The Asiana Boeing 777 accident at San Francisco is the news happening of the week. Pundits, bloggers, and all manner of experts/pseudo experts—present company included—are holding forth on what happened or might have happened. This accident serves as an expensive and tragic reminder about the importance of basics and why things are done in certain ways regarding aviation safety. My sense is that there will be very little new that comes out of this that we didn’t already know years before!
I’ll confine my observations to the more salient points. Feel free to comment, as I know you will. The usual disclaimer: Until the accident is completely investigated my comments must be regarded as speculative and subject to error.
At this writing the facts appear to be that the aircraft stalled/mushed into the sea wall just short of the runway at a high angle of attack and low airspeed. Why?
- Transitioning pilots are often not “one” with the aircraft until they have acquired significantly more time to learn its nuances. Even though the captain was highly experienced in heavy jet aircraft, he was a newbie to the B777.
- The instructor pilot was also new to his role and, unless some significant mechanical problem is discovered, will likely have a contributing role for failing to properly supervise the new captain.
- One of the biggest possible factors is complacency: “I’ve done this a thousand times. How hard could it be?”
- The pilots reported to the NTSB that the auto-throttle failed to respond. Automation (auto-throttles in this case) must always be treated with caution. It’s typically more reliable than we are but must be programmed correctly and the programming should always be verified and monitored. “Set it and forget it” is a recipe for surprise and occasional disaster.
- The culture in many countries defers to authority and experience. Even when the senior person is wrong it’s tough and may be career-limiting to say that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Some senior pilots and organizations are unenlightened that they just might be subject to the occasional human failing.
- The pilot monitoring needs to monitor the main thing. In this case that would be airspeed, configuration, and alignment. If it’s not working, speak up, and if it’s not corrected, take appropriate corrective action. A bruised ego is far better than a busted aircraft!
- Stabilized approaches are always a good idea, and the bigger the aircraft, the more important it becomes. For light aircraft we recommend that everything be stable at no later than 500 feet agl.
- Finally, if something looks funny or weird it probably is, and that might be a great time to do something different rather than waiting to see how it plays out.
I welcome your comments!