About That Air France Flight Where Pilots Lost Control…

A few weeks ago there was a serious incident onboard an Air France Boeing 777, where the pilots claimed that the flight controls weren’t working correctly. This was understandably classified as a serious incident, so a thorough investigation is being performed. So far the findings aren’t what you might have expected.

The basics of an Air France 777’s scary go around

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Air France flight 11 was scheduled to fly from New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG). The flight was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER with the registration code F-GSQJ, and there were 15 crew members and 177 passengers on board.

The plane was on approach to runway 26L at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, when the pilots reported that the plane wasn’t responding to commands, and started to deviate to the left.

Below you can listen to the communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers, and you can definitely hear how stressed the pilots are, as they seemingly struggle to keep the plane in the sky. Fortunately the flight performed a go around, and landed at the airport without further issues.

What caused Air France 777 flight control issues?

A Boeing 777 suffering flight control issues, especially at a low altitude, is a huge issue. As a result, France’s Bureau of Inquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation (BEA) has been performing an investigation. After all, part of what makes aviation so safe is that all serious incidents are investigated, so that they can be avoided in the future.

Well, the findings of this investigation aren’t what you might expect, as it seems like there may have been nothing wrong with the plane. The BEA has released its initial report about the incident, which shares the timeline of what happened:

  • The first officer was flying the plane on approach, and at an altitude of 1,670 feet the autopilot was disconnected for a manual landing
  • The first officer made inputs to the controls for around 15 seconds, and the plane followed the movement of the controls, with minor rolls to each side
  • The first officer then expressed his astonishment at the plane’s bank angle, so he amplified the inputs, and the average position of the wheel was around six degrees to the left, and as a result the plane turned left with a small bank angle
  • The captain expressed his surprise with respect to the deviation from the flight path (which was happening because the inputs the first officer was making), and called for a go-around
  • At this point, the two pilots made simultaneous inputs on the controls in opposite directions, causing the control column to desynchronize due to opposing forces.
  • The captain held the control column in a slightly nose-down position, while the first officer made several, more pronounced, nose-up inputs; this caused the pilots to think that there were control issues
  • Even when the plane had a positive rate of climb, the two pilots continued to simultaneously make differing inputs on the controls
  • The investigation so far shows no inconsistencies between the movements of the controls and the movements of the plane

A few thoughts:

  • I’m not sure whether we should be reassured that a 777 didn’t just randomly have flight control issues, if we should be terrified that pilots were providing opposite inputs at the same time, or both
  • The crew resource management here is downright puzzling; suffice it to say that pilots should be communicating with one another, rather than putting in opposite inputs
  • I couldn’t help but be reminded of Air France flight 447 that crashed in 2009; this happened because the aircraft entered a stall, and then one pilot kept making inputs that made the situation worse, without the other pilots knowing that these inputs were being made

bottom line

A few weeks ago an Air France Boeing 777 on approach to Paris suffered a serious incident, whereby pilots lost control of the aircraft. While it was initially believed that this was due to an issue with the plane, an investigation has revealed that the two pilots were making opposite inputs at the same time, which may have lead to this incident. So far there are no signs of anything being wrong with the aircraft.

This is simultaneously reassuring and scary — you don’t want to think that a 777 can just suddenly lose control, but you also don’t want to think that pilot crew resource management is so bad.

What do you make of this 777 flight control incident?

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