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Air Asia Pilot Response Leads To Plane Crashing (wsj.com) 226

hcs_$reboot writes: The investigation took a year, but we finally know why Air Asia Flight QZ8501, en route to Singapore from the Indonesian city of Surabaya on December 28 last year, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board. The crash was caused by a combination of system malfunctions and improper pilot responses to cascading electrical and rudder-system problems. A cracked solder joint on the Airbus A320 resulted in an electrical interruption that caused computer-generated warnings of a rudder malfunction. The problem occurred four times during the flight. The first three times, the flight crew responded according to standard procedure, investigators said. The fourth time, however, the flight-data recorder indicated actions similar to those of circuit breakers being reset. That led the autopilot to disengage. Investigators said the crew was unable to react appropriately to "a prolonged stall condition," ending in the crash. The investigation points to weaknesses in pilot training in dealing with upsets, or when an aircraft is angled greater than 45 degrees.
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Air Asia Pilot Response Leads To Plane Crashing

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  • by joncombe ( 623734 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @07:57PM (#51037351) Homepage
    However whilst the mistake the pilots made is serious it is just as serious in my view that the plane was permitted to fly in this condition in the first place. It seems the problem with this particular plane was well known and had been happening (at least) for a number of days since but had not been fixed.
    • by ChuckieG ( 4297219 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @08:24PM (#51037525)
      In pilot lingo "issues" like this are called squawks and I would speculate that many commercial carriers (part 135 under FAA) fly with them every single day. I've flown on an AA MD80 with an engine that had to be started with an external APU (starter was broken), SWA 737 with a missing flap track fairing (one of the pylons out on the wing). Inoperative instrumentation is common too. Nothing surprising about this plane flying in this condition. The problem is the pilots didn't focus on the three objectives, drilled in training (in order): Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. Fail on #1 while they were playing with circuit breakers and silencing alarms. The GA stuff I fly has inop equipment all the time (especially rentals)
  • 23 times (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @07:59PM (#51037365)

    They had the problem 23 times in the last 12 months it says. For real? Maybe it might have been a good idea to fix it?

    • Lax airline, pax don't relax.
    • Air lines have to pay out of their own pockets to get something fixed, if the plane falls out of the sky, the insurance will pay for it.

      While that is cynical boiling down of the issue, the airlines do try to squeeze out every penny out of their routes and that does include (well documented across the business) lack of training and lack of maintenance.

      Complain about the lack of qualified candidates and churn out as many pilots out of schools regardless of their passion or grades as you can so you can pay the

      • On the other hand, unless you have a close-to-exclusive lock on some desirable routes, it can't be inexpensive to have your brand and 'hundreds dead in air crash' splattered across all major media for some days. Sure, the absolute odds are low; but if I'm looking at a list of more or less interchangeable flights between point A and point B; am I going to choose the one whose logo is subconsciously associated with huddles of grieving family members and NTSB officials thoughtfully scrutinizing piles of mangle
        • In fact i don't buy the "it is cheaper for a crash". Often a single incident is enough to run an airline out of business for just the reason you described alone.
          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            You made me think... I can't think of any major airlines that have had that happen to them in a long time. I can't even think of any smaller ones with just one exception and that was the Concorde and that wasn't *entirely* to do with the crash. There might be some puddle-jumper companies that have just two planes and one crash results in their going out of business but I can't think of any and Google's not being very helpful. Am I missing something? You said "often" and "single incident" and I really can't

          • Sure but by that point the bits of management that made the cuts have a good chance of working for someone else.

  • I don't think I've ever been in a passenger jet where any angle ever reached 45 degrees (or more). It seems insensible to train for unlikely scenarios, and even less sensible to expect a pilot to respond properly to very unlikely scenarios quickly and accurately. I'm not sure I can google "proper procedure for A320 rudder malfunction" and get a response before I'd be dead....

    • Especially since the first 2 minutes would be spent trying to enter your credit card information for the wifi while trying to keep the laptop (and credit card) from falling to the back of the plane...

    • Re:Say what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by ChuckieG ( 4297219 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @08:14PM (#51037457)
      It's called unusual attitude training and even the lowly private pilot has to go through it before getting the VFR ticket. Attitudes in excess of 45 degrees don't crash a plane. The anomaly sounds like a perfect case of distraction that consumed the pilots' attention and they crashed a malfunctioning, but flyable plane.
      • Sure I am aware of that, and clearly they have tested this plane in its ability to handle that. But the precise procedures for handling the condition would appear to vary from plane to plane, and it seems the role of a passenger pilot would reduce the operating range of the plane from "anything it can do" to "anything it would reasonably do". Clearly the imaginations of everyone involved didn't conceive of this scenario, and clearly the procedures required for the A320 are very different that require more t

    • Training for unlikely scenarios is the whole point of having human pilots. If we were willing to accept a crash every time something went wrong, we'd just let the computer run the whole show.

      • Humans are terrible at it. We should have let the machines do this ages ago.
        • by gnupun ( 752725 )

          From TFA:

          The global airline industry has been struggling to sharpen flying skills at a time cockpits are becoming increasingly automated. Several accidents have raised concerns that pilots lack the skills to respond to emergencies that simulators can't replicate well.

          The lazy humans don't want to learn a skill that can be done by a machine.

          It wouldn't be surprising if this kind of accident were to occur when automated cars are here because the driver won't know how to drive and the automated car can't hand

    • I train my students ALL THE TIME to deal with bank angles past 45 degrees. It might not be everyday flying with passengers aboard, but anyone confused by it should never be at the controls of any kind of airplane.
    • The problem is 2 fold. One as you say it almost never ever happens. Even that "experienced" pilot with thousands of hours under his belt as probably never been in a uncontrolled 45 AOA situation. So all that experience is worth shit. The second is physiology. We tend to refuse to believe reality when the shit hits the fan.

      Same things happen in nuclear power plants. Operator, "That can't be right, that would mean we will get a melt down. That simply won't happen on my shift, clearly the instrument is wron
  • Reporting bias (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @08:05PM (#51037395)

    I love how the headlines on CNN (and now WSJ) lead with "Pilot Error" but the BBC leads with

    Faulty equipment was a "major factor" in the AirAsia plane crash last December that killed all 162 people on board, Indonesian officials say.

    AirAsia crash: Faulty part 'major factor' [bbc.com]

    Yes the crew were not fully trained, but according to Airbus the plane couldn't get into the situation it was in, so why train pilots for that? Also the faulty part had been faulty for a significant amount of time. This flight was not the first flight that had issues with the particular equipment.

    • They should train pilots for that because planes are enormously complex engineering devices that sometimes do things that designers and engineers can't anticipate. We're not even talking about exotic events here - just basic knowledge about how to fly the plane under quasi-manual control without putting it into an uncontrollable drive. Oh, and also train them not to pull circuit breakers that are control critical flight surfaces just because you saw a mechanic do it while the plane was on the ground.
    • Re:Reporting bias (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @02:06AM (#51039055)

      Yes the crew were not fully trained, but according to Airbus the plane couldn't get into the situation it was in, so why train pilots for that?

      The plane can't get into that situation while the computer is in control. The Airbus flight computer has a final mode where it basically tells the pilots, "I give up, you fly the plane." Usually this mode kicks in when the computer is getting contradictory information from the instruments (AF447 where one or more of the pitot tubes clogged, causing simultaneous overspeed and stall warnings). So since it's possible for the pilot to end up in full control of the plane, it is imperative that they train for every likely situation. (AF447 crashed because while in this mode, one of the pilots continuously pulled back on the control stick almost the entire time the plane was in a stall, thus keeping it in the stall.)

      That said, several of the recent automation accidents seem to be caused not by the automation itself, but by the crew misinterpreting what mode the computer is in and/or misunderstand what the computer will and will not do when in that mode. Asiana 214 [wikipedia.org] crashed because the pilots thought the computer was in a mode where it would auto-throttle to maintain altitude, when it was in a different mode. TAM 3054 [wikipedia.org] crashed because the thrust reverser on one engine was inoperative so the pilots relied on the autothrottle to slow that engine to idle. But when they moved the other engine control to idle then reverse (to deploy its thrust reverser), that disengaged the autothrottle which caused the other engine to spin up to the full throttle setting it was set at.

      It would probably be worthwhile for the major airliner manufacturers to get together and standardize the automation modes and what is/isn't controlled in each mode. Then pilots can be trained against a consistent standard instead of having to re-learn all the automation when they change aircraft (what the second pilot was doing in Asiana 214 - if both pilots had been experienced in the 777, one of them may have noticed the error). The way it is now, it's like on one plane pulling back on the stick makes it pitch up, while on another plane pulling back on the stick sometimes makes it pitch down.

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @08:08PM (#51037409)
    And you'll have a good idea on the skill level of many international commercial jet pilots. Air France 447, Asiana 214, and now Air Asia QZ8501.
    • Hmm the selection of pilots is by far stricter than the selection of programmers. And good programmers make no bug :-)
    • This is an uninformed and incorrect opinion.

      Airline pilot training has a huge emphasis on 'debugging'. Twice a year (I think - not 100% sure) they have several days of simulator training/testing where sadistic trainers throw dozens of complicated failure scenarios at them.

      Airliner safety has improved hugely in recent decades. (The USA recently went over a decade without a passenger jet airliner crash either on USA soil or USA flagged carrier.) New technology has played a large part, yet the proportion of cr

      • I wasn't referring to training. I was referring to the pilots themselves. I've trained lots of programmers how to debug and some of them just don't get it. Sure they'll be able to solve issues that directly relate to problems they've been trained to solve. But they lack a holistic, intuitive sense of the system they're working with and that shows when they're faced with problems that don't neatly fit within their training.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          You don't want pilots to debug in mid-air. That's what often causes these accidents. You want them to follow procedure.

          Japan's high speed rail network, the Shinkansen, has never had a fatal accident, despite being the first such network in the world (started running in 1964) and having to deal with regular severe earthquakes and extreme weather. One of the reasons is that drivers are taught not to do anything but follow procedure. They aren't even allowed to work from memory. When a fault occurs they have t

  • "You crash it wrong".
  • Is it my imagination or is this sort of thing happening a lot with those airbus planes? "Lot" being a relative term, I suppose, since the vast majority of the planes never have a problem. But it seems like there have been several high profile crashes lately that seem to be the result of a shitstorm of the pilots and the computer fighting one another. It takes a pretty long time for a plane to fall out of the sky like that -- more than enough time, one would think, for either the pilot or the computer to rea
    • int a_lot = 2; // This one and AF447
      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        Has it really just been two? I'd swear I'd heard of at least three or four in the last five years, but maybe I'm just getting confused since you hear about the crash and then they release their findings so much later it seems like a new story.

Try `stty 0' -- it works much better.