Sunday, February 08, 2015

TransAsia Plane Grounding Extended as Pilot Testing Continues After Taiwan Crash • Most of TransAsia’s ATR Planes Will Remain Grounded Through Tuesday as 71 Pilots Undergo Testing

The Wall Street Journal

By Jenny W. Hsu, Aries Poon and Andy Pasztor

Feb. 8, 2015 5:22 a.m. ET

TAIPEI—Most of TransAsia Airways Corp. ’s ATR planes will remain grounded through Tuesday as pilot testing continues, the carrier said Sunday.

The majority of the airline’s turboprops were grounded Saturday as all 71 pilots of the planes began retraining and qualification tests required by local authorities days after the deadly crash in Taipei that killed at least 40 people.

The decision, which led to the cancellation of at least 122 domestic flights, follows the release of flight data indicating that fuel to the left engine of Flight 235 was manually cut off after the right engine of the twin turboprop plane appeared to have malfunctioned almost immediately after takeoff.

Both engines stopped producing thrust just before the ATR72-600 crashed into the Taipei’s Keelung River on Wednesday, four minutes after takeoff, according to flight data reviewed by Taiwan officials investigating the deadly crash.

The data raise the possibility that the pilot may have mistakenly cut fuel to the only engine keeping the plane in flight. Taiwan aviation safety authorities have declined to provide any interpretation or speculate on the cause of the crash.

Over the years, there have been cases in which military and commercial pilots have mistakenly shut down the wrong engine in an emergency, including a 1989 accident involving a British Midland Boeing 737 jetliner that crashed while trying to make an emergency landing in the U.K. In the wake of that and other accidents, plane manufacturers changed the design of some instruments and throttle systems to help pilots avoid such mistakes. Airlines and regulators also changed pilot-training programs, urging crews to be more deliberate in analyzing situations before shutting off any engine during flight.

Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council presented its preliminary findings after analyzing the data retrieved from the plane’s cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders, commonly known as the ’black boxes.’ A final report on the cause of the crash will be released in about 12 months.

Wednesday’s crash was TransAsia’s second fatal air accident in seven months. The plane carried 53 passengers and five crew members; the accident left 40 people dead, 15 injured and three—all Chinese nationals—unaccounted for.

On Friday, Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration said the carrier would be banned from adding new international routes for a year. TransAsia had already been excluded from new international routes after the crash in July that killed 49 people. The second plane crash extends the ban to Feb. 4, 2016, the CAA said.

Following media speculation, TransAsia reiterated Sunday that the pilot didn’t work overtime on the day before the crash, and added that it doesn’t know how many hours the pilots slept the night before. The carrier declined to disclose what time the pilot signed off the night before, citing the continuing investigation.

The initial report of TransAsia’s July crash in Penghu, released late last year, suggested that pilot fatigue wasn't a causal factor, although the local pilot association has in the past complained about the amount of overtime pilots work.

Separately, the CAA said Sunday that the lengthening of TransAsia’s transit time from 20 minutes to 30 minutes—effective from March 1—was agreed to before Wednesday’s crash and was designed to accommodate occasional flight delays. The “preventive measure” wasn't a response to the carrier’s July crash and the current 20-minute transit time was still considered sufficient for safety checks before flying, the CAA said.

Air-safety concerns in Asia have been growing as the region’s traffic continues to boom, and following a number of tragedies last year, including the Dec. 28 crash of AirAsia Flight 8501, which went down in the Java Sea on its way from Indonesia to Singapore, and the mystery disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March.

Last week, international air-safety officials said they would press some Asian nations to beef up regulation of their airlines.

Story, comments and photo:

A ground mechanic works on a TransAsia Airways ATR airplane in Taipei, Taiwan, on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. Photo: Associated Press

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