The Air France accident has had its repercussions as will the spate of over-runs later as airline training departments craft their next Checks. Unreliable Airspeed has emerged as a feature on this seasons ATQP offering.
The blockage, loss or failure of pitot and static systems or air data computers has caused several accidents across the years. Current theories on the loss of AF447 GRU-CDG 1st June 2009 focus on these systems.
A brief description of the issue for anyone not familiar with the nature of the problem, and at systems level it is a complex one and specific to type so I will not comment on the mechanics other than generally.
I hope this gives an insight and overview – it certainly isn’t designed to be a flying lesson “your honour’.
At last I have found someone who believes in the value of information design to humanity. For as long as I can remember I have been rattling on about it, sometimes in the face of bafflement from those you would think would know better. It has always seemed to me that many of our technical resources within aviation take a roundabout and wasteful route in their attempts to enlighten us. Perhaps it is just the way I look at the world and everything in it, but don’t you get frustrated when pages and pages of badly constructed text are used to illustrate a concept or sequence of instructions designed to help you understand, work with or operate something? Why use words when carefully considered graphics supported by a little text could do the task in moments? Not only is this single track response to information transfer wasteful of time and mental effort, it has the potential to be dangerous.
From the minute the cockpit door slams and your instructor departs leaving you on your own for the first time, a whole new world opens for you. That of responsible aviator, the guy in charge of your destiny. As you trundle off to the holding point your head fills with a myriad of things, the routines you need to go through, the glance towards the empty seat next to you. The crawling doubt that you can actually do this thing. All fleeting thoughts perhaps, and banished to their rightful place in the order of things… but there nevertheless. Hours of practice, mini defeats crushed by exhilarating victories and hard learned lessons serve to forge the experienced aviator, confident in his or her ability and ready to take their seat at the table of the gods – in the sky.
I don’t have a Polo, I bought a Golf Plus. I love it and this add too. It kina’ represents how some of us might feel given the pending industrial action at the company I work for. Well, you gotta’ laugh haven’t you… at least occasionally.
A friend of mine recently asked me what to do with his cat having changed his social circumstances. Now with him being an aviator of quality, I felt that only the very best advice would do.
So here goes; you may have seen something like this before – but for those that have not ….
As an aviator of some standing you will have heard of the Cat, Duck and Chicken system of aviating. Perhaps your cat has uses beyond the ordinary.
The cat is use during instrument flight in cloud or very limited visibility.
Place a live cat on the cockpit floor, because a cat always remains upright, he or she can be used in lieu of a needle and ball instrument. Merely watch to see which way he leans to determine if a wing is low and if so, which one. This will enable you to your aircraft level in route with complete accuracy and confidence.
A duck is used for final instrument approach and landing, because of the fact that any sensible old duck will refuse to fly under instrument conditions, it is only necessary to hurl your duck out of the cockpit window and follow her to the ground.
There are some limitations on the cat and duck method, but by rigidly adhering to the following check list a degree of success will be achieved which will not only startle you, but will astonish your passengers as well.
Get a wide-awake cat, most cats do not want to stand up all the time, so it may be necessary to carry a fierce dog along to keep the cat at attention.
Make sure your cat is clean, dirty cats will spend all the time washing. Trying to follow a washing cat usually results in a slow roll followed by an inverted spin. You will see that this is most unprofessional.
Old cats are the best, young cats have nine lives, but an old used up cat with only one life left has just as much to loose and will be more dependable.
Avoid stray cats. Try to get one with good character because you may want to spend time with her.
Beware of cowardly ducks, if the duck discovers that you are using the cat to stay upright, she will refuse to leave the aeroplane without the cat. Ducks are no better on instruments than you are.
Get a duck with good eyes. Near sighted ducks sometimes fail to recognise that they are on the gauges and will go flogging into the nearest hill. Very near sighted ducks will not realise that they have been thrown out and will descend to the ground in a sitting position. This is a most difficult manoeuvre to follow in an aircraft.
Choose your duck carefully, it is easy to confuse ducks with geese. Many large birds look alike. While they are very competent instrument flyers, geese seldom want to go in the same direction that you do. If your duck seems to be taking a heading to Ireland or Sweden, you may be safe in assuming that someone has given you a goose.
Emergency procedures. If you have used your duck and lost it – If unsure of your attitude, you drop the cat overboard. Now as everyone realizes, cats always land on their feet and have nine lives. You can there retrieve your cat for use later after landing safely.
In your case Ian, only one life has been used so its resale value is degraded slightly. Perversely the feline’s value rises as the lives diminish as the cat has made successful descents, and been retrieved by saved pilots. How else would they reappear for sale?
Lady cats are best, they have intuition and cunning bundled as part of the package …. That just leaves the the chicken…. grip the chicken before flight, they are good decision makers. If the chicken doesn’t want to go flying – don’t fly.
Ethiopia was locked in a fruitless war with Eritrea and the harvest had failed. The country became gripped by famine and the overwhelmed Ethiopians asked for the help of the International community. Britain responded by sending us. We flew down to Africa in early December with the Band Aid tune ringing in our ears with a sombre sense of purpose, within twenty-four hours of arriving we started moving food up country from Addis Ababa. Our Hercules could carry 420001bs of grain in 110lbs nylon sacks. Each sack contained enough to feed a family of five for a month. In the early days of the operation we just slowed down the rate at which people died. It was exhausting but hugely rewarding work.
Low-level delivery by airdrop was challenging and rough as old boots from the turbulence generated by the heat. The pallets, piled with sacks were pushed straight out off the aircraft by our Loadmasters to free fall, tumbling to the ground 20 feet below, slamming into the bush in a swath; some bursting but most not. Thousands swarmed across the drop zone, eager hands rapidly spirited them away to hungry mouths, women and children scooping and scraping up the failed bags contents.
The jungle telegraph is real, after the first drop to a reception team, people appeared at the drop zones in their thousands, gathering up and sometimes fighting over the food; so many desperate people. Rigid control and distribution would have been impossible.
I read a piece in our local free paper that drew my attention, it as a ‘look what our local lads are up too.’ Crossing Everest under a paramotor was the story, two remarkable young guys were the ‘local color.’ I had met one of them, Bear Grylls, previously at a fund raiser. He was appearing for a joint services charity gig at a local private school (closed for the holidays) in front of a mixed bunch of currect/retired military people mixed liberally with the comfortable middle classes, the odd mountaineer and sundry Joe public.
At a little over twenty as an SAS soldier enjoying a spot of R&R in Africa, he had experienced a parachute malfunction during free fall. The chute had partially inflated and taken him to the bush floor where he slammed into the ground breaking his back in two places. They flew him home in rather a bad way and after a short interval he became the youngest person to climb Everest at just twenty three! As ‘simple’ as that.
We all watched with rapt attention as he built a picture of his early life and its lead up to the climbing and summiting of the great mountain. It was inspiring and humbling at the same time. (Well worth the twenty five quid, they even threw in a very good Chinese meal afterwards prepared by the school staff.) Yes, I bought his (signed) book; I read it in a single sitting like most other people I have lent it to.
Now out of the Army and presumably facing an uncertain future, a Bear needed to find his honey and a new direction. This soldier turned writer/explorer has now bounced across a number of projects devouring and exploiting them (all in the best sense) to generate and sustain his emerging public persona. As you will see from his website he is a fascinating character driven by his need to achieve, his faith and enthusiasm for life. Discovery documentaries, records and remarkable achievements are being ticked off at a considerable rate but it was his return to Everest with Giles Cardoza which caught my imagination and the Paramotors they took with them.
Keep an eye out for him, he is quite a guy and if you feel inclined, read his books.
We used to start our five day CRM (Crew Resource Management) courses with a stark (and some thought provocative) statement. “71% of airline hull losses are caused by human factors” Perhaps a little confrontational given the audience, but it certainly grabbed everyone’s attention. When looked at a little more closely though, the truth was and to an extent still is, pretty ghastly.
The players in our Industry have an eye on the phenomenal growth being experienced at the moment, more to the point, the likely effect of that growth on safety and the statistics. None more so than Boeing and Airbus; they dislike seeing their products starring on the 6 o’clock news.
That gaze has now settled on the East and the frantic expansion out there. One aviation consultant I talk to has been looking hard on behalf of a ‘major manufacturer’ for experienced pilot managers to join emergent carriers. They are seen as being vital in establishing and maintaining a solid safety culture and directing the safe the growth of the new airline. Funnily enough they seem to be a little thin on the ground…
Established carriers around the world have invested heavily in the fight to maintain high levels of flight safety; a constant battle against the incidents and ultimately accidents that cost lives and erode public confidence in air travel. The road to this point has been long, bloody and hard and looking ahead, the effort is likely to last some time – like forever.
The question hanging out there, another ‘elephant in the room’ is – will the ‘emergent’ carriers join in? Will the new start airlines, scrabbling for their place at the table initiate the positive steps that are needed to embed the kind of culture we are talking about here. The aviators arriving to take their seats may well have had the required training, but what about the leadership and the vision necessary to set the culture? Do the legislators fully understand how important an effective HF training program and culture is to air safety?
Changing the way we think and act in concert with our colleagues is an internal act, in theory it could be almost nil cost. The trouble is, printing a manual or issuing an edict doesn’t get the baby bathed. An effective program is anything but cheap; it takes pilots off-line both to present the course (few pilots will accept a message of this nature from someone who doesn’t fly) and to receive it. This is the last thing any rapidly growing organization needs and it introduces the likelihood that it may be bumped on the back burner to await less trying times. Hence the concern.
The growth of HF training over the last fifteen years, and the way it has been integrated into simulator and line training has been refreshing. Taken from the beginning, anyone working towards a professional pilots license will come across human factors modules within the syllabus, they are the regulators response to a general shift attitude within the industry and really only a primer for further training that arrives when the fledgling transport pilot joins his new company. Flying for the airlines, certainly for the majors East and West immerses you in the effort to better understand the man in the machine.
Measuring the effectiveness of HF training isn’t easy as the game embraces the artful alignment of attitudes and the tutoring of behavior. How do you quantify the relative safety of a working environment and the attitude of ‘operatives’? But the consensus view is that it has worked well, the fight deck workspace has become less tolerant of undesirable pilot characteristics. Ego, hubris, jealousy, lack of consideration and plain bad manners are now generally recognized as inappropriate and unacceptable on a modern flight deck. Equally, owning errors, positive acknowledgment of an error ‘spot’ or a ‘catch’ and the complimenting of constructive behavior across the cockpit divide are now generally regarded as strengths, not weaknesses.
The proof of the pudding they say is in the eating, on the odd occasion where someone slips and displays their darker side, that behavior becomes the elephant in the room and the guys in the situation know where the company policy and the correct path lies. That knowledge in itself can prompt a correction, an apology or a change in behavior which may well produce a change in atmosphere and a safer, more professional environment. Relief all round, forgiveness and perhaps a reflective debrief with a beer at the end of it.
Standby for a cliche! ‘The price of safety is eternal vigilance.’
Here comes another – ‘If you think safety is expensive, try an accident.’
Yes, cliches for some; a new line on the truth for others less familiar.
Let’s take this to the line operation and apply it to a single situation that can easily be experienced out there. As confirmed by the statistics, rushed or unstable approaches have enormous potential to develop into accidents. It takes early recognition and intervention to correct an unstable approach. It also takes a measure of courage and confidence, to go-around when it feels like you have boobed or failed in some way when you believe that you might just be able to keep the cat in the bag and recover the situation. The pain is relieved by a company ‘nil jeopardy’ policy for such decisions. Full backing of your company policy of active encouragement to do the right thing defines the safe, progressive airline and delivers more often than not the safe response to the challenge.
How else can we stop a transport jet crossing the threshold to land at twice the calculated threshold speed, landing then overrunning the runway bursting into flames killing people in the process. Easy to be wise after the event – sure, but a call of “Go Around” by either pilot would have broken the spell and saved the day. Air France in Toronto seem to have had a similar incident, they were a good deal more fortunate with their outcome. Solid HF training and company policy empower people to make the right call.
Does this sound like a Westerner preaching smugly at the East? I hope not as the record would leave me standing naked at the lectern. It was a US carrier that first commissioned research into Human Factors training for its pilots after a string of incidents and a couple of major accidents.
BEA had an accident with a Trident in 1972 where human factors were considered to be contributory, you may not find them mentioned by name as HF was largely unacknowledged in those days, but those pilots contemporary to the disaster know are well aware of them; they killed everyone on board.
No, it has been freely admitted (that 71% again) that we are all in this together and we have a single prize worth fighting for, even if the battle upsets a few of us on the way.
No one, whatever their background is immune, there but for the grace of our God go us all. But in the absence of divine intervention there are tools available to us out there. They are in our head – they just need sharpening!