Air Asia 8501 – A Tragedy Already Seen?

Meanwhile Indonesian investigators are extracting information from the black boxes of Air Asia Flight 8501 to get the answer of the plunge into the Java Sea, killing all 162 aboard, senior government officials are suggesting the Airbus A320 stalled at high altitude. There are growing fears on the aviation industry that the crash will share troubling similarities with other recent aviation disasters, in other words, pilots who lost control of an otherwise flyable airplane.

Air-traffic-control readings, along with data gleaned from Flight 8501′s black box recorders, recovered by divers last week, suggest the Airbus A320 experienced an aerodynamic stall at high altitude. About 40 minutes into the flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, the pilots requested permission to deviate from their route and climb from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid an approaching storm. Their request wasn’t immediately granted, however. The plane’s radio transponder later showed the plane veered off course and began ascending rapidly before radio contact was lost.

“The plane may have climbed in the last minutes at a speed beyond normal limits. After that, it stalled. Why did it stall? I don’t know,” Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said this week. Meantime, the Wall Street Journal, citing sources close to the investigation, said the A320′s stall-warning alarm could be heard on the cockpit voice recorder as the pilot and co-pilot struggled to regain control of their plane.

Aerodynamic stalls occur when the plane’s wings lose lift, usually because the aircraft is flying too slowly or climbing too steeply. It’s not unlike a waterskier who begins to sink once he or she stops moving. In order to resume flight, pilots need to point the nose of the aircraft down to regain airspeed and restore lift to the wings. However, as past accidents have shown, it can be difficult for pilots to recognize what’s happening—alarms shriek in the cockpit and the plane becomes difficult to control—and they may not always respond correctly. Such “loss of control” accidents have been blamed for causing more than half of all aviation fatalities in the past decade, marring an otherwise enviable industry safety record.

Of course, exactly what transpired aboard Flight 8501 aircraft won’t be known until investigators release their full report, although some preliminary details are expected to be made public next week. The pilots may have experienced severe turbulence or found themselves caught in violent updraft caused by the bad weather. There could have been mechanical problems with the instruments that rendered the plane un-flyable. The plane’s black box voice and data recorders should yield further clues, if they haven’t already.
What is known, however, is that, once the plane began to climb rapidly—reportedly faster than the A320 is designed to do—the pilots’ ability to manually control their airplane, if that’s indeed what they were trying to do at that point, would have become vastly more difficult. As the air becomes thinner and colder at higher altitudes, the speed at which a plane can experience an aerodynamic stall rises while the speed at which it hits the sound barrier falls. Fly too fast and the aircraft will experience buffeting, too slowly and it will fall from the sky. “Flying an airplane manually at those altitudes is like trying to balance a ruler on your fingertip,” says Sunjoo Advani, a Netherlands-based expert in flight simulation, who spent the past six years heading an international team that rewrote the rulebook on training pilots to deal with stall emergencies.

An eerily similar sequence of events led to the loss of Air France Flight 447 back in 2009. The Airbus A330 was a few hours into its overnight flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, when the pilots flew into a line of thunder clouds, common near the equator. The pilots lost their speed readings when the plane’s exterior sensors, called pitot tubes, iced over, the investigation later revealed. As the plane bounced through turbulence, the stricken pilots, inexplicably, put the plane into a climb, causing it to stall. Despite alarms sounding repeatedly in the cockpit, the pilots failed to recognize what had happened. They fought to regain control for three and a half harrowing minutes as the plane fell in total darkness. All 228 aboard died.

The shocking Air France disaster galvanized the industry, coming as it did on the heels of two other deadly stall accidents: the 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 near Buffalo, N.Y., (50 dead) and the 2009 crash of Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 on approach to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport (nine dead, 54 injured). Advani was tapped to lead a team of global experts to investigate whether there were gaps in pilot training programs that needed to be fixed. They found that pilots receive most of their training about stalls and manual recovery techniques early in their career—it’s essentially Flying 101—but most of their ongoing training, usually performed in simulators, tended to be focused on managing the plane’s complex auto-pilot systems, which do most of the actual flying in a modern aircraft. In the case of an approaching stall, pilots were being trained to power up the engines and maintain altitude, which is fine if the aircraft is merely approaching its stall speed, but can actually make matters worse if the plane is on the cusp of the real thing or cruising at higher altitudes.

The group suggested a revised approach in late 2012. It re-emphasizes the importance of manual flying skills and, where possible, makes use of small aerobatic airplanes in addition to simulators. The idea is to better train pilots to recognize what a stall looks and feels like, and how to avoid dangerous situations that could lead to them. It also teaches pilots how to react more decisively when faced with a stall emergency: Point the plane’s nose downward until the wings regain lift. While the new approach might initially run counter to a pilot’s basics instincts—the last thing anyone wants to see when falling out of the sky is the ground hurtling toward him—Advani says it’s necessary to re-train pilots’ brains, since pitching the nose forward to pick up speed, as if on a roller coaster, may represent their only chance for survival. ”It is a significant change to how we train pilots, in that it encourages manual flying, rather than always relying on the automation,” Advani says.

The new training regime has already been adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization and has been signed into law in the United States, although it won’t actually be implemented there until 2019. In Europe, meanwhile, regulators plan to publish new rules on upset prevention and recovery training this spring. In 2013, Transport Canada sent an advisory circular to airlines that instructed pilots to focus on reducing the plane’s angle of attack (point the nose down) if faced with an aerodynamic stall.

Some airlines aren’t waiting to be told what to do. South African Airways, for one, spent more than a year retooling its training program and retraining its instructors, with the costs being offset by the airline’s insurer. It began retraining its pilots this month. “The release of the accident reports regarding Air France, Colgan and Turkish Airlines made us realize that we need to address the shortcomings of advanced automation—a decrease in manual flying skills by the average airline pilot,” says Brad Bennetts, the program’s project manager. He adds that, so far, the South African Airways pilots who have undergone the new training sessions claim the sessions have “greatly improved their confidence to fly the aircraft” in both normal flight conditions and when things get hectic—which, it should go without saying, is when a pilot’s steady hand is needed most.

Capt. Ivan

Lion Air looks to accelerate international expansion, starting with Thailand

Lion Air has embarked on the first phase of an aggressive international strategy which is starting to see the fast-growing airline group diversify away from its roots in the Indonesian domestic market. The Mar-2013 launch of an affiliate in Malaysia, Malindo Air, is expected to be followed by joint ventures in other Asian markets, starting with Thailand. A low cost, but hybrid operator, Lion over time will also look to grow its now tiny international network from its home market of Indonesia.

Internationalization with a focus on Southeast Asia is the right strategy for Lion as it cannot continue to rely almost entirely on the Indonesian domestic market. Indonesia has emerged as one of the world’s largest and fastest growing emerging markets. But with nearly 600 aircraft on order Lion needs to hedge its bets and not limit its growth to Indonesia, particularly given the threat that growing infrastructure constraints could lead to slower growth over the medium to long-term.

Lion, however, faces huge challenges as it starts to dip its paw in other markets. Establishing a strong brand and distribution network outside Indonesia will be Lion’s biggest challenge. Competition in any new market Lion enters will be fierce as it will not have the first low cost mover advantage it had in Indonesia. Pan-Asian low cost airline groups like AirAsia, Jetstar and, to a lesser extent, Tiger, already occupy the high ground.

Thailand already has two strong well-established LCCs in Thai AirAsia and Thai Airways affiliate Nok Air. Both are expanding rapidly, using proceeds from initial public offerings. Both also have strong local brands and distribution networks – something Lion has in Indonesia but could struggle to replicate in Thailand.

There is also a third, much smaller LCC in Thailand in the one-off Orient Thai. The unusual carrier, operating a mixture of 747s, 767s, 737s and MD-80s, made a push in the LCC sector several years ago with One-Two-Go, which ultimately failed, suggesting the difficulty in trying to establish a third major LCC player in the Thai market.

Orient Thai closed the One-Two-Go operation in 2008 and has since continued to have an LCC operation domestically under the Orient Thai brand while operating under more of a leisure/charter carrier model on international routes. But over the last couple of years Orient Thai has steadily cut back its domestic operation, using 737s in single class configuration; the reason: intense competition.

The Orient Thai domestic network currently consists of only two routes and four daily flights. The carrier has cut domestic capacity by a further 56% over the last year and now has just a 2% share of the domestic market, according to CAPA and Innovata data.

Nok domestic capacity is up about 45% compared to Jun-2012 levels, accounting for a 26% share of Thailand’s domestic market. Thai AirAsia, which has grown capacity by 26% year over year, currently has a 27% share of seat capacity.

Read full story and analysis at: CAPA – Centre of Aviation

Lion Air Bali Crash Report Highlights Pilot Training

Investigators have raised questions over training and cockpit procedures at Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air after a preliminary report into a crash last month off Bali found the captain was not at the controls at a “critical time”.

The National Transportation Safety Committee said in a report that Lion Air should immediately review or reinforce a number of safety measures related to landing procedures carried out by pilots.

However, it did not say how it had arrived at the preliminary conclusions from a sample of evidence compiled from “black box” flight data and cockpit voice recordings.

All 108 passengers and crew survived when the passenger jet undershot the tourist island’s main airport runway and belly-flopped into the water.

The report, released late on Tuesday, did not give an exact cause of the crash, but ruled out any major problems with the almost brand-new Boeing 737-800 passenger jet.

Weather reports indicated that there was a sudden loss of visibility in the area, it said, adding the first officer was in charge seconds before the plane crashed into the sea just before the runway.

Lion Air’s co-founder Rusdi Kirana said he would respect the outcome of the investigation, but voiced dismay at the interim recommendations which were directed solely at the airline.

“If our pilots make mistakes we are not scared to admit it, but we are not happy just blaming the pilots without proof,” he told Reuters.

“It is important not to give people the impression that we don’t have proper procedures. We take safety seriously, we are a profitable airline and we are not going to limit our budget on training and maintenance.”

The cause of the crash has potential implications for the reputation of one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines, which is fighting to be removed from a European Union safety blacklist.

Indonesia has also failed ICAO standards for aircraft operations and maintenance, and as a result American regulators have imposed restrictions on them starting or increasing flights to the United States.

CRITICAL TIME

The preliminary report said that the 24-year-old first officer, who had 1,200 hours of flying experience, was in control during the descent into the airport and reported that he could not see the runway 900 feet above ground.

The captain switched off the auto-pilot and the first officer handed over controls to him at 150 feet – or 1 minute, 6 seconds before the crash – after saying he again could not see the runway.

One second before the crash and with 20 feet separating the aircraft and the water, the pilot commanded a “go-around” and attempted to abort the landing, but the plane hit the water.

The report recommended Lion Air “review the policy and procedures regarding the risk associated with changeover of control at critical altitudes or critical time”.

It added the fast-growing airline should also “ensure the pilots are properly trained” on this subject.

The airline said standard aviation practice allowed pilots to change control at any time at the crew’s discretion.

It defended its standard procedures for aborting a landing and said these had last been reviewed in March last year.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters last month that the pilot had described how he felt the 737-800 being “dragged” down by wind while he struggled to regain control.

The NTSC report said that the navigational aids and approach guidance facilities such as the runway lights at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport were all “functioning properly” at the time of the crash.

It did not address whether these facilities should include an Instrument Landing System (ILS).

Industry experts say such a feature is common at airports worldwide to help pilots keep to the right descent path. Bali does not have an ILS for planes landing from the West.

The report also did not address whether the jet may have been subject to wind shear or dangerous gusts of wind. Airport officials have told Reuters some of the airports at Asia’s best known holiday spots do not have wind shear detectors.

The NTSC said it expected to release its final report within the next 12 months.

(Reuters)

Source:  Airwise

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