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Second SFO Disaster Avoided Seconds Before Crash 248

Posted by timothy
from the why-passengers-clap-on-landing dept.
sabri writes "On July 25th, flight EVA28, a Boeing 777 flying from Taiwan to SFO, was on the final approach for runway 28L when they were alerted by ATC that they were only at 600ft above the ground at less than 4NM from the threshold. SFO's tower directed the flight crew to climb immediately and declare missed approach. Assuming they were flying at 140 knots (typical approach speed of a 777), they were less than 2 minutes from the runway and at a 3 degree angle (approx 500ft/min descent), about a minute from impact. This is the same type of aircraft and runway used by the crashed Asiana flight. Similar weather conditions and awfully similar flight path. Is there a structural problem with computer-aided pilot's ability to fly visual approaches?"
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Second SFO Disaster Avoided Seconds Before Crash

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  • by Lost+Found (844289) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:27AM (#44423031)

    Clearly he learned so much from his last flight

  • NO (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quick Reply (688867) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:27AM (#44423035) Journal

    "Is there a structural problem with computer-aided pilot's ability to fly visual approaches?"

    No, Just Pilot error. The 777 has constantly landed at SFO everyday for years without issue and the cause of the Asiana has been well-documented.

    • Re:NO (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:45AM (#44423321)

      To be fair, it does show how dependent these pilots are becoming on their computers. And if they fuck up this often when ILS is down, you have to wonder if they would ever catch it if ILS was miscalibrated or spoofed.

      • Re:NO (Score:4, Funny)

        by alen (225700) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:58AM (#44423481)

        never seen Die Hard 2, have you?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, it doesn't show that. You can't draw any meaningful conclusions with a sample of 2 incidents reported, no estimate of the total number of landings in similar conditions, and no idea how many near-misses didn't make it into the news.

        Someone should be doing this study properly (if they weren't already), but you need a better data set than Google News.

      • Re:NO (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bobbied (2522392) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @11:25AM (#44423861)

        To be further in tune with the facts here.... There are more approach aids than the ILS. Safety in aviation is layered and in the case of approach aids there are at least three more ways a pilot should be able to use to judge his approach and correct. There are the VASI lights which tell you if you are too high or low. There are the markings on the runway, which are of standard sizes and locations which aid the pilot who is looking out the windows. Then there is the "visual picture" that the pilot will have seen many times before when landing, even if only in the simulator.

        Any of these *should* have been enough to safely land.

        My guess is that what really happened here is a combination of ATC directions and pilot errors. ATC likely directed a short approach which started pretty high making it difficult for the pilots to properly stabilize the approach. The inexperience of the pilot in command contributed to the issue because it took him longer to make all the complex adjustments, get the gear down, flaps down, get on the glide path at the proper airspeed and complete the landing checklists and he lacked experience to recognize what was happening. The PIC got behind the aircraft and by the time they realized the sink rate was way to high they where to low and slow to recover. They landed way short.

        This is an old story, told time and time again. A flying aircraft does not wait for the pilot who doesn't keep ahead of the situation. Landing and take off phase of flight are fast paced (compared to other phases) and also the least forgiving of falling behind. The PIC fell way behind and failed to fly the aircraft properly. He failed to recognize the danger and deal with the problem and was lucky to survive. In this case I don't think ILS wold have mattered.

        • Re:NO (Score:4, Insightful)

          by sabri (584428) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @11:39AM (#44424059)

          To be further in tune with the facts here.... There are more approach aids than the ILS

          Any of these *should* have been enough to safely land.

          And that is the problem. Visual approaches are becoming increasingly difficult for the magenta addicted flight crew. If a heavy gets directions from ATC which will make their life very difficult, she (the pilot announcing the go-around was female) must have only one response: "unable".

          • Re: NO (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Mabhatter (126906) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @12:04PM (#44424501)

            This was brought up in the other crash, that ATC keeps giving exceedingly difficult directions because the AIRPORT has allowed the nearby area to be unsafe... Don't disturb suburbs, malls, and factories that weren't built and shouldnt have been zoned when the runway was built because "they'll feel bad".

            So they issue increasingly dangerous commands to pilots and just expect them to turn on the robot. Then the airport doesn't keep it's maintenance up or scheduled construction and TURNS OFF some the electronic aids used by the robot... Yet doesn't modify the instructions to make them safer.

            The previous crash brought up that this standard approach is more like somebody screaming "TURN NOW!" From the backseat...as a matter of "common practice" again, because it "upsets" neighbors zoning allowed in the flight path not because of technical need.

            • Re: NO (Score:5, Insightful)

              by bobbied (2522392) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @01:03PM (#44425475)

              ILS approaches take time. You have to set up to intercept the final fix at a specified altitude with the aircraft flying the right direction on the localizer. This final fix is usually about 5 miles out and 3,000 AGL. Flying a full standard ILS approach is not normally done because it takes at least 5 min to establish on the localizer going outbound, Cross the outer marker, do the outbound leg and procedure turn to get yourself on the localizer and glide-slope before you cross the outer marker again. Even a "radar assisted" approach takes 3 or so min to get you on the localizer and glide-slope at a set altitude over the outer marker.

              Why do I go though all this? To tell you that turning off the ILS on a clear day is not a factor here. They simply do NOT fly ILS approaches on clear days at busy airports. Nobody has the time. They fly visual approaches almost exclusively because it's faster and easier. They may have the ILS approach configured and may actually look at the needles during the approach, but if you are flying visual approaches, you spend more time looking out the window.

              ATP pilots are usually quite capable of flying their aircraft in very difficult circumstances. The experience and training required to be rated in a large commercial aircraft are pretty high. The folks who meet these requirements are fully capable of flying with or without the automation and must demonstrate their abilities before they are allowed to sit in the cockpit. Flying visual approaches without automation (ILS or otherwise) is not a problem for these guys. Some are better than others at this, but everybody can. It's basically how everybody starts learning how to fly. Small single engine land aircraft fly these kinds of approaches nearly every time and most pilots learn to fly in single engine aircraft.

              What is a problem is that ATC many times asks pilots to do really dangerous things. Flying short, steep and unstabilized approaches makes automation pretty much useless. Given this new revelation, it seem to me that ATC procedures contributed to this accident. I don't think that we have a case where dependance on automation is a problem. What we have is ATC asking pilots to do dangerous things when low and slow. This accident isn't about the ILS being turned off. The weather was clear, nobody would have used the ILS had it been on anyway.

              • Re: NO (Score:5, Insightful)

                by sabri (584428) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @01:31PM (#44425815)

                What is a problem is that ATC many times asks pilots to do really dangerous things. Flying short, steep and unstabilized approaches makes automation pretty much useless. Given this new revelation, it seem to me that ATC procedures contributed to this accident. I don't think that we have a case where dependance on automation is a problem. What we have is ATC asking pilots to do dangerous things when low and slow. This accident isn't about the ILS being turned off. The weather was clear, nobody would have used the ILS had it been on anyway.

                When ATC gives you a clearance which you can't comply with, any PIC has just one answer: "unable".

                Many of these carriers are mandating their pilots to use automation, so the ILS being turned off is a major issue, regardless of them having 250 hours in a SEP/MEP.

                And again, the only person responsible for the safety of any flight in a servicable aircraft is the captain. He can override ATC at any time, of the safety of the flight dictates him to do so. All he needs is to declare an emergency [youtube.com].

            • Disagree (Score:5, Informative)

              by mha (1305) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @01:56PM (#44426127) Homepage

              Sorry, but I learned to fly at San Carlos airport (next to Redwood Shores, right adjacent to SFO airport and airspace) so I know a little bit of flying AND the area. I cannot see anything "unsafe" in the approach to SFO. Ofc I don't fly a "heavy", so if a pilot of one of those wants to disagree I'll bow to superior knowledge. But as long as there is no ("heavy") pilot who disagrees I'll say the only thing a LITTLE bit difficult is the approach over water.

              However, even that is not an issue, you should have learned an easy way to track the point where you are going to touch down without ANY technical aids (we are talking visual approaches here, and visibility is near perfect in that area almost most of the time, esp. during the day): Keep your head in a position that you can easily remember and fix a point on the runway over a fixed point in front of you inside the airplane. When you look from your fixed head position over the fixed point inside the cockpit to the point on the runway it should not move. If it does (up or down) you are going to over- or under-shoot. That works independent of what the actual sink rate and speed (ergo the angle) is, always.

              But then, my very own flight instructor later asked ME to demonstrate when I went on to learn aerobatics (i.e. "real flying") - turned out the "professional" pilots hardly ever do anything but "straight & level". Also, 5000 hours does not seem a lot if most of it is spent not just "straight and level", under computer control, and "at altitude". Only while maneuvering, incl. take off and landing, do you exercise flying skills. I said "flying skills", piloting skills include a lot more of course, from talking to ATC to calculating course, fuel, etc. etc. What those "professionals" seem to lack is good old FLYING SKILLS. It may sound strange from a lowly "small airplane pilot", but when I read that that Air France flight from Brazil went down because the pilots wanted to pull up when the airplane was in a stall (or close) - FOR MINUTES!!! - I really couldn't believe it - with some solid (small airplane!) training every pilot knows that you can never, ever pull UP to get out of trouble unless you have excess speed to trade for.

              That doesn't mean I could fly a big airplane (wouldn't even be able to start it I guess), but while it does not matter to anyone that I lack the skills to fly a big airplane it matters to all passengers if the pilots cannot FLY (not "pilot") their airplane. I mean "fly" as in "without computer".

              Is there an airline pilot here? I'm curious, what would you say about the FLYING skills of (big airplane) pilots? It seems that in the US the situation isn't bad, that this is an Asian (or Korean?) problem, and as I read it in an aviation forum not necessarily one of culture (at least not any more) but of many variables, including how easy it is for a lot of people to get to fly privately in the US vs. small countries like S.Korea, so that when a S.Korean wants to become a pilot they start from zero and do the training with an eye on the cockpit jobs (ASAP ofc, time is money), so no time/resources to do "fun flying" (like acro, which really, really teaches to fly). Then there's that even if you go into the job with good skills, how much is left after 10 years of mostly computer-aided careful "by the book" flying? How many pilots keep their (low-level) flying skills sharp by flying a small airplane in their spare time, to do "fun stuff" and "unusual attitudes and maneuverer"?

              • Re:Disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

                by Hobadee (787558) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @03:26PM (#44427353) Homepage Journal

                I'm just an armchair-sim pilot, but IMHO the KSFO approach is SUPER easy compared to some other ones. There aren't really any turns for noise abatement or any other weird things like some approaches have [youtube.com]. All planes are basically put into 2 single files lines south of SFO, turned towards the runway, (28L or R generally depending on if they are arriving from the East or West) and go. Contact SFO tower when they are over the San Mateo bridge, and that's it. Fly straight and on the correct glideslope, nothing out of the ordinary to worry about. Occasionally ATC will ask them to change runways, so they should have the charts for the alternate ready to go, as well as the autopilot ready to re-configure, but that probably only happens 10-20% of the time. (AFAIK it didn't happen for the Asiana flight, not sure about this one.)

              • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Informative)

                by MrEdofCourse (2670081) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @03:35PM (#44427453)

                I learned to fly at San Carlos too (and Palo Alto... West Valley Flying Club).

                Take a look at:
                http://webtrak.bksv.com/oak [bksv.com]

                Put in 7/23/2013 and 8:45pm Look for EVA28. It will be a large purple plane coming in from the top left of the screen passing over the center of SFO at 11,000'.

                The plane that crashed did the same thing. It pass over SFO at high altitude (common) and then turned cross-wide while rapidly descending. I live in Portola Valley and lived in Palo Alto... You can hear planes doing this because they make a very distinctive whooshing sound as they deploy flaps and decelerate.

                EVA28 got to 600' and aborted landing between the San Mateo bridge and Coyote point.

                I've heard from a 777 pilot, and this seems plausible to me... that this plane has an automated mode where it will auto-throttle when you're coming in for a landing, allowing you to pitch only and letting the plane handle the throttle.

                The problem is on rapid descent, pilots will disengage the auto-throttle. If they fail to re-engage it... they'll pitch up as they're getting too low and expect the auto-throttle to kick in. When it doesn't, there isn't much time to realize it's off and either turn it back on, or throttle back up.

                Worse, throttling up in these jets takes a while to kick in.

                600'... if the description of the auto-throttle situation is correct... wow, that almost splashed.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Actually, that is possible given the ILS is NOTAM'd as non-operational. Just because it's non-operational doesn't mean "it doesn't work", it means "it doesn't work properly". There have been documented accidents where the primary cause has been reliance on an out-of-service navaid that just happened to be spewing navigational information.

        And it's not to say the authorities don't TRY to warn people - first, the NOTAMs are part of every flight package on commercial carriers (even if it wasn't, it's still requ

      • by medv4380 (1604309)
        If it's miss calibrated, or spoofed an accident is going to happen. A properly trained pilot does what the instruments tell him, and doesn't trust his eyes with the exception of the instruments that are outside like the 4 red lights near the runway. People who don't fly by instruments are novice ultra light pilots who can get away with it in some weather conditions, or have the unfortunate luck of the instruments breaking mid-flight.
      • by dogsbreath (730413) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @02:02PM (#44426203)

        No dependency on computers necessary for people to do stupid things. We blame automation but incompetence, failure to follow procedures, complacency, and dysfunctional cultural norms (ethnic or professional) are often a major contributor to disasters.

        At a desert oil production station (Gialo) in Libya in the 80's a pilot crashed an LAA F27 passenger plane carrying field workers when he attempted a landing on the old runway instead of the new one.

        The day was perfectly clear: not a cloud in the sky. Visibility was extremely good. Virtually no wind.

        The old runway had been dusted over with crushed white Saharan calichi which made it fade into the surrounding background of light tan hardpan and sand. To further discourage use of the old runway, loads of rock had been dumped in piles down the centre end to end.

        The new runway was inline with and off the end of the old. Brand spanking new asphalt, black as midnight, complete with high contrast runway markings and looking like big black stripe on a pale background. A blindman in a snowstorm could not miss the dang thing; it fairly screamed LAND HERE.

        The NOTAMs were updated properly and anyone flying into Gialo would see the runway info as the first item.

        Nonetheless, the pilot made his usual approach over the station like he had done many many times previous and did not realize the mistake until he was just about to touch down. Pulled up but a wheel caught a rock pile and he pranged the nose into the old strip. Go figure.

        No one was killed and as far as I saw, they all walked off. One fella (a Brit of some flavour) had been sleeping and stepped out saying 'What's all the fuss about?". We turned him about and, gazing at the bent props, crushed nose and broken gear, he said: "Felt like a regular landing to me."

    • Re:NO (Score:4, Informative)

      by deck (201035) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @11:04AM (#44423553)

      As a professional pilot, I have to agree that this seems to be a case of poor pilotage whether they were using the autopilot or not. This goes less to being under trained and more to complacency on the part of the flight crew. I would hazard a guess that the pilot of this one also had thousands of hours of flight time just as the pilot of the Asiana flight did (about 10,000 hours for the later). When flying an airplane one MUST be aware of where they are in the four dimensional space and where they should be; the term for it is "situational awareness". The "are" can be of the flight crews own making or caused by other factors and the "should be" may or may not be attainable. When the "are" is other factors and the "should be" is not attainable then it is a true accident.

  • by JeffSh (71237) <jeffslashdot.m0m0@org> on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:27AM (#44423043)

    copy paste from a forum poster at the link:
    =====
    @ Roly final thought
    By LW on Sunday, Jul 28th 2013 15:45Z

    +++Failure to use all available aids, even during a routine VFR approach is a crew or training issue.+++
    =====

    Planes don't fly themselves... yet. An experienced and attentive pilot is still necessary, who'd have thought?

    • Planes don't fly themselves... yet.

      Frankly I wish they'd bite the bullet and finally get the pilots out of the cockpit of commercial airliners altogether, and just use remote control from a central control centre for each airline, or better yet, each airport. Similar to the harbour pilots, specialise in their own harbour. You don't need a pilot in the aircraft for 99% of the trip, so you'd save an enormous amount of labour across the fleet, even if you had four or more remote-crew controlling each approaching-landing aircraft. (Even then, th

      • Frankly I wish they'd bite the bullet and finally get the pilots out of the cockpit of commercial airliners altogether, and just use remote control from a central control centre for each airline, or better yet, each airport.

        So when these systems lose radio contact with the plane, then what? The plane just flies around until communication is restored? Fuel tanks are finite in size.

        No matter how automated planes become, there will always be a situation where someone needs to pull levers and push buttons.

      • Re:copy paste (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cheesybagel (670288) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @11:24AM (#44423835)

        I prefer to have the pilot in the transport plane. This way if it crashes they die too. It is a pretty good way to convince them to fly properly.

      • by jbwolfe (241413)
        Would you want to fly in the back of one? Pilots do more than push buttons. They're paid for their judgement and experience- something an autopilot will never replace. I've got 25 years of what I contend is priceless professional experience the majority of which is not related to manipulation of flight controls- that's what you you should be filling the cockpit with.

        With judgment and experience, a pilot can know whether a climb is better than a descent, what route is best to avoid, if taking extra fuel

  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@aol.cTWAINom minus author> on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:27AM (#44423049) Journal

    In short, no, there is not. There is a problem with the airline putting inexperienced dumbasses in the left seat to save money.

    • Ten or so years ago I got into an ugly argument with a Libertarian buddy about pilots on strike at the time. Him and another friend were of the mindset that if the "market" set the price for pilots at $20K/year, then so be it. Well, the market is literally setting the price at $20K (as was the case for that copilot in the NY icing crash), and we're reaping the rewards of it.

      I was a flight simulator nut years back and I just can't see how a pilot can allow themselves to get that far off the glide slope wit

    • by sabri (584428)

      In short, no, there is not. There is a problem with the airline putting inexperienced dumbasses in the left seat to save money.

      That is the structural problem. A lot of pay2fly, inexperience crew and magenta addicts on the flight deck. It is no longer an incident, it is a structural issue. At least the FAA saw that and increased the minimum flight time from 250 to 1500. That's 1250 hours more stick and rudder before you get access to a flight deck (I hope).

      • An increase is good and bad. More experience is usually a good thing from a safety perspective, but it does mean it's harder and more expensive to get someone to the point where they can be on the flight deck. That expense drives up airline costs, though it might push air cargo and charter flight costs in small planes down a bit as more pilots compete for limited flight hours there.

        The number of pilots in training in all paths (military and private) is declining, so the pool of pilots qualified to make ba

  • by JeanCroix (99825) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:28AM (#44423053) Journal

    Is there a structural problem with computer-aided pilot's ability to fly visual approaches?

    Parse fail. I've even had my 3 cups of coffee and I got nothin'.

    • Is there a structural problem with computer-aided pilot's ability to fly visual approaches?

      Parse fail. I've even had my 3 cups of coffee and I got nothin'.

      Either

      "Is there a systemic problem with the ability of pilots these days, using computer aids, to fly 'visual approaches' (not ILS-controlled descent; manually controlled, looking out the window)?"

      or

      "Is there some structural problem with the plane or airport that inhibits the pilot's ability to fly a visual approach while using computer aids?"

      I think the answer to both is no. Landing a plane like this is complicated - however, pilots are trained to do it. They still make mistakes, but usually the worst re

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:29AM (#44423063)

    is to ban all airplanes. Because of the children.

  • Pop some popcorn (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:30AM (#44423087)

    Time for a 500 post thread saying the same 3 things:
    1) I am not a pilot but here is why the pilot was wrong
    2) There is a problem with Asian pilots since they weren't loved enough by their mothers
    3) Hey don't be racist, Asians are just good at different things than Americans

  • by TFoo (678732) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:39AM (#44423207)

    Yes, they were below the glidepath, and yes they blew the approach and had to go around: but this is hardly seconds from disaster or even a close thing. 600' at a normal approach speed is not "close" to the ground and 3.8 NM is more than 3 minutes at Vref which is certainly adequate time to respond.

    These kinds of things happen and the only reason we're even hearing about this one is that it happened at SFO 28L.

    I expected a little less sensationalism and a lot more intelligence from slashdot.

    • by Dwarfgoat (472356) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:42AM (#44423259) Homepage

      I expected a little less sensationalism and a lot more intelligence from slashdot.

      You must be new here. ;)

    • by TFoo (678732)
      My Bad: 3.8NM is just about 2 minutes at Vref, not 3 -- using 130kts as a placeholder (ie 2NM/min). Point still holds.
    • by Ethan Black (2746369) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @10:52AM (#44423399)
      4 NM / 140 knots = about 1.7 mins (Like the summary says). Not more than 3 minutes. Just a little nitpick; your overall point is still correct: 2 minutes is a LONG time in this kind of situation. Possibly embarrassing for 777 pilots to be doing while in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions). Definitely NOT newsworthy. (I fly for a living, missed approaches happen).
    • by Dynedain (141758)

      Ummm.... I thought the summary clearly stated that they were a few minutes from the runway, but less than a minute from impact. In other words, they weren't going to make it to the runway by quite a margin.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Descending from 600ft at a rate of 500ft per minute only takes 72 seconds. You can't spool up and recover from a steep decline like that in a matter of seconds. It wasn't an emergency yet, but there was no time left for an argument or misunderstanding either.

    • Yeah, but ATC had to tell the crew, "hey dude", you are coming in too low. This is good of the tower to give them that help, but it is like your passenger calling out to you that you are about to drive off the road -- it is really the pilot's/driver's responsibility to stay on path. If your passengers are calling out warnings of impending crashes to you, you might want to better look where you are going.
      • by asylumx (881307)
        Ultimately it's not the tower's decision if the plane is safe, it is the pilot's. The tower is probably being a bit over cautious as a result of recent events. It's actually much more like a passenger saying "You're heading straight for that tree!" when the tree is a quarter mile ahead of the car and the road curves before it gets to the tree.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Yes, they were below the glidepath, and yes they blew the approach and had to go around: but this is hardly seconds from disaster or even a close thing. 600' at a normal approach speed is not "close" to the ground and 3.8 NM is more than 3 minutes at Vref which is certainly adequate time to respond.

      These kinds of things happen and the only reason we're even hearing about this one is that it happened at SFO 28L.

      I expected a little less sensationalism and a lot more intelligence from slashdot.

      Yeah, well it's still seconds from disaster. I boarded a flight to JFK once that was delayed due to a mechanical issue, if we had taken off, we would have been only 20,000 seconds from disaster... it was a close call.

    • I would suspect that on approach with a lower speed and only 600ft off the ground, any large plane IS seconds away from disaster mainly because at 4NM out, it's not certain the the landing approach is clear of towers, buildings etc.
      • by jkflying (2190798)

        The approach on SFO 28S is over water, so that isn't an issue. The problem was that they were descending still, and would have hit the water long before making the runway if the ATC hadn't yelled at them.

        • True there is probably no obstacles over water. It does make me nervous that pilots are not watching their altitude and speed on landing.
    • by Bucc5062 (856482)

      I agree overall, but quibble on one point. 3.8 NM at 140 Kts may be minutes from threshold, but 600' above ground is cause for concern. The are still descending at @ 500 fpm which would indicate if they continued the current FP they would land in the water within a minute. At 600' above sea level there is still a reaction time to factor in (hey OMG WTF) as power is applied (first I hope) then pitch is changed to stop descent. At that point they may be even closer to the water (400' even) and that is not

    • It's been a while, but when I used to play flight simulators I think I was always at 2000' about 2 NM out based on the manual. That sounds DAMNED low to me.

    • by sabri (584428) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @11:53AM (#44424291)

      Yes, they were below the glidepath, and yes they blew the approach and had to go around: but this is hardly seconds from disaster or even a close thing. 600' at a normal approach speed is not "close" to the ground and 3.8 NM is more than 3 minutes at Vref which is certainly adequate time to respond.

      There are several reasons why this is an important story:

      - Yes, they were more than two minutes from touchdown, but that does not mean two minutes crashing: the descent rate determines that, and according to Flightaware, they were descending at 480ft/min. Which gives a little over a minute before crashing;
      - They were way below the glideslope on a visual approach, and apparently not aware of it. It took ATC to warn them, with a little over a minute to spare; If anything would have blocked that radio transmission (another station, perhaps: remember Tenerife), they may even have hit the water;
      - They were headed for the same runway as the Asiana flight, under the same conditions: ILS unavailable, but other aids still working (especially PAPIs). This simply shows that the crew lacks the experience to safely conduct an approach and landing under these circumstances.

    • by Moskit (32486)

      It was seconds, about 60 of them ;-)

      Technically title is right, but I concur it is purely sensational, driving viewcount like bad newspapers.

    • Yes, they were below the glidepath, and yes they blew the approach and had to go around: but this is hardly seconds from disaster or even a close thing. 600' at a normal approach speed is not "close" to the ground and 3.8 NM is more than 3 minutes at Vref which is certainly adequate time to respond.

      You're calculating time as horizontal distance to runway. That's irrelevant. The critical figure is the vertical distance to ground figure. They were below the glide path which means they were closer to the ground than they should have been. What's the descent rate? How much time did they really have?

    • by Kozz (7764)

      I expected ... a lot more intelligence from slashdot.

      See, as for myself, I was kind of hoping for a fourth re-post of the GPS spoofing story.

    • but this is hardly seconds from disaster or even a close thing. 600' at a normal approach speed is not "close" to the ground

      So TFS says that they were descending at about 500' per minute. I think it's uncontested that on that glidepath they were going to hit the water. So, then, can you please calculate how much time they had left before the power of their engines would have been insufficient to change their momentum and vector to avoid hitting the water?

      • It's worse (Score:5, Informative)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @12:49PM (#44425251) Homepage Journal

        responding to my own post because I looked at the data [flightaware.com].

        At 1500 feet they were descending at 2220 feet per minute. I assume this is when ATC freaked out. By 800 feet they were 'only' descending at a rate of 1920 feet per minute. By 600 feet they were still descending at 420 feet per minute. The next measure they were still at 600 feet but ascending at 900 feet per minute. So somewhere between 600 feet and going down and 600 feet and going up, they were below 600 feet. The data resolution is every 15 seconds, so roughly speaking they probably hit 500 feet on the way down.

        Assuming the decrease from 2200 FPM to 1920 FPM is the first indication of a correction, it took them 1000' of altitude to correct their rate.

        So, based on their initial rate of 2200 FPM and a 500 foot "cushion", it looks like they had 13 seconds "extra" to spare, and at that we need to figure in how much higher the transponder is than the landing gear and figure in wave height. Somebody buy that ATC a beer (after work).

        11:54PM 37.5516 -122.2160 298&#194;&#176; West 167 192 2,500 -840 Descending FlightAware
        11:55PM 37.5571 -122.2290 298&#194;&#176; West 166 191 2,300 -1,200 Descending FlightAware
        11:55PM 37.5629 -122.2420 299&#194;&#176; West 174 200 1,900 -1,560 Descending FlightAware
        11:55PM 37.5687 -122.2560 298&#194;&#176; West 180 207 1,500 -2,220 Descending FlightAware
        11:55PM 37.5747 -122.2700 298&#194;&#176; West 182 209 800 -1,920 Descending FlightAware
        11:56PM 37.5800 -122.2830 297&#194;&#176; West 166 191 600 -420 Descending FlightAware
        11:56PM 37.5858 -122.2970 298&#194;&#176; West 173 199 600 900 Level FlightAware
        11:56PM 37.5922 -122.3120 298&#194;&#176; West 188 216 1,100 2,340 Climbing FlightAware
        11:56PM 37.5950 -122.3190 297&#194;&#176; West 187 215 1,500 3,600 Climbing FlightAware
        11:57PM 37.5981 -122.3270 296&#194;&#176; West 199 229 2,000 2,700 Climbing FlightAware
        11:57PM 37.6047 -122.3450 295&#194;&#176; West 224 258 2,600 1,500 Climbing FlightAware
        11:57PM 37.6116 -122.3630 296&#194;&#176; West 230 265 2,800 720 Climbing FlightAware

  • If we are going to have a news article every time there is a missed approach, Slashdot should be renamed.

    • by g01d4 (888748)
      The assumption seems to be this type of missed approach (too low & VFR & large commercial airliner & modern airport &c) is rather rare. The likelihood of two of these events at the same airport is thus small enough that the OP suggests it may not be random.
  • Tune in to KTVU San Francisco. I bet they have the names of the flight crew. Probably the same guys.

  • Even if there was a problem with the auto-pilot, AFAIK it's illegal to land on auto in the continental USA...?

    • by MiG82au (2594721)
      No, not at all. There are Category IIIb approaches in the US, which is an autoland and rollout.
  • See this take on the problem from Aviation Week:

    http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/AW_07_22_2013_p25-597816.xml [aviationweek.com]

    Pilots are like anyone else, if they lean on a crutch long enough they forget how to walk. Then if the crutch turns out to have a fault, boom!

    • by jkflying (2190798)

      Or if you take the crutch off-line for repairs. We've already had one boom, and this was almost another.

  • Is there a structural problem with computer-aided pilot's ability to fly visual approaches?

    Not sure of the specifics of this incident (VMC or IMC), but there's no "structural problem" with automation and visual approaches. It is more likely simply an issue of training- about limits of automation and flying a visual flight path.

    The automation can be used as a aid during a visual approach, but one must be familiar with how to set up the FMGC/FMC. Training costs money. Sim time is a limited and costly resource and managers are always looking to save a buck. Safety and profit are often opposing metr

  • since the approach to SFO is over the bay.
    • by asylumx (881307)
      600 MSL (mean sea level) which is probably pretty close to 600ft above the surface of the water near San Francisco depending on tides.
      • by oobayly (1056050)

        If you're having to check the high water times when landing a 777, you're probably doing it wrong! But just to be on the safe side, I'm going to start check the Southampton airport QNH when I go sailing.

  • There is a valid point here about VFR vs IFR experience. But it works both ways...
    Pilots who spent minimum time on VFR then went straight to lots of IFR-intensive commercial jet flying tend not to look out of the window so much, and even then don't always correctly interpret what they see.
    Pilots who spent, and still (typically as a hobby) spend a lot of time flying VFR can still make mistakes, (a long, wide runway is easy to confuse with a short, narrow one, for example), but generally would be the ones I'

  • by linuxbert (78156) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @12:13PM (#44424679) Homepage Journal

    I suggest you read this post from a former UAL Pilot and Flight instructor for Asiana:
    http://originalforum.justhelicopters.com/DisplayThread.asp?BD=2020564&Page=1&ForumID=23&msgid=2020564&OM=2020564&Return=DisplayThread.asp&D83jsd=True [justhelicopters.com]

    In short, the culture in SE Asia produces pilots who are well trained to operate an aircraft as a piece of Machinery, however are unable to "Fly".

  • by cybergrue (696844) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @12:19PM (#44424783)
    There is a long history of this type of incident at SFO. Check the Accident section of the Wiki entry, [wikipedia.org]. Probably the best known of these types of incidents was the Japan Airlines Flight 2 incident in 1968 [wikipedia.org]. The pilot landed his plane in the bay 2.5 miles short of the runway. Amazingly, there were no injuries, and because the he landing gear was extended, most of them didn't even get wet. I was going to say everyone walked away, but actually they had to wait for boats to pick them up. Furthermore, the plane was salvaged and returned to service.

    When asked what happened, the pilot stated "As you Americans say, I fucked up."

  • This tells me that ATC was engaged in a "hurry up you guys" approach processing. Seems likely that the controller was pushing to maintain spacing and make the best use of the limited runway. This lead to controllers creating difficult flying conditions by not getting aircraft lined up well and entering final approaches far enough out, or not allowing for speed and altitude reductions far enough in advance. This makes it extremely difficult to get a large aircraft into landing configuration on a stabilized

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