Thursday, August 21, 2008


(Courtesy: The internet)
Brief Description

A MD-82 aircraft operated by Spanair from Madrid-Barajas (MAD) to Gran Canaria (LPA) was destroyed when it crashed on take-off at MAD, killing 154 occupants, including all six crew members, and seriously injuring 18. The estimated departure time of the flight was 13:00. The aircraft was authorized to start-up at 13:06:15. It taxied to runway 36L. The flaps were extended to 11° for take-off. The aircraft was cleared for takeoff at 13:24:57. The crew informed the ATC at 13:26:27 that they had a problem and that they had to exit the runway. At 13:33:12, they communicated that they were returning to the stand.

The crew had detected an overheating Ram Air Temperature (RAT) probe. The aircraft returned to the apron. The maintenance confirmed the malfunction described, checked the RAT probe heating section of the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) and opened the electrical circuit breaker that connected the heating element. Once complete, it was proposed and accepted that the aircraft be dispatched. The aircraft was topped off with 1080 liters of kerosene and at 14:08:01 it was cleared for engine start-up and to taxi to runway 36L for takeoff.

The crew continued with the tasks to prepare the airplane for the flight. The conversations on the cockpit voice recorder revealed certain expressions corresponding to the before engine start checklists, the normal start list, the after start checklist and the taxi checklist. On the final taxi segment the crew concluded its checks with the takeoff imminent checklist. At 14:23:14, the aircraft was cleared for take-off from runway 36L. Along with the clearance, the control tower informed the aircraft that the wind was from 210° at 5 knots.

At 14:23:19, the crew released the brakes for takeoff. Engine power had been increased a few seconds earlier and at 14:23:28 its value was 1.4 EPR. Power continued to increase to a maximum value of 1.95 EPR during the aircraft’s ground run. The CVR recording shows the crew calling out "V1" at 14:24:06, at which time the DFDR recorded a value of 147 knots for calibrated airspeed (CAS), and "rotate" at 14:24:08, at a recorded CAS of 154 knots. The DFDR recorded the signal change from ground mode to air mode from the nose gear strut ground sensor. The stall warning stick shaker was activated at 14:24:14 and on three occasions the stall horn and synthetic voice sounded in the cockpit: "[horn] stall, [horn] stall, [horn] stall". Impact with the ground took place at 14:24:23.

During the entire takeoff run until the end of the CVR recording, no noises were recorded involving the takeoff warning system (TOWS) advising of an inadequate takeoff configuration. During the entire period from engine start-up while at parking stand R11 to the end of the DFDR recording, the values for the two flap position sensors situated on the wings were 0°.
The length of the takeoff run was approximately 1950 m. Once airborne, the aircraft rose to an altitude of 40 feet above the ground before it descended and impacted the ground. During its trajectory in the air, the aircraft took on a slight left roll attitude. The crew momentarily retarded the engine throttles, increased the pitch angle and did not correct for the left roll angle. The left roll was followed by a fast 20° roll to the right, another slight roll to the left and another abrupt roll to the right of 32°. The maximum pitch angle recorded during this process was 18°.

The aircraft’s tailcone was the first part to impact the ground, almost simultaneously with the right wing tip and the right engine cowlings. The marks from these impacts were found on the right side of the runway strip as seen from the direction of the takeoff, at a distance of 60 m, measured perpendicular to the runway centerline, and 3207.5 m away from the threshold, measured in the direction of the runway. The aircraft then traveled across the ground an additional 448 m until it reached the side of the runway strip, tracing out an almost linear path at a 16° angle with the runway. It lost contact with the ground after reaching an embankment/drop-off beyond the strip, with the marks resuming 150 m away, on the airport perimeter road, whose elevation is 5.50 m lower than the runway strip. The aircraft continued moving along this irregular terrain until it reached the bed of the Vega stream, by which point the main structure was already in an advanced state of disintegration. It is here that it caught on fire. The distance from the initial impact site on the ground to the farthest point where the wreckage was found was 1093m.

The Low Cost Airline 'Dream Ain't Over'

'The Dream Ain't Over' article published in the Times of India, written by Capt. G R Gopinath, on the editorial page is his expression of faith in the low cost model that he literally kick-started in India. It was a revolution that gave the ordinary Indian citizen a chance to fly, and by doing so break the 'caste structure' of the Indian system, where-in you could only fly if you had money or position. Air Deccan came as a breath of fresh air for the Indian public and gave them a chance to fly with ticket prices as low as Re. 1. It changed the aviation scene in India, specially when a number of other low cost carriers came into being, following the lead taken by Air Deccan. All rules regarding modes of transportation were re-written. The railways felt threatened....... and lowered fares for the Air Conditioned classes.
I am a big fan of Air Deccan and did not want Air Deccan to go down, simply because Air Deccan did to India, in its own way, what our Constitution has been trying to do for the last many decades - it broke through the rigid caste structure of our society. I believe that caste is so deeply ingrained in our society that it will take a long time to rid our society of this menace - I am speaking about the negative connotations of caste. It is events like the privatisation of the telecom sector, introduction of the mobile phone, opening the civil aviation sector to private players, the advent of low cost carriers like Air Deccan, privatisation of banks which led to easy access to loans for everyone, that have slowly and surely started eroding India's rigid caste system and has started flattening the Indian peoples hierarchical structures. More of this sometime later.
I donot want the low cost model dream to be over, but being in the industry I am also aware that if nothing is done to save it, we will loose this dream once again like the East West, Damania, Modiluft airlines. The airlines are all bleeding. Capt Gopinath has touched upon the high cost of fuel, the higher fares to generate revenue, poor infrastructure, and inflation.
The cost of fuel affects the whole world but affects India more because of our system. The cost of fuel is much higher in India than abroad. Can the government take some steps to rationalise the price of fuel or better still permit free import of fuel by private operators in a way that it helps the aviation industry - an industry that is providing employment to a large number of people directly, and many more indirectly through the infrastructure projects connected with aviation - be it construction, navigation equipment, signal equipment, training schools, and upgradation of allied facilities etc.
The article also talks about airlines trying to increase revenue through higher fares. This has led to a reduced load factor. The July figures released by DGCA indicate a load factor of about 60%. This is just not good enough to sustain the airlines. The Indian traveller is very 'value conscious' and is not willing to pay a very large premium for the 'time saved' due to air travel. Thus the fares can be hiked but not beyond a point, to keep the Indian traveller interested.
Poor infrastructure adds to the costs and the higher fares in the form of congestion charges. Private airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad have started charging higher airport fees and this is further going to affect air travel. The Indian traveller wants world class facilities but is not yet ready to pay world class prices. We will have to find a way to pay for the infrastructure that we create. Delhi's third runway was opened for air traffic today. This augurs well for the travellers. The orbit time would definitely reduce, saving fuel and hopefully bringing ticket prices lower for the public. We need more runways and low cost terminals to help the low cost airlines survive.
Inflation is another factor that is affecting every sector, including the aviation sector. Hopefully inflation would come down in about 6 months time and change the gloomy perception of the corporate sector and the other travelling public. Everyone seems to have cut down on discretionary travel and this definitely hurts the airline industry the most. The government needs to do its bit but there is a need for the industry also to shape up by cutting costs and increasing revenues. One thing that always struck me abroad was that every industry operates on the principle of 'co-operate to compete'. Every industry standardises things in such a way that they all benefit and compete on only their core business. The low cost carriers must co-operate in anything that does not directly reflect on customer service - it could be in providing transportation, security, baggage handling, etc. They could even work out load share agreements to cover all routes, specially unprofitable routes. 15 aircraft of one airline, 5 of another, few more of another - competing with each other would only kill all of them. These airline managements must think out of the box.
Lastly, like Capt. G R Gopinath, I do hope that the low cost dream 'ain't over' yet.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Unprecedented growth in the Indian aviation sector over the past few years has come with a number of opportunities and challenges. One of these challenges pertains to the availability of qualified pilots for commercial aviation. Sensing this opportunity a large number of young students have opted to choose a career in aviation over the past few years. Of these a large number have gone abroad, completed their mandatory training for issue of Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) on a fast track mode and have eventually found their way into the Indian aviation system. These pilots with about 200 – 250 hours of flying experience on slow moving piston engine aircraft are today occupying the right seat on multi-engine jets that fly at many times the speed of the Cessna class of aircraft, at altitudes that these pilots have never been exposed to. This opportunity, with its own set of challenges, has come about due to the skewed demand and supply equation in the Indian aviation sector. Now that this is a reality in India, it is best to take a reality check of the situation.

We have a situation today wherein a young pilot with relatively, both quantitatively and qualitatively, low flying experience occupying the right seat with a Captain with over 10000 hours of flying experience in the left seat. This is not an uncommon experience in Indian commercial aviation today. The First Officer is legally qualified and endorsed on the type being flown, having gone through the process of various trainings, including simulator training, flying as supernumerary and supervised line flying before being ‘released’ for line flying. Once released, this pilot though fully qualified to occupy the right seat is diffident. He is overwhelmed by the cockpit environment, the speed of the aircraft, the systems on the aircraft, the procedures – both normal and non-normal, the flying skills required to operate multi-engine jets, the automation levels and lastly the application of the knowledge that he has gained during training. Perforce this individual operates from a position of ‘I am not OK, you are OK’. This kind of a situation would continue until he reaches a stage where he has come to terms with all the above issues. This could, I believe, take any thing from 200 – 500 hours of flying experience, depending on the individual. Does this imply that this individual would be of no help in the cockpit in a 2-man crew? Finding an answer to this question is very vital. Most companies have procedures in place to ensure that such a pilot only flies with experienced Captains.

Experienced Captains come with their own set of beliefs and values. Let’s take two extreme scenarios to highlight the problem. One extreme position is a Captain who operates from a position of ‘I am OK, you are not OK’. This Captain has loads of experience and feels that he can do it all by himself. His body language seems to ignore the presence of the young First Officer (F/O), because he believes that the F/O would be no great help and would at best be a burden. His belief is further strengthened when he finds the F/O withdrawn, diffident, quiet, reluctant to speak, unassertive, unsure and clumsy in the cockpit. On the other extreme, we have a Captain who is knowledgeable about the human failings and the error model and also about CRM techniques including interpersonal relationships, communications, decision making and team work. This Captain understands the limitations of this relatively inexperienced F/O and takes appropriate steps to ensure that he utilizes the strengths of this trained and qualified crew member while guarding against, and at the same time nurturing, his weak areas. This is also the desirable case. The actual scenarios would invariably play out somewhere in between these two extremes and would be easier to resolve than the extreme positions. This is the aviation scenario in India today.