Some lessons learned from US Air A320 ditching in NYC's Hudson River

Jan 17 2009 - 5 Comments

The recent episode of the US Air Flight 1549 down in the New York City’s Hudson River 5 minutes after departure from La Guardia airport underlined a few things about Aviation Safety and, more generally speaking, about Aviation, that should be taken into consideration.
So far, the happy ending of flight AWE1549 highlighted the following “Lessons Learned”:
1) Birdstrikes can be catastrophic: the A320 suffered a dual flame out after impacting flocks of Canadian geese shortly after departure. A few weeks ago, something similar had happened to a Ryanair B737-800 landing in Ciampino. In both cases, the pilot managed the emergency but something more must be done to protect the engines from birds.

2) Ditching is not always the last chance: according to an interesting post on when Capt. Sullenberger informed the New York TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Center) controller about its emergency, the controller gave the AWE1549 a heading to head back to RWY 13 in La Guardia but the pilot replied: “unable.” As Sullenberger saw the small airport in NJ, asked what it was and if he could head towards it. The controller explained that it was Teterboro, a small airstrip used by commuters and private plane and cleared AWE1549 to perform an emergency landing there. But Sullenberger replied again: “unable.” Maybe that loosing both engines, even with the power provided by the RAT (Ram Air Turbine) he could not apply the thrust reversers and he could not stop the aircraft safely on the Teterboro runway. Immediately after, the pilot advised the TRACON that he was attempting ditching in the Hudson River. So, under unbelievable pressure, Capt. Sullenberger was able to opt for the ditching even if there was a landing field within gliding range. Pilots have always to take the environment they find themselves in and exploit it at the best. In this case the only part of the environment that had not any obstacle was the river.

3) When you are going to travel with an airplane you have to think to your footwear: an interesting article published by the Washington Post has an interview with some of the survivors. One of them, Schugel, regretted the choice he had made of three-inch heels: ““They were very cute,” she said, but they offered little purchase atop a wing slick with jet fuel and water. “We had to go out to the very narrow part to let more people out on the wing. I was trying to take them off, holding onto the lady next to me, and then I’m barefoot on the wing. I don’t know if it was a wave or what, but I slid right off the wing into the water.”

4) Always read the safety card: most of the survivors did not know what to do when the pilot announced they were going to perform an emergency landing. This should never happen. If they want to improve their possibilities of surviving an in-flight emergency (by escaping, helping the flight attendands and the other passengers), they have to listen carefully to the F/A and they have to read the aircraft’s safety card.

5) Life vests are required also for flights taking place above the ground: some airlines had recently hypothesized the removal of flight vests for flights not going to overfly the sea, to save weight and fuel. The AWE1549 demonstrated that they are always needed.