Ryanair rushed descents take a dive

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Action by Irish low-cost carrier following safety breaches brings dramatic reduction in risk of unstabilised approaches

Ryanair operational flight data monitoring shows the airline has eliminated unstabilised approaches after a run of four high-risk incidents between July 2005 and June 2006. The rushed approaches to airports at Rome Ciampino, Italy, Stockholm Skavsta, Sweden, and two Irish airports, Cork and Knock, were all the subject of investigations, but revised crew standard operating procedures and an awareness campaign appear to have stopped this type of occurrence, the airline reports.

Ryanair's chief pilot Capt Ray Conway says a series of internal measures has resulted in a dramatic decline in rushed approaches. The carrier's operational flight data monitoring (OFDM) system has recorded no unstabilised approaches since a warning from the airline's board on 25 September last year. The board, worried by details emerging from the incident investigations, issued an unprecedented warning in a letter to pilots saying that crews who failed to go around if the aircraft was not fully stabilised as the aircraft passed 500ft (152m) on final approach would face demotion at the first event and dismissal on the second.

The letter also reminded pilots that go-arounds were considered a "no-blame" decision, and exceptional circumstances such as turbulence, windshear or technical problems would be taken into account.

The letter was not the only measure employed, Conway says, although the OFDM graph of approach incidents dived to zero immediately it was issued and has not risen again. The standard operating procedure (SOP) requiring stabilisation by 500ft has also been simplified: now, if the aircraft is not within defined speed and profile parameters at 500ft as monitored by the pilot not flying, the pilot not flying is to call "500ft go around". The measure, says Conway, was adopted because of recognition that, in some incidents, the misjudgement by the pilot flying had been caused by "task saturation", making the pilot "less able to judge the situation critically".

OFDM has had a generally beneficial effect on operations quality assurance at Ryanair since it was adopted fleet-wide in May 2004, says Conway. He uses downloads from OFDM in safety "roadshows" each year at Ryanair's bases, and at these he takes de-identified examples of recent occurrences in which "exceedences" beyond SOP parameters have occurred and runs cockpit simulations of them for the pilots to discuss. They are popular with pilots, he says, pointing out that in the past 12 months 1,100 of Ryanair's 1,375 flightcrew attended a safety roadshow.

External links:
Ryanair's website