There is no possible connection between the crash of an the Yemenia Airbus A310 a day ago and the 1 June crash of an AirFrance A330-200 in the mid Atlantic with the loss of 228 lives.

But that won’t stop the Airbusophobia which seems to rule the air waves at the moment. They were both Airbuses. It is like linking a crash by a Boeing 707 and a Boeing 747-400. They are both Boeings. And in each case decades apart in their design.

The 30 June crash of a Yemenia Airbus A310 on its second attempt to land at the Moroni airport on Comoro Island had all the classic early jet age pre-requisites for an air disaster.

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It was a crappy airline flying an old jet in the middle of the night in bad weather into a strip with a short runway where the approaches are impinged upon by big hills.

The flight sounds like a re-run of any of too many 60s and 70s British charter holiday catastrophes involving killer carriers like Dan-Air, which became gruesomely infamous for its clean up processes involving large common graves, bags of quick lime and platitudes in the cut throat budget package market it dominated, despite its record, in those times.

The Yemenia jet is reported as having abandoned an attempt to land in bad weather and crashed into the sea on its second approach. Of the 153 people on board only one passenger, a 14 year old girl, has been found alive surrounded by bodies and floating debris.

The EU has been running a name and shame campaign against these sorts of carriers which hang on to the fringes of the travel market.

The Yemeni national airline jet in question had been banned from EU airspace for maintenance irregularities and the airline itself was on notice to lift its game or have its entire operations prohibited within Europe, and put on the same no fly list which includes dozens of small carriers and Garuda Indonesia.

The Airbus type involved, the A310, is a derivative of the first Airbus jet the A300 and has none of the computer linked fly by wire systems found on contemporary Airbuses and to an extent on later Boeing designs.

However there are good reasons for continued scrutiny of the modern A330 design involved in the Air France flight AF447 disaster.

Similar incidents have been reported on other A330s, including two in recent weeks, in so far as the flights experienced violent thunderstorms and issues with faulty air speed indications and in each case temporary but manageable control problems.

Both are being investigated by the US National Transportation Safety Board as announced below.

ntsb

The second incident has already been massaged into something it isn’t in the form of a widely circulated hoax email allegedly coming from a senior captain concerned about Airbuses in general.

Nevertheless the NTSB needs to probe such incidents to find out of there is something in them that can require a change in recommended operating procedures to make air transport safer than it is.

There were also two incidents in August and September last year to Air Caraibe A330-200s which closely followed but not to a tragic conclusion the known problems on board AF447 of bad weather, turbulence, and unreliable speed readings.

In those cases the airline took Airbus to task over the difficulties its pilots had in following its recommended procedure for dealing with unreliable speed indications including ambiguities or contradictions within them.

At last report Airbus had not responded to the airline’s concern, even though it said it understood the problem.

These air speed issues, associated with icing problems with the external pitots that provide air speed data to the pilots and the control systems are different to the inertial air data unit errors being investigated in the double temporary loss of control experienced by a Qantas A330-300 flight forced to make an emergency landing at Learmonth in WA last October.

But all of these incidents, unlike the AF447 crash, saw the pilots regain control of the jet by ‘first flying the plane’, that is, maintaining its attitude, and engine power levels to as close as possible to the recommended settings rather than attempt to deal with screens full of rapidly scrolling error messages.

A similar response is seen in last year’s two gravely serious 747-400 incidents involving Qantas flights, one an emergency landing in Bangkok in January  and the other the Manila emergency last July, in which the pilots ‘flew the plane’ rather than deal with a similar mass of warnings about multiple failures affecting critical systems.

The lesson from all of these incidents may be that whether it is an Airbus or a Boeing, their differences in design and control features still give pilots everything they need to save a jet in trouble

The question remains, what extra element or circumstance undid AF447?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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