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Learning the Lessons of Flight AF447 – the problem with pilot errors and training

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It was just after 2am on the 1st of June 2009 when Air France flight number AF447, an Airbus A330-200 with 228 people on board, suddenly went missing with no explanation. The authorities mounted a search as soon as they were aware of the problem, and within hours found wreckage that indicated the aircraft had crashed into the sea. However it was only after an intensive two year search of the sea bed that the flight recorders were found, and the story they told was almost unbelievable.

The cause of this horrific mid-ocean crash was a tripping out of the autopilot at 35,000 feet, triggered by the icing up of the aircraft’s airspeed indicators (pitot tubes). Once the autopilot disengaged, the pilot flying the plane inexplicably and fatally reacted by pulling back severely on the sidestick, which sent the plane into a full on stall, resulting in a plunge into the sea 10 minutes later.

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This tragedy may prove to be a seminal event in air transport, mostly due to the questions that are now being asked about pilot training and the use of ever more automated systems on modern aircraft. The situation has been made even worse by the realization that these sorts of crashes – LOC-I, or loss of control in flight – have been occurring for more than 20 years, and have affected a wide range of aircraft models. Is there an increasing disconnect between modern jet aircraft and their pilots, and if so is it endangering passengers?

As the article in FlightGlobal states at the end…“The industry knows pilots are not getting the training they need for flying modern aircraft in a fast-developing, increasingly intense environment, so the question is: should they train more, or train differently? Because they cannot stay the same.”

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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