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Qantas pilots saved crippled Airbus

Sydney, December 3, 2010

Pilots of a crippled Qantas Airbus A380 superjumbo struggled with more than a dozen system errors after an engine blew apart on Nov 4 and  landed the plane in Singapore with barely any runway to spare,  an Australian investigation showed.

In fact, the plane may have been so badly damaged that the  five pilots, with a combined 72,000 hours of flying  experience, may have saved the day.

"The aircraft would not have arrived safely in Singapore  without the focused and effective action of the flight crew,"  Martin Dolan, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's chief  commissioner, said on Friday.

As the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine blew apart over Batam Island, Indonesia, minutes after take-off,  fragments ripped though parts of the wing, puncturing fuel,  hydraulic and electronic systems and leaving the plane with  limited flight controls, the ATSB said in a report.

But the magnitude of the damage became clear only when the co-pilot walked through the cabin and a passenger, another  pilot, showed him a picture from a camera mounted on the  plane's tail and fed into the onboard entertainment system.     
The picture showed the Airbus was leaving a trail of fluid behind -- most likely fuel and perhaps hydraulic  fluid -- from a puncture through the wing.

As the plane lost fuel quickly, its centre of gravity also  started to shift, presenting another problem. But the crew  could not shift fuel as required as it was not clear how badly  the fuel system was damaged, the report said.

There were so many warnings, it took pilots 50 minutes  just to complete the required responses before they could  prepare the plane for landing.

The number of errors was such that computers calculating  landing data could not handle them all. Pilots removed some  options, hoping that would still be enough to make an accurate  call.

With the plane coming in at 440 tonnes, about 50 tonnes  heavier than its maximum landing weight, the computer  eventually concluded it would stop with just 100 metres of  runway to spare at Singapore's Changi Airport, the report said.      

But 100 metres was enough for the crew and they opted to  land instead of dumping fuel, which would further upset the  plane's balance.

The A380 "remained controllable" as its prepared to land,  but it lost many of its systems which controlled pitch, speed  and braking, so pilots asked the cabin crew to prepare for an  emergency evacuation as they risked a runway overrun, it said.

The Airbus stopped with just 150 metres of concrete left,  brakes heated to 900 degrees Celsius and four blown tyres.

In addition, it was gushing fuel and one of its engines  refused to shut down for over two hours, until fire crews  drowned it with foam.

Pilots eventually decided against evacuation and kept  passengers on the plane for another hour as fire crews secured  the A380. - Reuters




Tags: A380 | Pilots | Qantas |

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