Swiss investigators slam low-level manoeuvring by Boeing MD-83 crew that led to wingtip strike and go-around

Swiss budget carrier Helvetic Air­ways has accepted the findings of an investigation accusing a Boeing MD-83 crew of dangerous flying that caused a wingtip to hit the runway when attempting to land at Pristina, Kosovo last October.

In its report, Swiss accident investigation agency BFU says that the crew, which included the airline’s flight safety officer, failed to stabilise the aircraft by final approach and performed “dangerous” manoeuvres close to the ground. Following the wing strike, despite damage, the aircraft lifted off again to perform a go-around. Zurich-based Helvetic Airways says that it dismissed both crew members after the incident, but affirms it has confidence in its operational procedures. “From our perspective [the report] is right,” says the airline. “We’ve had a special focus on training since the investigation [but our] procedures were right, the [pilots] just didn’t stick to them.”

The aircraft was making an approach to Pristina inbound from Zurich on 21 October last year. Initially the crew intended to carry out an instrument landing system approach to runway 17, but switched to a VOR/distance measuring equipment approach on the reciprocal runway 35 because, they believed, the opposite runway offered better visibility in the morning fog.

The crew did not follow the proper VOR/DME let-down to runway 35, according to the report. This involves flying south east until about 15nm (28km) from the airport before following a right-hand DME arc to intercept the approach path to the runway. But the crew, having sighted the runway threshold, chose to make a tight right turn and carry out the approach visually.

The BFU adds that combining a VOR/DME approach with visual flying was “inappropriate”. Adhering to the let-down procedure would have provided “better prerequisites” for stabilising the flightpath. The crew actually opted to perform a “split approach” – one pilot flying on instruments while the other searched for visual reference. Just before reaching the runway the crew dodged wisps of cloud, and finally tried to return the MD-83 to the extended centreline, banking more than 15° at only 100ft (30m) height, putting the aircraft into an “unstable condition on short final”.

With the aircraft above the runway, but well right of the centreline, the crew attempted a corrective left turn at a height of 6ft, causing the left wingtip to strike the surface. By this point they had already initiated a go-around and, despite wing damage, the aircraft returned to make an uneventful landing on runway 17.


Source: Flight International