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South African Airways A340-600 hitting Alpha floor on departure

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South African Airways A340-600 hitting Alpha floor on departure

Old 23rd Mar 2021, 10:23
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South African Airways A340-600 hitting Alpha floor on departure

Apparently a SAA flight that was operated by "heroes" according to some media outlets in South Africa, had a rather serious occurance on departure out of OR Tambo.
When SAA flew the A346 to Brussels to fetch the vaccines the crew did their own loadsheet. They miscalculated the TOW by 90 tons, as in 90 tons less. By the grace of God it limped into the air. When the crew started retracting the flaps it went into alpha-floor.
The aeroplane sent an AIMS report to SAA, who sent it to CAA, who decided to assist SAA in covering it up.
Unfortunately for them, the aeroplane also sent an ACARS to Airbus and to Rolls Royce who want to know why the aeroplane went into alpha floor after take-off. So the cat is out the bag.
More information coming to light. An initial inquiry meeting was scheduled for this past Tuesday, 16 March. This meeting was postponed until Thursday 18 March, to be attended by SACAA & SAA.
Reports from within the establishment indicate the crew involved refused to attend the meeting. They’re claiming the event never occurred. The race card was played. They claim (are you ready for this?) “the aircraft lied.”
Spoke to a mate of mine who was/is an A340 driver at SAA. He confirmed that this did in fact happen BUT not all the facts are out about the story it’s all still unfolding!
The crew involved apparently refused to attend the hearing.

On the way back from Brussles they also had a noise abatement infraction.
There was an issue on the takeoff from Brussels as well. European airports require a standard noise-abatement which maintains a speed of just above the V2 safety speed to 3,000 feet above the airfield, with a reduction from Take Off power to Climb thrust at 1,500 feet. This requirement is specifically for large jet aircraft.
Our ‘hero’s’ ignored or likely forgot this requirement and went barrelling off the south-west (25 Right) runway, accelerating at 1,500 feet and achieving 266 knots at 2,600 feet, well outside the noise abatement envelope.
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 12:51
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I'm thinking there was some confusion between the A330 and A340, it wouldn't be the first time.
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 13:13
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Sounds like some rather pathetic excuses for a "cock-up". Also if in trouble bring out the "joker" (race card).
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 14:12
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They miscalculated the TOW by 90 tons, as in 90 tons less
Wondering if 90 tonnes less was the ZFW for this sector?
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 14:14
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Also, probably by the grace of Airbus, they did not scrapped the tail before limping into the air.

Not familiar, but I understand that there is a protection to avoid that, doing a "minimum unstick" test, in case the numbers inserted on the FMGS are somewhat raw.

Last edited by zerograv; 24th Mar 2021 at 12:54. Reason: Removal of incorrect info
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 17:16
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The EK 407 was a 345, not a 346. I've flown both but I can't any protections on either to prevent a tailstrike.
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 17:36
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Google might be your friend:

Not Operator specific but...

Tail Strike Detection

Page 28 refers.

..and from the Melbourne incident:

Electronic centralised aircraft monitor tailstrike indication

The aircraft was equipped with a tailstrike detector that was mounted on the underside of the rear fuselage (Figure 20). When the sensor detected a tailstrike, a single chime caution tone and an amber TAIL STRIKE message was generated on the upper electronic centralised aircraft monitor (ECAM) engine/warning display (Figure 21). The caution was inhibited until the aircraft had left the ground to minimise flight crew distraction during the critical take-off phase. Figure 20: Tailstrike sensor location Source: A340-500 FCOM Vol 1

Full Document: Melbourne Incident

Last edited by Imagegear; 23rd Mar 2021 at 17:53.
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 18:01
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SAA on order by South Africa's Government had conducted the flight to pick up vaccines from Brussels. The flight had originally been scheduled for Feb 18th 2021, however, South Africa's CAA did not grant permission claiming that the pilots were not current due to SAA not operating flights due to Covid Pandemic and other local issues surrounding SAA. However, after some additional training the CAA granted permission for the flight to take place departing on Feb 24th 2021.
Using ZFW as take off weight by mistake is a definite possibility, if the crew were used to flying the A330 then the weights and speeds might have seemed okay.
I would doubt the crew were used to flying anything for some considerable period. Especially given the state of SAA recently.
After such a long lay off time for ultra caution and triple checking everything!!
Behaviour after disappointing but predictable ......
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 18:27
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What you mention seems to be an indication, or an advisory, that the event happened.

As I wrote, not familiar, but have the impression that the A340-600, and the B773, have software developed specifically to prevent tail-strikes. Don't have the FCOMs of either, so can not say.

Found this on PPRuNe, by Goat Whisperer, on 5th Aug 2015

When the A340-600 was introduced it was the longest airliner airframe, and it had anti-tailstrike software
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 20:11
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Some of the political controversy surrounding the flight from a local media source:

SAA’s Vaccine Flight to Brussels Raises Questions, Says DABy
SAPeople Contributor
Feb 26, 2021

The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it will submit a parliamentary question to Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Public Enterprises, in order to obtain full details of the costs and reasons for the use of a large SAA jetliner to fly to Brussels to collect a small consignment of apparently only 80,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses. UPDATE:

“It would clearly have been considerably cheaper to use the services of a normal commercial freight carrier from Brussels (rather) than the estimated cost of some R5.5 million of sending an empty jetliner all the way to Belgium and to return with a payload that could apparently be carried in a one-ton bakkie,” said Alf Lees – DA Member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts – in a statement on Friday.

According to Nonny Mashika, Deputy Director-General for Aviation at the Department of Public Enterprises, the flight to Brussels was carrying freight. However, says Lees, that freight seems to have not been of a commercial nature and consisted of spare parts for the aircraft being used, in order to avoid delays if the aircraft needs repairs en route or in Brussels.

Lees claims the flight “clearly” had two main purposes:
  1. To pass more taxpayer funds to SAA as yet another bailout; and
    • to create an event to “relaunch” SAA into the sky.

“Whilst the estimated amount of R5.5 million that the Brussels flight will cost the taxpayer is relatively small when compared with the R31 billion bailouts over the current three years contained in the SAA business rescue plan, it must be compared with the desperate needs of businesses failing and jobs being lost as a result of the ANC imposed and irrational Covid-19 lockdown regulations,” said Lees.

“We anticipate that the arrival of the SAA vanity vaccine flight from Brussels on Saturday, 27 February 2021, will be greeted with great fanfare and media attention. The message will clearly be that, despite SAA apparently not being in a position to legally fly any aircraft, the airline will be touted as being “back in business.””

In an update on its website this week, said that national and regional flights are suspended until end April, and international flights until end Octoberœ yesterday).SAA flights undertaken without full air traffic compliance Lees alleged in the statement that the SAA flights to and from Brussels are “possibly unsafe” and being undertaken without following all air traffic regulations. According to the DA, some of these contraventions are:
  • Flight crew that was apparently not given the legally required training by an accredited training facility. They were supposedly given training at huge cost, apparently exceeding R100 000, at an unaccredited training facility owned by an SAA pilot who is not locked out by the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs). The accredited SAA flight training facility could not be used as the pilots accredited to do the training have been locked out by the BRPs.
  • Although apparently only required for passenger flights, the obligatory test flight of the aircraft used was not undertaken as all SAA accredited test pilots have been locked out. What this means is that any “relaunch” of SAA passenger flights will be a farce unless the accredited pilots are reinstated.
“A great deal of pressure was allegedly brought to bear on Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation (SACAA), to issue exemptions for the SAA Brussels flight and she apparently issued 13 exemptions that made the SAA Brussels flight possible,” claims Lees.

“Whilst the first touted SAA flight to fetch vaccines was prevented from being undertaken for regulatory reasons, the SAA Brussels flight is apparently being undertaken despite the reasons for the first flight apparently being blocked seemingly existing for the Brussels flight. We have been told that the SAA General Manager who correctly blocked the first SAA vaccine flight was severely reprimanded by Minister Gordhan for doing so.”

Lees said the PFMA provisions have also been ignored in awarding the tender for the Brussels vaccine trip to SAA.

The DA will submit parliamentary questions to Minister Gordhan, although says it does not anticipate a full disclosure.
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 21:45
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So if I'm understanding correctly... alpha floor is TOGA thrust that's been automatically selected due to decaying airspeed?
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 21:55
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Yes. And to maintain a high but stable AoA.
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Old 23rd Mar 2021, 22:26
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Wow. If all this is proven, it’s clear that there’s no enforcement of regulations and the safety culture within SAA is rotten to the core. How can anyone be sure that they’re ‘safe’ anymore? I’d be tempted to ban them from European airspace certainly until their African operations are back up and running (if that ever happens) and they can demonstrate the required standards.

There are plenty of European carriers flying to JNB at the moment that could have easily shipped the vaccine.
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 00:12
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That system is detector only. It has no input into the flight control system to prevent a tail strike so only puts a warning on the ECAM with advice to land ASAP after a detected strike.

From the attached document;

Tail strike Prevention Tail Strike prevention on the A340-500/600 is aided by:
• Pitch Limit indication at T/O and landing (below 400 ft RA).
• Pitch trim disagree if the ECAM message in comparison to the: − MCDU PERF T/O value − Aircraft-calculated value − Actual T/O trim setting
• Tail Strike Sensor triggering an ECAM warning, if tail strike is detected.

I know VS had some issues with the early -600s including a tail strike on landing into IAD (?), but can't remember if any of the flight control laws were modified to help prevent this kind of issue on both take off and landing.
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 04:16
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From the preceding paragraphs:

To prevent a tailstrike in ground mode, the aircraft’s flight control computers monitored the pitch rate and estimated the tail clearance margin. If the system determined that a tailstrike was possible, the flight control computers reduced the amount of elevator deflection for the given sidestick position to reduce the pitch rate (termed ‘damping’ by the manufacturer). The pilot could override the protection by a sidestick command that was greater than the reduction in elevator deflection provided by the damping. 15 That is, it was designed to reduce the likelihood of a tailstrike, not positively stop it from occurring. 16 A direct relationship between the sidestick and the elevator deflection means that the elevator deflection is directly proportional to the position of the sidestick. For example, moving the sidestick to the fully backward position results in a full elevator up deflection and similarly, moving the sidestick forward half of the full travel will deflect the elevator downwards half of its full deflection. 17 The vertical acceleration relative to gravity, often referred to in terms of ‘g’. For example, a load factor of 3, or 3 g, is three times the acceleration due to gravity. 18 The flight control system included protections against excessive load factor, pitch attitude, angle of attack, and speed to prevent the flight crew exceeding the aircraft’s flight envelope limitations.
I think this is a bit more than just detection, but not full authority.
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 06:28
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There are plenty of European carriers flying to JNB at the moment that could have easily shipped the vaccine.
As far as I know, TUI was flying a 787 almost daily doing vaccine runs to JNB..
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 06:39
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The A346 fleet is virtually “dead” to SAA anyway / they’ve been on the market for over a year now and no one has bought them. They are only flown semi often. I flew on one of these LHR-CPT as a charter in late Dec 19 and back again 2 weeks later. Of course, it meant dead legs: JNB-LHR, CPT-JNB, JNB-CPT, LHR-JNB. An A330 would’ve been big enough on this particular trip but I remember thinking to myself how it would be profitable at all? Couldn’t help thinking it was a bit of a vanity thing.
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 09:57
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Flyafrica is a facebook group which has a lot of members from various airlines/knowledge levels in SA and across the globe. People who have knowledge of the investigation are in that group and have mentioned the race card being used by the crew of that flight.
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 12:51
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Thanks for the clarification.

Wrong understanding from my side ...
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Old 24th Mar 2021, 15:05
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Rumour has it both pilots are senior management pilots.
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