Handling The Big Jet: lessons for the A380 from QF32

Much as Qantas’ Capt Richard Champion de Crespigny has praised the A380′s ability to absorb massive damage and still fly safely, he says the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will provide Airbus with plenty of food for thought when it publishes the report of its investigation into the QF32 engine failure event in November last year.

It’s not clear how soon publication will be, because the damage caused by the catastrophic uncontained engine failure was so extensive, and the A380 and its systems are so complex, that the primary effects of the damage would fill a thick book, but the secondary and tertiary effects could keep the ATSB busy for a lifetime if it became fixated in detail.

De Crespigny refuses to break protocol by revealing what he knows in advance of the report. But having said that, the report is scarcely going to be a surprise for Airbus, which is assisting the ATSB in the investigation, as manufacturers are obliged to do.

Some changes in the pipeline are already clear. One of the particular problems de Crespigny and his crew faced that day was the plethora of ECAM alerts: more than 60 of them.

In future, when the system is faced with multiple failures, the ECAM display will now state how many alerts there are. For example, the first of the electronically prioritised alerts on QF32 would have been labelled “No1 of 60″, which would have enabled de Crespigny to decide more quickly than he actually did that this was a situation in which ordinary checklists didn’t apply.

When De Crespigny realised this, he then chose to apply a reverse logic: rather than sticking to the convention of identifying and dealing with the problems (unless one of them is a fire or something that needs instant attention), the priority becomes one of  identifying and protecting the systems that are still operating.

Talking about reports, de Crespigny is writing a book. After all, Sully Sullenberger did after the Hudson River ditching, and Peter Burkill published after BA38 crash-landed at Heathrow. All three were “black swan” accidents: that is, they were caused by events that could not have been foreseen and for which there were no checklists or laid down procedures.

I have the impression that de Crespigny is thinking of filling the market space left by the fact that Handling the Big Jets (D.P. Davies), an iconic book published in 1968, was not updated beyond the early 1970s.

Things have certainly changed since then.

My colleague Max Kingsley Jones, editor of airline business, has also addressed the issue of crews being swamped with an excess of information in emergency


4 Responses to Handling The Big Jet: lessons for the A380 from QF32

  1. Layman 1 November, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Airbus is very fortunate that the A380 experienced an incident like this where additional pilots happened to be present and to some extent the additional eyes and wise councel was available to assist the flying pilots deal with this situation. (and we able to assist with the post mortems and ideas for improvements). The A380 is the first of the new breed of airliner with additional layers of computing to assist pilots. Up until now, the early problems with the plane were the number of erroneous or spurious warnings. Airbus could now use the opportunity to clean up the design of warnings to a more ergonomic design and cater for pilots being given space to think without the loud audio warnings. These warnings have their place, but, once the pilot acknowledges that he/she is aware of problems, the audio can be silenced for a bit. The lessons in the A380 will surely be carried to the A350 which will be good for all new planes with such advanced computing.

  2. TruroDuncan 2 November, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Reference to D P Davies’ excellent tome on “Handling the Big Jets” was indeed an iconic volume on the B747-200. It would be a major task to re-work the book to reflect the many, many changes embodied in the B747-400 or indeed the new -8 variant. So many new systems, such as TCAS and EGPWS, together one less flight crew and the CRM situation is now quite different, with Sat-Com being the norm as a wonderful supplement to classic HF comms, all supported with triplicated GPS-based FMS in place of the classic inertial platforms. Probably the least changes are to hydraulics power and distribution concepts, but with digital selection and control now in place! Ah, the dash 200, truly a dinasour of our age!

  3. The Flying Engineer 8 November, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Information overload is an issue. Another growing concern is keeping the pilot out of the loop. I personally find it very hard to see a solution that strikes the ideal balance between these two. How does one make systems that keep you in the loop, and yet prevent you from being overloaded?

    In your opinion, David, what makes the ideal non-living flight deck assistant?

  4. ekranoplan 18 January, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    DP Davies should be required reading for all Heavy Jet pilots. Despite the book’s age and the advent of the digital flight deck, his comments on aerodynamics, momentum, stall recovery etc are very pertinent and just as relevant today.