they ignored it until the last minute. I understand your explanation and it's logical but still the captain is responsible no matter what some random weather report guy said. I believe they didn't check (aka think) about it hard enough or willingly flew into it and only tried to evade when it was too severe. It doesn't really matter how many teams there are that tell them this or that. It's still human error to me - either by people on the ground or the flight crew or both - and when something goes wrong it's always the captain that takes the blame. They don't have a weather radar just to tell passengers what the weather will be when they're landing. Also note red text and compare and see the next paragraph.
"Yes, the pitot tubes iced - but this is not a Cessna flying at low altitude in sunny weather. It was at an altitude of 10.000m or so and climbing to over 11km in the middle of a tropical storm"

Pitot heat is required, by certification, to be capable of keeping the pitots ice free under moderate icing conditions. While severe icing is, by definition, icing that overwhelms the anti and deice capabilities of an aircraft, AF447 was not in severe conditions and yet had pitot icing issues. Why was this? The pitot heat was faulty. This was a known issue, that had caused similar failures on other A330 aircraft, and the faulty tubes were replaced as aircraft came in for scheduled maintenance. Significantly, Airbus chose not to issue an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that would restrict the operation of A330 aircraft until the faulty pitot tubes were replaced. Why? I can only speculate, but it seems to me that Airbus was thinking to avoid the negative publicity that follows a fleetwide grounding and/or that the risk wasn't worth the cost of a fleetwide grounding. Bottom line: the tubes should have worked, were known to be faulty, and a conscious decision was made to not mandate immediate replacement. This places at least some of the blame upon Airbus.

So you might notice that first you said that there is no possibility the crew didn't know about the existence or possibility of severe weather and now you say AF447 was not in severe conditions. Yet the captain went to bed and the crew made evasive maneuvers BECAUSE of the weather or rather to avoid flying through the tropical storm. I don't see the logic in there at all.

On top of that please note you say that the pitot tube icing was a known issue and yet the crew failed to realize it and take it into consideration? While it may be true that there is a flaw in the Airbus pitot tube implementation I can't blame the machine at this point anymore. All I see here is a lot of human error even IF the sensor is indeed faulty. They (airlines) should've exchanged them and they should have trained their pilots to deal with IAS instrument failures if the tubes fail. But pilots themselves should also care about their plane and know it to the last screw. That's why Airbus says that modern pilots are more or less engineers but obviously they rely on reflexes more than on knowledge.

"If under such conditions a pilot initiates a course change (drag), reduces throttle and then, when the speed indicators fail due to ice over pulls the nose up instead of keeping it level... that's nothing but pilot error.After this they keep climbing, ignore the stall warning...............The whole thing goes on - even after the captain returns and hears a stall warning he doesn't believe it's necessary to check the AoA at all. This whole ordeal is unbelievable"

The old guys all say that the first thing you should do when faced with an emergency is wind the clock, or wind your watch, or sit on your hands- the point being that to begin fixing a problem before you know what the problem is, is a recipe for disaster. Take some time to determine what's going on before you start doing things. Here then, is where blame can rightly be assigned to the crew- they made control input before they understood what was happening.

I agree since that's what I said (or tried to say). I'm still surprised though since even my basic GPS can tell me my speed above ground - doesn't an airplane of that size have a decent GPS or any backup system or other methods to tell the speed? Or did it just never occur to them to check it or anything else that tells them the speed? Eventually even just rate of climb. Again, keep in mind that the pitot tube issue was known as you said and thus the crew should've known it too and responded correctly.
But it isn't that simple. Consideration must be given to how the crews were trained, to the design philosophies of Airbus, and to the specific flying qualities of the A330. Consider this opinion, from an experienced A330 pilot, published in the June 6, 2011 issue of AVmail:

[...pilot oppinion...]

The crew was in fact screwed in that very special way that only an Airbus can screw you- by the design philosophies that underlay it's developement. Understand that I hold the abilities of the Airbus design and construction engineers in high regard, but they have a worldview that causes them to use their considerable talents in ways that can lead to disaster.

Even without being an airbus pilot I have to disagree partially.

First of all newer airplanes are Fly by Wire, which includes the Yoke. You can simulate some force feedback and maybe airbus should think about something like it but that's about it. On the other hand side it's questionable what good it would've done. Sloppy controls would indicate a stall but why would they test that out just for fun and giggles? The pilot himself said that at that altitude controls respond way to sensitive and no input would've been the best input. Also as you said yourself they should've tried checking on what's happening. I am very unsure if in a plane of that size getting rid of FBW would do any good at all.

As for the disconnected controls - I think it has advantages. First of all FFB would be more failure prone I guess. Also a lumped over pilot (unconcious, killed by a terrorist attack or whatever) would block the controls.

Also the yoke (2 hand input) was designed to allow for greater force application and not because it's so uber precise I believe.The sidestick was designed to be stress free and avoid muscle spasm or tiring muscles and gives the pilots more space in the cockpit to avoid stress. Further it allows for better one hand control so that you can handle the throttle easier. Something that again doesn't match with what that pilot you quoted is saying, that they most likely didn't handle the throttle properly, because the joystick setup would've made it easier for them to begin with.

If anything there's probably more of a preference thing going on and pilots should be filtered out depending on their control preference. Also it seems to me that they were just untrained and unknowing (again, pitot tube issue).

Also, please let's be honest here - we're not even talking about unprecise inputs anyways - we're talking about a stick pulled completely back!

As for the AoA of the plane, resulting of that crazy input, I cannot believe that they had no instruments that gave them a correct reading so that they can stay leveled out. Same with the airspeed - I still doubt that there isn't anything like a GPS or whatsoever that can be used in an emergency. It's maybe not ideal but much better than stalling a plane for no reason... on purpose - because still, I refuse to believe that anyone sane would blame the sidestick for that input. Lack of training, yes. Fear, yes - call it what you want but I doubt a trained pilot would pull the stick back completely. In fact in real life I haven't seen anyone ever pulling a joystick fully back with pressure like that - most people hesitate to do that even. (That's why many believe that pressure / force sensing sticks are better for dogfighting as they make inputs much faster since humans do NOT rapidly swing their hands around like crazy).

For me there's just no indication that the sidestick is worse than a fbw yoke. I believe that an input like this would've resulted in the same problem with yoke or stick.

And what is this mindset? Let me explain.

The airline that I flew for was the lauch customer for the Dornier 328Jet, and our initial crews were trained in the Netherlands by some of the same engineers who designed the aircraft and it's systems. One of our captains asked what would happen if the flight displays all failed at the same time? The engineer confidently replied that this was not possible, and proceeded to demonstrate why, using the systems diagrams. He was supremely confident in his work, and was certain that he had considered every possibility.

The captain who had asked the question, a month or so later, experienced a total flight display failure shortly after entering an overcast.

I'm not sure if that's a real story or just a joke or something but most people that wen't through engineering, heck even school, would tell you that it's maybe highly unlikely but impossible? It's always possible. A sad statement for an engineer. I have to agree on that.
It is impossible to consider every eventuality. Or, Ernest K Gann put it in his superlative 'Fate is the Hunter', every now and then "...some totally unrecognizable genie has once again unbuttoned his pants and urinated on the pillars of science".

How does this relate to AF447? Consider that the A330 will stop displaying AOA information, and stop sounding the stall horn below certain airspeeds. Why? In short, because some engineer decided that below a certain airspeed, AOA and stall warning were not needed, likely because no one would ever fly so slowly. It was impossible.

I'm not experienced enough to comment on that stall warning system. Especially during loss of sensor it's bound to act up eventually though. Are you sure there's no logic to it? Also are you sure that pilots do not know about it? And what's with that crazy AoA to begin with - maybe they should just try to limit the AoA of the plane and stabilize it like they do with 5th gen combat jets (that only kinda follow pilots orders if they "can make it")

However, given that this is a design feature and given that the pitot issue was known and thus the loss of airspeed indication I can only see human error here. First eventually a bad design decision but I'm not experienced enough to say if it makes sense or not. But for sure a bad crew that obviously again didn't put 1+1 together.

Impossible, until AF447, that is.

The crew made an ill-considered control input, and because the aircraft went outside of the design engineer's conceptual flight envelope, were deprived of information that could have led to their salvation.

And this is the 'European model' that I reference. This idea that we can consider every eventuality and train for it, and design for it, and eleminate it.

The crew, in my opinion, didn't just only make an ill-considered input. But that aside what what do you suggest when you critizise that "European Model"? Modern combat jet's already prove that computers are much smarter than any human when it comes to controlling an airplane. Yes, the pilots didn't have airspeed indication but that alone caused them to go nuts. So what are the lessons learned by it? Personally I believe that it's still better to assist humans and fix the sensor issue and put in more backup systems if necessary.

However, and this let me say. Personally I think that todays modern airplanes are much safer than the machines of the past. So obviously progression did bring something positive here. It's not that they put FBW and all these computers into airplanes just to make them crash more often. Even if a sensor is faulty or a system malfunctions it's still not really a reason to say "hey let's just strip them from all the electronic stuff and let "hero pilots" handle the rest.". While I believe that there are some amazing pilots out there I also belive that many emergencies outcomes depend on luck, training and equipment quality.

Many pilots were just lucky or unlucky - but let's face it: training and high tech airplanes are both the result of design and engineering. Emergency procedures weren't invented by genius pilots alone but mostly engineers and / or the result of crashes.

Bullshit. We can't. Thus, the design philosophy of the A330 must share some of the blame.

You reference the safety record of carriers like Lufthansa and Air France, and they are quite good, but consider this: the path to the right seat of an airliner is very different for a Lufthansa first officer and ANY U.S. carrier's first officer.

The Lufthansa pilot candidate will have been thoroughly screened prior to being hired, then sent to an ab-initio school in Arizona where he will recieve absolutely excellent training, and upon completion of that trianing, with approx 300 flight hours of experience, will complete his type-specific ground and simulator training, also absolutely excellent, and then will be in the right seat flying passengers. Lufthansa has had excellent results with this method of training. It produces pilots who have had excellent training, but little experience.

The US carrier's pilot candidate will, typically, begin his training for a private pilot's license, whether at some FBO or at a formal flight school, because he wants to, and as long as he has the funds and perform at some minimal level. He then progress through his instrument rating, and finally obtain his commercial certificate and multi-engine ratings. He will have about 300 hours flight time. From there, he will typically follow one of two tracks- either a flight instructor's certificate and a starvation diet, or flying freight in ill-maintained aircraft in any and all flight conditions, late at night.

And a starvation diet.

As our prospective airline FO builds his time and experience, he hopefully aviods killing himself, and eventually finds himself with a corporate flying job, or flying charter, and eventually at a regional airline. From there he will build still more time and eventually present himself for an interview at a major carrier with an average of 5000 hours of flight time. This is the American model. It produces pilots who have had uneven training- some excellent, some terrible, but have a much greater store of experience. And remember that experience isn't simply a log of hours, but of what you experienced during those hours.

So you're saying it's better to have pilots that train on machines with completely different control mechanics? I'm not convinced. Especially because this is the type of thing you don't want in so many situations as pilots may end up acting false because of it.

To be honest with you - there have been "bad" US pilots that wen't through the training you mentioned. And a lot of lucky heroes. For example that hudson river guy. That little bird strike could've very well ended up in a plane crashing into a boat or breaking up on impact. Not to mention a ton of people eventually drowning in an icy river.

Also, to only hire pilot's who went through every possible condition instead of designing the machines to be generally safer instead? I can't see where that would be the better approach. It's like saying "hey let's dump the seatbelts and let's not teach theory in driving school - just go outside and do cart racing until you are ready to drive a schoolbus".

Just on a sidenote: the reason why german pilots fly to the US is because Germany is rather small and there's simply not much space to fly around for training purposes. Lufthansa has giant training complexes even here in Berlin where I live but the airspace is also rather cramped and it may take a few more years until we have some desert here as well. :P.

And, knowing that we can't think of everything, that we can't train for everything (Air France released a statement that it wasn't the flight crew's fault, because they weren't trained for this particular situation) which pilot would you rather have?

The pilot with excellent training whose ability to meet a situation is limited to what's in the airline's training syllabus, or the one that, in addition to his airline's syllabus, can remember that one time, back when he was flying clapped out Cessna 206's, when he suffered a wierd instrument failure on dark and stormy night?

Which pilot would you rather have? One that's used to a yoke and crashes an airplane because he can't use the sidestick or one that was trained on planes with stick controls?

Also while it may be true that you can train pilots it's not possible to "think of everything, [...] train for everything". It's also not possible to expect a well trained pilot to deal with everything you throw at him.

Compare the CVR transcripts of AF447 with United 232. United 232 had a total hydraulic failure that Douglas' design engineers calculated at odds of a BILLION TO ONE of occuring. Al Haynes and his crew were able to call upon their training, and their considerable experience, to devise a workable solution to their predicament.
Comparing apples with bananas I think - or what does a pitot tube issue have to do with hydraulics? :P Also note that you credit the succsesful "save" to pilot skill. Wasn't most of your post about trying to convince me the pilots weren't at fault but only a victim of Airbus and Europe and all that? I believe that it was lack of pilot skill that didn't prevent the catastrophe although it was the "fault" of the pitot tubes.

Personally I believe this:

*The plane had faulty pitot tubes. So either Airbus could've grounded the fleet or eventually just gave recommendations (e.g. don't fly through tropical storms)

*The issue was known so Air France could've trained their pilots for it

*The crew didn't know about or ignored the pitot tube issue.

*The crew could've minimized the risk by not flying into the bad weather and reacting too slow.

*The pilot shouldn't have pulled the stick way back and according to what the pilot above said (and most likely all training) not even a pulling it a little but and instead should've left it alone for the moment and analyze the situation.

*The pilot should've communicated his actions better to help the co-pilot analyze the situation (e.g. I'm pulling back 20° (to level the plane) - and co-pilot could've checked if they're leveled out or whatever)

*Even though the IAS wasn't displayed they should've kept the plane stable because from what I've read no other instrument was malfunctioning

A chain of unlucky events but still, to me as a "noob", it's still uncomprehensible how that pilot could pull that stick back in panic like that for like 3 minutes. Pilots are only in the cockpit to help when the computer fails. We can't reverse that progress anymore. Is it better? Not sure. Is it only Airbus or european pilots? I doubt it.

Also note a funny fact: ever noticed how all the airliner seats are facing forward? Even a donkey knows that backward facing seats would be safer and in most (all?) military transports seats are set up this way. But it appears that some decisions aren't always governed by logic alone. So unless there's a company out there willing to build planes that generally change that I guess it's just that "shit happens".

Air France, Airbus, and the crew all contributed to what happened that night. To think otherwise ignores the facts.

Maybe it's stupid but I strongly believe that mechanical problems are the lesser ones and WILL get fixed. So I'm not worried about that. This said I agree with you. All contributed but I still believe that it was mainly the human error that actually crashed the plane. Of course you can say that it's the fault of winter when cars crash because of iced roads and certain things fail. But even if they're iced it's the well trained human that makes the decisions. That said I'm not sure if the "U.S." way of learning to fly airliners is better than the european. In fact I'm unable to see any difference in crash results when looking at statistics. But then again - I believe that flying has become MUCH safer in general now that we actually train pilots for these aircraft, that we try to build them well, try to add a lot of high tech stuff that may have issues still but mostly made all this air traffic possible and safer.

All in all my first post maybe sounded a bit too focused on the pilots. I still think they downright sucked but I wouldn't ever feel insulted if someone told my why they didn't. I just found some of your statements largely contradictive. Pilot training is always important though and much much harder than fixing a sensor. I know how crappy I can land virtual planes and wouldn't want to subject anyone to a "real dose" of it. But doesn't that make it even more important that we judge the professionals harshly and expect them to be more than just "average"?After all, to me, that is the difference between a pro(fessional) and an amateur.

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