Top Letters And Comments, November 16, 2018
B737 MAX Crash
Paul, From a 14,000 hour ATP rated pilot that has flown all B737 types (except the Max), my guess is that your guess is right. Crews these days rely so much on information that when a glitch happens their minds turn into jello and become passengers themselves. The same effect happened to AF447 that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean after the crew failed to identify that the A330 was in full stall condition. Basic flying skills are gone. Students are learning to fly in G1000 equipped aircraft and then transition to highly automated airlines. The industry knows this, but it seems that it is cheaper for insurance companies to pay for accident claim onde in while, than it is to rever back to old fashioned training. And life goes on...
Boeing ultimately remains responsible for system designs that may confuse and retard corrective reactions by the crew. Airbus designed a confusing, and not quite ergonomic, flight control system on the A330 and others, where the right seat did not know what the left seat "stick" position was for pitch or bank. So damn basic. Bad design will bite every time. I can see it now. A fix or fixes, PR cleanup, blame the PF.
We tend to jump on foreign maintenance and pilots executing sub-standard performance as the first source of an overseas aviation accident. I noted the terms of "cannibalizing" old airliners for parts in one of the news releases regarding this accident. Kind of hard to cannibalize a new airplane series. I believe we might find a competent crew flying a properly maintained, almost new airplane, executing perfectly an emergency response to what was initially thought a runaway trim situation. Boeing and the FAA need to be as thoroughly investigated as will be Lion Air, the crew, and maintenance. Somehow, i have the feeling the FAA and Boeing will not have the same scrutiny.
What's worse than some black box that's trying to be "helpful?" Multiple black boxes, EACH of which is trying to be "helpful." Accountability is the bedrock of autonomy. When it comes to non-autonomous automation, woe betide the poor shepherd who oversees a herd of earnest and helpful but unaccountable cats - er, boxes.
Having lived and flown in Jakarta, I can comment on some of the unique factors surrounding accidents there, including the Lionair and Adamair 574 situational-awareness losses. Being on the equator, visibility is always limited due to haze and clouds. Being at the end of the world, spare parts are routinely cannibalized from other airliners. And not being native English speakers, some nuance is lost when pilots learn new systems and procedures (though one of the Lionair pilots was Indian, so may have had more fluency.) My suggestions are: 1) CRM in case of a problem should be that one of the pilots looks out the window vigilantly. 2) Captain VanderBurgh's videos should be translated to Indonesian and added to their training syllabus. Unlike the USA, there's only a few flight schools in the country, all oriented to the professional pilot. I don't have any answers for Surabaya, which is prone to torrential rains resulting in standing water on the runways, thus overruns. Just avoid it.
The stabilizer can kill. Auto trimming, when it malfunctions, can kill. Direct control to elevator and stab should always be available. The mindset of designers is to protect the system from pilot mistakes. This is actually worse than the best solution, which is the availability of raw data and basic control untweaked by air data. Also better information and training. We had to get to this basic debate eventually. Seems as if both Airbus and Boeing (Embraer?)need to be regulated by FAA, and the other certifying agencies. This is not a case of Luddism, but rather an over-ambitious and arrogant design industry. Trouble is that they seem to wish to get rid of pilots. Money again.
How is it possible for a major aircraft manufacturer to install a flight control system in the aircraft and NOT inform the pilots? If this kind of mistake can make it past FAA scrutiny then what purpose does aircraft "certification" serve?
This is not the first time a manufacturer forgot to inform the pilots. In december 1991 SAS flight SK751 with a pretty new MD-81 had an emergency landing near Stockholm because of ice sucked into the engines. The pilots weren't able to throttle down the engines due to new software that prevented throttling down during flight at altitude. The plane crash landed on a snow-covered field, but all survived. Some organizations are seemingly too big to handle even essential safety-related information.
Is Diamond's Hybrid-Drive Electric Airplane a Good Idea?
My answer would be a combination of 'Yes, the industry has to go in this direction' and 'Wouldn't pure electric be a better idea?'. Of course the latter would be near perfect and might one day be what we are flying with. However, the value of developing and supporting hybrid systems now is evident. It acts as a technological driver (gathering experience, jumping-off point for more advanced ideas and systems, proof of concept) and a solution that can work practically now or at least very soon. It is better than doing nothing until the hoped-for perfect solution arrives, which it never will (even full electric propulsion will have its downsides and distractors).
Vegas Tower Controller Incapacitated
Ponder this for a moment....said controller already worked 8 hours that day too. She was back on a mid shift after a meager 8 hours off since her last 8 hours at work. Consider this....the FAA continues to be derelict and negligent in considering multiple studies from the likes of NASA about fatigue and the schedules controllers work. Studies also show, that a controller that has worked 16 of the last 24 hours is the equivalent of drunk when they drive home from that mid shift. All facts based on studies from reputable third parties. Hope she recovers from whatever ailment she encountered. Of course these opinions are of my own belief and all that jazz and not of the Agency itself.
As a former FAA (center) controller when it comes to staffing at FAA facilities when it comes to the public ignorance is truly bliss. The FAA has always placed the bulk of its controller staff on daytime hours (6AM-10PM), as that's when the majority of traffic is flying. During that same time period is when most of the supervisory staff works as well. However, beginning after 10PM, and from midnight until 6AM (the "midshift"), staffing is usually pared to a bare minimum. And that supervisory staff that the FAA thinks is so critical during the day is reduced to a single manager at the centers (who can't even see the controllers he's overseeing without wandering through the control room). At smaller facilities there is often no manager. The result is during midshift hours controllers are often working alone. That means if they need help for any reason (including a medical emergency) there is often no one immediately on hand to assist. Thus, although unfortunate, it's not a surprise that this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.
My heart goes out to the controller who became ill and I hope she makes a speedy recovery. It will be interesting to get more information on the underlying safety net, I am sure there is more to this than meets the eye. I would be amazed if no pilot went to another frequency or a cell phone to call for help as the controller was obviously in some difficulty, if not pain. I hope that we learn from this event, perhaps a process is put in place to allow lone controllers to call for assistance when they are in difficulty, or requires them to check in periodically. When I worked in an industrial laboratory we had a lone worker protocol that ensured our safety and ability to call for assistance.
Pilot Error Cited In Fatal C-130 Crash
Like most accidents this event could/should be used as a case study for basic root cause analysis and Human Factors training. Yes the MX Team did not use the specific tool that the technical orders call for, but the article does not go the next step by stating - Why. They couldn't use it because all but one of the Wing's tools were out of service. Yes the Flt.Crew may not have been prepared for the flight, but there is plenty of blame to go around. In my opinion the Wing Command (CO, MX Officer, Engine Shop Leadership, etc.) is more at fault for not supplying the maintenance crew with the proper tooling, and for sending them on a mission that they could not complete I/A/W all orders.