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  • Pilot errors preceded US Airways flight 1702 crash: NTSB

Pilot errors preceded US Airways flight 1702 crash: NTSB

Story updated in second paragraph on 10 December to specify that pilot handbook changes addressed issues highlighted by the NTSB.

National Transportation Safety Board documents confirm that pilots of US Airways flight 1702 failed to enter required takeoff information into the aircraft’s flight computer prior to a March 2014 crash in Philadelphia.

The documents, released in recent weeks, also show that the carrier has since updated its pilot handbook to address issues highlighted by the NTSB.

The documents include only factual reports, and not a finding of probable cause, which will be included in the NTSB’s final report.

The pilots of the aircraft, an Airbus A320 registered N113UW, performed a high-speed rejected takeoff at about 18:30 local time, causing the nose gear to collapse.

The aircraft skidded to a stop along the runway, and passengers exited via emergency slides, notes the NTSB.

None of the 149 passengers or five crew sustained injuries, according to the NTSB. However, at least one passenger filed a suit against the carrier seeking damages for a shoulder injury.

Documents trace the accident to the pilots’ failure to enter correct takeoff information into the flight computer after they selected a new runway on the multi-purpose control and display unit (MCDU).

American Airlines, which merged with US Airways, did not immediately comment.

According to the NTSB, prior to the flight the first officer manually entered Philadelphia’s Runway 27R into the flight management computer, even though they intended to takeoff from Runway 27L.

The captain, who had nearly 4,500h in Airbus narrowbodies, noticed the discrepancy while taxiing, and the first officer corrected it, according to the NTSB.

That change prompts the pilots to re-enter takeoff performance data, like V-speeds and flex temperature, which the computer uses to calculate engine thrust.

The pilots, however, did not enter the figures despite a message reading “CHECK TAKE OFF DATA”, according to the NTSB.

Without those figures, the computer also does not display V-speeds on the primary flight display, documents show.

Now on the runway, the captain advanced the throttles to the flex thrust setting, and the aircraft accelerated.

At about 80kt, a computer voice warned “Retard”, and the aircraft’s computer issued the message “ENG THR LEVERS NOT SET”.

“Thrust is not set,” said the first officer.

“The thrust is set,” replied the captain, continuing the takeoff roll.

When the aircraft was travelling at 120kt, the pilots noticed V-speeds were absent from the flight display, but the captain continued the takeoff roll and rotated around 160kt, say NTSB documents.

A moment later the captain aborted the takeoff, and the aircraft “hit hard”, the first officer told investigators.

The captain rejected the takeoff because he “felt like the airplane was totally unsafe to fly”, he told the NTSB.

Flight 1703’s rejected takeoff was one of several similar incidents experienced by US Airways in recent years, documents released by the NTSB show.

“Recently we have experienced a number of unnecessary rejected takeoffs because a flex temperate was omitted in the MCDU,” says a June 2013 memo to pilots from US Airways fleet captain John Hope.

The memo reminds pilots they can continue a takeoff without flex temperature by advancing the throttles to takeoff or go-around power.

Several weeks after the accident, Hope sent a similar message to pilots in which he reminds them to ensure the correct takeoff data is entered into the computer following a change in runway.

In September 2014, the carrier updated its pilot handbook, noting that failure to enter flex temperate can result in “the possibility to erroneously receive the auto call-out ‘RETARD’ during takeoff”.

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