The French air safety investigator has released yet another damning report into a serious incident involving an Air France airliner, this time a Boeing 777-200 that was nearly flown into the ground approaching Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in November 2011.
It closely follows a similar investigation into a botched approach to the same airport in March last year by the crew of an Air France Airbus A340-300, and in both cases the safety authority was frustrated in its inquiries by the erasure of the data on the main cockpit voice and data recording devices, the preservation of which is a legal duty Air France seems incapable of carrying out.
These two reports may add to the anxiety over flight safety standards at Air France which have persisted since the AF447 disaster in 2009, in which an Airbus A330-200 flying between Rio and Paris was crashed into the mid Atlantic in a high speed belly flop by a seemingly uncommunicative and dysfunctional crew that didn’t know what they were doing after the aircraft temporarily lost its external speed data readings because of icing conditions. All 228 people on that flight were killed.
A link to a fair and accurate English summary of the 2012 Air France screw up can be found here, and similarly, in an Aviation Herald post on the 777 incident in 2011 here.
The persistence of such incidents in Air France since the AF447 slaughter is unacceptable. However embarrassed the carrier might be at the privileged reporting of its mishaps, it actually needs to do something very urgently, and very publicly, to restore confidence in its safety.
An Air France Boeing 777-200, registration F-GSPP performing flight AF-471 (dep Nov 15th) from Caracas (Venezuela) to Paris Charles de Gaulle (France), was on a Category III ILS approach to CDG’s runway 08R, low visibility procedures were in effect, descending through 320 feet AGL at 136 KCAS and 1 degree nose up attitude, when a Master Caution Warning was issued and the flight mode announciators reverted from “LAND 3” to “LAND 2”. The captain (ATPL, 14,370 hours total, 6,645 hours on type) was pilot flying, the relief pilot (7,490 hours total, 5,271 hours on type) on the observer seat called out “Alarm”, the first officer (7,823 hours total, 3,258 hours on type) called out “go-around”, the captain responded by pushing the throttles forward to initiate the go-around disconnecting autothrottle in the process. A nose up pitch command on the control yoke is recorded however insufficient in strength to disconnect the autopilot. While the aircraft began to accelerate the attitude changed from +1.15 degrees to -0.5 degrees. The captain ordered the flaps to be reduced to 20 degrees, the pitch decreases further to 2 degrees nose down. The relief pilot called out “Pitch!” 10 seconds after the go-around was initiated both crew pulled the yoke now resulting in the autopilot disconnecting, the aircraft pitched up sharply resulting in +1.84G vertical acceleration, the attitude changed from 2 degrees nose down to 7 degrees nose up and subsequently reducing to 4 degrees nose up when the control yoke was returned to neutral, speed was now 169 KCAS. The relief pilot again called “Pitch!”. The crew applied nose up input on the control yoke, the aircraft reached its lowest point of 63 feet AGL at 180 KCAS, the nose rose to 11 degrees nose up in 2 seconds and subsequently 19 degrees nose up and the aircraft climbed out to safety. Climbing through 870 feet the gear is retracted and the crew positioned the aircraft for a second approach, that resulted in a safe landing.
There is no excuse for the disclosures that have been made concerning AF447 and these subsequent gravely serious examples of the mishandling of airliners.