CVR FDR NOT a Flight of Imagination

George's Point of View

In the continuing pursuit of the unvarnished reality behind Air France Flight 447, it does not matter why “Le Figaro” posted rumors and factoids in lieu of truth after the BEA reported that the complete data (flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder) was successfully recovered in Paris.

It does not matter if “Le Figaro” is more concerned with stimulating traffic than it is about veracity, legitimacy and validity in reporting truth.

Perhaps someone at “Le Figaro” is heavily invested in Airbus, and hopes to falsely boost the airline’s reputation. We have no idea of what their motives might be.

What matters are the facts.

What matters is that on recovery of the data from the data containers, the information appears to have been intact (according to the BEA).

What matters is that the data recovery teams were able to open, extract, clean and dry the memory cards, and retrieve the actual data.

There is no reason the data would not support exactly what the ACARS data already indicates, which is that the pitot tubes failed, and started a catastrophic landslide of mechanical events that led inevitably toward systems failure.

We believe the aircraft stalled all the way from 35000 feet to the ocean. If the BEA had considered this, they would have found the plane in weeks.

The plane sent out automated messages from which the sequence of failure has been inferred.

It is an acknowledged FACT that the mechanical systems on board Air France Flight 447 were standard Airbus A330 systems, a “fly by wire” technology which is known to remove responsibility and action from the pilots when in certain situations. A fly-by-wire system modifies manual inputs of the pilot in accordance with control parameters.

The pilots on this type of fly-by-wire system are unable to manually override if faulty data come streaming in from the frozen pitot tubes. The current thinking is that in the Air France Flight 447, the faulty Thales tubes streamed in faulty data to the on board systems. Disaster was all but inevitable.

(In Sept 2009, the FAA sent out a directive indicating that “use of the Thales model has resulted in reports of airspeed indication discrepancies while flying at high altitudes in inclement weather conditions …(that) …could result in reduced control of the airplane.” )

Prior to receiving the content of the black boxes, the collected data pointed to the following series of events:

The Thales pitot tubes are small devices affixed to the plane exterior which measure air speed, but which have a proven tendency to freeze over, which obfuscates the data. Simply put, the Airbus system requires correct data input for the plane to fly correctly. When the frozen-over tubes began sending corrupted data, the system could no longer manage flight. On the 330, there is no way for pilots to manually override the failing systems.

No one expects the black boxes to indicate anything else. What is expected, perhaps is a clarification of data, and a way to study the events in order to prevent a repetition of the same.

The BEA strongly objected to media speculation. In fact, it sent out a press release specifically naming “Le Figaro” as the sensationalist publisher of invalid information. Here is what the BEA said:

According to an article that appeared in « Le Figaro » on the evening of Monday 16 May 2011, the « first elements extracted from the black boxes» would exonerate Airbus in the accident to the A330, flight AF 447, which killed 216 passengers and 12 crew members on 1st June 2009.

Sensationalist publication of non-validated information, whilst the analysis of the data from the flight recorders has only just started, is a violation of the respect due to the passengers and the crew members that died and disturbs the families of the victims, who have already suffered as a result of many hyped-up stories.

The BEA repeats that, in the framework of its mission as a safety investigation authority, it alone has the right to communicate on the progress of the investigation. Consequently, any information on the investigation that comes from another source is null and void if it has not been validated by the BEA.

Collection of all of the information from the audio recordings and from the flight parameters now gives us a high degree of certainty that everything will be brought to light concerning this accident. The BEA safety investigators will now have to analyse and validate a large quantity of complex data. This is long and detailed work, and the BEA has already announced that it will not publish an interim report before the summer.

At this stage of the investigation, no conclusions can be drawn.

So while we do respect our own experts who believe what they already believe (based on what was then available about the pitot tubes and fly-by-wire), we trust the BEA analysis will provide a solid analysis of the data and are aware that they have not released any new conclusions.

We reiterate their emphasis, rejecting non-validated information, and agree no one should be jumping on any band-wagon of opinion, at least not until the authorities apply their proficiencies and start analyzing the data that no one was expecting would surface.

While we are ruling nothing out and closing no doors, we are impervious to the contingent of nay-sayers who—regardless of the drastically different facts of every given situation—chant the same chorus in every aviation event, blaming the dead pilots because they are easy targets and can not defend themselves. Also, let us not ignore that liabilities due to pilot error are capped by International Convention. So no matter what the actual error, Airlines prefer “pilot error” because it means less coming out of their pockets.

The Montreal Convention imposes two tiers of liability on airlines: -the first tier provides automatic compensation, deals with claims up to 100,000 Special Drawing Rights ($155,000 US). The airline has no defense against claims up to this amount. -the second tier deals with the portion of a claim exceeding the $155,000 limit. An airline can avoid liability of this portion only by proving it was not negligent or otherwise at fault. To avoid the liability the airline must prove a negative. There are, in fact, infinite ways an airline’s negligence can be involved, all of which the airline must disprove-a burden which is next to impossible to meet.

If we as armchair analysts must err, let us err believing until proven otherwise, that the pilots were dependable, reputable, and rock-solid; let us remember that they too were passengers aboard the flight, human beings who fought as best they could, against whatever forces or failures brought them down. We believe pilots are valiant men who know the weight of their office, who know they are responsible for the lives they carry, and when they do their human best to survive, even in face of overwhelming physics, nature, weather, or mechanical failure, it is rash and unworthy of us to blame them precipitously. Sure, pilots can err, but let us not tar them with that brush without the facts.

But for a single action, delayed reflex or overwhelming odds, those dead pilots who are so often blamed because they are defenseless targets, are themselves dead heroes.

Originally posted by George Hatcher on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011