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.