MH370 search to stop just short of Hardy’s predicted position

Two years ago Boeing 777 captain Simon Hardy calculated the most likely position of MH370’s undersea remains using only established facts and mathematics.

The Australian-led international search for the lost Malaysia Airlines 777, however, may be suspended in December just short of that position unless existing plans are amended.

Hardy’s proposed position, and the methodology that determined it, has been widely published, both in Flight International magazine in January 2015 and a month earlier on the web via

Most theories posted to the web – especially related to serious subjects like this – usually attract massive peer criticism and public comment, but Hardy’s has faced no criticism, just requests for clarification.

It has, however, attracted great interest, and he has met the Australian Transport Safety Board at their request more than once to talk about it.

He has now posted a spoken explanation of his methodology to YouTube, so if you want to test your mathematics and geometry, go there.

Hardy’s calculations put the resting position of MH370 just outside the planned area for the multinational search effort, close to its southern end. So the methodology that the official search team used produced results that are pretty close to the predictions Hardy reached independently.

Here is the ATSB’s explanation, posted on 21 September, as to why they will not look in Hardy’s predicted position even if the remainder of the planned search fails to find the aircraft:

“At a meeting of Ministers from Malaysia, Australia and the People’s Republic of China held on 22 July 2016, it was agreed that should the aircraft not be located in the current search area, and in the absence of credible new evidence leading to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, the search would be suspended upon completion of the 120,000 square kilometre search area.”

The ATSB makes the intention clear: “It is expected that searching the entire 120,000 square kilometre search area will be completed by around December 2016.”

Hardy’s calculations put the MH370 wreck just outside that area, and they cannot be defined as “new evidence” because the ATSB knows about them already and has decided, without explaining why, not to search there.

By December the arrival of the southern hemisphere summer will have made the search much easier.

Hopefully the search team will find the aircraft remains within their planned search area. But what if they don’t?

If the ATSB won’t go there, Hardy is considering crowdfunding to extend the search for a few weeks into the area indicated by his work.



Daedalus spreads its wings

The operating future of the old Royal Navy aerodrome at Daedalus is assured, says its owner Fareham Borough Council. We know, they say, because we put £1.5 million into it after we bought it last year, including resurfacing the runway.

To be fair, that looks like an organisation putting its money where its mouth is, but what about the proposed on-site National Grid interconnector terminal that – by running high power electricity cables under the aerodrome – could interfere with aviation activity and high-tech systems by creating a powerful electromagnetic field above ground?

Not on my watch, says Fareham’s Executive Leader Councillor Sean Woodward. “We saved this site for aviation, so we’re not going to do anything to damage that.”

Yes, he says, the interconnector will be sited at Daedalus to the north of the airfield, but not until means have been agreed to neutralise any electromagnetic effects, whether by shielding or by burying them at sufficient depth underground. At the moment the aerodrome costs Fareham about £0.3 million a year, says Woodward, and income from the new tenant would help with investment while they work to make the airfield sustainable.

And they have plenty of investment plans still to run, says Woodward. The big plan, already under way, is to use non-operational land on the Daedalus site to attract aviation, aerospace engineering and marine industries that would benefit from being based on an operational aerodrome. This is not such a far-fetched idea when Daedalus’ location at Lee-on-the-Solent is wedged between the civil marine port of Southampton and the military harbour at Portsmouth, plus Britten-Norman and NATS are already on site, and the airfield has a runway capable of serving business jets.

Woodward says he doesn’t see the aerodrome as the main money-maker – for the time being at least – but as the attraction to lure businesses to the site. One of the incumbents already at Daedalus is a technical college, CEMAST – Centre of Excellence in Engineering Manufacturing and Advanced Skills Training for the aerospace, marine and automotive industries. It accepts 900 students a year, all places taken.

RCA (Regional and City Airports) manages the airfield and air traffic control for Fareham

While at Daedalus last week I detected an infectious enthusiasm among people at all levels there, born of a respect for the site’s long aviation history and a determination to capitalise on it.

Serious aviation history here. Daedalus was a RN Air Service seaplane base in WW1, before it became an aerodrome. Taken from the seashore, this picture shows the seaplane base slipway and the old hangars at the top. And the Hovercraft Museum that’s sited there too.




Lessons from Dubai

The 3 August Emirates Boeing 777 crash at Dubai may have happened a while ago, but the man/machine interface implications are so complex it still has human factors experts’ heads spinning.

Following an uneventful final approach to runway 12L the aircraft hit the runway with its gear in the retraction cycle, slid to a halt on its belly and burst into flames. All on board got out alive before the fire destroyed the fuselage, but a firefighter was killed by a fuel tank explosion.

That’s a surprising outcome for a serviceable aeroplane carrying out a normal landing at its home base.

So what happened?

Flight EK521 was inbound from Thiruvananthapuram, India carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew. The ambient temperature was high, nearly 50degC, and there was a windshear warning on all runways, but this did not cite high winds or powerful gusts. Probably the wind was swinging around under the influence of vertical air currents generated by intense surface heating combined with the coastal effect.

When the 777 had about 5nm to go on approach to 12L ATC cleared it to land and told the crew the surface wind was 340deg/11kt. That’s a touchdown-zone tailwind.

As the aircraft descended through 1,100ft on final approach the aircraft was also registering an airborne tailwind. It persisted almost all the way down.

But apart from the tailwind on the aircraft’s approach, the descent was uneventful until just before touchdown. At that point the tailwind switched to a headwind, adding about 20kt to the 777’s airspeed.

Around 5sec after the flare the right gear touched down about 1,100m beyond the threshold, and 3sec after that both main gear touchdown switches were made and the RAAS (runway awareness advisory system) voiced the alert “long landing, long landing”.

Questions still remain about exactly what happened next on the flightdeck. Who did what, and why?

The United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority has released some factual information about weather and aircraft performance, but the investigators are expected to take another three months or so to ready their final report.

Meanwhile from what the GCAA has released, we know that the captain was the pilot flying. He disconnected the autopilot at about 900ft on approach but left the autothrottle in. When he began the flare at 35ft AGL the throttles retarded to idle, and within about 10sec both touchdown switches had been made.

What happened next, or at least why it happened, is difficult to work out.

Witnesses say the aircraft “bounced” from the first touchdown. But the crew was attempting a go-around – possibly prompted by the “long landing” alert mentioned earlier – so the “bounce” may have been the result of the crew pulling the nose up for a go-around.

Some 4sec after the warning the aircraft was airborne again, the crew reduced the flap setting to 20deg, and 2sec later selected the gear up, both acts part of a go-around drill.

But the throttle levers remained at idle.

About 5sec after the aircraft had become airborne the tower, noticing the apparent intention,  cleared the aircraft straight ahead to 4,000ft, and the crew read that back. Then the first officer called “check speed”, the throttle levers were moved from idle to fully forward, and the autothrust transitioned from idle mode to thrust mode.

Unfortunately the increasing engine power arrived too late to prevent the aircraft sinking back onto the runway with its gear almost fully up. It slid on its belly for 800m before coming to rest with the right engine detached and a fire under that wing.

The GCAA interim report doesn’t mention whether or not the crew attempted to trigger go-around power by selecting the TO/GA (take-off/go-around) switches at the time of the go-around decision, but it appends a page from the flight crew operating manual about autothrust modes.  It contains this sentence: “The TO/GA switches are inhibited when on the ground and enabled again when in the air for a go around or touch and go.”

This situation raises questions galore. In a go-around situation the drill is to select power first, then set the appropriate flap, then register a positive rate of climb and pull the gear up. Maybe the crew thought activating TO/GA was enough, but they didn’t monitor engine power, throttle lever movement or rate of climb before retracting the gear.

This is basic stuff, so what’s going on here?

Are we witnessing the actions of a crew rendered insensitive by automation, or de-skilled by the same thing? Or is this an event involving mode-confusion because of the complexity of modern aircraft and their smart control systems?

The industry is going through a crisis of confidence in pilot training. The doubt arises from increasing numbers of accidents that began with a non-critical fault or distraction and result in the pilots becoming startled and not acting as they had been trained to do.

Behind it all is the fact that today’s aircraft and their systems are impressive and reliable, but ultra-complex. Meanwhile the basic approach to pilot training is the much the same at was in the pre-digital era.

Emirates is in the vanguard of modern attitudes toward evidence-based training, but maybe the fundamentals are set before pilots reach the line.

Finally, pilots are never really trained to operate the digital systems they use all the time at work. They just learn that on the job.

Let’s go back a bit to the quote from the Emirates 777 FCOM: “The TO/GA switches are inhibited when on the ground and enabled again when in the air for a go around or touch and go.”

I bet the pilots never tried that in the simulator.

Modern aeroplanes now are rather like personal computers in the relationship pilots have with them: most people are skillful users of tablets or laptops for routine tasks, but never have a chance to try out their full capabilities, most of which would rarely be needed. But if things go wrong or something unusual happens, the user is often out of his depth.

The Royal Aeronautical Society is hosting its two-day International Flight Crew Training Conference in London next week. This is one of the subjects that will be examined there.

Will Daedalus soon be wingless?

Image result for hms daedalus

Lee-on-Solent airfield, originally the site of the Royal Naval Air Services’ first seaplane base in 1917, was also a Fleet Air Arm training base in WW2 as HMS Daedalus . The picture, looking east, shows its coastal location between Portsmouth harbour (seen in the distance) and Southampton Water

The historic Daedalus airfield, still operating as Solent Airport (EGHF), is a CAA-licensed general aviation aerodrome, with airline traffic served by Southampton airport to its north-west and Bournemouth to the west.

It is also home to Britten-Norman, which proudly calls itself the UK’s only independent aircraft manufacturer, still churning out updated civil and military variants of the perennially popular Islander/Trislander series more than 50 years after the type first flew.

More than 1,250 Islander series aircraft have been produced, and B-N operates a specialist MRO support service for them at Lee-on-Solent. But as an aeronautical engineering company it also carries out sophisticated mission systems integration for the Defender variant and other aircraft.

Now the base is under threat as an aviation site.

Fareham Borough Council, which owns it, is tempted to accept offers to locate a massive National Grid electrical supply interconnector terminal close by. This 10-acre, 25m-high terminal will be an electrical power supply interconnector with France, and if it goes ahead many extremely high voltage electrical cables will run underneath Daedalus’ runways and taxiways.

This will seriously mess up simple things like compass swings, but the calibration of mission systems and any other equipment affected by powerful electromagnetic fields will also be threatened.

Considering the interconnector terminal could equally efficiently be located the other side of Southampton Water at Fawley on a site that has always been industrial, threatening Daedalus, Britten-Norman and local general aviation in this way just because Fareham Borough Council likes the colour of National Grid’s money is, to put it mildly, short-sighted.

Self-improvement for pilots

Most airline pilots approach their annual recurrent training simulator time in a rather apprehensive mood. After all, it’s more about testing than training, isn’t it?

That’s the image simulator training still has with line pilots.

But imagine if, at no cost to themselves, pilots could book a fully capable flight simulation training device (FSTD) for the type they fly on the line, and practice the skills they know they need to improve, with just a colleague in the other seat, but no instructor, and no Big Brother oversight.

The question is: would pilots choose, in reality, to book “private” simulator time, even if it were free of charge? Perhaps they would be tempted when a bi-annual recurrent training session was looming, or if they were preparing for command training.

Ryanair is offering a scheme like this to its pilots, and early trials show it’s popular with the crews who’ve tried it. More of that later.

Increasingly, feedback from crew reporting systems and operational flight data monitoring (OFDM) is identifying areas where additional training is needed, but most of these needs are not met by the recurrent training syllabus required by national aviation authorities (NAA), which is based on flying the way it used to be in the pre-digital era.

Despite the fact that good airlines increasingly conduct training based on an Advanced Qualification Programme (AQP), which allows the airline some flexibility to react to evident training needs, there tends to be insufficient time in recurrent training sessions for actual training once all the statutory exercises have been performed to meet the regulator’s requirement for testing.

A normal recurrent training session is not so much a case of being trained and then being tested on the skills learned, but of undergoing a test, then calling it training if you pass it.

The psychological circumstances of a test – or even a training exercise perceived as a test – are not conducive to learning.

As the concept of “evidence-based” – rather than syllabus-based – training becomes the recommended philosophy for recurrent training, the airlines are still jammed between the rock of the mandatory recurrent syllabus, and a hard place – namely the mounting cost of additional evidence-based training that goes well beyond the legal minimums.

Good airlines already go beyond the training minimums, but most just do what the law requires and stop there.

Ryanair already beats the minima, but is now extending that advantage by bringing on-stream a planned nine additional advanced fixed-base – but sophisticated – FSTDs beyond those needed to cope with growth.

These will be used for a combination of type-rating, remedial and voluntary additional training, effectively adding a full day to the annual total of recurrent training simulator time available to all pilots. Ryanair already has three of these devices – made by Utrecht-based Multi-Pilot Simulations – in operation:  one at its Dublin HQ and two at its East Midlands, UK training base.

Ryanair’s head of training Capt Andy O’Shea has long wanted to give pilots the opportunity to develop their skills in their own time if they choose to.

Learmount (L) and Capt Andy O'Shea in front of Ryanair's Dublin training centre, the new Controlled Training simulator visible through the glass
Learmount (L) and Capt Andy O’Shea in front of Ryanair’s Dublin training centre, the new Controlled Training simulator visible through the glass

At the same time the Ryanair investment in the sophisticated equipment has to be justified, and O’Shea was concerned that some pilots might use the kit for experiment, and end up with what he calls a “negative training” experience from a session.

So how do you give pilots the freedom to learn – and to consolidate their learning-  in the areas they want to work on, but discourage them from barrel-rolling a 737-800 for fun, and at the same time convince them that Big Brother is not watching them?

O’Shea’s solution is a compromise.  The hint is in the programme’s name: Ryanair Controlled Training.

Sure, the pilots who voluntarily book the simulator time are alone and unwatched in the device. It has a normal instructor operating station (IOS), but it doesn’t have to be manned.  When they book the session, the pilots can choose from a menu of “lesson plans” entailing an origin, destination, and flight plan, and they upload it to the simulator when they start the session.

Before the pilots start the session they are provided with the instruction they need to operate the simulator, and then with payload and weather data to derive performance figures for the “flight”, and enter these into the FMS as they normally would.

Then they go through the normal checks, and “take off” using the standard instrument departure in the flight plan.

They just don’t know what else will happen en-route. But things will.

If they have trouble with a scenario they are presented with, they can freeze the simulator and discuss it, or try again, but there is a time limit for the sortie, so they have to get on with it.

Sessions are recorded, but O’Shea explains his philosophy: “We have no desire or intention to review each session for video or OFDM events. Our hope is that crews come to the FTD, practice their skills, improve their knowledge and leave feeling good about themselves.

So if OFDM exceedences will not trigger the curiosity of the Ryanair training department, what does? Straying outside the Boeing 737 flight envelope freezes the simulator, which then has to be re-set. Of course why that occurs would matter. For example upset prevention training (UPT) is programmed into some lesson plans, but recovery from extreme attitudes is not.

O’Shea says the new system provides an whole array of possibilities for voluntary pilot bookings, including: maintaining handling skills, UPT, left-hand seat practice for prospective captains, RHS practice for prospective instructors, and recurrent simulator training core competencies improvement.

But O’Shea says the kit also provides Ryanair with additional flexibility to test corporate safety strategies, carry out new airfield evaluation, assess FMC database updates, and familiarise pilots with new flight crew operating manual procedures.

It can also carry out follow-ups for real OFDM events on the line, because the simulator can replay them for crew to experience.

At present Ryanair Controlled Training is new, and there are only five lesson plans on the menu.

But there will be many more, promises Capt O’Shea.


Industrial unrest simmers at Virgin Atlantic

A ballot on industrial action by pilots at Virgin Atlantic is taking place now. The union seeking the strike mandate is the Professional Pilots Union which claims its membership includes a large majority of pilots at the airline, but it is not recognised by the company.

PPU members at Virgin number 543, which is 70% of the pilot workforce, says the union.

The British Airline Pilots Association, which is recognised by Virgin Atlantic, says the PPU takes part in “single-table bargaining”, and calls the proposed action “counter-productive”. The PPU says so-called single-table bargaining does not, in fact, include them, and its members want recognition for their association, not representation partly by Balpa.

Internal union politics, and growing pilot dissatisfaction with Balpa representation at Virgin, has led over the last few years to the formation of the PPU, which in June took a “consultative ballot” of Virgin pilots about whether they would take some form of industrial action to back their demand to be recognised as the bona fide pilot representative body at the airline.

The PPU says it got a 95.5% vote in favour of some form of industrial action, with the majority within that total voting for action up to and including stoppages.

The independently conducted ballot now being held, the results of which will be known by 18 August according to the PPU, asks for a mandate to conduct a work-to-rule.

Virgin has commented: “We value our pilot workforce enormously and have offered to have dialogue with the unrecognised union. We like to reassure customers all Virgin Atlantic flights continue to operate as normal.”

Flights are indeed unaffected at present, but if the PPU gets its mandate a work-to-rule can be highly disruptive. As the PPU points out, running a smooth schedule on time depends a great deal on pilot goodwill.

That is true at all airlines.

MH370 search extended into August

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, coordinating the multinational search for flight MH370, the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, had planned to complete the mission this month.

But winter weather has slowed down the sea-bed search for the main aircraft wreckage.

The ATSB says: “It is now anticipated it may take until around August to complete the 120,000 square kilometres, but this will be influenced by weather conditions over the coming months, which may worsen. More than 105,000 square kilometres of the seafloor have been searched so far. In the event the aircraft is found and accessible, Australia, Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to plans for recovery activities, including securing all the evidence necessary for the accident investigation.”

The ATSB statement continues: “Consistent with the undertaking given by the Governments of Australia, Malaysia and the PRC in April last year, 120,000 square kilometres will be thoroughly searched. In the absence of credible new information that leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, Governments have agreed that there will be no further expansion of the search area.”

The investigators have now examined half a dozen pieces of floating wreckage that washed up on beaches, mostly on the shores of islands in the western Indian Ocean or off south-eastern Africa. The have all been determined either to be definitely or almost certainly from the missing Malaysia 777. They include a flaperon, a wing flap section a flap track fairing, a part from a horizontal stabiliser, a piece of engine cowling, and a section of laminate material from the cabin trim of the aircraft.

So the aircraft is in the Indian Ocean, but if it is not found in the area where the sparse data the authorities have at their disposal suggest it should be, they have decided that the search will stop there.