The US Federal Aviation Administration or FAA has put up a new resource on Lessons Learned from major crashes.

So far there are 11 accidents on the website with plans to expand it to 40. With several of them outside the US already on the list it is possible that an Australian accident that changed air transport for the better may be included.

The most likely candidate would be the crash of an Ansett-ANA Vickers Viscount near Sydney Airport on 30 November 1961 with the loss of all 15 people on board.

Until then pilots and airlines had joined in vigorously opposing the use of weather radar on smaller and older aircraft. The pilots because it would impinge on their professional judgment and the airlines because of the costs.

The flight vanished into a fierce storm cell near the airport in the dark. No-one saw it crash. Oil, floating wreckage and body parts gave away its location after day break. The Viscount didn’t carry black box flight recorders either, because that invention, by an Australian, David Warren, had also been fiercely resisted by pilots and airlines, and for the same reasons. Australian aviation has always bitterly resisted change, and these were two of the most stupid examples of ‘old school’ thinking which persists to this day in other areas.

An inquiry by Justice Spicer eventually determined that the pilots had lost control of the four engined turbo-prop airliner and then encountered stresses that exceeded the failure loading of part of the wing before hitting the sandy floor of Botany Bay with so much force that the tail passed through the cockpit.
The accident caused Australia to suddenly take the lead on weather radar for airliners by mandating their fitting to all turbine powered designs. Of course they were already being fitted on the early jets and other larger turbo-props, including the first Qantas 707s, because the lunacy of not doing so had percolated into the thinking of the Australian flag carrier and all of its counterparts and the manufacturers, even though TAA and Ansett-ANA were dragging their tails over it. It took a little longer for them to similarly embrace David Warren’s black boxes which now provide multi-track recordings of cockpit conversations and a multitude of performance parameters.

If there is a single very recent accident in Australia that might make it into the FAA Lessons Learned site, it should be the on going ATSB investigation of the flight control crisis that overtook Qantas flight QF 72, an Airbus A330 on 7 October. Like a similar incident involving a Malaysian Airlines 777, also over WA, on 1 August 2005, it raises incredibly important issues about previously poorly understood computer control system malfunctions.

Sure, neither of these incidents were ‘crashes’. They didn’t kill anyone. So they may not qualify, and if that’s the key criteria, it is good they can’t make it onto what is a very informative and easy to use resource. But the lessons learned from QF 72 in particular will rank right alongside those provided by some of the worst crashes in history.

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