Captain Richard de Crespigny, who was in command on the Qantas Airbus A380 which experienced a massive engine disintegration causing severe airframe and systems damage while operating QF32 last November 4, has responded to a Plane Talking discussion of the report on the Senate Inquiry into pilot training and airline safety which was tabled last week.

Some very good if at times robust discussions have occurred on this web blog which are entirely the work of engaged readers and not this reporter.

When Jack Robertson made some critical observations in that thread about QF32 I was unsettled by some of the language, but I can hardly object to people being as blunt, if not as rude, as I have been on occasions.

As readers may not necessarily keep in touch with these discussions as other posts appear, and push them further down or over the page, I believe there are times when they should be brought higher up the screen where further developments will be noticed.

This is what Jack Robertson said:

Will star-struck aviation groupies and the numb unthinking PLEASE stop advancing QF 32 as some textbook paragon of optimal multi-crew handling of a non-standard emergency. As I have argued here before QF 32 ended well mostly because QF 32 was lucky: the catastrophic engine shred did not do sufficient harm to cause the aircraft to leave the controllable envelope prior to being landed…nearly two hours later. The aircraft essentially saved itself. And – the biggie – the crew had no real way of knowing at any time post-shred that it was going to.

This is not to say that the crew did ‘badly’. This is not to not acknowledge that the crew managed a complex systems problem better than competently. BUT BUT BUT – and it is a huge ‘but’, a definitive ‘but’ – in the context of this report and the recommendations re: flying background, experience, check and training culture, automation and simulation, human factors, and CASA oversight all there-of, it (rather than the two specific ones cited) is THE most relevant and illuminating aircraft incident of the last two decades. It’s got the lot that is encapsulated in this report, if we cared to stop being so unthinkingly impressed by Biggles & Co. The fact that QF32 ended well and it’s been promoted by Joyce et al so relentlessly as an aviation safety ‘plus’ makes it harder not to be impressed, but all the more potentially damaging if we don’t try. At least a little.

So I think it’s time that a few people in the press were a bit more skeptical about it and especially its reporting/PR aftermath, in which the press has been deeply complicit. We saw the extraordinary situation where – with full QANTAS resources in overdrive – a public statutory body whose role is skeptical scrutiny, the ABC, was chain-ganged into the PR service of an aviation incident for which a final ATSB investigation/report hadn’t even been begun. We now see the captain touted about the pro speaking circuit (at supposedly 150 G + a pop), again without any real examination of the gig: the airmanship, the decisions made, the division of cockpit/analysis, the general aviation divide it reveals/straddles – trust/manage the ‘multi-redundant systems’ like a (house-trained?) cadet v. distrust/fly/land ASAP a compromised airframe, like a (below par?) GA alumni…it’s all there, this report could have been written with QF 32 as the ‘discuss’ TEM model.

Yet none of the nitty-gritty of that flight has ever been openly assessed. We’ve been told vaguely that fuel and weight considerations were a big factor in continuing to fly a crippled aeroplane with bits falling off it and fuel leaking, within sight of its departure airport but for nearly two further hours, while three senior Q captains focused on a FMS/ECAIS whose final theoretical ‘prohibition’ against landing at all was in the end blown off by fudging the input data, anyway. A big load of dramatic nonsense was made on TV about the approach speed criticality – what a load of Biggles bollocks, ‘you’ll have to fly the speed accurately Dick’ ‘I know, Ginger, I know’ – and yet the aircraft rolled through well short of the numbers let alone the overrun, off the brakes and out of what reverse it did have available. Then they all sat their pax there for, what, another hour on the tarmac, shedding fuel and unable to stop an engine while ten thousand firies twiddled their hoses…

What does ATSB/CASA think about all this? Should they have an independent view? Can they ever now, realistically, after all the Heroes of ’32 over-kill?

Look Ben, I’m ex military, choppers only. By all means have crack at for me for not knowing what I’m talking about. I know a few heavy drivers, including on type, and in that company, who reckon I’m full of ignorant nonsense. Maybe. May be. But let’s talk it through. What were the numbers? How much gas DID QF32 need to burn to be safe? REALLY? Where on the roll-out DID the boys step off the anchors? Could they have put the thing on much quicker, just as safely? Over-run v. fuel dump? Worth debating? Did they, airborne? All those check captains? Should they have? Too much time heads down at the screens? Next time, quicker to land? What did/does the poor old flat-chat FO reckon? Really? What do other Q skippers reckon? Really? What about the evacuation that didn’t happen when perhaps it might have? (It’s not the first time at Q, is it?) Anyone remember the Saudi tarmac flamer? You know, the kind of reason why precautionary evacs exist in SOP’s worldwide?

Will ATSB/CASA get to conduct an open walk-through of all this and more, in the same way they do for the regionals’ screw-ups, the LCC’s, GA, the littlies? Who asks these questions of the Fat Red Roo these days?

And what is at the guts of all this re: QF 32 specifically (in my stubborn view at least) is exactly what’s at the guts of all the issues in play in this report and its recommendations, industry-wide: just who is going to be the final authority on aviation standards/safety into the Oz future: a public-trust body like CASA or, at heart, the (very senior executive-pilots in the) dominant private-profit airlines? By this I meaneth not mere garden variety line captains like stout-hearted Dick of de Crispy (AKA ‘The Mighty Flying – and Flying, and F-l-y-y-y-y-i-n-g – Lion of Singapore!). Ben…the defining thing about QF 32 is, of course, those two extra chaps in the jump seats that fateful day. By self-defining necessity, of course, how that crew resolved that situation was always going to be advanced (relentlessly) as…The Right Stuff. For if a CASA/ATSB can’t/won’t…who else can there ever possibly be, to check the…Company Man Who Checks The Company Men Who Checks All The Company’s Men?

And I mean ‘check’ in both senses.

There’s a lot of talk re: ‘corporate/cultural capture’ of public legislators by the airlines. It ain’t just the Joyces guilty of it; there’s a lot of (the most senior) pilots who’ve been duchessed up, over & out to the Dark $ide, too. Ultimately it’s when THEY start to fudge things at the pointy end, on behalf of The Man – not suited bean monkies like Joyce themselves – that pax need to get worried.

So I stand by this, Ben: I do NOT think that QF 32, on balance, should be allowed to become a benchmark/byword for the optimum handling of heavy RPT catastrophic in-flight failures (and assorted non-standard emerg’s). Not without some long overdue scrutiny of its command/crew/airmanship specifics. Start asking questions about QF 32, mate, and I bet this very excellent report and its very excellent recommendations might just get thrown into even more stark and timely relief.

PS: I’m also sorry for posting so long. QF 32 would still be circling, mind you. Unless, of course, its wing had plopped off instead…

This is the reply that Captain Richard de Crespigny made, and I should add that there is no doubting at all that this inquiry will yield some exceptionally important contributions to air safety and the recovery from severe control surface and systems damage in large contemporary airliners.

Richard de Crespigny: Interesting thoughts. I suppose many people have wondered many of the things you listed in your blog, and that is why the discussion is so vast and controversial – and not complete. That half (~20) of the ATSB aviation experts were assigned to the investigation, that large contingents of investigators from Airbus, RR, BEA, EASA and other agencies are still involved, might suggest a lot more is yet to be revealed. The complexity of the incident might be also measured by the time it takes the ATSB to compile their report..

I have no doubt that other teams might have done things differently to us and been successful, and therefore right – but I think ultimately that most of the rapid 100+ decisions we made on the day were right and that we’d not want to change anything. I can’t predict other people’s reactions to black swan events ….

Ultimately no one was hurt.

I think you should think about the QF32 incident as not a marvel for the pilots, but a marvel for the teams that all worked wonderfully and in unison to effect a fantastic team result. QF32 WAS A MAGNIFICENT TEAM EFFORT. This is the story! By the time passengers were being unloaded, I think there were about 1000 people from the following teams who had contributed to our success. Pilots, Cabin Crew, ATC, Fire Services, Police, Terminal Staff, Crisis Centre Staff, Engineers, Management. As you know, pilot (command) management is team management (with the CRM, Teamwork, Leadership and other factors) and I think the story of the shared teams is the interesting story!

Personally, I used 100% of my knowledge from the RAAF and airline and every bit of knowledge passed to me by fellow pilots over bar chats over the past 35 years on
that day – and I then tapped the knowledge of every other pilot on the flight deck. I’ve been using knowledge management tools for 25 years now – never used paper notes in my airline career, and I needed all this info on the day.

200 hour MPLs? There is an interesting discussion for a comparison.

Fear not, the whole story will be revealed in the investigative reports and other reports to come. Your questions are interesting, and I KNOW your will have all your answers.

BTW. I also flew Hueys in the RAAF but never met you. But your questions re land vs hold was answered 27 years ago by a famous RAAF pilot by the name of Brian Lugg in El Gorah – and you should know that story. Brian is a legend in this instance. I look forward to meeting you at the next Avior meeting and discussing the lessons from Brian’s event – all for the cost of a beer.

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