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Old 09-12-2009, 01:33 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Emirates tail strike

Sorry this is a bit long. Just received it on Fri.. Hope it hasn't been posted already.

Article from: The Australian
A small error can have horrendous consequences in aviation. Now the story of Australia's worst near miss can be told

AT 10.31pm, on Friday, March 20 this year, those on duty in the control tower at Melbourne airport witnessed one of the most frightening moments in the history of Australian aviation.

An Emirates Airlines Airbus A340-500 bound for Dubai was roaring down the floodlit runway for take-off when it became clear that something was wrong.

"My members told me the aircraft was not accelerating normally," says Rob Mason, president of the air traffic controller's union, Civil Air. "Then they saw sparks coming from the back of the aircraft as its tail struck the ground as it tried to become airborne."

Those in the tower watched in horror as the struggling Airbus ate up the entire runway and limped into the air, narrowly clearing the airport's perimeter fence. Even after leaving the airport it struggled to gain altitude quickly, flying so low that the control tower could no longer see it.

"The aircraft was lost to sight against the lights of the industrial estate to the south, it was not high enough to be seen," Mason says. Because the jet was flying too low, it also did not initially show up on the tower's radars.

For these few terrifying moments, Emirates Airlines flight 407, carrying 257 passengers and 18 crew, simply vanished from official record, leaving those in the tower to pray that they would not hear an explosion in the suburbs to the south.

"This would have been the worst civil air disaster in Australia's history by a very large margin," aviation expert Ben Sandilands says. "There would have been no survivors from that plane and it would have gone down in (the Melbourne suburb of) Keilor Park, so there would have been deaths on the ground also."

"It was an incredibly serious incident," says Dick Smith, a former head of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. "They were very lucky that they did not end up in a major accident with a lot of people losing their lives."

SO how did Australia so nearly suffer such a disaster on this clear, mild autumn night? Until then it had been a typical Friday night in Melbourne, with bars and restaurants in full swing. The city's newsrooms were largely empty, with hundreds of journalists and editors partying at the annual media awards night, the Quills, at Crown Casino, oblivious to the huge news story about to unfold on their doorstep.

At Melbourne airport, a 42-year-old Danish pilot was sitting in the cockpit of his Emirates Airbus with his Canadian co-pilot running through their preflight checklist in preparation for their 14 1/2-hour flight to Dubai.

The captain had been flying for 22 years, including almost five years with Emirates and was familiar with Melbourne airport, having flown there at least four times in the previous six months.

He was also familiar with the Airbus, having clocked up 1372 hours on it. But he was tired. He had flown 98.9 hours in the past month, more than Qantas pilots are allowed to fly and barely short of Emirate's monthly limit of 100 hours. The pilot would later claim to have had only 3 1/2 hours sleep in the previous 24 hours because he was "out of whack" despite spending the previous 24 hours resting in Melbourne.

His Canadian first officer was less experienced, having spent 425 hours on the A340-500, but he would be responsible for take-off.

In the cockpit with them were two other Emirates pilots, who would take the second half of the long-haul flight. Behind them the wide-bodied jet was beginning to fill up with passengers. It was the usual assortment of holiday-makers, businesspeople and those for whom Dubai was a transit to other parts of the globe.

One of these was Roman Korobitson, who was travelling with his wife Irena and their two-year-old son to a family reunion in Russia.

At 10.18pm the Airbus pushed back from the gate and taxied to runway 16 for a take-off to the south. The weather was clear and calm for the take-off, which would take the plane over the heavily populated suburb of Keilor and a defence explosives factory in Maribyrnong before turning to the northwest.

The plane was making a reduced-power take-off, which means it was not taking off at full thrust, a common practice among airlines to save fuel, wear and tear and to reduce noise.

At 49 seconds past 10.30pm the Emirates plane began its roll to the south down the illuminated 3657m runway. In the tower, air traffic controllers became alarmed by the plane's slow speed as it neared the take-off point, but cockpit recordings suggest the pilots did not notice anything wrong.

Yet the crew's actions in the next 11 seconds would save the lives of all those on board.

As the plane roared towards the end of the runway the first officer moved his sidestick to rotate, or lift, the plane's front wheel.

When it did not respond, the captain yelled "rotate" again, and the first officer pulled it at a steeper angle.

Three seconds later the front wheel lifted, but the rest of the plane remained glued to the tarmac. At the same time there was a thump as the plane's tail hit the runway, sending showers of sparks into the night.

For six terrifying seconds the Airbus hung suspended, half up, half down, as it gobbled up what remained of the runway. "I knew we couldn't stop," the captain said later. "At that point I knew we just had to go. I thought I was going to die, it was that close."

The tail of the Airbus hit the tarmac twice more and had reached the end of the sealed runway when the captain took over the controls and threw the engines into full thrust using a rapid acceleration procedure known as TOGA (take-off go-around). For another four seconds the plane still refused to fly. It had now run out of sealed runway and was roaring across the grass leading to the airport perimeter fence, hitting its tail twice more on the grass.

At the last possible moment, the whole plane left the ground, clipping a strobe light and flattening a navigation antenna, before clearing the 2.4m airport perimeter fence and thundering low over the roofs of suburban houses.

Inside the cabin, there was confusion but no panic. Some passengers towards the rear of the plane claim to have seen sparks and heard several bumps, but others were oblivious to the near disaster.

"I didn't feel any bump during take-off,' the Russian passenger Korobitson says. "But I was under the impression that it took too long (to take off)."

In the cockpit, having now gained full control of the aircraft, the crew frantically tried to work out what had gone wrong. They slowly climbed to 2100m before they noticed a message saying the plane's tail had been damaged during take-off.

In fact, the strike had caused significant structural damage to the rear bulkhead, which would cause pressurisation problems as the plane gained altitude.

The crew told the Melbourne tower that they would be returning to the airport, and flew out across Port Phillip Bay to dump fuel in order to lighten the plane for an emergency landing.

As they dumped fuel, the pilots reviewed their notes to solve the mystery of the take-off. To their horror, they noticed that the calculations they had used to set the parameters for take-off had inadvertently used a take-off weight that was 100 tonnes below the weight of the aircraft.

The Emirates Airbus contained a laptop that calculated take-off speeds based on the manual input from the pilots of various parameters including take-off weight, temperature, air pressure and wind. The pilot's calculations are then checked by the captain as part of what Emirates says is a four-part process of cross-checks.

Somehow, during the preflight calculations, one of the Emirates pilots -- it's unclear who -- entered the aircraft's weight as being 262 tonnes when in fact it was 362 tonnes.

But a colleague, whose identity is also unclear, failed to pick up the mistake during the cross-checks.

This 100-tonne difference was the equivalent to the aircraft having an extra 20 African elephants on board, or a fully grown adult blue whale.

It meant that the preset take-off speed would never have lifted the plane off the ground had the captain not intervened at the last second to order full thrust.

As the ramifications of their mistake began to sink in, the Emirates crew faced another drama when passengers reported smoke in the cabin. Whether it was smoke or just dust from the substantial damage to the plane's tail is unclear, but the first officer requested an immediate emergency landing despite the fact that the fuel dump was not yet completed.

Six minutes later, with eight emergency vehicles waiting for it, flight 407 touched down with a heavy but safe landing.

After being checked by fire and rescue services, it taxied to the terminal where the passengers emerged, still oblivious to just how close they came to death.

The next day investigators from the Australian Safety Transport Bureau questioned the Emirates pilots at their Melbourne Hotel. The captain said in a later interview that he was on the verge of a breakdown after the incident. "One of my friends almost admitted me to hospital I was so stressed," he said. "If you have a near-death experience your body reacts in a particular way."

After the pilots were interviewed by Australian authorities, they were flown back to Dubai, where they say [B]Emirates handed them prepared letters of resignation. The captain and the first officer have resigned, but not the reserve pilots.

Although the accident received modest media coverage at the time, it was not until three weeks after the accident, that a report in Melbourne's Sunday Herald Sun revealed how serious it was.

In late April the ATSB released its preliminary report, which confirmed the wrong data entry was the likely cause of the accident.

Fearful that its brand would be tarnished, Emirates has responded robustly, placing additional checklist safeguards including using two computers to calculate take-off settings. "The EK407 Melbourne event continues to be treated very seriously with the highest priority at the most senior level in the company," an Emirates spokesman tells Inquirer.

Smith says the key lesson from the Emirates near miss is for pilots not to over-rely on computers. "It is a warning for all pilots to be very careful when they put something in a computer and we have to be careful not to overly rely on computers for calculations in aviation. Emirates is a very good airline with very high standards but it employs human beings and all humans can make errors from time to time."

Sandilands, author of the blog Plane Talking, believes that Emirates, one of the most successful and fastest growing global airlines, has responded well to the incident.

"Did they learn lessons from Melbourne? You bet they have, they realised they could have completely trashed the value of their brand in Australia (if they crashed)."

The ATSB is continuing its investigation into the incident, but says there is no proof that pilot fatigue played a part in the accident. The ATSB says it will release its interim report on the accident at the end of next month.

"It is useless to blame any one airline or flight crew," Smiths says. "Human beings can make errors so double-checks and triple-checks must be done. Unfortunately, it was not done on this occasion."
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Old 09-12-2009, 05:12 PM   #2 (permalink)
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As they dumped fuel, the pilots reviewed their notes to solve the mystery of the take-off. To their horror, they noticed that the calculations they had used to set the parameters for take-off had inadvertently used a take-off weight that was 100 tonnes below the weight of the aircraft.

The Emirates Airbus contained a laptop that calculated take-off speeds based on the manual input from the pilots of various parameters including take-off weight, temperature, air pressure and wind. The pilot's calculations are then checked by the captain as part of what Emirates says is a four-part process of cross-checks.
AHHH! The old "Garbage In = Garbage Out" bites another in the butt.
I'm glad it all worked out in the end of course.

In the P121 world - are reduced thrust take-offs a fairly common practice? The article gives various reasons for the procedure (fuel, wear and tear, and finally niose abatement). In your experience - when you have used reduced thrust take-offs - what was the purpose?
Quote:
"Human beings can make errors so double-checks and triple-checks must be done. Unfortunately, it was not done on this occasion."
Actually...it sounds like double (at least) and possibly triple checks were used and ALL failed to identify the error.


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Old 09-12-2009, 05:31 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by USMCFLYR View Post
In the P121 world - are reduced thrust take-offs a fairly common practice? The article gives various reasons for the procedure (fuel, wear and tear, and finally niose abatement). In your experience - when you have used reduced thrust take-offs - what was the purpose?
USMCFLYR
At the airlines I've worked, by default all takeoffs were reduced thrust unless something specific prevents it, like slush or snow, terrain, temperature, etc.

I would that 3/4 or more of part 121 takeoffs are reduced thrust or derated takeoffs.
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Old 09-12-2009, 05:40 PM   #4 (permalink)
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At the airlines I've worked, by default all takeoffs were reduced thrust unless something specific prevents it, like slush or snow, terrain, temperature, etc.

I would that 3/4 or more of part 121 takeoffs are reduced thrust or derated takeoffs.[/quote]
And the primary reason for using reduced take-off thrust is which of the given reasons (fuel, wear/tear, or noise) - or something else?

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Old 09-12-2009, 05:55 PM   #5 (permalink)
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And the primary reason for using reduced take-off thrust is which of the given reasons (fuel, wear/tear, or noise) - or something else?

USMCFLYR
Usually it's wear and tear. I can't remember the specifics, but at my company, a full thrust or enhanced TO (depending on model) has a pretty significant affect at lowering the life of the engine.
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Old 09-12-2009, 05:56 PM   #6 (permalink)
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At XJT, it's primarily wear and tear. I forget the numbers but the engine life is exponentially longer when using reduced thrust. As mentioned, the default t/o is reduced. If we need Full or E T/O (XR model), for runway contamination or short runway, or whatever, we don't hesitate to use it.
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Old 09-12-2009, 05:57 PM   #7 (permalink)
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At XJT, it's primarily wear and tear. I forget the numbers but the engine life is exponentially longer when using reduced thrust. As mentioned, the default t/o is reduced. If we need Full or E T/O (XR model), for runway contamination or short runway, or whatever, we don't hesitate to use it.
HA!!!! Beat ya by a minute

But like you said, there's been plenty of times (like in Mexico) that if the TOW is even close to the MATOW for a reduced, well, like you said.

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Old 09-13-2009, 02:02 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Reduced thrust take off and climb actually uses more fuel, it is strictly for engine life.

On the B777 we used OPT's for take off calc, with a double check from either the opposite side (PM's) OPT or the flight deck lap top. SOP was an independant check, the entry of numbers were spoken by the PM and verified by the PF, and the third pilot (if there was one)on the lap top. On the 744 I make it habit to reference my handy V2 vs weight numbers, compare it to the flight plan and set it initially on the MCP. When the load sheet arrives the numbers are compared as that is where there can be mistakes made (incorrect load sheet data, bad math generally).

Where the pre set on the MCP comes in handy is if a tired piot accidently enters ZFW on the TO weight line on the performance page, pretty much where one can get a 100 ton difference (100 ton sounds like an average long haul fuel). The numbers that the FMC would spit out would then be way off the pre set and the mistake would be obvious, if you get my drift.

Just my way of not doing the same thing as these poor guy's. . . knock wood my friends, smart people have made the same mistake in the past.
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Old 09-13-2009, 08:13 AM   #9 (permalink)
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And the primary reason for using reduced take-off thrust is which of the given reasons (fuel, wear/tear, or noise) - or something else?

USMCFLYR
Heat is the big factor in engine life. Higher heat equals less life. For example, historically the Russians have burned their engines at much higher temps and got more thrust but shorter engine life.

The airlines figured out that if they could get an airplane airborne without using all the thrust, and still meet all FAA requirements then why use the extra thrust. You can use reduced thrust via 'assumed temperature' and/or a 'derate'. In some cases, both. And you wind up rolling down the runway with about 86% N1.

The big thing for me was to check acceleration. With a lighter airplane, your acceleration with reduced thrust should be about the same. So, on the 737 for example, as I remember I was looking for 100kts by 2000ft on takeoff roll.

The military didn't use reduced thrust when I was in but they did use min accel checks. Seemed to me the best option was to use both.
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Old 09-13-2009, 08:47 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Heat is the big factor in engine life. Higher heat equals less life. For example, historically the Russians have burned their engines at much higher temps and got more thrust but shorter engine life.

The airlines figured out that if they could get an airplane airborne without using all the thrust, and still meet all FAA requirements then why use the extra thrust. You can use reduced thrust via 'assumed temperature' and/or a 'derate'. In some cases, both. And you wind up rolling down the runway with about 86% N1.

The big thing for me was to check acceleration. With a lighter airplane, your acceleration with reduced thrust should be about the same. So, on the 737 for example, as I remember I was looking for 100kts by 2000ft on takeoff roll.

The military didn't use reduced thrust when I was in but they did use min accel checks. Seemed to me the best option was to use both.
IIRC, the USAF started using reduced thrust takeoffs on the C-141 fleet in 1974-75. UAL started doing it in the B-727 in 1979.

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