May 18, 2011

AFR447 Early Read: No Mechanical Problems


Preliminary analysis of the flight data recorder from Air France Flight 447 has not revealed any mechanical malfunctions that would require safety recommendations for the A330 fleet, according to a notice Airbus sent to its customers this week. That notice sparked speculation in the French media that pilot error was the likely cause of the June 2009 crash, but BEA, the French accident investigation bureau, objected to such reports as “sensationalist” and premature. “At this stage of the investigation, no conclusions can be drawn,”

They’ll dig a little more on the mechanicals of this disaster. Too early to say anything about flight deck ops, or pilot capabilities, but this I know: long-haul captains earned those stripes. The two pilots aboard AFR447 flew the course they did for a reason, and I’m wondering why the aircraft following flew around the same storm cells they apparently flew through.

I flew with a Delta crew many years ago, to visit a buddy in far-off San Francisco. We were tooling along in our L-1011 TriStar, fat dumb and happy, somewhere south of Chicago, when the captain pointed out the left-side window at a distant thunderhead. “We have to keep fifty miles from those buggers,” he said. “Why so much room?”, I asked, the air traffic controller who wanted to know why he’d waste so much space and fuel on a boomer in the distance. “Company rules. Those things are dangerous.”

Yep, they’re dangerous. Updrafts, downdrafts, wind shear, you’re dead. Delta 191 is evidence of what a microburst can do, right down near the ground. Pilots know this stuff. Why’d AFR fly through the line, way out there in the Atlantic? Maybe the cockpit voice recorder will tell us. Stay tuned.