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Emirates A345 Tail Strike Captain breaks his silence

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Emirates A345 Tail Strike Captain breaks his silence

Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:00
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I'm not too familiar with the weights and speeds of the A340, however, if an error of similar proprtions, say 275 against 375 tonnes, was made to the aircraft I am familiar with, the 737-800, 55 against 75 tonnes, I am sure the 24kt difference from the normal V1/Vr would have been glaringly apparent. I might not be folwing SOPs strictly here but one of the first things I do when I sit down is to compute in my head an approximate Vr for the estimated weight and set that in the MCP panel. (It is almost always in the 135-155 range) If the speed later computed by the FO is more than a couple of knots different from that which I have in my window, I will get both pilots to re-check the calculations.

I'm afraid the Captain cocked up good and proper. If he was unduly fatigued, then stay in the hotel, call in sick and accept that you will be having tea and biscuits back at HQ. In future, Captains will be able to quote the experience of this unfortunate Captain when they have a similar sleep pattern.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:05
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Thing is, there is no technical reason that the aircraft weight cannot be determined automatically and cheaply. It really, *really*, is as easy as taking the bits out of three 10 set of domestic scales and glueing them on to the undercarriage legs.
Actually quite a few aircraft already have them installed as an optional extra but for economic reasons they were not very popular. It's not as simple as a 10 set of domestic scales and there were big reliability problems with the system of strain sensors. They can also be wildly inaccurate in different ambient conditions.

Assuming one doesn't fly out of places where baggage handlers would get bribed to overload aircraft, the system is not needed as it's just another cost.
Much like how CX and AA decided switched off their logo lights at night to save money, even if there are safety implications.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:10
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100 ton take off weight input error?
Now there's a safety device they could easily design into the system. The computers know how much thrust the engines are set for, the time the thrust's been on, and the speed achieved. Acceleration=Force/Mass, a simple task for the computer to compare expected speed against actual and alert the pilots to the discrepancy.
For gross weight errors this could probably be detected during taxi thrust, certainly in the first few seconds of the take-off roll.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:29
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a so called acceleration alert. That's what most modern business jets already have installed, so I was told.

But cockpit technology in airliners always lags behind a little, mostly because of their long life span and the commercial pressure.

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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:42
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I think this highlights the need for a gross error check before you blast off. There aren't that many things that will quckly kill you on an attempted departure (dramatic failures excepted).

Correct flap setting? Ballpark thrust? Right runway/intersection? Everything else is icing on the cake.

I can fully sympathise with the lack of proper rest - I don't know anyone in LH who doesn't suffer from that every now-and-then; it's also very rare to go 'crew fatigue' as you think you're letting the side down (or in some airlines, setting yourself up for a disciplinary). Most of us say something like: 'Had a sh!t night, let's take this slowly and watch me carefully.'

I wouldn't condemn the Captain out-of-hand, especially as he may not have said all that was reported in the article, or even in the manner it was written. Does seem to be slightly lacking in the 'mea culpa' department, though.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:47
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An employer disabled the weight and balance system on their 747F Classics because it was too unreliable and expensive to maintain. The system on the 744F continued in operation so these systems have been available for some time.
However, just having a readout of weight does not preclude the possibility of a transcription or calculation error unless the weight and balance output is applied directly to the FMS and engine control.
I have never seen a system such as TiiberiusKirk proposes. I'd have thought it would be very cheap to produce and may be of real value. CAA may, of course, want their cut for certicication. Back in the day, I believe the V Force used a line on the runway as an acceleration check - oops a black car has just pulled up and six big guys in black suits are getting out

p.s. posted before reading Dani's comment.
Oh, yes, wasn't the original article a load of pants.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:54
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You are absolutely correct. Fatigue is the real enemy and one that most airlines still treat rather glibly. One size does not fit all and every individual is different in how they handle fatigue.

No amount of technology is zombie-proof.

Simplicity is the best protection. I have average Vr numbers for average TOW's/sector times written on a laminated card in my wallet. It is the first thing I look at when I strap in. If the deus ex-machinus gives me a number that is 5kts away from this it is time to re-check everything.

Computers are fine but commonsense is the only thing that provides adequate insurance.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 09:33
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I have always thought that "go crew fatigue" is rather a dumbed-down phrase, more often (but not exclusively!) used by the less well informed than by professional Flight Crew. In my opinion, it certainly contributes nothing towards properly describing the real situation.

It is a fundamental legal responsibility to ensure that you are properly rested before flight and the Operator's FTL Scheme should always be a good guide. However, as a professional, the final decision is yours. On the few occasions where you have to exercise this discretion, it will surely be because of "insufficient or inadequate rest".

Neither are you "letting the side down" - such decisions are simply one aspect of the overall decision-making processes required by the privileges and responsibilities of a professional licence holder.

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Old 16th Jul 2009, 09:47
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Feel sorry the lads only get 24 hrs in MEL after a 14.5 hr hop. So, 29ish hours flying with 24hrs off in the middle!

I guess if the miminums weren't good enough, they wouldn't be the minimums.

Chatting to an ek f/o in zrh crew security and he was saying emirates are king of the 24hr night stop!
(even after the super hop to JFK!?)
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 09:58
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I wonder what happened to the FO of this flight.
I guess he was not forced to return to his country because he was a local of emirates.

I think there are lots of factors that contributed to this and one of this is Flight Ops- Dispatcher/Crew Scheduler. But the PIC has still the right to remain in his hotel as mentioned by one pruner above. It's not just the PIC's right, its also the right of the paying passengers to be safe.

But i don't know how the system works, the loadsheet/CFP and other Flight documents are given to the PIC and he signs this document and adjusting his instruments accordingly, trims and other stuff. Does this mean the docs are only signed without being cross checked with their instruments properly? how does the system work? can someone elaborate the process of handing over the loadsheet, then cross checking the calculation, then setting the instruments then the last one, his (PIC) signature.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 10:26
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I'm really concerned about some of the comments here. Is the aviation industry really so far behind in safety mgt? I always thought it was the leader. Maybe I was wrong.

This is clearly a fatigue issue, and it seems that the responsibity lies in the culture of the company. Companies should not absolve themselves of responsibility by sacking people who have made human error. The root cause of this is a working environment which results in a pilot feeling the need to work when fatigued. I will never fly emirates if this is the company culture.

The bravado comments sheeting blame home to the pilot are ignorant in the extreme. I hope you don't fly the planes I travel in.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 11:07
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sorry but why is this a fatigue issue??

the captain says he only had 3.5 hrs sleep in last 24 (Margaret Thatcher as Brirish PM allegedly had around 4.0 per night, some people function like that), he said he had almost 100 hours in last month, he said the ML-Dubai flight was a long and tiring flight etc etc....

but where did he EVER, EVER say the flight patterns and hours per month and associated time changes/varied sleep patterns as LEGALLY rostered by his employer created a fatigue issue for ALL the pilots in his company??

He NEVER does, nor does he EVER state an acceptance that he screwed up as PIC - "it's all just a mystery how this happened."

Sorry but NO - it's bloody well not!

And for any other PIC's who are happy to take the dough but don't understand what responsibility is all about - do aviation a favour and f**k off and become a public servant.

Rant Over!
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 11:20
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I have never seen a system such as TiiberiusKirk proposes. I'd have thought it would be very cheap to produce and may be of real value. CAA may, of course, want their cut for certicication.

It exists. Essentially it alerts the pilot if current acceleration/speed/distance remaining are not matching performance expectations. The work was carried out recently by a defense company as proof of concept, i'm not sure if it got taken any further. A similar project to warn pilots early if the stopping distance exceeded the runway available was scrapped as it couldn't be made to work reliably.

I'm not sure the system also warns if the AC was drastically out of trim, which would surely be the other problem with an inccorrect entry on the W&B sheet?

I know that the difference between correctly trimmed and unflyable is relatively small in my SEP, especially on a hot day. Out of interest, just how much would a weight entry error of the sort seen a Melbourne affect controllability in a big jet - i.e. how great are the margins between out of trim but controllable and unflyable?


Last edited by Captain Calamity; 16th Jul 2009 at 11:22. Reason: grammar
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 11:30
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galdian - because there is a significant body of research that demonstrates that sleep deprivation can threaten competent decision making. And Margaret Thatcher didn't fly passenger aircraft (although she probably thought she could).

Any management framework that allows pilots to fly in a sleep deprived state and then sacks them for human error is unacceptable. Your other comments don't reflect what I said and are not relevant.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 11:38
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you will never, ever see a real-time weight read-out for a commercial flight
Wrong, dead wrong, and rubbish, assuming you class freighters as commercial flights. Systems have been around for years, certified and reliable ones at that, as attested to by posters on various threads who have experience. Just do not pass muster with bean counters.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 12:00
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"There should be no doubt: there is still no substitute for a properly trained, professional flight crew. They are the goalkeepers of aviation safety. BUT on the other hand, no matter how hard they try, no matter how professional they might be, no matter their care and concern, humans can never outperform the system which bounds and constrains them. If in contest, system flaws will sooner or later inevitably defeat individual human performance".
This quote came from the book BEYOND AVIATION HUMAN FACTORS ( by Dan Maurino, James Reason and others). It mainly describes the excellent investigation of the "Dryden accident " in Canada on March 10 1989.
In other words, it's like a Football(or soccer) match. The aviation authority are the forwards, The Company are the defenders and we, the flight crew, are the goalkeepers. If the authority or the company don't do their job of putting the proper safety systems in place, then the Threats and Errors will come directly at us and inevitably a "goal" will be scored on us.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 12:09
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No obstacles and 4 running engines!

It was nearly catastrophic with an 80cm high a/f lighting fixture..... and all 4 engines pushing!
Despite the assertion that "commercial flights" can't or won't use strain guages to ascertain take-off mass, I believe that such a system should be mandated at the ealiest possible opportunity. All modern aircraft have the ability to determine temperature, altitude (but not weight),and an EGPWS database from which the FMS could calculate the required climb gradient.
This would not obviate the crew from having to calculate the take-off data themselves, but it would certainly prevent the kind of gross error that occurred at Melbourne/Jo'burg etc.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 12:52
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The pilot comments that he has regularly flown from Melbourne, presumably with the same type of aircfraft. Would he not of noticed that the power settings were somewhat on the low side?
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 13:33
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I think the design could do with a rethink. If the plane has the capability to weigh itself accurately (this I'm not sure about), alarm bells should start ringing if "Thrust set" does not equal a "reasonable" power setting for that weight anyway. Obviously many factors come into such as DA and OAT but we have the perf information to hand! A lot of advanced logic which goes beyond what I'm proposing is already implemented inside Airbus aircraft. The variables are already in digital format ready to use. All that would be required at the software level is a tried and testing lookup table. Power setting / Agreed GW error > 10% = ECAM Warning. Fool proof.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 13:39
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I've picked up a second transmission from EARTH, seems to be a bit easier to read than the first one:
Why [does] everybody here think that they are god's gift to aviation and sort of an alien pilot from outer space who is error and mistake free?

All you can do in this job is learn from others' mistakes and hope you will be here long enough to learn all the mistakes, which will never happen, we all are limited in our abilities and this shows in everything we do whether it's driving a car or any other machinery: so as long as you are limited like the rest, you have no right to criticize.

Just sit back, relax and learn so you will not be the next story. This profession as you all know is not like any other, so keep it simple, learn as you go along and try your best to keep it safe, and trust me your best will not be enough sometimes, the other option is to quit and do your affordable errors somewhere else.

Safe flying to everybody the god gifted, experienced, new and specially to the alien pilots.
Learning from mistakes? Yes, of course... But this one seems to crop up a fair bit and its consequences can be very severe indeed.

It's one of the few killers that doesn't (in most airline operations) have some sort of backup warning system, as others have posted. Going to fly into an unexpected mountain? GPS & EGPWS. No flaps? Config. warning. Big storm off the end of the runway? PWS, etc. I'm sure it COULD be done, after all, all it has to do is warn of impending doom: "You're not gonna make it!". Unfortunately it probably died a death somewhere deep into cost/benefit analysis...
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