Expect the unexpected. Plan for the worst. Be prepared. These are all variations on a theme running through much of the material that has crossed my desk recently.
In last month’s AeroSafety World (ASW), Mark Lacagnina’s cover story examined the May 2010 crash of an Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330-200 while on approach to Tripoli, Libya, the airline’s home base, on a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa. All but one of the 104 passengers and crew died as a result of the accident.
In its report on the accident, the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the crew conducted an approach briefing that covered some details, but that other “essential points” were not discussed. “The fact that the approach briefing was incomplete indicates that … the crew did not anticipate any special difficulty in the conduct and management of the approach,” the CAA report said.
As with most accidents, there were numerous causal and contributing factors. The report says the copilot may have inadvertently entered incorrect data into the flight management system, causing the aircraft to begin its descent too early. Hesitation in taking corrective action was cited, as were possible fatigue and spatial disorientation. But what struck me was that a report of fog from another flight crew likely surprised the crew and “led the captain to focus his attention on the outside to acquire visual reference points, rather than on coordinating and monitoring the flight parameters,” the report said, adding that the management of tasks during the approach deteriorated very quickly. In other words, he was distracted by the unexpected.
In “Continued Takeoffs” in this issue of ASW, Wayne Rosenkrans writes about takeoff risk factors and runway excursions. In his article, he quotes from a training aid published a few years ago by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that says, “The infrequency of [rejected takeoff events] may lead to complacency about maintaining sharp decision-making skills and procedural effectiveness. … In spite of the equipment reliability, every pilot must be prepared to make the correct go/no go decision on every takeoff — just in case. … For optimum crew effectiveness, [pilots] should share a common perception — a mental image — of what is happening and what is planned [based on] communications, situational awareness, workload distribution, cross-checking and monitoring” (emphasis added).
In other words, know your options before the unexpected happens so you are better prepared when it does.