Tag Archives: A320

Introducing the IFE on Alitalia domestic routes

As frequent travelers know many airlines keep their IFE (In Flight Entertainment) system switched off on domestic/short range routes because – using Mary Kirby’s (aka RunwayGirl) words – “Some carriers decide that the costs do not outweigh the gains, even after installs”. Basing on my personal experience, the Italian flag company was among those who didn’t give their travellers the pleasure of personal televisions on domestic and short range networks until Giovanni Maduli sent me the following picture he took on an Alitalia A320 flying from Cagliari to Rome with an operative IFE. The system provides each passenger with a moving map or a selection of channels broadcasting movies, sports, children’s shows and fashion: a pleasant surprise.

FedEx MD11 crashes in Narita

On Mar. 23, a FedEx MD-11F with registration N526FE crashed during landing on the runway 34L/16R in Narita International, Tokyo, at 06.50 AM LT. Unfortunately both pilots died in the catastrophic crash. The aircraft was flying as FDX80 from Guangzhou – Bayiun, China, to Memphis, USA, via Narita and Anchorage, when around 21.50 Zulu (Sunday Mar. 22) the aircraft had a couple of bounces on landing prior to roll to the left and explode fuselage upside down. At the time of the crash, the airport was under strong winds: 222130Z 32026G40KT 9999 FEW020 12/M02 Q0999 WS R34L NOSIG RMK 1CU020 A2952 P/RR.
The video of the crash was immediately released:

The footage shows the aircraft bouncing hard on the runway after a flare (maybe with a high sink rate and not enough flare), ascending to something around 50 feet, then pitching down towards the tarmac, rolling slightly to the left. On the second touchdown the left Main Landing Gear collapses. As a consequence, the left wing goes into the ground and drags while the other wing raises into the air still producing lift. The reason for the pitch down attitude immediately after the first bounce is subject to speculations: someone thinks the pilot overcorrected to get the plane back down on the runway, others hypothesized the first bounce could have caused some problem with the flight control/surfaces.
This accident, reminded me of a previous FedEx MD-11 that crashed in Newark in 1997. Here’s the abstract of the NTSB report (available in pdf format here: http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2000/AAR0002.pdf):

Abstract: On July 31, 1997, about 0132 eastern daylight time, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11, N611FE, operated by Federal Express, Inc., (FedEx) as flight 14, crashed while landing on runway 22R at Newark International Airport, Newark, New Jersey (EWR). The regularly scheduled cargo flight originated in Singapore on July 30 with intermediate stops in Penang, Malaysia; Taipei, Taiwan; and Anchorage, Alaska. The flight from Anchorage International Airport to EWR was conducted on an instrument flight rules flight plan and operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121. On board were the captain and first officer, who had taken over the flight in Anchorage for the final leg to EWR, one jumpseat passenger, and two cabin passengers. All five occupants received minor injuries in the crash and during subsequent egress through a cockpit window. The airplane was destroyed by impact and a postcrash fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s overcontrol of the airplane during the landing and his failure to execute a go-around from a destabilized flare. Contributing to the accident was the captain’s concern with touching down early to ensure adequate stopping distance.

Safety issues discussed in this report focus on landing techniques, bounced landing recovery, and training tools and policies that promote proactive decision-making to go around if an approach is unstabilized. Safety issues also include the use of on board computers to determine the required runway length for landing, MD-11 handling characteristics and structural integrity requirements, and hard landing inspection requirements. Tracking hazardous materials continues to be a safety issue and is also discussed in the report.

Look at the following youtube video showing another FedEx MD-11 (N587FE) landing on Feb 14 2009, on the same airport (Narita) with strong crosswinds.

I’ve already discussed about crosswinds landing risks and techniques when analysing the Lufthansa A320 LH044 wingstrike in Hamburg: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/lufthansa-a320-wingstrike-at-hamburg/

US Air 1549 vs Tuninter 1153: two differing ending ditchings

Analysing the recent US1549 ditching in the Hudson River (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/awe1549/), I explained that the success in the difficult splash down was the result of a perfect maneuver and luck. Even if I still believe that luck is important to increase survivability in case of emergency, when talking about aviation safety, I believe that it sometimes doesn’t come alone and it is strictly tied to the crew’s airmanship. Capt. Sullenberger perfomed a difficult maneuver he had never attempted before. He was lucky, as the rest of the crew and the passengers were, but the “happy ending” could have been tragic and luck would most probably be enough if “Sully” had not made the right decisions and had not followed the correct procedure. Pilot’s experience, skill and cold blood, are paramount to increase the possibilities of achieving a succesfull crash landing. In order to emphasise this point I will remind you another crash landing, the one of the Tuninter 1153. On Aug 6, 2005, TUI 1153 flight, an ATR-72-200 with registration TS-LBB, enroute from Bari-Palese airport, Italy, to Djerba-Zarzis Airport in Djerba, Tunisia, ran out of fuel and ditched in the Tyrrenhian sea 26 chilometers to the North East of Palermo, Sicily. 16 POB (2 crew members and 14 passengers) died in the accident while 23 survived the crash. The root cause of the crash was an ATR-42 fuel gauge erroneously installed on the ATR-72. Both gauges have the same form factor but they are different as the Fuel Quantity is calculated by processing the signals coming from capacitance probes in the tanks with a specific algortithm that differs from aircraft to aircraft, depending on the shape and size of the tanks. When TUI 1153 departed from Bari, the FQI indicated 2.700 kilograms, while the actual amount of fuel was only 570 kgs. At 15.17′47″LT, 4 minutes before the first engine failed, the crew did not notice the low pressure indication. At 23.000 feet, at 15.21, the aircraft lost the first engine, to be followed by the second at 15.23. The pilot declared an emergency at 15.24 informing Rome Radar that they were diverting to Palermo Punta Raisi airport. The aircraft did not make to Palermo, glided for 14 minutes before ditching at around 15.40. Six Tuninter employee at the time of the disaster were found guilty by the court of Palermo. Among them, Captain and Fist Officer who survived the crash (the only 2 crew member to escape the aircraft of the 4 on board).
Even if the problem was with the gauge, according to the investigation the pilot made a series of mistakes that for sure contributed to the crash and did not help to solve the emergency:

before experiencing the emergency:
– he did not check that the installed FQI was correct (both him and the FO had requested a replacement the day before for a failure, replacement that was performed in Tunis) and working properly

in-flight:
– he ignored the acoustic warning 4 minutes before the first engine quit
– after losing the first and later both engines he started a steep descend instead of gliding smoothly
– there was too much confusion in the cockpit and 10 minutes after the aircraft had lost both engines, the crew had not started the appropriate check list yet
– ditching was not performed as foreseen: the aircraft has an angle of attack comprised between -0,1° and 0,8 even if AOA, according to the manual, had to be of 9°. The Vertical Speed is too high: 13 feet per second instead of the foreseen 5 fps. The approach to the surface of the water was performed with tail wind and not parallel to the waves. In particular, the uncorrect aircraft attitude was the root cause of the violent impact with the water and the subsequent quick deceleration and disintegration of the airframe.

Nobody can say if a ditching performed “as prescribed” would have changed the destiny of TUI 1153. For sure, despite the gauge mistakenly installed on the aircraft, the investigation focused to a large amount of cockpit crew’s errors, which, most probably, cost some human lives. In your opinion, did this ditching fail because of bad luck? In my opinion, it was not a matter of luck (only). Most probably the particular high-wing of the ATR72 (the same of the ATR42) did not help since the floating line was above the cabin (as the following picture of an Alitalia ATR42 shows)

but the captain had some luck (he was flying at high altitude, he could point the ATR72 towards some boats, he had plenty of time to perform the check list and appropriate procedures, he ditched in the warm water of the Tyrrhenian Sea in August) and he simply wasted it.

The following pictures were taken by the Italian Coast Guard a few minutes after the crash landing. According to the autopsies the majority of the dead passenger didn’t survive the crash, but some drowned).