The Tatastan Air crash at Kazan is yet another piece of evidence that the kind of risk airlines face is changing. Perfectly serviceable aeroplanes are crashing because of pilot misjudgements or ignorance, and taking their crew and passengers to an unnecessary death.
This may seem a harsh judgement to make only days after the event, but unless the flight data recorder is lying or the investigator – Russia’s highly competent MAK – is misinterpreting the data, the Boeing 737-500 had nothing wrong with it, but the crew became disorientated while carrying out the nighttime go-around and pushed the aircraft over the apex of the manoeuvre into a 75deg nose-down dive to impact.
Once thought of as a routine manoeuvre, entire dissertations at operations conferences are now given over to analysing the dangers associated with go-arounds. There have now been at least five such fatal accidents and many more near-disaster go-arounds in the last 20 years. The previously sacred diktat that crews should not land from unstable approaches is, itself, being de-stabilised by figures that suggest the greater risk is encouraging crews to abandon bad approaches and carry out a go-around.
The Kazan missed approach, like all the other fatal ones and at least one of the near-disasters, occurred at night. Add these to other night loss of control accidents like Air France 447 and the evidence becomes overwhelming: many pilots who hold an instrument rating can no longer fly on instruments. They probably didn’t know they could no longer do it, but if their employers didn’t ensure their competence, that is negligence. Maybe not gross negligence, but the result is gross.
In 2010 I attended a Flight Safety Foundation conference in Milan, Italy, in which Boeing and Airbus presented on how pilots needed to be re-taught basics like stall recovery, and Air France’s head of corporate safety Capt Bertrand de Courville presented on the go-around dilemma.
Meanwhile at the same conference Dr Kathy Abbott revealed the early results of a study she was leading for the US FAA, revealing the evidence about how pilots are not trained effectively for modern flightdecks and modern flying.
That FAA report didn’t emerge when it was expected to, and everything went quiet for three years. Now it is rumoured that the FAA is about to publish it. What took them so long? Is the industry afraid of what it has discovered?