AirAsia QZ8501 likely flying too slow in bad weather, say experts
The AirAsia plane that went missing on Sunday after taking off from Surabaya airport in Indonesia was likely flying too slow when it faced bad weather conditions, reported Australian daily The Herald Sun.
Aviation expert and airlineratings.com editor Geoffrey Thomas said the Singapore-bound Airbus aircraft might have encountered circumstances similar to what happened in the 2009 Air France crash.
The Air France jetliner was on its way to Paris from Rio de Janeiro when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
After speaking to several check captains, Thomas believes despite adverse weather conditions, the pilot flew too slow in efforts to avoid it.
“Pilots believe that the crew, in trying to avoid the thunderstorm by climbing, somehow have found themselves flying too slow and thus induced an aerodynamic stall similar to the circumstances of the loss of Air France AF447 to crash in 2009,” he was quoted as saying.
“The QZ8501 was flying too slow, about 100 knots which is about 160kph too slow. At that altitude that is exceedingly dangerous.
“I have a radar plot which shows him at 36,000 feet and climbing at a speed of 353 knots, which is approximately 100 knots too slow. If the radar return is correct, he appears to be going too slow for the altitude he is flying at.”
Thomas speculated that the aircraft could be caught in a massive updraft.
“Something has gone terribly wrong. Essentially the plane is flying too slow to the altitude and the thin air, and the wings won’t support it at that speed and you get a stall, an aerodynamic stall,” he was quoted as saying.
Thomas said although the Airbus A320 is a state-of-the-art aircraft, it was not equipped with the latest radar, and as such, it sometimes could have problems in thunderstorms and pilots may have been deceived by the severity of these particular ones.
“If you don’t have what’s called a multiskilled radar you have to tilt the radar yourself manually, you have to look down to the base of the thunderstorm to see what the intensity of the moisture and the rain is, then you make a judgement of how bad it is. It’s manual, so it’s possible to make a mistake, it has happened,” he said in the report.
Strategic Aviation Solutions chairman Neil Hansford ruled out mechanical problems as the cause of the disappearance.
“The aircraft is 6.3 years old. The Indonesian regulator has had to really pick its game up and over the last few years they have brought their standards up,” he told The Herald Sun, adding that training standards for Indonesian pilots were also very high.
While engine failure could be one the causes, Hansford cautioned that the aircraft would still be able to fly after losing one engine.
He also questioned speculations that bad weather conditions might have contributed to the plane’s disappearance.
“It is the storm season but pilots fly in those sort of conditions all of the time. It is not an aircraft that just falls out of the sky.
“If it was a midair collision, something else would be missing and it’s not – unless it collided with something from the military, which people would not want to hold their hands up to.
“Pilot error or pilot circumstances will obviously be explored or whether it is terror related or something in the cargo,” he was quoted as saying.
Despite all the speculations, Hansford was confident the jetliner would be found.
“This isn’t the Indian Ocean like MH370. It is the Java Sea. I think we will see fuel in the water and seats on the surface, as well as wreckage washing up on nearby islands,” he added.
On Jan 1, 2007, a plane of the now-defunct Adam Air flight 574 lost contact with air traffic control while it was flying over the Java Sea. The Boeing 737-400, which carried 102 people mostly from Indonesia, was on its way from Surabaya to Manado.
Parts of the plane were found only 10 days later off the west coast of Sulawesi. Investigators found that the pilots had accidentally disconnected the autopilot system while trying to fix a problem in the navigation instruments.
The Airbus plane belonging to the award-winning Malaysian low-cost airline was flying from Surabaya to Singapore, having taken off at 5.20am and was expected to arrive at its destination at 8.30am local time.
The aircraft was in the Indonesian Flight Information Region (FIR), more than 200 nautical miles southeast of the Singapore-Jakarta FIR boundary, when it lost contact with the Jakarta air traffic control at 7.24am.
It has been confirmed that one Malaysian is on board the plane. There was one Singaporean, one Briton and one French as well as three South Koreans. The rest are Indonesians.
Search and rescue operations have been activated by the Indonesian authorities from the Pangkal Pinang Search and Rescue office.
This is the second incident involving a Malaysian airline losing contact and disappearing this year.
The first involved Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH370 that dropped off the radar while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. The plane and its 239 passengers and crew on board remain missing until today.
MAS also lost another plane, MH17, on July 17 when it was shot down by an air-to-surface missile in Ukraine while on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 passengers were killed. – December 29, 2014.
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