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Asiana Flight 214: A Pilot’s Perspective II

More from Capt. Bogs:

Latest thoughts in the media on Asiana Flight 214 seems to be all about pilot error. Probably right. My feeling is that is supervisory error, in that the instructor pilot failed to supervise his student properly. That is what an Air Force accident board would say.

I’m not trying to excuse the pilots, but why were the autothrottles off while they were concentrating on an admittedly difficult (but routine) approach? I never flew the 777, but on the Airbus, the throttles would not have disengaged on the descent and approach. I would think that the 777 is the same; operated normally the auto throttles would stay on through the descent and approach and on to landing. If the student pilot was used to flying the older technology 747, he may have disengaged the autothrottles at the start of the descent just like on the 747, and just left them off, contrary to normal procedures on the 777. His training would assume the autothrottles were on during the approach, as would his instructor on the jet in the actual fact. That still does not excuse the instructor from failing to see the problem, especially at the stabilized approach point on final. That check is: on glide slope, on centerline, on airspeed, with the engines spooled up. (Jet engines take a little while to develop power when they are in idle and more thrust is needed, which is why we need them out of idle on final.)

Another question is, why didn’t the pilots have glide slope guidance while on final? San Francisco International has 2 parallel runways in very close proximity to each other. 28 L(left) is normally used for takeoffs, while 29 R(right) is used for landings. A commuted turboprop preceded Asiana 214 on the runway complex, landing on 28R just before 214 landed on 28L. Did the tower reclear the flight to the parallel runway, forcing the pilots on 214 change their landing runway on their instruments while in the approach phase? Not an unusual occurrence . This would erase the glide slope guidance on their panels when they needed it the most. Turboprops are very slow compared to these big jets. If the tower asked the jet to slow before changing his runway, this may have been why they disengaged the autothrottles.

Whatever, autothrottles or not, glide slope guidance or not, runway change or not, you still have to fly the damn jet all the way to the runway. And the instructor’s only job is to make sure his student does it safely. That’s where the buck stops.

Today, there is another fire on a parked Boeing 787, this time an Ethiopia airlines jet at Heathrow Airport in London. I’ll tell you, lithium scares the heck out of me. There was a rash of lithium battery fires on laptops in the last few years before I retired. Very hot fires, very difficult to extinguish. This fire occurred after the jet had been parked for 2 hours. If it is another battery fire, this is very bad news for Boeing. Ethiopia airlines was the first airline to put the 787′s back into service after the FAA couldn’t find a cause to the fires. Thermal run aways is the usual excuse for a lithium battery fire, which is actually good news for people in the air on these jets. It is very cold up there (-56C at 36,000 feet, plus or minus 2 degrees C per thousand feet), so there are not too many therms trying to run away while in cruise. Put the plane on the ground, charge the battery with external power (in other words, add energy to the battery) in an unventilated compartment, and let it sit out there in the sun. Hummm. Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

There are a lot of smarter people than me trying to fix this problem. I’d disconnect the battery on the ground unless it needed charging, and I’d charge it only after I took it physically out of the jet. At least then the jet wouldn’t catch fire. Just a thought.

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