Unqualified British Pilot can’t land, turns back plane.

Posted on 21. Dec, 2008 by in Featured

There is a lot of traffic on this; it is not as the article says “quite unusual but probably not unheard of”. It happens often for different reasons. The aircraft or the airfield could be out of qualification (usual reason), or the crew could be out of qualification, Captain not past 150 hours experience, or in this case not trained.

In the USA there are three Categories of instrument approach: CAT I, II, and III. Cat I is the normal instrument approach. To do a CAT I you need the airfields ILS (instrument landing system, a radio beam that provides course and glide slope) to be up and certified, visibility that normally allows the crew to see the runway environment (lights etc.) a couple of hundred feet above the ground. The crew has a normal type rated level of training for the aircraft they are flying. Normally aircrew fly a CAT I by hand. A CAT II is used for landings with visibility below a CAT I but, at or above 100 feet AGL (above ground level). The CAT II requires the ILS to be certified for CAT II or III and also the crew. It is flown by the auto pilot and can be auto landed. The CAT III has the same requirements of the CAT II and has to be auto landed by the auto pilot. The aircraft has to have a current auto land or maintenance check performed and logged. These checks insure that all of the aircraft systems required are fully functional and that the checks have been done within the required time frame. All of these requirements AND specialized training for the crew. This is a cockpit view: listen to the aural altitude and toward the end listen for the “Flare” call. This is very important; it means the aircraft’s auto pilot has shifted into the auto land sequence. If it doesn’t and the crew does not recognize the failure the auto pilot will fly the aircraft right into the runway (Navy style). Crunching onto the runway will normally cause some damage to the aircraft.

At American Airlines we train for CAT II and III every 9 months. It is intensive training. If you don’t pass, you don’t fly, period. Every time you go to the training center your license and livelihood are at risk. Both the Captain and First Officer must be qualified. On the MD-80, the aircraft I fly, we are certified to 50 feet. That means if you cannot see the runway by 50 feet above the ground you have to execute a missed approach (go around). This is the most intensive/complicated normal procedure a crew is trained for. It happens fast; even properly done the aircraft can still touch down momentarily as the lag of engines and reaction are overcome. Here is the view out of the cockpit window

The green line of lights is the runway threshold (edge)

This training is expensive and pulls the crews off of the line every 9 months. Flybe is a low cost airline, sometimes you get what you pay for.

2 Responses to “Unqualified British Pilot can’t land, turns back plane.”

  1. Aviatrix 22 December 2008 at 17:57 #

    Good article. Much better than the media approach of “everyone was panicking! The pilot didn’t know how to land the airplane!”

    I understood that the captain was current on one aircraft but not on the very similar one on the flight in question.

  2. chip 23 December 2008 at 09:45 #

    I love that call sign; yes, according to the articles I’ve read the Captain had upgraded from a Q-300 to a Q-400. While very similar, they must have big differences in the cockpit layout. A 767 and a 757 have totally different airframes, engines, hydraulic systems etc. However, the cockpits are the same (for the most part) so the type rating is the same. Also, the Q-400 is a new aircraft and it might be the case that the Q-300 was not rated for an auto land approach. I’ll see if I can find that out.

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