It appears that an Asiana Airlines Inc. pilot, nervous about making a manual landing in San Francisco, inadvertently disabled a speed-control system before the plane crashed in July of last year. Captain Lee Kang Kuk, a veteran pilot with Seoul-based Asiana, was being trained on the Boeing Co. 777-200ER wide-body. Newly released documents show that the pilot momentarily adjusted the power without realizing the plane’s computers then assumed he wanted the engines to remain at idle. The information released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is quite disturbing.
The documents, released at the start of a hearing into the first U.S. fatal airline crash since 2009, raise new questions about how the auto-throttles on Boeing planes are designed and whether pilots are adequately trained on how to use them. The safety board hasn’t made a final decision on what caused this accident. The pilot told investigators the approach “was very stressful, very difficult.” He wasn’t accustomed to landing without an instrument-landing system guiding him to the runway, as pilots had to do in San Francisco that day because of airport construction, according to an NTSB summary of his statement.
In most modes of operation, the speed-protection system on the 777 and several other Boeing aircraft won’t allow planes to slow too much, protecting against accidents such as the Asiana crash. The plane, on the verge of losing lift because it was almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour slower than its target speed, slammed into a seawall short of the runway and broke apart. Three teenage girls died in the crash. In some combinations of auto-throttle and autopilot settings, such as during Asiana Flight 214’s approach to San Francisco, the system becomes dormant, according to NTSB documents.
There have been safety concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency. An FAA study released in November 2013 found that pilots’ growing reliance on automation in the cockpit has led to occasional confusion and new safety risks. Autopilots, automatic throttles and computerized navigation systems have helped improve safety in recent decades, the FAA study concluded. But the price for that is occasional confusion because the systems, which sometimes interact with each other, may be improperly set or act in ways that crews don’t anticipate, the study said. Pilots accustomed to having automation handle mundane flying tasks, according to the report, may also lose basic manual flying skills.
Source: Claims Journal
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