Scant data creates difficulty in simulator ditching training

Washington DC
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US Airways believes a dearth of data to draw from regarding aircraft ditching is prohibitive in creating simulator training for those scenarios.

Carrier A320 fleet captain John Hope explains the lack of information could create challenges for airlines in attempting to incorporate that training into a flight simulator as operating on "anything but asphalt" on the equipment is costly for an airline.

Hope was responding to questions from safety investigators today during a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing examining the forced landing of an Airbus A320 aircraft into New York's Hudson River on 15 January. The aircraft suffered dual engine failure after birds struck both powerplants.

Airbus vice president flight operations support and services Captain Mark Parisis says the lack of fidelity in simulators to create ditching events would lead to "negative training" in not supplying adequate cues to flight crews.

The concept of negative training is supplying training for one particular scenario when "something else happens in reality", explains NASA psychologist Barbara Burian, who has been involved in studies of emergency and abnormal situations in the agency's aviation safety programme.

US Airways generally follows instructions created by Airbus for dual engine failures on the manufacturer's aircraft, Hope explains, with the slight difference being the carrier simulates a failure at 25,000ft and 300kts. Airbus simulates the failure at roughly 35,000ft.

The US Airways A320 lost power at close to 3,000ft. Parisis says Airbus plans to examine lessons learned from the aircraft's landing after losing power at that altitude, but given the uniqueness of that specific situation it is too early to determine any procedural changes.

Hope tells investigators that while US Airways dual engine failure procedures are directed at higher altitudes, the crew of Flight 1549 used the carrier's "threat and error" management effectively to carry out the landing.

But despite those efforts the crew had little time to retrieve ditching instructions since they were on the third page of the checklist, explains Burian of NASA. In her work she's found critical items necessary for completion by the crew are done late in checklists.

Burian also found through the research crews are not always given adequate training to respond to a wide variety of situations as training generally focuses on "textbook" events.

Through the research work with NASA Burian found that out of 107 emergency incidents tracked only 22 were categorised as textbook emergencies, with the rest falling into the non-textbook category. Of the 85 non-textbook scenarios, only six were deemed as handled well.

Burian tells investigators currently the most comprehensive information available on designing an emergency and abnormal checklist is from the UK CAA through its Cap 676.