Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on Flight 3407

With the revelations regarding the Colgan Flight 3407 accident that have emerged in the last few days, it appears we are in for a period of extensive and vocal recrimination in press and political fora. Participants will attempt to "spin" the emerging fact-picture to limit their respective liabilities and the usual grandstanders will cry for attention from media and the public.

It is looking ever more likely that Capt. Renslow and First Officer Shaw took actions that caused the airplane stop flying. The pressing question is, "Why?" Why did two experienced professional aviators take actions that were so completely wrong? NTSB appears to be looking at such factors as the quality of their training, fatigue and the exigencies of scheduling, and even whether professional performance can be maintained while surviving on the pitifully small compensation paid to aircrew of low seniority.

I look forward to an assessment of the possible impact on this accident of the well-known and widely viewed NASA Tailplane Stall video. This video and the conclusions of the study for which it was produced have achieved considerable notoriety in the aviation world and, I suspect, especially keen interest from those who drive twin-turboprop transports in wintry weather. The actions of pilots Beck and Renslow in the critical moments -- respectively raising the flaps and pulling the yoke hard enough to override the stick-pusher mechanism -- are exactly the prescribed measures for reacting to a tailplane stall and exactly the wrong measures for reacting to an incipient stall of the main wing. I fear that these pilots were sensitized to the dangers of a tailplane stall without having been formally and rigorously trained in the recognition (including both detection and discrimination) and mitigation of a tailplane stall. If so, it's a tragedy that the dissemination of valid and useful safety information may have been mishandled at the operational level in a way that produced fatal misunderstanding.

As always, we await the final report...

No comments: