David Learmount/AMSTERDAM

EUROPEAN AND US research on a system to improve airliner take-off safety has ground to a halt, faced with lack of interest from regulators, industry, and operators.

Two agencies - NASA Langley in the USA and the National Research Laboratory (NLR) in Amsterdam, Netherlands - had brought separate take-off monitoring systems (TOPMS) to prototype standard and demonstrated their effectiveness in improving pilot go/no-go decision-making. Both, however, have shelved their programmes, saying that it is up to the regulators and industry to continue.

NASA Langley was given the TOPMS research task after the 1982 Air Florida Boeing 737-200 crash at Washington National Airport, where the aircraft's engines were delivering less power than indicated. The aircraft just got airborne, could not sustain flight and then crashed.

The US National Transportation Safety Board says that there have been more than 4,000 take-off related accidents, killing 1,378 people between 1983 and 1990. A Boeing study shows that 25% of all hull-loss accidents occur in the take-off phase, while the NLR says that only 25% of rejected take-offs are engine-related.

The effects of factors such as excess aircraft weight (unknown to the pilot), windshear, runway-friction differences, tyre failure, runway-profile misinformation and sub-standard thrust development can all be calculated in near-real-time and a warning provided.

Dr Ratan Khatwa, of the NLR's flying-qualities and flight-control systems group, says that take-off and initial-climb accident rates have not decreased in the last 20 years, emphasising that the NLR system also ensures safe performance in the initial climb.

Extensive simulator tests show dramatic improvements to pilot go/no-go decision making without having any negative effects on other aspects of pilot performance, says Khata.

It also performs best, he says, in the two areas where decision making is most difficult and where bad decisions would be most disastrous: a medium-level performance-deficit combined with an engine failure; and a high-level performance-deficit, which a TOPMS can confirm at such low speeds that danger does not develop.

Source: Flight International