Lufthansa A320 wingstrike at Hamburg

I’ve been receiving a lot of questions dealing with the LH Airbus 320 D-AIQP crosswind landing incident occurred on Mar. 1 at Hamburg airport. For those who don’t know yet what happened, I suggest having a look at the following amateur video that is also available on youtube and liveleak:

Flight LH 044 from Munich was approaching runway 23 under strong crosswinds when it was invested by a gust right before touchdown that raised the right wing leading to an unstable flare. The left wingtip slided along the runway before the engine provided enough thrust for a go around.

Fortunately, despite a lower half of winglet bent inboard and a slat partly damaged, the aircraft was able to perform another approach and land at the second attempt (at 13.55LT), even if there’s no video available of the A320 landing safely (it would have been interesting to see the different approach flown by the PIC after the “incident” with the left wing slightly damaged).

First of all, answering to those who wonder if the pilot is a hero or made a mistake, I think it the video is not sufficient to decide. Hower, the analysis of the available video (and pictures) can suggest a few hypothesis.

Let’s look at the weather conditions at Hamburg. The METAR for the airport at 12.20Z / 13.30LT reports:
EDDH 011220Z 29028G48KT 9000 -SHRA FEW011 BKN014 07/05 Q0984 TEMPO 29035G55KT 4000 SHRA BKN008

The actual wind conditions was 28G48KT (meaning 28 Knots with gusting up to 48 KTS) with a forecasted speed (TEMPO group, that indicates a temporary significant change within two hours from the observation) of 35 KTS with gusts to 55 KTS.

Since the aircraft approached RWY 23, considering the magnetic variation and the actual wind direction of 290°, the xwind (crosswind) component, according to my Jeppesen Model CR-3 Computer, was 25G42KT with forecasted xwind component of 31G48KT.

That said, considering that the demonstrated maximum xwind for the A320 is below 40KTS and that the actual conditions at the destination airport during approach are not known since the METAR is just an average calculation (in order to know the actual wind we should listen to the ATC comms, when the TWR controller read the windcheck to the LH044 before clearing it to land on RWY 23) there’s no evidence of a pilot (either Cdr or FO) mistake. A xwind of 25KTS would be still below the demostrated maximum xwind of the A320 (33KTS gusting 38KTS) even if the gusts would be well above it (although it must be remembered that the demostrated maximum xwind is not a limitation but just the maximum component experienced during aircraft testing).

Diverting to the alternate was an option but, as just said, weather condition could have been suitable for a safe landing considering also that the Emma storm on Central Europe most probably affected all the diverting airfields.

What is less clear is why the pilot did not decide to land on the other RWY available in HAM. In fact, using RWY 33, he would have faced a xwind component with angled by 40° instead of 60°. Using RWY 33, the 28G48KT wind would have meant a xwind component of “only” 18G32KTS with a forecated 24G36KTS. Assuming for example an actual wind of 40Kts from 290° during the approach, the xwind component would have been 35kts on RWY 23 and 26kts on RWY 33: a huge difference even for an experienced pilot.

Furthermore, RWY 33 is longer than 23 (3.666mt vs 3.250 mt) and is equipped with an ILS (Instrumental Landing System) and it’s a pilot responsibility to land on either runway, not an ATC one.

Dealing with the approach, it looked more or less stable until the very short final (not different from many others you can see by clicking here), around 60ft or so. According to the common procedure used with xwind components, the aircraft is correctly crabbed (meaning that it has applied a WCA, Wind Correction Angle, aligning nose and tail with the wind direction while the aircraft is following a different course). Just before touchdown, the pilot tries to reduce the WCA angle in order to prevent landing gear damage; however the “decrab” is extremely important on dry runways, because of the side load that could stress the gear on the gear, while it is not that important on wet runways like Hamburg one on Mar. 1 video.

It seems like the gust that moved the A320 outside the runway acted when the aircraft had been “decrabbed” and aligned with the runway. That is the phase of the landing with xwind in which the airplane is most vulnerable to the gustings and for this reasons, all aircraft (from the little C-152 to the MD-11 with some differences) have to apply cross-controls: left rudder, right aileron (if wind is coming from starboard) meaning rudder and aileron in opposite directions. This doesn’t mean that the aircraft has always to lower the wing on the upwind side (like I did with the Cessna), but this may be required to keep the aircraft on the runway even though many experienced pilots landing on dry runway are able to land with levelled wings.

So, one of the hypothesis, is that the pilot flying the aircraft did not apply cross-controls before touchdown or did apply the corrective input too late (or too slowly).

In order to understand the crabbing and decrabbing procedure, I suggest watching this interesting video:

The recovery was instead perfect. Since the engines need some seconds to spool up from Idle (from 3 to 5 I think) the crew must have started the go around as soon as the aircraft rolled dangerously to port, then the pilot maintained a low pitch and a smooth rate of climb in order to gain speed before trying another approach.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

5 Comments

  1. I know a lot of European (at least) newspapers wrote that the ILS was available only on RWY 23. However this is not true, since also 33 is ILS equipped like this presentation shows (Page 4):
    http://snipurl.com/219vk [atmsymposium_dlr_de]
    I have also checked if there is a NOTAM about a possible closure of the RWY 33 for any reason, but the runway and its equipment were most probably fully operative.

  2. The captain needs time off; very very poor command judgement and I don’t care what anyone says: I am a retired Airline captain with many thousands of hours in the left seat. I would not have attempted a landing with any report indicating “peak gusts 55” thats ridiculous…I have over 12,000 hours captain on the B 727 and always respected the weather conditions…He should have commenced a “look see” approach on RWY 33 and use all the navaids possible…When you get down around 500′ you get a feel for whats ahead…And, when you get a report on braking during winter flying months, “nil” means you don’t attempt a landing. Just use some common sense.

  3. Thanks Ken Adam. I’ve seen all sorts of comments about this incident by “experts” who are clueless. I can tell you are the real deal by your simple comment on 55kt gust…”thats ridiculous.” That says it all. All the comments about demonstrated crosswind not being limiting are equally ridiculous. I’ve flown 4 military and 6 airline jets. In each case the max demonstrated or lower was designated as an operating limit (with the admonishment that exceeding it was an exercise of Capt’s emergency authority). I’ve never flown an Airbus, but in any other type wouldn’t attempt this much X-wind with only crab. It looks like they flew only crab down to the end and applied no aileron to the upwind wing…ie messed it up. JMHO

  4. I apologize for the late post but I’ve only recently learned of this incident. I have virtually no experience flying but am well acquainted with the math and physics and I think one potentially critical point has not been discussed. David mentioned an apparent gust of wind inducing a roll to the left after the plane is kicked out of the crab. There is another possible explanation for the roll: yaw-induced roll. The Wind Correction Angle for this landing looks huge, on the order of the sweep angle of the wings! That means that after decrabbing, the right wing is going almost broadside into the wind and the left wing is in the “wind shadow” of the fuselage. The difference in lift between the two wings was probably huge. Possibly the control surfaces couldn’t (or FBW wouldn’t) balance the lift if it requires dumping almost all of the lift of the right wing.

    Please forgive me if I’m suggesting the obvious. My lack of experience may prevent me from knowing that every pilot who doesn’t know to correct for yaw-induced roll in decrabbing is already dead.

  5. Hi Gary,
    thank you very much for your comment. As you said, the right wing was in the wind thus generating more lift than the left one. That is the reason why you have to follow a standard decrabbing in order to balance the momentum induced by the difference of lift. I’m not sure the left wing was completely in shadow, since the relative wind not only depends on the meteorological wind, but also on the airspeed that had a component parallel to the runway that produced lift on the port side.
    Thank you again,
    David

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