air safety

Jul 2, 2017

How Jetstar (and others) avoided a crash similar to Air France AF447

After all the controversy over Air France AF447 a short ATSB report about a Jetstar incident shows how good safety cultures can avoid tragedy

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The Jetstar 787-8 involved in the 2015 incident while flying from Melbourne to Darwin

There are sobering similarities between a Jetstar 787 control incident which is the subject of an ATSB investigation published last month and the loss of an Air France A330 which crashed into the mid Atlantic on its way to Paris from Rio de Janeiro in June 2009.

Fortunately the Jetstar incident in December, 2015, involving the similar temporary blocking of air speed measuring devices called pitots, did not end in a tragedy like that which killed all 228 people on board Air France flight AF447.

The Jetstar pilots did what apparently all other pilots have been done (other than those of AF447) when confronted by a sudden loss of vital data and a consequent disconnection of the autopilot system.

They held their throttle and attitude settings until the pitots self cleared, and then dealt with deciding whether to proceed with the flight or land for the technical reasons outlined by the ATSB.

The AF447 pilot flying did something inexplicably different to the unreliable airspeed procedures used by airlines, by pulling back on the side stick controller and sending the Airbus on a climb which ended with the airliner stalling and soon after, belly flopping with a force of 32G on impact, on the surface of the ocean

His colleagues proved incapable of identifying or rectifying the problem.

An astonishing litany of smokescreens and fierce arguments ensued for months over the conduct of the last moments of AF447.

The ATSB report doesn’t refer to AF447, nor cross reference other well documented cases of scheduled flights suffering from similar transient failures causing unreliable airspeed indications in the cockpits of various types of jets..

Given the bitterness that persists over the loss of AF447, this is understandable. This isn’t a case of safety lessons according to some pilots, but a reminder that degraded safety cultures which forget such lessons can destroy lives.

For all its tactful brevity, the ATSB report is an important contribution to air safety and an endorsement of the professionalism of the Jetstar pilots.

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