Pilots in Emirates A340-500 Melbourne near-disaster “resign”

Emirates A340-500.jpg

Three days before the loss of the Fedex Boeing MD-11 at Tokyo on 23 March, there was very nearly a much worse disaster. The cause is unknown (publicly anyway – though as you’ll see, it’s probably pretty well established in fact) but I’ll predict now that the lessons from it will be more significant than those of the MD-11 loss – tragic though that was.

At Melbourne an Emirates A340-500 sufferedat least one tailstrike on take-off and finally lifted off either atthe very end of the runway, or possibly beyond, taking out at least oneantenna. That’s a 12,000ft runway by the way.

What’s nowhappened is that the Emirates pilots have, and I quote, “resigned”.That’s what Emirates told me in this full and informative statement: “Ican confirm that they have resigned.” The terminology is being openlylaughed at by other Emirates pilots. “Resigned” apparently being atransitive verb in Dubai.

But it’s all quite odd. The generallyopen and proactive Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) wasuncharacteristically reticent about what happened – although it haspublished these details. And there’s no statement at all from anyone about the cause, or even a factual account of what happened.

Butclearly Emirates has decided that it does know the cause and so theguys involved are out of a job. I wonder what they did? Because if theygot their weights and/or V-speeds wrong then they’re only the latest ofmany victims of a definite problem in the industry.

But maybe it was something else.

Acouple of final points. I’ve got it on reliable authority that theengines (Rolls-Royce Trent 500s) are not in the frame – despitepassenger coments that they saw sparks or flames. (I’m guessing fromthe antenna impact, since I don’t think tailstrike sparks could be seenfrom the cabin – although I guess that’s not been tested.)

Andsecond, I believe that the cause can’t be the same as the one thatresulted in this extraordinarily, but probably only superficially,similar Emirates A340-300 near-loss, because I think there’s since been a fix that would make the error in that case unrepeatable. Open to being corrected on that.

Leave a comment if you’ve got views on this, or if you actually know what did happen at Melbourne. 

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26 Responses to Pilots in Emirates A340-500 Melbourne near-disaster “resign”

  1. Joannah March 18, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  2. Mark Gleeson April 1, 2009 at 9:40 pm #

    Could they have tried to take off with the flaps accidentally not extended? That is definitely grounds for dismissal in my eyes but would be embarassing for the airline if revealed to the public.

  3. John Willian Arnett April 3, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    That’s the English management culture – Punitive.

    They should put the guys back on training and let them explain what happen in a open meeting with another pilots.It helps a lot. We used to do this in my previous airline.It’s perfect because everybody talks and we learn a lot.Nobody is scare of the management. We work as team.

    No company is perfect,but EK is only MArketing!



  4. Confidential April 3, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

    Having worked with a good number of the current Emirates pilots, I am in full support of their “resignations”. Initial findings are that it had nothing to do with the aircraft – technical, engines, or otherwise. And while I do not know the names of the pilots involved, I can only say that it is probably a good idea that they are no longer flying. If they are making mistakes that cause this type of incident, they should be removed from their “posts” immediately to ensure the safety of the passengers and crew.

  5. 407 passenger April 3, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    I was on this flight, at the back, by the right window, saw and felt everything. There was most definitely a large flare from the far engine on the right wing, then, a few seconds later, the tail scraped along the runway, terrible noise, terrible sparks like powerful fireworks. We were all very relieved when we eventually took off, it seemed to go on for ever. Then, when the Captain said we had to return to Melbourne because of a “technical difficulty” everyone laughed…….
    When we landed there was a strange smell, then the smell of burning tyres. We applauded the pilots when we landed.
    If it wasn’t for the skill of the pilots managing to get the plane off the ground, then I’m sure that most of us would have died.
    I can’t understand why they say that there was no fault with the engines….lots of us saw the large flare.
    It’s a shame that the pilots have resigned……I actually think that they were brilliant and saved us all……. and I still can’t believe that I’m alive…….

  6. Anon April 4, 2009 at 12:21 am #

    Brilliant.. so the two guys they now have probably the most experience, ‘resign’…

    By forcing them out of the job, the company loses valuable experience and feedback about their emergency procedures, opening themselves up to repeating the same mistakes…

    As for Mark Gleeson, try actually doing the job first, being out in the line, on a 5-7 day trip, crossing multiple timezones, flying a 300 tonne beast around before you try and even contemplate the thought of passing judgment..

  7. Brendan April 4, 2009 at 1:11 am #

    Speculation, it’s a wonderful thing…. almost as good as assumption. I’ll wait for the full report before commenting on whether ‘it is probably a good idea that they are no longer flying’

  8. cptgregger April 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    “Confidential” is obviously not a professional pilot, hence he would know nothing about how easy it is for anyone to make a mistake. Facts are facts and the facts of today’s compressed avaition culture are that we are error-managers from the start of our flight until finish. Plain and simple, errors occur on almost every flight. That is why there are two of us up there (and sometimes 3 or 4). Airlines need to continue to foster an environment whereby errors are identified and rectified the moment they come up. In the US we do this with CRM, Threat-and-Error Management programs and ASAP reporting. The only way to acheive a truly transparent program like this is to maintain a non-punitive environment, which ultimately and progresssively promotes safety.

    I’m not saying this crew shouldn’t face the consequences of their actions. Based on early information it is looking like they made some huge mistakes. But a thourough retraining program will help them and the pilot group in the long run, rather than ignore the very common scenario (one which we all face every day we fly, fatigue and distractions) that lead to this accident. To eliminate their jobs completely will only serve to foster an environment of micro-management. In the cockpit, micro-management leads to mis-management when trivial “CYAs” lead to your losing site of the big picture. An airline has to strive extra hard to make sure it is not creating situations whereby pilots are more worried about getting off the gate on-time, or uploading the proper napkins for FC, rather than managing the most important task, safety.

    If they indeed entered the wrong data into the CDU, chances are they were distracted by trivial gate issues or worse-yet, fatigued (the more plausible scenario). Either way, mgmt at EK will have to address this as a cultural issue and change things lest they suffer another event down the road.

    I have flown for various airlines all over the world, crossed every ocean, and piloted WB aircraft in the worst weather conditions. There are many things the Americans can learn from foreign airlines with respect to customer service and marketing. But what the foreign air carriers can learn from the US is their meticulous post-accident reflection and the changes that ensue as a result. While not all carriers are perfect about learning from such mistakes, I would submit that there is a propensity for overseas carriers to sweep such issues under the rug (not that US carriers are immune from this abhorant behavior either).

  9. Former Captain/flight eng/ground eng. Aviation consultant A.S.HASSOUNEH April 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    the New A/Cs generation, has no third crew member ie flght eng for example, & due to Extra load on 2 CREW operations, for long duty times & short time rest.
    load distr, may be the major couse.

  10. Francis April 8, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    The notion that removing Bad Apples helps to improve safety has been disproved time and time again. In fact, this response by Emirates is a far bigger threat to flight safety than any action by this particular flight crew. Airlines that do not have a “just culture” should be put on European and American blacklists.

  11. Pilot April 9, 2009 at 6:45 am #

    “I’ve got it on reliable authority that the engines (Rolls-Royce Trent 500s) are not in the frame – despite passenger coments that they saw sparks or flames. (I’m guessing from the antenna impact, since I don’t think tailstrike sparks could be seen from the cabin – although I guess that’s not been tested.)”
    I’ll bet you a carton of Crownies that what the SLF saw was in fact the reflection of the underside strobe on the engine nacelle.

  12. Natal April 11, 2009 at 7:03 am #

    Emirates, Melbourne incident sounds similar to incident in 2004, Johannesburg and there was a resignation as well…

    Emirates A340 Overrun at Johannesburg Still Unexplained
    Air Safety Week , Jan 31, 2005
    Email Print
    Airbus is declining to comment on the incident at Johannesburg Airport in which an Emirates A340-300 of ran some 150 meters (500 feet) past the end of the runway on takeoff when the aircraft failed to rotate as planned. According to a safety report filed by the airline, the crew had to apply take-off/go-around (TOGA) power in order to become airborne in the overrun area of the 4,420 meter (14,500 foot) Runway 21R. The aircraft struck the lighting, causing damage to the aircraft (A6-ERN), but returned immediately and landed safely.

    An authoritative source close to the investigation says no evidence of aircraft malfunction has so far been found, and one unconfirmed report states that Airbus has told operators that the rotation achieved was consistent with the pilot’s input.

    In its report, the airline says the crew used “reduced flexible thrust,” which is common practice to minimize engine wear. It states: “Following the rotate call, the pilot flying (PF) applied rearward side-stick and, for approximately 6-7s the aircraft nose did not move upwards.”

    After that, the nose rose and the PF selected 9 degrees nose-up, expecting the aircraft to lift off. “Very shortly afterwards the crew felt a rumbling, selected TOGA (full) thrust and about 2s later the aircraft became airborne. The initial climb-out and thrust-reduction was normal, but as the aircraft was accelerated and flaps were retracted an ECAM (electronic centralised aircraft monitor) caution annunciated for FLAPS LOCKED.”

    The crew then carried out a non-standard approach to a safe landing, but the brakes failed at “about 70kt (130km/h) and the aircraft came to a halt just before the runway end using alternate braking.”

    Following Invstigation…..

    *Airbus says pilot misunderstood use of sidestick position indicator, causing him to inadvertently reduce pitch-up after VR

    The Airbus Emirates A340-300 take-off overrun incident at Johannesburg in April was caused by an elementary blunder in the crew’s use of instruments to judge pitch attitude during rotation, Airbus says.

    Flight International has learned that the crew misused an indicator showing sidestick position to select rotation angle – an unapproved and flawed technique – which resulted in the Dubai-bound A340-300 failing to get airborne until it had passed beyond the end of the 4,420m (14,490ft) -long runway. As the aircraft overran the runway end, it struck lighting, bursting three main gear tyres and damaging the flaps – which subsequently locked in a partly deployed position (Flight International, 20-26 April). After the incident on 9 April, the aircraft, with 230 people on board, returned to Johannesburg after dumping fuel.

    The bizarre circumstances surrounding the incident were revealed in a flight operations telex (FOT) issued by Airbus to A330/A340 operators earlier this month, and confirmed to Flight International by the manufacturer’s chief test pilot Jacques Rossay.

    Rossay says that the pilot flying incorrectly believed that the sidestick position symbol could be used to select pitch attitude for rotation. This is thought to be an unprecedented error, and Rossay cannot explain why the pilot thought it was a valid technique.

    The official investigation into the incident is ongoing, with an interim report expected within a couple of months.

    Emirates’ senior vice-president for flight operations Chris Knowles recently resigned, but the airline has revealed no reason for his departure (Flight International, 8-14 June).

  13. John Charlton April 12, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    This appears to be another case of an incorrect and too low take-off weight being entered by the crew into the calculations for rotation speed. The damage to the tail of a Singapore airlines B747 flight SQ286 at Auckland International on 12 MAR 2003 was from a similar cause – entered take-off weight was 100t less than actual take-off weight. Could not the static compression of the main undercarriage shock absorbers be used to estimate the load and validate the take-off weight entered?

  14. shane murphy April 13, 2009 at 7:15 pm #

    I was on that flight, i dont care who srewed up, there were 225 pax on board. It could have been australias worse plane disaster in history. I will never forget that nite. Now i know the serious of this incident, and how such a minor error in a computer can change the way a aircraft performs on takeoff. whos ever fault it was should be made accountable for. Well it seems the pilots were forced to resign, its sad and terrible their carreers are over.

  15. muz April 14, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    Ohhh my gosh.. that would have been terrible!!
    airbus 340 is an excellen aircraft, with excellent safety records in aviation.
    i guess it looks to me as pilots error, were the flaps extended to (cat 4/5) for take off.
    there are 4 ECAM that control the airbus 340-500
    if one fails the other takes over it.
    i guess, may be the take off weight was not calculated properly.
    but how can they forget to extend flaps prior to take off…
    that is must for commercial airliner for take off nd landing.

  16. tam April 14, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    this would not be a good lesson to the victims and the other pilots as well.If such an incident can happen , it definitely will happen again so better to go for professional solutions rather than sacking individuals.

  17. 407 passenger April 23, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    All the speculations……..
    As I said previously, I was on this flight and can only tell you what was actually seen by me and many other passengers. There was, without doubt, a large flare from an engine on the right wing. As the tail end scraped along the runway, the sparks were enormous, shooting out sideways from underneath the plane. I still see these images almost every night when I close my eyes………..
    I have since heard that there is a video of this flight taking off…….. has anyone seen it?

  18. John James April 25, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    EK’s licence should be terminated immediately from Australia. Silence will not pass here. Im never flying with Emirates again.

  19. Shaken not Stirred April 27, 2009 at 12:01 am #

    They apparently used reduced thrust to take off and when they saw the end of the runway looming pulled back hard on the stick. it’s since been revealed that two things contributed to this late take off. Emirites have directed pilots to conserve fuel by calculating the exact thrust required rather than maximum thrust. (Note, the same reason a Qantas flight QF1 Sydeny to London overshot Bangkok on landing by using no reverse thrust and ploughed through the golf course). An unblemished record still stands even though it did $100M damage to the plane which was subsequently repaied in China. The second is apparently the incorrect weight of the plane was keyed in before take off. The pilots have since resigned. Let’s read into that. The pilots had super, back pay, OT and everythingired. They were told to resign or else. Don’t you love the airline industry playing with your lives?

  20. steve April 27, 2009 at 6:24 am #

    It’s now established that the pilots had not slept for 24 hours and took off under instructions from Emirates to use absolute minumum power to save on fuel

  21. Dean K April 28, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    Oh, fantastic. Umm, I wouldn’t want pilots in the future to become suicidal after scraping the tails knowing that their flying career is over. No, I would want them to bring us back safely.

    Mistakes happen. I would suggest Emirates crews use TOGA from now on for safety, add some knots to VR.

  22. Anon 2 April 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    The Emirates pilots were ‘resigned’ from the airline. They miss calculated the weight of the aircraft, however they were ‘resigned’ before the investigation was completed by Emirates. As I understand it Emirates sent their VP of airline safety to Melbourne to establish what happened. When he returned to Dubai to report to the board his findings and recomendations they didn’t like what they heard, so shot the messenger, so to speak. Emirates are refusing to comment on this, but trust me he leaves his post 1st Aug. What is really interesting though is that the order to resign the two pilots came from outside the airline. So you have to ask the question, who has more authority than Sheikh Ahmad? Dubai is desperately trying to spin the ‘Business as normal’ message but the Emirate is in melt down so any bad news story is being killed ASAP by those in power, to the degree that Journos are being threatened with huge fines if they write anything negative about Dubai. So much for Emirates ‘Open policy’ with the press and the investigation. This is about damage limitation pure and simple for Dubai and Emirates Airline. Next time they may not be so lucky and believe me they were incredably lucky not to have killed 250 passengers and crew. It doesn’t get any closer than that!!

  23. Shaggy April 30, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    I am an amateur observer, but it seems to me that EK flights always rotate or lift off at a very late position on the runway in ACC where they have daily flights. Is it in their pilots training? I believe the answers to the MEL and JNB incidents can be found there

  24. Mike December 30, 2009 at 7:23 pm #

    Apply, lather, rinse, repeat. The Comments feature serves as nothing more than a round-file for angst and hostility. You kiddos play your nihilistic games now. :-)

  25. fligh high October 13, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    I was only a cabin crew at Emirates. I loved flying and even though it was exhausting to serve 400 pax on economy, still did not mind the hard work. The reason of my resignation was exactly this “punishing” and “medieval” approach from the management. In that company noone knows your name until you happen to make a mistake. (e.g 1. the senior steward tells you not to do something you wanted to do, later the purser comes to ask why haven`t you done it. who`s fault is it? YOURS. 2. Emirates refuses to take you back to Dubai with staff ticket although they have free seats available. Consequently next day you miss your own flight, can`t operate as crew. Who`s mistake is it? YOURS) Management and the company is contradicting itself, but the blame can be only yours. Authority should be a positive thing but I`ve seen it only at its worst.
    I`ve left and I`ll never look back. Best decision of my life.

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