Saturday, March 07, 2015

Airline safety warning over tired Adelaide-bound pilots

Flight safety authorities have issued a warning to airlines after two sleep-deprived pilots took off from Sydney to Adelaide with wing flaps in the wrong setting that could have ended in a crash.

The pilots, both of whom were tired and didn’t sleep well the night before, realized their error in time and corrected the problem when the aircraft didn’t behave properly at 800ft.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released its final report into the incident, describing human error, and warned airlines and pilots of the dangers of flying tired, and that having too many flaps deployed could have had “more serious consequences’’.

“Neither crew member judged themselves as unfit to discharge their duty at any time throughout their day; however, the high workload, delays and distractions they experienced appeared to augment the tiredness they felt,’’ the ATSB report states.

“Crews need to remain aware of the vigilance decrements that can occur when they detect tiredness within themselves during the final sector of a busy duty day.’’

The Jetstar A320 aircraft, which can carry up to 200 passengers, took off for Adelaide on the afternoon of July 28 last year, but at 800ft, the pilots realised they had set the wrong flap position, affecting crucial airspeed.

The setting had been correct for the prevailing wind conditions from one runway, but air traffic control changed the runway just before take-off and the pilots failed to change the flap configuration, slowing flight speed after take-off.

The ATSB referred to a safety bulletin issued by Airbus on the consequences of the pilot’s mistake, which found on the A320 such mistakes could result in the wrong take-off speed and: “a ... runway excursion, tail strike, lack of control once the aircraft is airborne, or obstacle clearance trespassing’’.

In response, Jetstar has already incorporated new safety measures into ongoing pilot training and has ordered a review of its safety audit program.

The captain of the flight had declared himself fit to fly despite being “tired”, having only an “average” night’s sleep when he signed on at 5.40am, recalling reduced alertness during the day and a high workload, the report found.

The flight officer was also “tired” when he reported for duty, the report found. “The flight officer reported feeling some effects from a busy previous few days.”

He was due to go on annual leave after the flight.


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