New book “Computer Crashes” highlights a new era in aviation accidents
According to the Aviation Safety Network (based in Breda, the Netherlands) 2017 was a record year for civil aviation with no deadly accidents on big passenger planes. However, there were plenty of incidents and safety issues on comercial flights (some of them which are reported on our fanpage Crash Investigators), which demand our attention.
As communications and the quality of jet engines are improving, there seems to be a consensus that increasing automation is making flying safer. However, the same automation is creating new problems: Pilots find it increasingly difficult to cope with a lack of transparency of onboard sytems, which can lead to a situation of Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I). Loss of Control has been the main cause accidents between 2010 and 2014: 43% of the 37 fatal accidents in that period originated after pilots did not understand what was happening in the cockpit.
I have recently published a book in English (translated in Dutch) about this fascinating phenomenon which is barely known to the general public. Aircraft manufacturers and Accident Investigations Boards as the NTSB tend to keep silence on this issue, since automation is increasing and the industry is bracing itself of a new era, that of unmanned planes.
In “Computer Crashes” I investigated different aircraft accidents, where the onboard systems failed and led to fatal crahes.
In CHAPTER 1 and 2 (Air France Flight447 goes down in the Atlantic Ocean, The Doubts and the Culprits), I investigated the infamous case of the Airbus 330, that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, when the board computers went crazy on the pilots after the speed readings became unreliable. The case of AF447 is probably the first big modern aircraft accident, because it exposed the dangers and problems involving fly-by-wire, automation and glass cockpits.
In CHAPTER 3 (Habsheim) the story goes back to the year 1988 when the first fly-by-wire passenger jet was conceived, but the maiden flight of the Air France Airbus 320 ended in disaster at a small aerodrome on the French-German border. After the accident, the political machinery in France tried to cover up the causes of the accidents and put the blame on the pilot, Michel Asseline.
In CHAPTER 4 (AirAsia: a cracked solder joint and a disaster waiting to happen) the accident of AirAsia Flight 8502 in December 2014, is investigated. Problems with a glitch in the Rudder Travel Limited United lead to a fatal crash in the Sea of Java. The story of A8502 exposes also the way maintenance crews and airline manufacturers deal with software and hardware issues and how some important defects on the planes are left unsolved for months, until a fatality happens.
In CHAPTER 5 (What do pilots think?) I interviewed different pilots on the challenges of automation and how they deal with problems in the cockpit. There is quite a different approach between the pilots of Airbus and Boeing, the latter considered to be a more manual plane. In this chapter, new unpublished incidents are revealed.
In CHAPTER 6 (Different companies, similar problems) different accidents are analysed, like Birgenair Flight 301 and Aeroperu 603, where the Autopilot on a Boeing 757 went crazy on the pilots. The Boeing 777, also a fly-by-wire aircraft, of Malaysian Airlines Flight 124 almost crashed because of a tilted ADIRU, but was ultimately saved by the pilots, a feat which is considered by the aviation community as something “normal”.
This brings us to CHAPTER 7, a very interesting conclusion where an Argentinean pilot-psychologist explains the current theories of Crew Resource Management (CRM) in the prevention of acccidents and how we tend to blame the last-in-line operator (in this case the pilot) for accidents due to a psychological phenomenon called retrospective bias. The pilots are blamed for accidents but not congratulated for preventing them (that is, except when your name is Chesley Sullenberger ;-) and the worst part of this situation, is that the breakdown of onboard systems are always masked by the attempts of the pilots to recover from them, so as far as the aviation industry concerns, “Computer Crahes” simply don’t exist. My book proves the contrary.
Aerotime: Read this interview on this aviation website with Zivele Zalagenaite. https://www.aerotime.aero/en/civil/20246-blame-the-pilot-the-case-of-air-france-447