Air France crash: Preventable with proper training

May 31, 2011

I read the summary of the Air France crash this morning and I am sadly dismayed at the implications. I am a pilot and have been for 50 years, and I am amazed at the similarity between this crash and the Buffalo airline crash.

In both you had the crew reacting to a loss of altitude by pulling up and stalling the aircraft, not once but several times. The Air France crew at the controls were in instrument conditions, and the auto pilot was turned off or disengaged after some turbulence was encountered. The co-pilot took the controls, the aircraft rolled to the right and the co-pilot pulled the nose up twice each time getting a stall warning. This was enough to initiate a stall into a spin, as every student pilot is taught. There must have been a temporary recovery, but then there was another stall and the aircraft rolled left to right, while losing altitude rapidly, indicating a flat spin, which became fatal. The aircrew was having difficulty determining airspeed, due to a possible iced up pitot tube.

This whole scenario is indicative of something student instrument pilots are taught, partial panel emergencies, and switching on the pitot heater when entering instrument weather, especially in a humid climate where icing is common at altitude. This is a failure of training, and basic stall control training at that. Spins are no longer taught in flight schools, and as a result many instructors have never practiced one to learn how to get out of it. Years ago it was part of the basic flying instruction. Removing it was a big mistake. But the continual pulling the yoke or nose up is inexcusable; it will always lead to a stall.

The lack of an airspeed indication need not be fatal. An aircraft can be flown using the altimeter and the turn and bank indicator and the instrument I will call the rate of climb indicator. The rate of climb indicator is very sensitive to airspeed changes causing altitude change. The correct response in this case would have been to use power for altitude change while attempting to get an airspeed that will give a stable or neutral rate of climb.

I am surprised and dismayed that this type of accident is showing up in commercial aviation and is almost absent in private aviation. Student pilots know better, and club pilots are examined yearly for proficiency. In commercial aviation, pilots may not be familiar with the type aircraft they are flying and do not get hands on testing in an aircraft with an instructor pilot; they rely on a simulator instead which is cheaper for the airline but not as effective. I am sorry to say this is a training problem that has to be addressed, and no amount of legislation will change it. The training has to get more intense for this type of fatal action to stop.

Joseph Schvimmer, Pikesville

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