Ditching as an informed choice

This week’s Comment page in Flight International – When water is the best option - muses on whether the US National Transportation Safety Board’s inquiry into the Hudson River ditching could provide simulator manufacturers with enough hard information to enable them to simulate ditchings for pilot training purposes.

If that were possible, it might add to pilots’ options - and their chances of success - if they are faced with a forced landing. In a significant proportion of emergencies that begin over land, the safest available forced landing might best be made on a body of water, whether a lake, reservoir, river, marsh or coastal water. That would be true if the available dry terrain is mountainous, or urban, or obstacle-strewn.

I am looking forward to the wisdom the NTSB will gain from the 20-20 hindsight that its investigation will provide, because it will eventually convert this knowledge into recommendations in its report.

Here is one of the NTSB answers I look forward to: since the crew decided very quickly to go for the Hudson option, will the agency suggest that the priority action for the pilot not flying (in this case the copilot, once the captain had elected to take control) should have been the ditching drill, rather than trying to relight an engine that circumstances suggest had been comprehensively smashed by birds?

Any NTSB recommendation to that effect would not be a criticism of this crew. It would be intended as a suggestion for the future. At present, pilots are not given any practise in carrying out pre-ditching drills, so the routine is not programmed into any airline flightcrew’s thinking or natural reaction. Any crew, like the US Airways A320 one, that has only 3min between total power loss and setting down on water, could do with having such a drill as part of its inventory of instant choices.

The principal reason crews are not drilled in preparation for ditching is that there is insufficient data to simulate it reliably. Imagine what might become possible if the NTSB were able to derive sufficient information from this investigation to make ditching preparation drills worthwhile.

Whatever you think about this issue and my thoughts on it – or any other ops-related issues – debate them with me in real time when I spend two hours on-line on Wednesday 28 January.



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One Response to Ditching as an informed choice

  1. TL 27 January, 2009 at 11:24 pm #

    FYI, pics by the crane operator who plucked the A320 out of the Hudson: