French air accident investigators looking into the crash of flight AF447 have identified serious pilot training shortcomings that may have contributed to the loss of the -200 two years ago.
Among the findings are that “the copilots had received no high altitude training for the “Unreliable [indicated air speed]” procedure and manual air craft handling” and also that there is no crew resource management “for a crew made up of two copilots in a situation with a relief captain.”
In the case of AF447, the pilot was resting when the sequence of events began that led to the crash of the aircraft on June 1, 2009, killing all 238 persons onboard. The aircraft was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
The report also raises questions about how the pilots flying the aircraft at the time interacted. “No standard callouts regarding the differences in pitch attitude and vertical speed were made,” the report says. What is more, the report states that “neither of the pilots made any reference to the stall warning” and that “neither of the pilots formally identified the stall situation.”
In the first 90 seconds of the sequence of events, the captain was resting outside of the cockpit and returned after having been called back in by the pilot non flying (PNF). The pilot-flying was the least experienced of the three.
Based on the latest interim report, BEA issued ten safety recommendations. In its view, the regulatory authorities should re-examine the content of training and check programs and make mandatory “regular specific exercices aimed at manual airplane handling.” That training should include approach to and recovery from stalls at high altitude.
BEA also believes that authorities should better define the role of the relief captain to ensure that task-sharing of two co-pilots on the flight deck is more clearly set. Pilots also should have access to an angle-of-attack indicator in the cockpit, BEA recommends.
The authority proposes introducing cameras in the cockpit that film the entire instrument panel. It also says that such recording should only be used under strictly defined rules.
Data should be transmitted to an airline’s operations control center to make it easier to localise an aircraft in the event of an emergency. BEA also says authorities should study making mandatory an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) that would become active in such case.
A final report is expected next year. The third interim report, published July 29, highlights again that the aircraft stalled at high altitude and the pilots never performed the nose down inputs to recover. Normal speed readings came back on both instruments after 29 and 54 seconds respectively. At that time, the aircraft was at 38,000 ft. at a displayed speed of 185 knots. In that moment, the aircraft was not stalled and could have been fully recovered by returning to its initial cruise altitude of 35,000 ft. and with power being reduced. The pilot-flying however continued to pull back on the stick, with speed rapidly decreasing. He was not corrected by his two colleagues.
Throughout the descent, the crew maintained a nose-up attitude of the airliner. In fact, the pilot-flying made nose-up inputs and set thrust to takeoff/go around. The BEA notes that “in less than one minute after the disconnection of the autopilot, the airplane was outside its flight envelope following the manual inputs that were mainly nose-up.”
There was no indication of engine malfunction, with the report noting flight control surfaces matched inputs.
Air France, however, said in a statement that “at this stage, there is no reason to question the crew’s technical skills.” The airline adds that “it is important to understand whether the technical environment, systems and alarms hindered the crew’s understanding of the situation.” In Air France’s view, the pilots showed “an unfailing professional attitude, remaining committed to their task to the very end.”