AirAsia QZ8501 climbed ‘beyond normal’ speed

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 which crashed last month in the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board, climbed too fast before stalling, according to Indonesia’s transport minister.

Ignasius Jonan told a parliamentary hearing in Jakarta that Flight 8501 which was en route from Surabaya to Singapore had ascended at a speed of 6,000ft (1,828m) per minute adding that not even a fighter jet would attempt to climb so fast.

The Airbus A320-200 aircraft turned left away from its assigned flight path en route from Surabaya to Singapore, climbed over 8,000 feet per minute, descended and finally disappeared within three minutes, Jonan said, citing data from the aircraft’s automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, or ADS–B, system.

The normal rate of climb of an A320 aircraft is between 1,000 feet per minute and 1,200 feet per minute.

One expert tells Air Traffic Management: “Based on what the Indonesian transport minister said today, the loss of control sounds similar to Air France Flight 447 where the pilot climbed the aircraft and stalled it out of the sky – although there’s no evidence of icing so far.”

Flight 447 was an Airbus 330 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that plummeted 38,000 feet in 3 minutes and 30 seconds and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. In that case, pilots responded to a stall, induced by inconsistencies between the airspeed measurements likely due to pitot tubes being obstructed by ice, by pulling the nose up instead of pushing it down to attempt a recover.

Investigators are expected to submit a preliminary report to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) early next week. Under ICAO regulations, the preliminary report must be filed within 30 days of the date of the accident.

“One month after the accident we will just make a preliminary report. No comment and no analysis,” Tatang Kurniadi, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Committee, told reporters. “This will not be exposed to the public. This is for the consumption of those countries that are involved.”

Flightglobal operations and safety editor David Learmount said now that Indonesian accident investigators have formally stated they will not publish a preliminary factual report about flight QZ8501, it could be up to two years before operators know whether French air accident investigators’ concerns over AF447 are reflected in this case.

“There have been three other accidents in the last 10 years that merit comparison with the flight QZ8501 incident over the Java Sea,” said Learmount. “These four accidents all took place during cruise in tropical/subtropical zones, and in all cases the crews were manoeuvring to avoid bad weather. In all four cases control was lost, and none of the crews made an emergency call.”


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