The dangers of get-downitis

(This first appeared as the second Comment in Flight International, 5 February 2013)

Pilots have a loose term – “get-down-itis” – for the creeping desire to push an unstable approach when procedures, meteorological consideration or sheer common sense would normally demand a go-around.

However, preliminary information from the Red Wings Tupolev Tu-204 accident in Moscow might lend itself to a related strain – “stay-down-itis” – given the prolonged, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to stop on Vnukovo’s runway.

Russian investigators have detailed the aircraft’s behaviour but revealed only a scant overview of the pilots’ behaviour as they tried to comprehend why an aircraft commanded to slow was instead powering towards a rapidly approaching ditch.

From a purely aerodynamic point of view, the aircraft, in the simplest terms, never stopped flying.

During take-off pilots are trained, arguably against intuition, to commit to rotating and climbing as the safer option once an aircraft accelerates past certain threshold airspeeds.

One crucial unanswered aspect of the Vnukovo accident is whether, during the long ground roll, the crew ever considered this possibility, or whether some psychological trigger – such as the activation of reverse-thrust – served to fixate their attention on completing the landing, to the exclusion of every possibility that didn’t involve staying firmly on the ground.

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