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15 January, 2009

Don't fly on an Airbus?

Today marked what might have been the first ever "successful" water landing for a large commercial airliner. I cannot back up that statement, other than that I remember having heard somewhere previously that there has never been a successful water landing. As you've probably already heard, US Airways Flight 1549 went into the sparkling and refreshing waters of New York's Hudson River today, with 151 people on board. And it appears, at this moment, that there were zero fatalities.

Success!

The early reports suggest that the plane may have been struck by a flock of birds, taking out both engines on the aircraft. However, a little bit of poking around on my favorite air disaster-related websites revealed a recent story about Airbus having some issues with engines stalling due to mechanical problems, resulting in incidents and fatal crashes. My favorite quote from the referenced article was the following:

American authorities warned such stalling problems "could prevent continued safe flight or landing"

It took "authorities" to come up with that conclusion? Probably high paid authorities, at that. Airbus has had a long series of knocks during its approximately 40 year history. One issue that was linked to some crashes years ago involved the fact that Airbus had started using "fly-by-wire" technology, in which many flight controls that were previously hydraulic had become electrical. Additionally, there had been some problems related to the degree to which Airbus planes were automated in such fashion that could cause greater difficulties responding to unexpected conditions during flight.

I am sure that you can find a million links to these if you want to do so. I will provide you with only a few links:

Related to autopilot:
In emergencies, Autopilot is the boss - not the human pilot

Australia incident blamed on autopilot failure

Related to fly-by-wire:
Article discussing fly-by-wire as being too complicated of a system 
P-I story comparing Boeing and Airbus technology

The last link is a fantastic article in the P-I about the differences in philosophy between Boeing and Airbus on aircraft control design.

One final piece of strangeness mailed to me by a friend:



Amazing... it arrived only 19 minutes late!

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