AF447 crash investigators convene human factors team

French air accident investigators at the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) have launched the Human Factors Working Group that was trailed following the publication of the latest report into the Air France AF447 crash.
This working group will examine aspects concerning the conduct of the flight in June 2009 including the actions and reactions of the crew through the three last phases of flight, cockpit ergonomics and man-machine interfaces.
The group will be made up of seven experts: three BEA investigators specialised in human factors, a psychiatric medical professional expert in risk analysis, an aeronautical human factors consultant, a A330 airline pilot in addition to a test pilot.
The BEA said it may consult further experts from both the aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Air France.
Findings are expected by the end of December and will feature in the final accident report which is scheduled to be published in the first quarter of 2012.
The BEA has been accused of shielding Airbus after it emerged that the latest report on the Rio-Paris disaster left out implied criticism of the airframer.
SNPL, the largest French airline pilots´ union withdrew from the investigation claiming it had turned into a ‘one-sided’ prosecution of the crew of the Airbus A330.
The BEA confirmed it had removed at the last moment a ‘recommendation’ that the stall warning on Airbus A330 aircraft should be improved or replaced. It was reportedly known long before the crash that ´stall´ warnings on some jets could confuse cockpit crews by sounding when there was no problem.
French investigators also recommended that all pilots receive mandatory training in manual flying and handling a high-altitude stall following the crash which killed 228 people.
The investigation found that airspeed sensors had fed false information to the Airbus A330´s computers. That caused the autopilot to disengage suddenly and a stall warning to activate.
The co-pilot at the controls pointed the aircraft’s nose up, causing the stall instead of preventing it. Despite the false airspeed information, which lasted for less than a minute, there was nothing to prevent the aircraft from continuing to fly if the pilot had followed the correct procedure.
Reports of a draft FAA study say the US aviation agency has also found that pilots sometimes ‘abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems’ and that a lone malfunctioning piece of equipment or a single false computer instruction can suddenly cascade into a series of other failures, unnerving pilots who have been trained to rely on the equipment.
The study that examined 46 accidents and major incidents, 734 voluntary reports by pilots and others as well as data from more than 9,000 flights found that in more than 60 per cent of accidents, and 30 per cent of major incidents, pilots had trouble manually flying the aircraft or made mistakes with automated flight controls.
A typical mistake the FAA report found was not recognising that either the autopilot or the auto-throttle had disconnected while others failed to recover from a stall in flight or to monitor and maintain airspeed.