Monthly Archives: July 2008

B777 and B747 problems…

In a previous post about the safety of the B747s, I compared the problems that the 747-400 fleet has been experiencing in the last period with the number of failures that occurred to the B.777. In particular, referring to the IFSDs (In-flight Shut Downs), to the BA038 crash landing, etc. I used the following words:
“As sometimes happens in aviation, there are some periods in which a certain number of problems occur to the same kind of aircraft. Do you remember the 777 (engine) problems that were widely discussed in this site? You can call it coincidence or bad luck but, in my opinion, an airplane is not a car and does not begin to give problems just after it is no longer covered under your warranty.” I then explained what I meant.
When I wrote that sentences, I could not imagine that two new emergencies, both with an happy ending, could affect once again the “triple seven”.
The first one occurred to a Vietnam Airlines B.777-200 whose starboard engine caught fire after the plane arrived at Tokio Narita Airport on Jul 30. Some smoke coming out of the Pratt & Whitney engine was noticed while the flight 950 was taxiing to the gate after landing. Fortunately, engine caught fire after all passengers had disembarked and none of the of the 277 passengers and crew members was injured.
The second was experienced by Emirates B.777-300 with 380 passengers on board that, when enroute from London Heathrow to Dubai, was compelled to divert to Budapest after pilots noticed some smoke inside the cockpit. No more information have been released yet about these two emergency and this is quite normal. Not so normal is that, despite we were expecting from a final report from the AAIB in 30 days, so far, the root cause of the crash landing of the British 038 flying from Beijing to London on Jan. 19 was not yet (officially) discovered.


Coming back to the Qantas 30 investigation, the recent ATSB press conference provided new details about the QF30 decompression. First of all, a piece of the oxygen cylinder that exploded in the cargo area below the First Class, smashed through the cabin floor and moved an emergency door (that, anyway, could not open as the latches were still engaged). Most dangerous, is that the explosion, whose cause is still under investigation, affected also other on-board equipments, and in particular the three ILS (Instrumental Landing Systems) and the antiskid. Fortunately, QF30 could land in Manila under VMC condition, performing a visual approach. One might think that even without the ILS a wide-body has plenty of navigation istruments available to perform a safe approach. This is true, nevertheless, landing a damage aircraft into an alternate airfield in bad weather conditions without a functioning ILS would have been much more difficult.

Here’s the full media release from the ATSB website (with info about the oxygen masks failure):

Investigation into Boeing 747- 400 depressurisation and diversion to Manila, Philippines
30 July 2008

Introduction

As you are aware the ATSB is leading this safety investigation with the assistance of a number of other organisations and agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration of the USA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia, Qantas and Boeing.
Flight Data Recorder

The data from the flight data recorder has been recovered and downloaded. Initial analysis of the data indicates that the aircraft decent from the decompression event at 29,000 feet to the altitude of 10,000 feet, where no masks are required, took about five and half minutes, with an average descent rate of about 4,000 fpm. The ATSB is still verifying and analysing the data on the recorder.

Door

The ATSB can confirm that it appears that part of an oxygen cylinder and valve entered the passenger cabin and impacted the number 2 right door frame handle, thereby moving the handle part way towards the open position. However, the door handle mechanism has been sheared as it is designed to do if an attempt is made to open the door in flight, so the position of the door handle is not representative of the position of the door lock mechanism or the security of the door. The investigation team have confirmed that the door latches were still engaged. Additionally the door is of the plug-type that first needs to be pulled into the cabin, rotated 90 degrees then pushed out to open. So there was never any danger of the door opening.

Cabin Masks

The investigation team have surveyed the passenger cabin including the oxygen masks. The team found that most of the oxygen masks had deployed correctly from the passenger modules and had been pulled to activate the flow of oxygen to the mask. According to the airline, there were 346 passengers on board. Inspection by the ATSB shows that 484 masks had deployed, that is, dropped from the ceiling. Of those, 418 had been activated by pulling on the mask to activate the flow of oxygen. Only a small number of masks appeared to have had the elastic retaining strap adjusted by the passengers. It also appears that a small number of masks did not deploy from the passenger modules. Investigations into this aspect of the accident are continuing.

Interviews are continuing with the cabin crew in relation to this issue. Additionally, the ATSB is preparing a passenger survey that will be sent to all passengers to gather information about their experience of the event. The ATSB also plans to interview those passengers that encountered specific problems either with the masks or the decompression event.

Oxygen System

The investigation team is still examining the oxygen system, including liaising with the manufacturer to determine if the flow of oxygen was adequate for the five and a half minute descent to 10,000 feet, where the masks were no longer required.

ILS

The team have confirmed that the aircrafts three Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) and the anti-skid system were not available for the arrival and landing at Manila. However, evidence to date indicates that all the aircrafts main systems, including engines and hydraulics were functioning normally. The approach to Manila airport was conducted in visual conditions. It should be noted that other pilot navigation instruments (VOR and NDB) were still available to the crew should the conditions not have been visual. Additionally, Air Traffic Control could have provided radar assistance if the crew had required it.

Flight Crew

From the evidence gathered to date it appears that the flight crew have responded to and managed the emergency situation extremely well. It is apparent that they followed the procedures they have trained for in simulators, which ensured the best possible outcome for the aircraft, the passengers and crew.

Notify ATSB

A reminder that the ATSB requests that any passengers that experienced issues during the flight, or those who photographed or videoed the incident, contacts us via email atsbinfo@atsb.gov.au , telephone: 1800 020 616, or facsimile 02 6247 3117.

The investigation will need time to review and analyse the evidence collected to date and to plan and undertake further evidence gathering and analysis. It is difficult to say how long an investigation such as this will take. However, a preliminary factual report will be released by the ATSB within about 30 days and, should the need for urgent safety action by any agency be identified, the ATSB will immediately notify the relevant agencies who are best placed to address the issue. At this point, unless there is any significant development in the investigation, further media conferences are not anticipated and further information will be released as part of the ATSBs preliminary report.
Media Contact: George Nadal during business hours & after hours duty officer: 1800 020 616

Warner Village F-104 removed

Last year I visited the relic of an F-104 wearing code 5-25 and tail serial MM6833 (even if it was a composite and the centre section belonged to the MM6785). As I explained in 3 different posts:
http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/f-104-warner-village/
http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2007/08/03/f-104-graffiti-art-update/
http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2007/07/31/f-104-graffiti-art/
the aircraft was cannibalized and covered with graffiti. It was a shame that such a glorious aircraft was in a supermarket parking area completely abandoned.
I had the opportunity to visit that place next to the Warner Village (hence I dubbed that Zipper – previously belonging to the 102° Gruppo – the “Warner Village F-104”) on Jun. 30 and I discovered that the aircraft had been removed (perhaps trashed somewhere).
Here are two pictures showing the same place on Jul. 31 2007 and on Jun. 30 2008:

Another B747-400 in-flight problem: is this aircraft still safe?

It seems like, all of a sudden, one the most safe, famous and beatiful aircraft, the B747-400, has been experiencing (age?) problems. On Jul 29, a B744 (747-400) of the Cathay Pacific Airways, flying from New York to Hong Kong via Vancouver with 363 passengers, performed an emergency landing in Vancouver, as an external panel suffered an unspecified damage (it is not clear whether it separated from the fuselage or not yet). The episode happened just a few days after another B747-400, operated by Qantas Airways, was forced to make an emergency landing in Manila after suffering a hole in the fuselage and the subsequent decompression of the cabin during a flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne.
The B744 has one of the best safety rates ever achieved by an airliner and despite some minor problems (and a near w/o damage – the one of the Qantas -400ER “VH-OJH” that, as QF1, on Sept. 23 1999, overran the runway at Bangkok International – that returned to service as the most expensive repair in the history of aviation), only 3 out of 631 747-400 built, were written off by accidents:
On Nov. 4, 1993, a China Airlines B747-409 skidded off the wet runway at Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong and ended up in the waters of the Hung Hom Bay. All of the 396 on board escaped safely.
On Aug. 5 1998, a Korean 744 slid off the Kimpo International Airport at Seoul. 395 peopel on board and 0 fatalities.
On Oct. 31 2000 a Singapore Airlines 747-400 taking off from from Taipei Chang Kai Shek airport in Taiwan under bad weather conditions took the wrong runway (05R instead on 05L) and hit equipment used for the contrusction work crashing back onto the runway causing 83 fatalities out ot the 179 people on board.
Dealing with the whole 747 fleet in all versions (1358 in total), the records are slightly worse than the average but in part because the Jumbo was soon targeted by terrorists attacks.
The 747-400 flew for the first time 20 years ago and even if it can’t be considered a new aircraft (it is largerly based on a 40 years old concept), it is not even an obsolete aircraft. I think that there is not a particular reason for the number of failures the -400 fleet is experiencing in the last period (don’t forget the QF2 loss of electric power some months ago) even if age could be a contributing factor. However, it is not a rule that obsolete aircraft have always more problems than younger ones. During the first period, you could discover a series of glitches that will be fixed and will not affect the same aircraft decades later.
As sometimes happens in aviation, there are some periods in which a certain number of problems occur to the same kind of aircraft. Do you remember the 777 (engine) problems that were widely discussed in this site? You can call it coincidence or bad luck but, in my opinion, an airplane is not a car and does not begin to give problems just after it is no longer covered under your warranty.
As said, the age of the aircraft can be a contributing factor (you can discover a glitch towards the end of the operative life of the aircraft – for example a part deteriorates quicker or in a different way than expected); however, provided that a problem is widespread and interests all the fleet, it is at least unlikely that it will surface on different aircraft (with different routes, different flight hours, different maintenance check schedules, etc) more or less at the same time. So, even if I have no idea about what may have caused the fuselage damage in the Cathay aircraft I think that, statistically, it will not be the same problem experienced by the QF30 and I would be more than happy to board a 747-400 for a long haul flight tomorrow!

I took the following picture of a Lufthansa B747-400 through the window of the International terminal at Los Angeles International airport

Just a quick update about the QF30 investigation from the ATSB website:

Investigation into Boeing 747- 400 depressurisation and diversion to Manila, Philippines
29 July 2008

The ATSB is leading this safety investigation with the assistance of a number of other organisations and agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration of the USA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia and Qantas and Boeing.

Yesterday the aircraft was moved to a hangar. This will provide a safer and more optimal working environment for the investigation team.

The remainder of the freight on the aircraft has been progressively examined and removed from around the area of the rupture. This has allowed the investigation team full access to the area. The team have also been examining and clearing the area adjacent to the disrupted right cabin door.

The investigation team are in the process of examining the interior of the cabin including the onboard oxygen system, the passenger masks and portable crew oxygen cylinders. The aircraft outer panels around the ruptured area have also been removed.

A number of components and parts of components are being retained for further examination and analysis at the ATSB engineering facilities in Canberra.

Last night the aircraft cockpit voice recorder (CVR), which records crew conversations, radio traffic and cockpit ambient sounds, was downloaded by ATSB specialists in Canberra. Unfortunately, the standard two hour recording which works on an endless loop principle did not contain the event. The oldest recording commences after the descent and diversion into Manila, so the event itself appears to have been overwritten. However, the information that has been captured on the CVR may provide valuable insights into the flight crews handling of the situation following the depressurisation.

The aircraft flight data recorder (FDR), which nominally records 25 hours of data, is being downloaded today at the ATSB Canberra facilities. The specialist team should know in the next day or two if the recording contains valid data.

The investigation team plan to continue the examination and collection of evidence from the aircraft. ATSB investigators in Australia are gathering data from the operator. Interviews with both flight crew and cabin crew are being conducted today in Melbourne.

A reminder that the ATSB requests that any passengers that experienced issues during the flight, or those who photographed or videoed the incident, contacts us via email at atsbinfo@atsb.gov.au
Media Contact: George Nadal: 1800 020 616

Another Qantas inflight problem

As soon as I read the Breaking News from the Herald Sun (http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun) I thought that something strange was happening to my favourite airline.

Qantas jet suffers safety scare on way to Melbourne
Article from: Herald Sun

Staff writer

July 28, 2008 10:30pm

BREAKING NEWS: A QANTAS flight bound for Melbourne made an emergency landing tonight after a door reportedly opened mid-flight.

The flight, believed to be QF692, took off from Adelaide at 6.08pm but turned around and landed safely 37 minutes later.

There was confusion over what caused the emergency.

Passengers said a door opened mid-flight, causing “chaos” in the cabin.

But airline sources said the doors covering the wheel bay did not close properly after take-off.

The aircraft turned around near Murray Bridge, about 60km from Adelaide, and landed safely at 6.45pm.

A Boeing 737-800 usually flies the Adelaide to Melbourne leg.

The aircraft remained at Adelaide Airport while passengers were transferred to another Melbourne flight.

A Qantas spokesperson refused to comment beyond confirming an incident had occurred on the flight.

The drama comes just three days after a mid-air emergency aboard a Qantas 747 on Friday.

A ruptured oxygen bottle is believed to have ripped a 3m hole in the side of QF30 from Hong Kong to Melbourne, forcing it to make an emergency landing in Manila.

It was revealed yesterday a piece of metal from the bottle sliced into the cabin of the jet, just missing passengers.

Then I read carefully and discovered that it was not an inflight door issue. The problem experienced by the QF B.767 (not the usual 737-800 operated by the Australian airline between Adelaide and Melbourne – that I took as flight QF689 from MEL to ADL on May 22, 2007) was with a gear bay door. The door failed to close and caused some noise. The normal cabin doors need to be pulled inwards before they can swing outside the fuselage. Since the pressure inside the cabin is higher at altitude than outside, it is almost impossible to open it during flight. Unfortunately, the recent QF30 emergency has had a deep (negative) impact on Qantas’ imagine and any problem with any aircraft wearing the World famous Flying Kangaroo gets reported and becomes a drama. Passengers and reporters most probably overreacted to a problem that is absolutely different and less dangerous to the one occurred three days ago to the B747-400 VH-OJK flying from Hong Kong to Melbourne. Presuming that the landing gear is fully serviceable, an undercarriage door problem cause only a higher fuel consumption and some noise, without any decompression problem.

Here’s a picture of a B767 similar to the one that experienced the landing gear door problem


Qantas decompression: ATSB media release points to a missing oxygen cylinder

More information are being disclosed about the QF30 as more passengers provide their first hand account of the flight. According to what they recollected, the aircraft did not “plunge” from 29.000 to 10.000 feet. The aircraft took some 10 minutes to descend to the safe altitude. Since the aircraft had to lose some 20.000 feet, it is clear that it descended at a vertical speed of around 2.000 fpm (feet per minute) that is quite normal and for sure not scary. What was less than normal was that the aircraft started the descend with a left turn. After hearing a bang, with gusts through the cabin, with an emergency announcement from the pilot and the oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling, someone thought the aircraft was spiralling uncontrolled towards the sea. However, the turn was induced by the pilots for many reasons:
1) to prevent descending through the levels occupied by other aircraft flying on the same airway
2) to reduce the vertical lift component in order to descend quickly
3) to turn directly inbound Manila (even if I don’t think the pilot had already selected a diversion aerodrome, since the turn was initiated seconds after hearing the boom on the right hand side of the aircraft
The Capt. John Francis Bartels followed the rule of each emergency: “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate”. He fiirst checked if the aircraft was able to fly, he then assumed a heading that would keep the B747-400 far from other traffic (checking the TCAS) and finally broadcasted a Mayday call to the ATC and announced the emergency to the passengers. What worried the passengers was that for some 15 or more minutes after the pilot informed them that they were diverting to the nearest airport, they did not hear anything until the aircraft was stabilized in bound Manila at a safe altitude. However this is normal, since pilots have to concentrate on the emergency and have to bring the aircraft on the ground safely, as soon as possible.

As said the aircraft took 10 minutes to reach breathable air at 10.000 feet. In the meanwhile, some passengers had problems breathing with the oxygen mask because some of them were not well-functioning. Even if some were probably not fed by the oxygen cylinder whose explosion could be the root cause of the hole, perhaps, people was breathing heavily because of the shock caused by the emergency and, despite the oxygen mask (in some cases) was working properly, experienced shortness of breath and feelings of discomfort and fatigue that are common symptoms of the hypoxia.

Dealing with the explosion of an oxygen cylinder as the possible cause of the hole and the subsequent (most probably related) failure of some oxygen masks, the Australian Transportation Safety Board issued today a media release that is publicly available at the following address: http://www.atsb.gov.au/newsroom/2008/release/2008_24.aspx

Qantas Boeing 747-400 depressurisation and diversion to Manila on 25 July 2008
28 July 2008

The ATSB was advised on Friday 25 July of a serious occurrence involving a Qantas aircraft.

The aircraft, a Boeing 747-400 was operating a scheduled passenger service from Hong Kong to Melbourne Australia. At approximately 29,000 feet, the crew were forced to conduct an emergency descent after a section of the fuselage separated and resulted in a rapid decompression of the cabin. The crew descended the aircraft to 10,000 feet in accordance with established procedures and diverted the aircraft to Manila where a safe landing was carried out. The aircraft taxied to the terminal unassisted, where the passengers and crew disembarked. There were no reported injuries.

The ATSB is leading this safety investigation with the assistance of a number of other organisations and agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration of the USA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia and Qantas and Boeing.

The ongoing investigation has confirmed that there is one unaccounted for oxygen cylinder from the bank of cylinders that are located in the area of the breech. There are 13 oxygen cylinders in the bank that are responsible for supplying oxygen to the passenger masks and cabin crew.

Also recovered are a number of parts of components including part of a valve in the vicinity of the breech. However, it is yet to be determined whether these components are part of the aircraft system.

A number of passengers have reported that some of the oxygen masks appeared not to function correctly when they deployed from the overhead modules. The ATSB intends to examine the oxygen system including the oxygen masks.

The ATSB is also intending to interview the aircraft crew including the cabin crew and make contact with all passengers on the flight. All passengers will be surveyed, while those that had reported problems with mask deployment will be interviewed.

The passenger survey should be available in about two weeks.

The ATSB would like to request that any passengers that experienced issues during the flight, or those who photographed or videoed the incident contacts us via email at atsbinfo@atsb.gov.au.

The ATSB would also like to encourage passengers to write down their recollection of events that occurred. This will aid them with the completion of the passenger survey.

The aircraft flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have arrived in Australia. The ATSB will download the recorders at its Canberra facilities over the next few days.

The ATSB will also be examining maintenance records for the aircraft. This will include any airworthiness directives or alert bulletins that may have been issued by the regulators or the manufacturers.