Odds and Ends: AirAsia 8501; SkyMark Airlines bankruptcy; One year for MH370; Billy Bishop Airport; PNAA conference

Jan. 29, 2015: AirAsia 8501: The first report by the Indonesian government has been issued, per international rules, but the public portion is pretty uninformative if press reports are to be believed. At the same time, leaks indicate that the pilots may have turned off a key set of computers shortly before the airplane went out of control. There’s no apparent information yet why they might have done this. Were they responding to a malfunction, real or perceived? Was there some other reason? Is the leak on this even accurate?

Previous reports and statements from the government ruled out terrorism, bombs, and even the weather. We understand as well that there has not been a safety-of-flight issue. This leaves pilot actions and contributing factors as the likely focus. What series of events combined to lead to the accident remains to be determined.

SkyMark Airlines bankruptcy: It was expected–the Japanese low cost carrier succumbed to over-zealous expansion and filed for bankruptcy. The carrier deviated from its roots and acquired the Airbus A330-300 and ordered the Airbus A380. When financials went South, Airbus canceled the A380 order and sued.

MH370: It’s been one year since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared. Searchers are still looking in the far South Indian Ocean, off Australia. No wreckage has ever been found. We still believe this was a criminal act.

Billy Bishop Airport: Remember this one? It’s the downtown field in Toronto, Canada, dominated by Porter Airlines, Which has a conditional order for Bombardier CSeries jets, hoping to get government approval to reverse a ban on commercial airliners there. The terminal, owned by Porter, has been sold for what appears to be an outlandish price and predictably the conspiracy theorists are wondering what’s up.

More to the point is what’s up with Bombardier? Given it’s revolving door at the Aerospace unit, with key executives and sales people leaving, how is this disarray going to be handled? The 2014 earnings call is Feb. 12. Perhaps we’ll learn something useful then.

‘PNAA Conference: The Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) holds its annual conference Feb. 10-12 in Lynnwood (WA). The event has speakers from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Spirit Aerosystems, suppliers, consultant Richard Aboulafia and our own Scott Hamilton. The conference has become the largest of its kind on the US West Coast. About 500 people are expected this year.

Airbus and Boeing offer up their key supply chain officials, an important “get” when you consider the ramp-up in production these two OEMs plan.

For more information, click on the banner ad above.

25 Comments on “Odds and Ends: AirAsia 8501; SkyMark Airlines bankruptcy; One year for MH370; Billy Bishop Airport; PNAA conference

  1. This may be considered outrageous!
    Many years ago under de Gaulle the French searched without success for a true French definition for a beef pattie in a bun.
    It is still called a hamburger!
    Back on topic, we now have three very high profile Airbus accidents involving French pilots. This is not a criticism of them, but a simple observation and/or question.
    Could it be a possibility that the French language cannot unambiguously impart the intent of the flight manual regarding flight control laws?
    I am assuming the French aircrew involved would have, by choice, elected to study in their native language.
    I cannot recall an instance where flight crew who would have studied the manual in English have had such a problem with control.
    This may be a wild observation, but I occasionally am involved in forensic engineering, and stranger things than one would care to think about do happen

    • Wild and ridiculous, but not impossible. I’m sure you’re thinking of the famous “at takeoff”.The world needs slightly warped brains like yours.

    • It may surprise you, but we, Frogs, in spite of sometimes with a bad accent, we speak foreign languages and we understand english which is one easy language to understand.
      A manual is not litterature, and the technical language is not difficult. We are not talking about Dos Passos books.
      Next time translate your comment in french so we Frogs can precisely understand.
      By the way, I think that a few english speaking pilots had accidents too (French ancestors I suppose).

    • That is a deeply Sapir-Whorf ish thought you present there 😉

      France still persues a path to keep adoption of anglicisms in the native tongue to a minimum.

      contrast with Germany: we even introduce fake anglicisms like “Handy” ( ~= Mobile ) 😉

  2. “Back on topic, we now have three very high profile Airbus accidents involving French pilots.”

    I guess I lost you some somewhere around here.

  3. re AirAsia 8501. David Learmount at Flight Global has interesting commentary on pilot training for extreme conditions. Pilots generally act as managers on modern aircraft, monitoring and managing the aircraft systems. They are not good at taking direct control in extreme conditions where they have to fly at the edge of the aircraft’s flight envelope. This is mainly becaause they are not regularly trained to fly in these conditions

    Hear him on video here:

    And this blog post and linked article:

  4. Until recently they were not trained at all in anything other than routine scenarios they knew were coming, mostly take off and landings at which they practice daily in their flights.

    The move now is to throw odd incidents at them in all phases of flight and train them to actually asses (not react by rote per past) and then re-train them if they don’t know how the system function and what tools are there.

    So far things like AF447 and Asiana were nothing serious, just a small issues that got handled wrong.

    As for the AirAisa, all we will know is what they did, not why they did it.

    Spaceship 2 pilot is a prime example (or stark). He knew what the parameters were for pulling that release lever and he clearly pulled it well short of those.

    Personally I think some people simply cannot handle flying and should be sorted out of it (they learn rote stuff and get by)

    . Many can be trained (I think I was a good example of someone who did not have that inherent Sullenberg type skill but when taught right and how to use the tools did fine for most of it and good in some of it)

    The other move is to actually have pilots fly aircraft (though management does not like it as its not as smooth as the automation, as long as nothing goes wrong, goes wrong, goes wrong.

    • Innovators, artists, experimental types, explorers, creative minds, daredevils.

      Unpredictable, keep them away from cockpits. IMO of course. 😉

  5. Not any more. Bus drivers. We would be better off with dare devils. They at least understood their aircraft!

    Having been around pilots, they are like the rest of us. Some very good, a lot in between (its a job) and some really awful who do not get shucked out like they should.

    Frankly though its not the pilots, its the system that sets them up to fail (and kill passengers).

    It is being worked on, but inherent in this is the unregulated automation.

    Just because its approved (Boeings terrible auto throttle) does not mean its right, just that if you dance on a penny, hold your mouth right and the moon is in the correct phase it will auto throttle when you think it should.

    • IMHO you are thinking yourself into a corner.

      Today’s accident rates are a magnitude or two below the times when in your words “pilots could still fly”.

      Differentiate crashes/accidents/incidents by their cause and look at how each one has developed over time.

      you’ll notice that some causes have been vastly reduced ( markedly by removing Cowboys and replacing with Busdrivers 😉 while others were not. Though I think you will not find a single cause that has increased in rate beyond what increased traffic would account for. Probably less.
      What you now see are the scrapings from the bottom of the “causes pool” freak accidents caused by a long row of rather unremarkable snitches lining up for a propabilities pot shot .

      Another thing we seem to see is changes in atmospheric conditions. Global warming is real and moves quite a bit more water vapor ( and thus much more energy ) into the upper reaches.

      • Ewe: I was being sarcastic. (i.e. grin!)

        Yes its gotten far safer. but we are seeing the limits of that and now accidents start to stand out.

        As most are the pilots messing up after some kind of issue out of the norm the pilots get blamed. while they did indeed do it in many cases, they are also setup to fail by the way the system works (and passengers are the ones that pay that price for something they had no control over)

        And I very much disagree with the characterization of “freak” accidents.

        If you follow the history of automation back to AF296, its the old story of a chain of events that eventually winds up as a crash. While how they got there is new, it almost always starts with one relatively innocuous incident that cascade out of control.

        In this case its automation pilot interface in many of these.

        AF447 the automation did what it was programed to do, but the system left pilot to handle when he was not tested often enough to have it embedded. It would be simple for the automation to do what the pilot was supposed to do (85% throttle and 5 degree head up attitude as I recall) which is the drill for the speed sensors going away at altitude.

        That’s why I call it the Almond Joy of avaiation (that’s a US commeril about candy bars, one has nuts and the other version does not and the jingle is “sometimes I feel like a nut and sometimes I don’t”. I.e. sometimes automation does not feel like a nut and there has been all to little training for pilots when it doesn’t.

        that’s simplistic as also per the Assiaina crash the pilot while he knew better, did not have it hard wired in that he did not have auto throttle working (on an Airbus they would have been).

        Assiana Crash the auto throttles should have been re-engaged as the radar altimeter read close proximity to the ground and the rate of decent was too high and the airspeed was coming down toward stall NTSB roasted Boeing over their take on auto throttle operation)

        Basically its up the system to train the pilots in what really occurs not what was the norm back in the 50s (and its working its way to doing that).

        Until that is worked out there will continue to be these accidents where it all goes South. Most pilots can be trained to deal with the unexpected, but the key is it has to be unexpected so they revert to their basic training and a good grasp of the aircraft systems not some knee jerk reaction that crashes the aircraft.

        Having watched people over the years a lot, the reality is that some people simply cannot be trained to handle situations and the system should be designed to train those who can and wash out those who cannot, not enable the bad ones to keep flying and be the trigger point for an accident or a crash.

        • And do you also think that the world is just a couple
          of thousand years ( from when good unwrapped his G’amazon delivery and switched it on 😉 old ?

          • I just wanted to provide an entry point in case you’d be interested in questioning your assumptions. I once believed in AGW, as it seemed to intuitively make sense, but changed my mind. Arguments are useless… One has to find answers for himself.

            Tellingly, those who believe in AGW don’t want to question or discuss the science, saying “it’s settled”, and invariably resort to ad hominem attacks, for example by trying to lump AGW skeptics with creationists, Holocaust deniers or other crackpot groups.

          • I’ve supplied atmospheric remote sensing researchers with core pieces of instrumentation and software from the late 80ties onwards.
            I don’t have to fall back on religious believe here.
            There are some uncertainties and a lot of observations still lack a good model that explains the observations. (Math used is over my head 😉
            We could discuss how large the human factor is ;-?

          • You sound like someone who would be curious about dissenting information available through wattsupwiththat. There are also numerous categorized links starting about mid-page.

            … But Be Careful… The Entry Point Might Bring Over To The Dark Side… 😉

    • Recent accidents seem to point in the direction of people becoming the weakest link when things go wrong with aircraft..

      The AF A330, the missing MH 777, this AirAsia.. Very unherioc, unromantic and unwelcome statistics start to take over.

      If the AF pilot had fainted, the MH kept his hands of the autopilot and the AirAsia crew hadn’t deactivated flight systems..

      Even the Hudson A320 flightcomputer was making dozens of small corrections a second to keep the aircraft perfectly stable and level at low speed as Sully ditched it.

  6. Something to keep in mind about Sully, he had its co pilot start the APU when the engines quit. That was NOT in the book. That allowed him to have full aircraft control not degraded on battery and RAM.

    However keesje, you need to step back from this and look at the flying industry as a system, not a failure of a single part. If pilots are failing, its the system that has failed.

    MH377 is a red hearing, currently there is no way to detect a nut case reliably (and in my belief it was a pilot hi-jack). Even if not if after all these month no one has found suspects on that flight that means no screening in the he world could have done it.

    All the others while pilot failures are actually SYSTEM failures.

    There are too many of these and its always the same, some small incident starts it and the pilots handle it wrong.

    that means the pilots are being trained on and for the wrong issues.

    You do not need to spend simulator time checking pilots out on cross wind landings, they do them all the time and you know how they do or do not handle them (you may pull one off the line and re-train if they can’t but that’s no more a skill you should need to do in a simulator than you need to teach them to breath, if you can’t do it by the end of basic training let alone in an airline, that pilot should not be flying)

    Essentially the system has never caught up to pilots, automation and incidents that the interacting between the pilots and automation are leading to these minor incident turning into crashes.

    the system should be soring this out and if the pilot can’t handle it, then they need to be washed out, plane and simple. The consequence of a poor driver vs a bad pilot are no where near the same (and you fly in 3 dimensions not two)

    I do not talk about this form a lack of having been there.

    When I was training as a pilot, solo, I got my airplane into a spin. Spin training was were not part of the requirement though I believe it should be.

    Yes I panicked. But I also got it back together and while I had no training I had both the knowledge form reading as well as understanding of the aircraft controls as to what I was in and how to get out. I would not be here if I had not figured that out very quickly.

    Ergo, the system both needs to train, test and challenge pilots so that they indeed react correctly (as most do) but it also needs to remove those that cannot handle it. The odd part is once they handle it badly then they seem to suck in pilots who should know how to correct so there is a severe issue in that to get them out of that loop.

    Some people simply cannot handle some things, its true of all of us. what we can’t handle varies form person to person. The world greatest pilot may suffer from claustrophobia and can do nothing about it.

    Gus Grissom was a prime example. One of the finest pilots there was and he panicked and blew the hatch. He managed to overcome his claustrophobia it by sheer force of will until that moment. I don’t condemn him, I feel the same way about what he was in, but he also was not the person you wanted in charge of the hatch of a capsule bobbing in the ocean.

    • Sully seems to have an excellent systems understanding of his Airbus and with fast access to solutions too.
      Looks like he repurposed the easier Bus-flying to think through a lot of if and when situations coming to a range of predecided “solution cards”. Very bright fella.

      You see comparable understanding in how he has handled the political side of things. ( To Airbus disdain ) but it served his political objectives.

    • Wasn’t Gus Grissom cleared of having blown the hatch, for example by not having an inevitable bruise? I read several times that the panicking Gus was a Tom Wolfe thing …

      • My take was it was inconclusive but I think he did indeed get overcome by the situation

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