Over the years I have learned to resist jumping to conclusions regarding accidents, their causes, etc. So my interview with CBS Channel 8 News yesterday was somewhat reserved. Until I read – and heard – the NTSB Chairman’s release of the FDR and CVR data. Please, tell me it isn’t true that two professional pilots for a major International Air Carrier could act in such a grossly negligent and incompetent manner as it appears here.
The news media makes a big deal about the ILS Glide Slope and PAPI being inoperative. Those components are mostly useful during IFR and low-visibility approaches, but are neither necessary nor required for VFR approaches on a clear day with 10+ miles visibility. After all, if a pilot can see the runway he shouldn’t need electronic altitude guidance to find it. Besides, the Boeing 777 is equipped with a sophisticayed GPS system, which includes GPS approach capability. SFO has an RNAV Approach – with vertical guidance – to Runway 28 Left. USE IT for crying out loud. I was always taught to tune all Approach Aids available, whether or not I intended to use them all. Just a matter of always giving yourself “a way out”, and being ready for that occasional missed approach.
The NTSB reports the “throttles” – or Power Levers – were at idle until they attempted a Go-Around 1.5 seconds before impact. My God, man, I have flown Jet Airliners. We always keep the engines spooled-up at 50% or more until just before touchdown. Why ? because it takes between 15 and 30 seconds to spool-up from idle, and that was on older DC-9/MD-80’s, which had a much smaller engine than the 90,000 pounds of thrust that is installed on the B-777. Adjust the rate of descent with drag if you must, but do NOT unspool the engines.
The Cockpit Voice Recorder also provided the information that one of the pilots called for an increase in airspeed about 7 seconds before impact (way too late), probably already was behind the power curve; and then the stick-shaker at 4 seconds before impact. Even then, the go-around was not initiated for another 2.5 seconds, or 1.5 seconds before impact. Given that both pilots were probably sound asleep until 7 seconds before impact, the go-around should have been initiated immediately when somebody discovered the airspeed was below V-Ref regardless whether they were 50 feet above the water, or 1500 feet above the water.
There are also reports the Pilot-In-Command had only 43 hours in Type. No big deal. Happens all the time. Of course that is after the Pilot-In-Command has completed the required Transition Training in the B-777 Simulator. Then, after he completes the Initial Operating Experience segment in the airplane with a Check Airman, if he has not been checked out at a particular airport – like SFO – no matter what level of his experience, he should be accompanied by a Line Check Airman in the right seat who HAS been checked out at that airport.
This whole scenario is very dis-heartening. I agree todays pilots are of a different generation than I was. It appears the International Air Carriers are also of a different generation. Boeing has done everything humanly possible to make the 777 idiot-proof. It doesn’t look like that is enough.