- Southwest is removing 30 aircraft from service.
- American is pulling 17 of its 41-strong fleet.
- United has grounded 16 planes.
- A change in Boeing’s 737 MAX manufacturing process that was insufficiently vetted caused an electrical system problem.
- In this change, fasteners were used to hold a backup electrical power unit in place, rather than rivets. Fasteners did not provide a complete electrical grounding path to the unit.
Airline software super-bug: Flight loads miscalculated because women using ‘Miss’ were treated as children
Weight blunder led to wrong thrust used on takeoff, says UK watchdog
A programming error in the software used by UK airline TUI to check-in passengers led to miscalculated flight loads on three flights last July, a potentially serious safety issue.
The error occurred, according to a report [PDF] released on Thursday by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), because the check-in software treated travelers identified as “Miss” in the passenger list as children, and assigned them a weight of 35 kg (~77 lbs) instead of 69 kg (~152 lbs) for an adult.
The AAIB report attributes the error to cultural differences in how the term Miss is understood.
“The system programming was not carried out in the UK, and in the country where it was performed the title Miss was used for a child, and Ms for an adult female, hence the error,” the report says.
The Register asked TUI where the system programming was done, but the company ignored that question in its response to our inquiry.
“The health and safety of our customers and crew is always our primary concern,” a TUI spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Following this isolated incident, we corrected a fault identified in our IT system. As stated in the report, the safe operation of the flight was not compromised.”
Potentially fatal math
Flight load miscalculations have the potential to affect aircraft handling and to create serious safety issues: the figures are used for figuring out fuel levels, altitude, takeoff thrust, and so on. The 2018 fatal crash of Cubana de Aviación Flight 972, for example, has been attributed to excessive load, as has the 1997 crash of Fine Air Douglas DC-8 cargo flight.
According to the AAIB, the software issue was first spotted on July 10, 2020, when three adult passengers identified as Miss were checked in as children. Airline personnel caught the discrepancy and proceeded to make adjustments manually.
On July 17, the developer(s) working on the check-in application “adapted a piece of software, which changed the title of any adult female from Miss to Ms automatically.”
Alas, the revised code could only convert honorifics for passengers prior to check-in. Bookings made with the title Miss that had already checked in, including those checking in online 24 hours prior to departure, could not be changed.
“On 20 July, 2020, the programmer was making enhancements to the program to improve its performance,” the report says. “This should not have stopped the program from working, but as this was a ‘fix,’ it could not be known for sure. A combination of the [TUI] teams not working over the weekend [to make manual corrections] and the ‘online’ check-in being open early on Monday 20 July, 24 hours ahead of the flight, meant the incorrectly allocated passenger weights were not corrected.”
On 21 July, 2020, three TUI Airways flights departed from the UK with inaccurate load sheets as a result of the software issue, which would not be fixed until July 24, 2020.
The first of these, and the only one detailed in the report, was TUI Airways flight BY-7226, a Boeing 737-800 with the registration G-TAWG. The plane travelled from Birmingham International Airport in the UK to Palma de Mallorca in Spain, carrying 167 passengers and 6 crew.
The 737-800 departed with a takeoff weight that exceeded the load sheet (the projected weight) by 1,244 kg (~2743 lbs) because the load sheet listed 65 children on board, compared to the 29 children expected from the flight plan – which includes the actual weight. The load sheet also varied from the flight plan due to errant baggage weight calculations.
The result of all this was that the plane used less thrust to take off than it should have – 88.3 per cent instead of 88.9 per cent given its actual takeoff weight and environmental conditions. Fortunately, this was “marginally” more than the minimal regulatory requirements – 88.2 per cent – and the flight made it to its destination safely.
It’s suggested this won’t happen again: “An upgrade of the system producing load sheets was carried out to prevent reoccurrence,” the report concludes. ®
Reported by The Register on 8 April 2021.
Boeing 737 Sriwijaya Flight 182 Crashed in Indonesia Just After Takeoff on 9 January 2021.
Did the downturn of air travel caused by COVID-19 contribute to this crash?
The Sriwijaya 737 aircraft had been in storage for 9 months in Surabaya and was inspected on 14 December 2020 and since 19 December 2020 operated 132 flights.
Storage may have been a factor in the crash, aircraft must be kept operating otherwise they deteriorate. Mothballed planes pose a safety risk.
Experts are warning airlines to take extra care when reactivating planes left in storage during the pandemic.
Pilot rustiness, maintenance errors and even insect nests could be potential dangers for aircraft re-entering service.
Travel restrictions have caused a huge decline in flying, with many planes put in extended storage.
As a result, there has been a spike in the number of reported problems as planes return to service.
“Every aircraft is going to have a specific set of instructions for maintenance, but it has never been done on this scale before,” said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of aviation magazine FlightGlobal.
Along with regulators, insurers have also expressed concern. “We’ve got people returning to work who are quite rusty, which is a big issue,” said Gary Moran, head of Asia aviation at insurance broker Aon.
Not ‘like riding a bike’
One of the most worrying problems is an increase in the number of poorly-handled landing approaches.
The number of so-called “unstabilised approaches” has sharply increased this year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
They can result in hard landings, runway overshoots or even crashes.
In May, a Pakistan International Airlines jet crashed after an unstabilised approach, killing 97 people, while 18 died in an Air India Express crash on landing in August, also after an unstabilised approach.
Experts say that pilots might need to be more cautious than usual as they re-enter service.
“Flying an aircraft can be quite technical. If you haven’t been doing it for a while, it’s certainly not second nature like riding a bike,” Mr Waldron added.
However, he said airlines are aware of the issue and in many cases have booked extra time for their pilots in flight simulators.
Aircraft in storage typically undergo a routine maintenance schedule to ensure they’re ready to return to service when business improves.
Asia Pacific Airline Storage, which has a facility at Alice Springs that stores planes for Cathay Pacific and Singapore airlines, employs more than 70 maintenance crew.
Manufacturers also give very detailed instructions about how to store their aircraft. But there have still been some reported problems.
For example, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said there has been a surge in the number of reports of unreliable airspeed and altitude readings during the first flight after a plane leaves storage.
In some cases, take-offs have had to be abandoned or the aircraft has had to return to base.
In many previous cases problems with airspeed readings have been due to insects or larvae in the aircraft’s pitot tubes, which are key components used to measure air speed.
These issues are well known within the aviation industry, and Mr Waldron said he thinks airline travel will remain safe.
But he added that there will be some issues, because planes have been stored for longer than before, and in some cases the planes in storage are new models, which means the potential issues are not as well documented.
Covid-19 has created a lot of unknowns in our industry. Amongst the noise of statistics and global media, it is important to remain vigilant to the risks specific to aviation that the virus has created. Most of us will have heard by now that aviation itself is not inherently dangerous, but terribly unforgiving of complacency. Never has this been more important than when returning 75% of the world’s fleet from storage to the skies.
The dramatic effect that Covid-19 has had on the aviation industry has grounded an unprecedented number of aircraft. They have been placed into storage whilst the world waits to recover. The pandemic emerged without warning, and some operators were likely not prepared for what was coming.
Now travel bans are lifting, airports are reopening, and airlines are scrambling to return aircraft to the skies.
EASA recently released a disturbing Safety Information Bulletin. There has been an alarming trend in the number of aircraft experiencing unreliable speed and altitude indications during first flights after storage, caused by contaminated air data systems.
The result has been multiple rejected take offs and airborne returns. Most of the events have been caused by nesting insects in the pitot static system – even after covers were installed.
Modern flight instruments provide large amounts of information to crew with great precision, while automation makes flying transport category aircraft almost routine. Flight envelope protections and aural/tactile warnings keep us safe even in most abnormal scenarios.
At the heart of all of this is the air data computer (ADC) – a small piece of hardware that needs accurate information from outside of the aircraft to work correctly. They are the “Achille’s heel” of modern electronic flight information systems. In a nutshell, these small computers obtain and process information from the aircraft’s pitot static system, and supply critical systems with information such as airspeed, altitude and temperature.
Like all computers, they don’t think for themselves. They are only as accurate as the information they receive. So, when the pitot static system is contaminated, they can only respond to what they sense. They can’t look out the window.
History has shown that unreliable airspeed events are dangerous:
February 6, 1996. Birgenair Flight 301, a Boeing 757, departed Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, on a routine flight. During the climb out, the Captain’s airspeed indicator began to increase dramatically. The autopilot reacted as designed, and increased pitch to reduce airspeed, while the auto-throttles reduced power.
In the meantime, the co-pilot’s ASI indicated a dangerously slow airspeed which was decreasing. Almost simultaneously, an overspeed warning was generated. The autopilot reached the limits of its programming and disengaged. The stick-shaker activated, warning the confused crew that the aircraft was flying critically close to a stall.
The Captain responded by applying full thrust. The excessively high angle of attack resulted in insufficient airflow to match demand and the left-hand engine flamed out. The right-hand engine developed full power and the aircraft entered a spin. Moments later the aircraft became inverted, before impacting the Atlantic Ocean. The three pilots had 43,000 hours of experience between them.
The cause of the accident was a blockage of a single pitot tube. The likely culprit was the black and yellow mud dauber – a small wasp known to nest in artificial cylindrical structures. The aircraft hadn’t flown in 20 days.
The threat of similar events is greatly increased by improper storage techniques and rushing to return to service.
Getting aircraft flying again is a complex process and presents major risks. It is up to operators to ensure adequate procedures are in place to accomplish it safely. They must anticipate the difficulties and rapid adaptation to internal procedures that this entails.
Don’t know where to start? We don’t blame you. Thankfully, EASA has published guidance which can help mitigate some of these risks. Here is a brief rundown of their recommendations:
- Assemble your A-team. Everyone needs to be onboard. Flight operations, CAMOs, maintenance organisations, type certificate holders and aviation authorities are your first port of call. Find out what needs to be done for each individual tail number and communicate with human resources for manpower, supply chain for the tools, and flight ops for hangar spacing and crewing. Think about who you need to talk too and get started early.
- Similar aircraft stored in similar conditions will invariably behave in the same way. Safe return to service begins with good data. It is vital that defects are reported and linked. If a nest is found in an aircraft’s pitot tube, the odds are there will be many more. The data needs to be analysed, and operating procedures (such as additional checks) need to be changed to reflect it.
- Storage Procedures. It is possible that aircraft were not fully stored in accordance with manufacturer procedures. Implement a rock-solid audit programme to make sure things are being done properly. EASA recommend extra inspections, ground runs and flight testing of at least ten percent of aircraft before release to service.
- Storage Environment The storage environment presents significant hazards to airworthiness. Insects, sand, salt, dust and humidity can all damage aircraft. There may not have been enough protective covers to go around. Was there biocide in the fuel? Is it even useable? It is advised that extra checks be carried out on aircraft parts that are susceptible to contamination, particularly pitot/static systems. Get additional support to add those inspections.
- Remote Storage This presents unique challenges. Engineering services may be limited, and staff may become overwhelmed with the large number of aircraft waiting to become airworthy. You may need to send additional manpower or require ferry permits to move aircraft around. Is enough equipment on hand to complete extra checks?
- Time. Nothing happens in a day. Commercial time pressure is a major risk factor. Getting an airplane airworthy can cause delays and rushing has a profound effect on safety. Plan ahead and make sure your deadlines are realistic. Communicate them with your staff to ensure confidence.
- Inappropriate decision making. This is hazardous, particularly with unfamiliar procedures. Storage on this scale has never happened before and answers may not be in existing manuals. Key personal may not be immediately available to help. Remind staff not to act alone and create a team responsible for making decisions in this challenging scenario
- Limited staff experience. Remember that this has never happened before and you may need the help of staff who are new to your organisation. Make sure they are aware of internal procedures that they need to know beforehand. It is a good idea to properly supervise them and assess their work.
- The elephant in the room. Covid-19. The virus has changed the way we can work. Staff can’t move around as freely and there may be restrictions on how many people can work together. You may need to plan ahead and establish isolated teams who work remotely if practical.
- Overdue maintenance. Airworthiness directives, MELs, routine maintenance, inspections, ground runs, test flights. There is a lot to do. Start with comprehensive airworthiness reviews of each individual tail number.
- They will be under the same pressure that you are. Communicate with them ahead of time and check their availability.
- Pilot training. It is likely they are uncurrent, and operating aircraft which have just come out of long-term storage. Simulator training should be relevant to the challenges they will face in the current operating environment. Consider critical systems vulnerable to damage in storage and the affect that these might have on the first flight. In other words, expect the unexpected and provide them with the ability to react quickly and with confidence.
Reported by the Ops Group on 21 August 2020.
Flyers hiding infection show risk of reopening Hong Kong borders
People infected with coronavirus were allowed to board aircraft and travel to Hong Kong in recent days, highlighting the challenge of controlling the pandemic while governments seek the safest ways to reopen borders.
Hong Kong’s health authorities said one infected passenger arrived Sunday from Manila on a Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd flight, and another was on a Cathay Dragon flight from Kuala Lumpur. Both were diagnosed with COVID-19 before they traveled. It also said 45 passengers on Emirates flights from Dubai over the weekend either were confirmed or probable cases. The airline only restarted flights to Hong Kong this month.
For measures to be put in place to ensure infected passengers don’t fly, it has to be done by the authorities and it’s not something an airline like us can do on our own.
Korean Air Lines
The infections underscore the risk of peeling back restrictions when the global pace of infections keeps accelerating. Airlines worldwide, largely propped up by government bailouts, have been lobbying to get their planes back in the air as they face more than US$84 billion in losses this year.
The International Air Transport Association, which represents almost 300 airlines, recommends steps such as temperature checks at the airport and wearing face masks to protect passengers and crew from infection.
But the Hong Kong cases show that infected passengers can bypass voluntary requirements, and there’s little airlines can do.
“Taking temperatures and having passengers wear masks on flights are steps we can do to ensure the virus doesn’t spread,” Korean Air Lines Co said in a statement. “For measures to be put in place to ensure infected passengers don’t fly, it has to be done by the authorities and it’s not something an airline like us can do on our own.”
IATA last week outlined recommendations for COVID-19 testing, saying it ideally would be done before arriving at the airport and within 24 hours of travel. If testing is required during the travel process, it should be done at departure, and governments would need to mutually recognize test results, IATA said.
In an online conference hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board on Wednesday, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac reiterated that there needs to be much more collaboration between governments, and that it doesn’t work for countries to impose and lift border restrictions unilaterally.
Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection said the 30 new cases on Monday and 16 on Tuesday all had a travel history during the incubation period. The passenger flying on Cathay Flight 906 from Manila, a 58-year-old man, tested positive in the Philippines on Saturday, the day before he arrived.
Cathay, which requires passengers to fill out health declaration forms before they travel, said it learned about the passenger from health authorities after the plane landed. The airline is following “prescribed procedures in conducting disinfection of aircraft and informing the operating crew and employees,” as well as helping to trace those who were in close contact with the man.
A spokesman for the Philippine Immigration Bureau said it wasn’t the agency’s job to check health clearances.
“We only check the passport and boarding” pass, spokesman Melvin Mabulac said.
The passenger on Cathay Dragon Flight 734 was a 39-year-old woman returning from India via Malaysia, Hong Kong’s health department said Tuesday. After landing, she declared she’d tested positive and had been treated for the virus in India last month.
The Centre for Health Protection, which advises against all non-essential travel outside Hong Kong, said it is in contact with authorities in the Philippines and India to obtain more information about the cases.
The Hong Kong arrivals aren’t likely to be isolated cases. While some countries, including Australia, have said their borders are likely to be effectively closed for the rest of the year, others — including members of the European Union — are working on allowing more international flights.
Biogen Inc said in March it fired a female worker who returned to China from Massachusetts without disclosing her infection. Local media said the 37-year-old took a large dose of anti-fever medication before she boarded to hide her illness.
JetBlue Airways Corp. banned a passenger who flew from New York to Florida and notified the crew after landing that he had tested positive for coronavirus, CNN said in March.
Reported by China Daily on 26 June 2020.
Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has slammed the Chinese government for instructing citizens not to visit Australia due to increasing racism as “having no basis in fact”.
China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Saturday morning advised the public not to travel to Australia due to “an alarming increase” in racial discrimination and violence towards Chinese people in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Birmingham has rejected these comments outright, saying Australia was “the most successful multicultural and migrant society in the world”.
“The Chinese Australian community is a significant and valued contributor to that success story,” he said. China is the biggest single source of international tourists to Australia.
“Millions of tourists from all corners of the world demonstrate their confidence in Australia as a safe, welcoming and amazing destination by visiting each year, often returning multiple times.
“We reject China’s assertions in this statement, which have no basis in fact. Our rejection of these claims, which have been falsely made by Chinese officials previously, is well known to them,” he said.
In May, Mr Birmingham said his phone calls to his trade counterpart in China were not being answered amid an escalating dispute between Australia and China over beef and barley exports.
The Chinese government’s advice to citizens not to travel to Australia was issued shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed a planned overhaul of foreign investment rules with the Foreign Investment Review Board to be given the power to approve all investments in sensitive industries regardless of size. The FIRB currently assesses foreign investment activity worth above $275 million.
Mr Morrison intends to have the system up and running by 2021 to mitigate against “increasing risks to the national interest” but has said he did not want to inflame tensions with China.
“They are a response to the political disagreement, cloaked in plausible deniability as there has been an uptick in racism in Australia,” Professor Laurenceson said.
“There is a question mark over whether Beijing is shooting a warning shot or trying [to inflict] economic harm as there are no tourists here at the moment,” he said, adding it was most likely a way for the Chinese government to show displeasure.
Mr Birmingham said Australia had “world leading success” in suppressing the spread of COVID-19, which had originated in Wuhan in China, and was looking forward to having visitors back when the health advice allowed the lifting of border restrictions.
“Australia’s multicultural success is based on our respect for all Australians and visitors regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexuality. It is our liberty as a free democratic society that enables us to embrace so many peoples while achieving a unity and inclusion that stands out in the global crowd,” he said.
He said closing the borders with China was “unfortunate” but was a move to protect Australia from the spread of the pandemic from Wuhan.
“This decision was criticised by the Chinese Government at the time, but it proved to be a critical decision in keeping Australians safe from the devastation faced by much of the rest of the world,” he said.
“Australians returning from China did an amazing job through self isolation to protect Australia at that critical time, as many more have since.”
Australian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Simon Westaway declined to comment directly on the Chinese government’s instructions to citizens but said the organisation “welcome a future return of international visitors” as the local industry recovers.
Perth USAsia Centre research director Jeffrey Wilson described the Chinese government’s directions as “ludicrous and inflammatory” but not unexpected.
Cheng Jingye, the Chinese ambassador to Australia, expressed frustration in April about the federal government’s push for an inquiry into the outbreak of COVID-19, and warned there could be a travel ban.
“The ambassador [talked about this] six weeks ago and now it has come true,” Dr Wilson said.
“First it was barley, then beef, now tourism and students… it’s part of long-running trade sanctions,” he said.
“The longest shadow of this will be over the education market… it sends a message in terms of stoking fear and concern about what conditions are like in Australia.”
Reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 June 2020.
Also referred to as Wuhan Coronavirus, Wuhan Virus, Wuhan Pneumonia.
A new respiratory virus first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan has infected hundreds of Chinese citizens and claimed a number of lives.
The fast-spreading infection, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms, has prompted Chinese authorities to quarantine several major cities and cancel some Lunar New Year events.
Here are six maps and graphics that will help you understand what is going on.
1. Cases have been mainly in China
Hundreds of patients have been infected with the virus across China, with central Hubei province the worst-affected.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning the number of cases is likely to rise further, and Chinese authorities have introduced a number of measures to try to halt the virus’s spread.
Travel restrictions have been imposed on a number of cities in Hubei province and people have been asked to wear face masks in public places.
The Chinese government has also closed a number of temples, the Forbidden City and part of the Great Wall.
The growing list of restrictions comes at the beginning of a week-long holiday celebrating Lunar New Year – one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar – when millions of people travel home.
The WHO has not yet classed the virus as an “international emergency”, partly because of the low number of overseas cases, but said it “may yet become one”.
“Make no mistake, this is, though, an emergency in China,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
2. Hubei province has been particularly badly affected
More than 500 cases have been recorded in Hubei province – the centre of the virus outbreak.
Restrictions on travel are affecting at least 20 million people across 10 cities – including the capital Wuhan, where the virus emerged.
Its origins have been linked to the city’s seafood market.
Wuhan – which has a population of 11 million people – has gone into lockdown, with authorities suspending flights and train services in and out of the city.
“My university is checking every student’s body temperature every day and are offering free masks. It also has its own hospital and ambulance,” Chongthan Pepe Bifhowjit, an Indian student at the Wuhan University of Technology, told the BBC.
Videos have been circulating on social media, reportedly taken by Wuhan residents, showing long queues at local hospitals.
In a bid to tackle the increased demand for medical services, the authorities are building a new 1,000-bed hospital in the capital.
State-owned news outlet Changjiang Daily said the hospital could be ready by 3 February. A total of 35 diggers and 10 bulldozers are currently working on the site.
3. There have been some cases elsewhere
Outside China, confirmed cases have been recorded in Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Nepal, Japan, the US and France.
Other nations are investigating suspected cases, including the UK and Canada.
Many authorities have announced screening measures for passengers from China, including the major airport hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Taiwan has banned people arriving from Wuhan, and the US state department warned its nationals to exercise increased caution in China.
4. The symptoms are respiratory
Coronaviruses are common, and typically cause mild respiratory symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose.
But some are more serious – such as the deadly Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).
This outbreak – known as novel coronavirus (nCoV) – is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
It seems to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, leads to shortness of breath.
But in more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Most victims have been elderly people, suffering from other chronic diseases including Parkinson’s and diabetes.
Peter Piot, professor of global health and director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the “good news” was that data suggested the virus may have a lower mortality than Sars.
There was also a diagnostic test and greater global sharing of information than previously, he said.
“And that is essential because you cannot deal with a potential pandemic in one country alone.”
There is not yet a specific anti-viral treatment for the infection, so people with the virus are currently being treated for their symptoms.
5. You can do things to reduce your chances of catching it
The WHO is advising people in affected areas to follow standard procedures to reduce the chance of catching the virus.
They include hand and respiratory hygiene as well as safe food practices.
People are advised to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections; wash hands regularly, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment; and avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
Avoiding eating raw or undercooked animal products is also advised.
Those with symptoms of coronavirus should practise “cough etiquette”, including maintaining distance, covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or the inside of an elbow, and washing hands.
The WHO has said that while there is evidence of transmission between people in close contact, such as families or those in healthcare settings, there is not yet evidence of onward transmission.
6. If a case is suspected, there are processes to follow
The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the Sars epidemic.
This means people diagnosed with the virus in the country must be isolated and can be placed in quarantine.
Within healthcare facilities, the WHO advises staff to implement enhanced standard infection prevention and control practices in hospitals, especially in emergency departments.
The WHO advises that patients should be assessed quickly and treated for the level of severity of the disease they have – mild, moderate, or severe.
It also recommends immediately implementing infection prevention measures. These include staff wearing protective clothing and limiting patient movement around the hospital.
In the UK, family doctors – GPs – are being advised to place patients suspected of having coronavirus in isolation and avoid physical examinations.
Official guidance from Public Health England (PHE) says patients should remain in a room away from other patients and staff and be prevented from using communal toilets.
The UK government’s emergency committee, Cobra, has held a meeting to discuss the outbreak.
Reported by BBC on 25 January 2020.