Qantas A380 pilots were ‘overwhelmed’ by failure alerts

The engine explosion on a Qantas A380 on November 4 came close to bringing down the aircraft after pilots were overwhelmed by computer alerts that took 50 minutes to clear.

The world’s biggest aircraft, the A380 is designed to be flown by computer but had to be flown manually for an hour and 40 minutes before landing safely at Singapore after the eight LCD displays in the cockpit filled with warnings. Pilots reported 54 separate failure alerts.

The incident led Qantas to ground its fleet of the aircraft and to checks on all A380s with Rolls Royce engines.

A leading member of the International Pilots Association (IPA) revealed how close the “superjumbo” came to disaster following talks with the crew.

One of the four engines on the Qantas flight from Singapore to Sydney exploded six minutes after take-off. Flames erupted from the engine and pieces of shrapnel penetrated the casing and wing, severing electrical cabling.

Fragments punctured two fuel tanks, destabilising the aircraft as leaking fuel caused a growing weight imbalance between left and right. At the same time a power problem prevented the pilots from pumping fuel from the rear tanks, making the aircraft tail heavy.

By chance, instead of a crew of three in the cockpit there were five pilots – an additional captain making an annual check on the skills of the pilot and a third captain to evaluate this inspection.

This left four pilots to clear the computer alerts while the captain flew the aircraft. However, it still took 50 minutes of “working flat out” to do so.

The problems did not end there. The landing gear doors would not operate and on touchdown the aircraft brakes reached temperatures high enough to ignite the leaking fuel.

The 459 passengers and crew landed safely. But IPA vice-president Richard Woodward, himself an A380 pilot with Qantas, said: “They were very lucky.”

Woodward said the outcome underscored the safety of the A380. “It is absolutely a testimony to the aircraft and its structures,” he said.

The details were released through the Press Association.

The details were released through the Press Association and picked up by ComputerWorld journalist and blogger Tony Collins.

  >> Read Danny Rogers’ comment on Rebuilding the Superjumbo Dream.

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