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Air France A330-200 missing

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Air France A330-200 missing

Old 4th Jun 2009, 06:10
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Several people have asked why a malicious act has not been mentioned - much - as a possible cause.

First, because the only hint of it was a single bomb threat - against a different flight - in a different city - two countries and 1000nm away - 3 days earlier.

Second, because there was a clear and obvious threat to the flight from the tropical storm line across the planned, reported and airway-defined flight route - and close to the wreckage site.

If someone walks into busy traffic and falls down dead, the general response will be to try and figure out which vehicle hit him - not look for a possible sniper on a surrounding building. What are the odds?

Third, because there is not much that pilots can do, outside of barring the cockpit door, against terrorism or a bomb that got through security. A pilots' forum is naturally going to focus on the things within their speciality and experience that could go wrong and could be fixed in future. Procedures, skills, planning, equipment, and aircraft design.

@PJ2: I'm not sure why you are so doubtful about the route of flight as plotted against the weather charts. It was the route planned, it followed an airway, it was confirmed en route by the aircraft reporting INTOL and expecting TASIL in 50 minutes, on that airway, and the wreckage is fairly consistent with an extension of the line INTOL/TASIL, allowing for wind and other drift. It is possible that the aircraft diverted, or even turned around. But there is no evidence of it, and the other evidence is in favor of the plane following the route as planned. Best evidence rules.

On the subject of lightning, yes, The Weather Channel did check 2 lightning plotting networks which both recorded no strikes near the AF447 presumed flight path. At the same time the meteorologist also said that lighting bolts can follow CB anvils up to eighty miles horizontally (in his experience) - and that the networks occasionally miss strikes. So it is absence of evidence, not evidence of absence. Not persuasive either way.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 06:22
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Lightning data

Data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) spacecraft Lightning Imaging Sensor. I have not caught the Wx channel sources in the last half hour so don't know who they are quoting. Correction, caught it, source World Wide Lightning Detection Network. The data below shows none near the area. I looked at prior and post date also, same. But here could be gaps.

Lightning and Atmospheric Elelectricity Research at GHCC Data source

Lightning and Atmospheric Elelectricity Research at GHCC Data

Last edited by etesting2000; 4th Jun 2009 at 12:40.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 06:23
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Has modern equipment eliminated or reduced this phenomena?
A very reasonable post, Dan.

I fly with the latest radar units, dual installations, pulse Doppler capability, lightning detection, vertical slicing of the target, and so forth. With a cell of sufficient size and water content, however, such as those present in a well-developed line along the ITCZ, attenuation is inevitable, at least as far as I know. The tell-tale radar shadow behind the scan is a place most of us fear to tread.

In our experience, a thorough weather brief from a competent dispatcher, an appropriately cautious flight plan routing, even at the cost of precious extra fuel, plus the very recent addition of an in-cockpit internet connection that provides us near real-time satellite and radar composite snaps of severe weather areas, has proven most effective where avoidance becomes key.

That is not to say Air France does not have this already in place. One can only speculate at this point.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:13
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This equipment is selectable SFE on A330.
QFA : Northrop/Litton
AFR : Honeywell
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:25
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RE: Manual report of "hard"(trans?) turbulence

Originally Posted by wes wall
Why would the Captain do this? A question to those still flying.
Some companies require a position report sent manually to Ops, every so often(e.g. every 3-4 hours), in addition to ATC positon reporting. Fixed format, with spaces for wind/temps, and toggle-able WX condition:



If this was their practice, then it wouldn't be execptional, just routine....
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:25
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There is an AF pilot in one of the papers today claiming it "has to have been" a bomb, because "I have been flying these aircraft for 10 years and a lightening strike would not bring one down". He also mentions the bomb threat received a few days before which caused a 2 hour delay whilst the aircraft was searched, although he acknowledges that this was on a different route. The pilot wished to remain anonymous - I wonder if that is because of the airline's previous MO for dealing with pilots who speak against the party line following an incident, or if the paper is just making the whole thing up.

Either way, as has been mentioned elsewhere on this thread, the airline were unusually quick to come out with a likely cause IMO.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:25
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Best evidence rules.
I'm not convinced there is any such thing as "best" evidence, yet - that's my main point. I concur with all your points but that doesn't yield an accurate position - it only surmises.

The point regarding the routing is minor but the claim of the Vazquez preso for example, is that the route depicted IS the route taken and it's not necessarily so. He himself cautions that all positions after INTOL are "extrapolations". Videos and animations are very powerful tools these days but can be quite incorrect depending on a number of factors. The Vazquez animation is very good as is his analysis and may turn out to be highly useful if not accurate but we should not permit ourselves to assume that such is the case at present, at least not without supporting data. We do not know where whatever-happened-to-the-aircraft, happened. The unreliability increases with time after the last position report of course, but you knew that... ;-)

In the end we may not have the luxury of much data and will have to draw conclusions based solely upon what we are seeing today. I truly hope that that does not turn out to be the case.

Normally (over land or closer to land), we would have a wealth of other information such as radar/transponder plots and ADS positions (in areas so equipped). We would have ATC records and we have always had an accident site. The evidence (this, the ACARS and anything else), is so thin that it is important to verify all of what is available as strongly as possible.

That's all...I realize and understand the kind of informal rule-making regarding evidence that's going on at present. In the end it may be all or partially correct but at the moment no one can say. At the same time many here and elsewhere are drawing conclusions anyway. Go figure.

With such little evidence, the extreme desire to determine what happened by a number of "interested" parties carries, I think, a certain risk, the first of which among many, is hind-sight bias.

Last edited by PJ2; 4th Jun 2009 at 07:45.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:31
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This equipment is selectable SFE on A330.
QFA : Northrop/Litton
AFR : Honeywell
The Qantas incident reports says that faults also run in systems above this.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:36
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I'm wondering if the preflight planning or any discussions the crew had preflight might reveal the start of the chain that caused them to accept the flight plan.They must have studied the ITCZ wx and based their plans on that.

1. Would a flight plan rerouting direct to say west Africa then north be unavailable to 2 engine ops due to the long overwater leg ? Maybe not.

2. This leaves an alternate route to the north west of South America, with an enroute fuel stop which may have flightime limitations or even be impossible to reroute around the ITCZ considering its forecast size.

3. Have a go using radar to find a hole in the ITCZ. Maybe closer inspection will see if AF447 made any deviations. Nearest airways are along way away (UN866 and UB623). Crews turn off airways for a few miles without contacting ATC in a non radar environment. Especially allowing for the hassle of using HF radio when flying the aircraft is priority No.1.

4. If no luck in getting through then the possibility of dropping into Recife ( an AirFrance station in my days) for a replan.

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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:43
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I'm not familiar with the FBW systems on any of the Airbus models, but hopefully someone can help me with this question. If the pilots were to manually shut down the flight computers (suspecting they were going haywire and compromising the safety of the a/c or to try to put the aircraft into Direct Law to contol it themselves), would ACARS send error messages stating that the computers had failed?
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 07:50
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would ACARS send error messages stating that the computers had failed?
No, the message sent would be that the computers had been turned OFF. ACARS reports of failure modes are almost always accompanied with text messages of the fault(s).

That said, there are no procedures in place for the crew to turn the flight computers, (PRIMs, SECs) off to "gain control of the airplane" - it doesn't work that way on any 320/330/340 type. The QF experience may or may not modify that.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 08:04
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Thank you PJ2

Thanks for your insight. I'm just trying to figure out how the computers could have failed in rapid succession, provided the unofficial reports of the ACARS messages are correct.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 08:09
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Those who talk/ask about re-routing at the flight-planning stage aren't fully aware of the operational realities of a longhaul operation.

If pilots were to ask dispatchers to route them around all the forecast areas of ISOL/OCNL CB activity that is in every SIGWX chart, there'd be absolute bedlam in every dispatch office. Some airlines even persist in choosing a route that takes you straight through an enroute cyclone/hurricane/typhoon.

It falls to the flight crew to assess the weather and order enough fuel to allow them to divert around individual/clumps of TS cells as they encounter them enroute; if your planned route takes you through an area of forecast ISOLated Cumulo nimBus, then you'd expect to uplift enough extra to go around one or two cells - not hugely inconvenient. But, however, if your flightplanned track looks like it will go through an area of OCcasioNaL CB, then it's time to think of taking a decent extra amount, in case the forecast is accurate and you wind up quite a way off track.

Some system failure or multiple failures of an extremely complex nature has befallen the crew on this occasion; I personally would very much doubt whether lightning had any contribution to play. My money is on probe icing or a dud ADIRU. The QF crew were fortunate enough to have been in day VMC for most of the event - which made their excellent handling of the failure that much easier. Night IMC would make it an entirely different proposition.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 08:43
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What were the tops?

I've seen tops above 60,000 ft at the equator. Accidental penetration of shorter columns can be violent. On the A310, you can loose both tat probes and loose Sat for a time with ice. This happened to us once going through a benign looking arm of weather a hundred miles from a typhoon near Borneo. The yaw dampers popped off followed by the autopilot. The Airbus autothrottles went bezerk so had to disconnect those. All airspeed was lost. It got very noisy from HAL screaming about wind shear and other incorrect imagined problems. All three Altimeters disagreed so we didn't know which was right. A few minutes later in clear wx everything came back. Like nothing happened!

My theory: I never had this happen in any boeing or douglas aircraft. I beleive airbus probe heating is occasionally weak (again, just compared to boeing.) I feel airbus automation actually increases pilot workload (AW&ST) Aug 1995, which is of course, exactly the opposite of how this equipment was originally marketed.

Composite tails are a concern also. FAA certification does not require full deflection capability in both directions I was told as was the case with AAL A300 in New York attributed to pilot error. Old Boeing iron however, has this capability: engineering far exceeding the minimum FAA certification specification. A few 747 era Boeings and DC-8's survived jet upsets that resulted in supersonic dives. I'm not sure todays composite airframes could do it? Are you?

These are just my opinions only. I never flew the A330.

Crunch - Out
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 08:55
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I've seen a few suggestions that the weather radar may have failed. However, the crew is supposed to have sent an ACARS message saying they were flying through CB. Bearing in mind the flight was at night, doesn't that suggest that the weather radar must have been functional? Or could they have detected the CB visually even at night?
Old 4th Jun 2009, 09:04
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There is too much fixation on what exactly must have happened in this accident. Experience shows that it takes up to 5 contributing factors to end up in a fatal accident. One might be governing, but the others, if sequential or additional, contribute the rest to make it unsurvivable. Accidents like this one, with so little hard evidence up to now, and most probably for a very long time, are extremely hard to analyze in this respect.
Another thing we see is the debating of one single factor on a general, sometimes theoretical level. Sure enough every pro has his view of the things, but even he is basically a Monday morning quarterback, as the decision during the game is required on the spot, without handy close-up replay function. Any action or decision might be the third best option theoretically, but could be the best, worst or only one in real time.
The Swiss cheese model tells us that the holes might become lined up and that we must constantly try to mitigate this. The holes might look random from all our different angles, but they might have just aligned for the poor crew in question. Their angle of the circumstances is very difficult to duplicate.
Such factors/ holes would typically be: Crew training, crew experience, crew composition, sops, aircraft design. Subsequently flight planning, severe weather, fuel/load decisions, company pressure, fatigue and on top of that your bad day and simply bad luck.
There is the tendency to try to blame one or maybe two factors, but to actively forget the others.
It is a matter of perspective and interest. Keep that in mind.
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 09:07
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The icing hypothesis

One hypothesis that has been raised in this forum is that severe icing might have had a role to play in a series of events in this disaster. How severe would airframe/pitot icing have to be to overwhelm the A330ís anti icing and de-icing systems? Are there any icing case studies on the A330 or other Airbus aircraft? What weight do the Airbus pilots on this forum give to this hypothesis?

I am hard pressed to find any reportable severe icing cases on medium to large commercial jets (of any type) in the last ten years (regional turbo props etc. being the exception).
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 09:25
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Hello all,

Quote from bugg smasher:

a thorough weather brief from a competent dispatcher, [...] the very recent addition of an in-cockpit internet connection that provides us near real-time satellite and radar composite snaps of severe weather areas
I fly for Air France, and both these things are NOT available to us...

We do have SATCOM though, and regularly receive wx advisories from our Ops during flight, warning us of CAT, severe wx or other flight risks ahead of us.

There seems to be no doubt that the A/C entered a monstruous CB, but the only question, to which we probably will NEVER have a definitive answer is : How did they end up in there ?

ALL crewmembers were very thorough professionnals, one of the F/Os even had responsabilities as a "Pilot-on-watch" at our Operations center, and was extremely aware of the dangers of such flights (as were - no doubt - the other two, which I didn't know personnaly...).

As we all know, it's never just one thing... It's a sequence of events...
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 09:29
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While PJ2 sleeps, may I inject yet another call on his behalf for some sanity on this thread?

We need more reliable info on the supposed 'ACARS' messages and MEL items for starters. Regarding 'catstrophic event' theorists, the info on the 'ACARS' messages we have indicates a slow but steady degredation of the systems over some 14 minutes (at least) with ACARS system power for all of that time.

I find it surpising that there has been no mention here of 123 (or even 121) chat regarding the ride and weather cells which I would have expected (and made myself) on that route. Do none of our posters have any info on actual route conditions at the time? Did any 'similar' traffic make significant route deviations?
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Old 4th Jun 2009, 09:35
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I still think people are losing sight of the fact that when transiting the ITCZ, sometimes there is NO ideal way through. You've gotta punch your way somehow and that route depends on what looks better on the radar and outside.

But we don't, and may never, know what happened

Let's wait to see what the profesional crash investigators say, rather than rattle off all manner of tosh.
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