Sunday, September 05, 2010

Aviation Update

Another cargo plane down, and another on the Arabian peninsula within the past 2 months. More information is coming in on the tragic fate of UPS flight 6:
Just over 20 minutes into the flight, air traffic controllers in Dubai received word from officials in the nearby Gulf nation of Bahrain that the plane was on its way back after reporting smoke in the cockpit. The jet was "unable to maintain altitude," the report said.
This lines up with previous reports about smoke in the cockpit and even witnesses seeing flames from the aircraft itself. UPS is not denying this at present.

Aviation observers will no doubt point to Swissair 111, which crashed off the coast of Newfoundland back in the 90s due to an onboard fire. Dubai officials are saying the CVR was recovered but they are still looking for the FDR, which figures to be much more critical in determining cause on this one. Based on the location and the fact aviation has been a 40+ year target of extremists, 'sabatage' can't be ruled out, and UAE officials did not immediately dismiss it unlike many other recent crashes.

That said, many factors are in play. If the AP story is correct and the crew "couldn't hold altitude" (and they came in very high) it might suggest damage to the hull or control surfaces, or simply too much fire damage to cockpit instrumentation. However, they were able to communicate with ATC, so some things were functioning. Witnesses said the engines were spooling and it's clear the aircraft made a bank on approach and again after it missed, meaning the pilots were able to execute turns (although turns can performed using differential thrust). And obviously being a cargo plane they will have to look at the cargo for clues.

This crash will be felt hard in Louisville, just as the Fed Ex crash in Narita Tokyo was felt hard in Memphis last year. As soon as the FDR is found and analyzed the NTSB experts and other officials will get a good sense of what happened, so let's hope they find it soon.


Anonymous said...

Years ago, my flight instructor was an employee at FAA. He would regale us with stories about aircraft accidents and admonish us it is ultimately the pilot who is responsible for ensuring the aircraft is ready for flight. Well, I always thought this was a shared responsibility; mechanics are responsible too. The pilot can preflight the aircraft, but he cannot re-certify mechanical functions. He can check his load as a safeguard against cargo shift, but in this case, it is hard to believe any cargo caused a cockpit fire.

A friend of mine works with Saudis in an instructional capacity; he says they are largely stupid, lazy, and often require three times the instructional time than other people. That said, as a pilot, I’m not sure I would have much confidence in Arab mechanics. Maybe that’s just me …

A.C. McCloud said...

I can't comment on how UPS works their maintenance over there Mustang. They are such a solid company I find it hard to imagine they would have incompetents working for them anywhere. This is the first hull loss they've suffered in 30 years.

Then again, it doesn't take much to cause a failure. The law of averages is a beotch sometimes. If that's what it was..