High tech jets = High risk jets?

From:         Pete Mellor <pm@csr.city.ac.uk>
Date:         16 Nov 95 03:48:44 
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"The European", No. 287, 9-15th November 1995, contained the following:-

         "IATA denies cover-up over air accident statistics"

Business & Economics section, front page. By-line: Ian Verch\`ere

Begin quote:-

More than half of the 722 deaths in airline crashes last year occurred
on aircraft employing advanced automation systems, according to the
International Air Transport Association (IATA). In its latest annual
report, the Geneva-based body reveals that "at least eight accidents
and incidents were related to design features of highly-automated

Four of these accidents, it says, resulted in 383 fatalities and
accounted for 53 per cent of all lives lost last year. IATA says it is
"actively pursuing initiatives" to prevent the recurrence of accidents
arising from fly-by-wire and controlled flight into terrain problems.

According to spokesman William Gaillard, this includes a yearly seminar
on "human factors", which industry experts say accounts for about 60 per
cent of all accidents.

End quote.

The front page report is supplemented by an article on page 25 on
"Business Travel", headed "Airlines play down risk to travellers",
by the same journalist.

To summarise both articles briefly, IATA has published the statistics
and expressed its concern, but has been criticised for not naming
names. However, although its report identifies neither manufacturers
or airlines, this data can be obtained easily from Airclaims (for
example) but the articles have not used this source.

There is some interesting wriggling by IATA to justify their lack
of attribution. "By agreeing not to publish such data," said Gaillard,
"we have the opportunity to evaluate accidents and find ways of
preventing future ones. Otherwise, the airlines would fail to report
and much of this information would stay within their organisations."

There is mention of the crash at Nagoya of the China Airlines A300-600
on 26th April (264 dead) due to problems with the mode of the autopilot.
121 bereaved relatives have filed suit for $2M per life. China Airline's
offer is $164,000 per life. The plaintiffs also cite Airbus in their
writ. Airbus spokeswoman Barbara Kracht declined to comment on the
allegations: "defective" aircraft design since the autopilot could
not be returned to manual mode under 1,500 feet, co-pilot did not
notice that autopilot was in abort-landing mode, high level of
alcohol in co-pilot's blood.

She added that Airbus was "contributing to the trial in Tokyo by not
making any public statements" (for which the plaintiffs are no doubt
grateful), and that "We're always looking to improve safety. We learn
lessons from any incident or accident and when action is needed we
take it."

Personal comments:-

- This seems to be technically fairly shallow as usual.
  In particular, the articles fail to distinguish between a flight
  control system and flight management system. ("Fly-by-wire" is a
  term normally reserved for aircraft with a computer-based FCS.
  On this basis the A300 and A310 are *not* fly-by-wire. The autopilot
  is part of the FMS.)

- The point that automation, whether in the form of computerised FCS
  or computerised FMS, *can* contribute to an accident is worth making.

- IATA's coyness is amusing, given that without too much digging one
  can obtain statistics broken down by airframe type and carrier, and
  official reports of any accident or serious incident.

On a final note (just to amuse the pilots in the audience! :-)

Hans Krakauer, senior vice-president of aviation for the International
Airline Passengers Association said: "It's not just that these aircraft
are technologically highly developed, but many are being flown by pilots
who are technologically highly underdeveloped."

Peter Mellor, Centre for Software Reliability,
City University, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB
Tel: +44 (171) 477-8422, Fax.: +44 (171) 477-8585,
E-mail (JANET): p.mellor@csr.city.ac.uk