Boeing vs. Airbus: The Air France Tragedy Revisited
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  • Kevin

    As a passenger I want airline manufacturers to compete on who builds the safest aircraft. It may be unseemly but it’s better for us in the long run.

  • Anthony

    If Quick Take’s synosis is valid, then this is serious transportation, industrial, technological, and manufacturing matter. Air travel safety is a prerequisite (acknowledging probability of accidents); and if Airbus systems are determined to be both bewildering and feedback deficient les’s remedy it for both indutry and passenger interests.

  • JKB

    It is interesting that the given reason the side stick isn’t often a problem is ignored as a possible fault line. Flying in automation is convenient and efficient but it takes the pilot further away from the plane’s operation. Therefore, not only must he combat the boredom of dial and readout monitoring, he must also take over cold in the event of an automation failure. Three dimensional control positioning allows the pilot to keep the feel of the plane’s flight in his eyes and hand with less need for mental calculation and modeling of the control surface positioning in an emergency.

    We have big brains to “think” out new ideas and solve problems but we are animals who react physically with conditioning of training. The feedback of the muscle movement arriving in our brain before it has had time to run the numbers, while the eyes are already reporting the new conditions.

    There is a reason for the saying,
    “Train as you fight”
    If you have to think about it, you’re behind and probably in mortal danger.

  • dearieme

    Big air crashes in the fleets of the advanced nations are rare. So there is a danger of over-interpreting each one of them. Mind you, in that debate I might well have sided with Boeing.

  • Mrs. Davis

    The question of which control system is preferred seems like it could be addressed by use of simulators to see how humans respond to crises. It is hard to believe that was not done beforehand and it would be interesting to know the results.

  • Kris

    But there is another, worrying implication that the Telegraph can disclose for the first time: that the errors committed by the pilot doing the flying were not corrected by his more experienced colleagues because they did not know he was behaving in a manner bound to induce a stall. And the reason for that fatal lack of awareness lies partly in the design of the control stick – the “side stick” – used in all Airbus cockpits.

    “Disclose for the first time”? Hardly.

    Humor, for those who consider it appropriate.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Airbus and Air France are both core enterprises for the French. They will throw the pilots (who likely deserve much of the blame) under the bus, and sheild both Airbus and Air France from any realistic consequences.

    This will happen again.

  • Corlyss

    I think I am correct in observing that most American pilots are trained by the US military, while the Europeans have no such luxury since they have no defenses to speak of after outsourcing theirs to us. No military training = that their skills are less adequate.

  • Jimmy J.

    As a retired airline pilot who never flew the Airbus (My experience was on Boeing and Douglas) I have an opinion that is based on what pilots I know who have flown the Airbus tell me. The unfortunate fact is that Airbus designs their control and flight director systems to be flown almost exclusively in the auto mode. The idea being to make the pilot’s role that of a monitor, and in an emergency, the backup. But when the automation fails and the pilot is rusty in his piloting skills, there is a problem.

    My habit was to alternate using auto pilot as much as possible for one leg and then flying the next leg manually except for the cruise segment. That way I maintained my familiarity and skill with both modes of operation. I think instituting such a policy may be the way to go for Airbus pilots. Of course that policy doesn’t provide feedback to the non-flying pilot unless there is some sort of indicator of stick position, which might be retrofitted. I’m confident that a fix or fixes will be instituted because that is the way aviation has become safer.

  • Glen

    The loss of AF 447 was due less to design difference between Airbus and Boeing and more to the philosophical, cultural and political differences between Europeans and Americans.

    As the linked Telegraph article notes, most American air transport pilots “graduate from flying schools … whereas European airlines train more crew from scratch.” This passing comment — intended to shed light on cockpit design difference — instead yields a great truth about American vs. European flying. The U.S. has a robust and vibrant general aviation sector. Europe does not. It is relatively easy (and not terribly expensive) to both learn to fly — and to actually fly — small general aviation aircraft in the U.S. In Europe, both learning to fly and actually flying small aircraft is very difficult and very expensive.

    One significant impact of this difference is that most future American air transport pilots learn to fly in small general aviation aircraft (such as Cessna, Piper, Bonanza or Cirrus) and earn most of their flying time in non-instrument conditions. In other words, most American pilots instinctively know how to fly a plane by its stick and rudder because that’s how they learned to fly.

    In Europe, without an active general aviation sector, future air transport pilots learn to fly in simulators that mimic flying large, highly automated jet aircraft. They lack the comparable hands-on stick and rudder skills that virtually every American pilots possess.

    In reality, the level of automation differs little between Boeing and Airbus. Sure, there’s less control feedback on an Airbus. But today’s airline pilots flying either manufacturer’s equipment (in either Europe or the U.S.) are strongly urged by both their respective national authorities and by their employers to utilize automation whenever possible and to refrain from “hand flying.” In the U.S., this policy has, to date, been somewhat attenuated by older pilots (such as Jimmy J.) who persist with occasional hand-flying (see the blog Flight Level 390 for ongoing commentary from an American Airbus 320 airline captain who both loves Airbus automation but still regularly flies his “Electric Jet” by sidestick and rudder). In Europe, no such tradition or constituency exists. And because of this, we have tragedies like AF 447 where entire aircrews can ride a modern jet aircraft into the ocean.


    Creo que los 2 fabricantes deberian cambinar conocimientos, y tecnologia entre si.. por un lado existe la tecnologia la cual es superada en algunas veses por el ser humano la caul no logramos entender todavia al 100% y por otro lado los pilotos estadounidenses tienen la gran experiencia y capacidad de controlar sus aviones. en pocas palabras devemos convinar experiencia y tecnologia y ambos hacer un avion que no cause problemas y a su ves sea volado por personal altamente capacitado y experimentado para fines del buen servicio.

  • bloomingdedalus

    On the contrary, fatal accidents are very important reasons to evaluate a position, such as Airbus’ seeming philosophy of overriding pilot commands. At the same time, since most crashes are pilot error, they have a strong case for stating that a computer should be able to override pilots when it comes to some systems. However, there are cases where computer overrides have created crashes pilots were trying to avert and may very well have averted were it not for the computer’s intervention.

    • Nico

      Air France 296 was not a case of a ‘computer intervention’ causing a crash.

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