Learning the lessons of flight AF447

There is overwhelming evidence that the AF447 crash is only the latest manifestation of a developing phenomenon the industry has watched helplessly for 20 years and done almost nothing about: loss of control in flight (LOC-I).

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The geographical spread of these 16 fatal loss-of-control crashes - in which 1,815 people lost their lives - demonstrates the phenomenon is global. By implication, no airline could be certain its pilots would be immune to a set of circumstances that would cause another LOC-I crash.

Here are the examples of fatal LOC-I crashes in the past 20 years. The list is not exhaustive:

  • 2010 - Afriqiyah Airways, Airbus A330-200, Tripoli airport approach, Libya, 103 killed
  • 2010 - Ethiopian Airlines, Boeing 737-800, Mediterranean Sea, off Beirut, 90 killed
  • 2009 - Yemenia, Airbus A310-200, Comoros Islands, 152 killed
  • 2009 - Air France, Airbus A330-300, South Atlantic, 228 killed
  • 2009 - Caspian Airlines, Tupolev Tu-154M, Iran, 168 killed
  • 2009 - Colgan Air, Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, Buffalo, NY, USA, 49 killed
  • 2008 - Aeroflot Nord, Boeing 737-500, Perm, Russia, 88 killed
  • 2007 - Adam Air, Boeing 737-400, Java Sea, near Sulawesi, 102 killed
  • 2006 - Armavia, Airbus A320-200, Black Sea, near Sochi, 113 killed
  • 2005 - West Caribbean Airways, McDonnell Douglas MD-82, Machiques, Venezuela, 160 killed
  • 2004 - Pinnacle Airlines, Bombardier CL600RJ, Jefferson City, USA, two killed
  • 2004 - Flash Airlines, Boeing 737-300, Red Sea, near Sharm el-Sheikh, 148 killed
  • 2000 - Gulf Air, Airbus A320-200, Arabian Gulf, near Bahrain, 143 killed
  • 2000 - Crossair, Saab 340B, near Zurich, Switzerland, 10 killed
  • 1996 - Aero Peru, Boeing 757-200, near Lima, Peru, 70 killed
  • 1996 - Birgenair/Alas Nacionales, Boeing 757-200, near Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, 189 killed

These accidents were not associated with a specific aircraft type or manufacturer. Aircraft involved include a pre-fly-by-wire Airbus, four FBW Airbuses, six Boeings of different types, an MD-82, a Tupolev Tu-154, a Bombardier CL600 regional jet, and two twin turboprops - namely a Saab 340 and a Bombardier Q400. They were not associated with a particular culture: two of the airlines were Western European, one Eastern European, two North American, three Latin American, three African, three Middle Eastern, one Russian, and one Indonesian.

The earliest two accidents in this list, involving the Boeing 757s of Birgenair and Aero Peru, foreshadowed AF447 particularly accurately in that the fatal sequence of events in both cases was triggered by unreliable airspeed readings, and the flights also ended with loss of control when the pilots became confused.