Nothing Can Go Wrong…Go Wrong II

October 16, 2008 by Bruce Landsberg

It’s been a tough year for Airbus on the automation front. First, NTSB was concerned about incidents involving total glass failure. Now comes an incident where a Qantas Airbus 330 cruising in the flight levels over Australia twice decided it had a better idea and plunged off altitude dropping 650 feet the first time and 400 feet again after the pilots returned it to the original altitude.

“The jetliner experienced a glitch in the computer unit that uses sensors to detect the angle of the plane against the airstream,” says Julian Walsh, chief air investigator at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. “One of the plane’s three units malfunctioned and sent the wrong data to the main flight computers. It is probably unlikely that there will be a recurrence, but obviously we won’t dismiss that.”

I am sounding like a total Luddite to once again remind GA pilots that autopilots and flight management systems are usually benign tools but when they turn on us, however rarely, shock and awe has to replaced quickly with pilot in command thinking. The mutinous gear must be quickly and positively isolated. At this point you are operating in an abnormal situation – not an emergency but degraded. Under the yellow flag (NASCAR terminology) don’t be afraid to ask for ATC assistance as needed. If you’re single pilot in IMC as for vectors to a nearby ILS etc.

At least 40 people were injured in Airbus mishap as they flew about the cabin. That’s why keeping your seat belt fastened at all times is a really good idea both in light and heavy aircraft. Ya just never know when the genie is going to get out of the bottle.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Andrew


    I own a glass-cockpit GA aircraft and have had everything from a full AHRS failure, to just losing the DG. Flying with glass can make you incredibly complacent, with all of the moving maps and technology in front of you.

    I still fly with a paper map, paper approach plates, and a backup NAV/COM radio that I make sure is fully charged before every flight!

    You just never know what may happen…



  • Andres

    I used to work an office job at a major Airline and would hear stories from fellow mechanics on Airbus fly-by-wire mishaps.

    I think the technology is mostly beneficial to GA and Airliners, but deep down I still rather fly the plane by proper trimming and small corrections as I go along. It keeps me active in the cockpit and its basically the challenge I signed up for when I started my private pilot training.

    As noted in this post things can go wrong and a pilot must always be prepared.

  • George Horn

    Nothing can go wrong….go wrong. I prefer fly-by-wire systems that use twisted wire and pulleys.

  • Juan G Mendez

    It is worth noting that as we move forward with Advanced Technology avionics in many GA cockpits and Part 121 equipment coming rapidly on line, things are changing. We ultimately will have no option about flying with steam gauges or hand flying heavy metal. Moreover, the new VLJ’s and all the Corporate heavy metal is being manufactured with Advanced Technology. Whether single or dual pilot certified, the PIC, must be prepared to handle the loss of the PFD, MFD or AutoFlight Control system to name just the high tech stuff. The high flying fast movers cannot really be flown properly without the high tech equipment and there is no option but to be completely familiiar with and in command of the Advanced Technology. Bottom line, it can fail, and when it does we must be ready to handle it, and get the bird and our PAX safely back to terra firma, therefore when we push the throttles forward, expect something to go wrong.

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