Earlier this year, an Emirates A 340 nearly crashed on take-off at Melbourne. The First Officer had programmed the computer with the aircraft’s weight but he made a gross typing error. The aircraft was far too heavy for the thrust the engines had been programmed to provide. Only by a mixture of skill and luck were the pilots able to get the aircraft into the air, though its tail still scraped the runway.
The two pilots flying the aircraft were handed their letters of resignation by Emirates on their return to Dubai. It is likely that they could have faced jail for potential manslaughter but we imagine Emirates would have been unwilling to press charges since they did not want to draw attention to the accident.
It might be just about understandable that the First Officer could make the error in the first place but the Captain is supposed to double-check what has been done. According to Emirates, there are four levels of checks which should have caught out the error.
However, what is even more extraordinary is that there were actually four pilots on the flight deck – the two reserve pilots who were due to take over during the long flight to Dubai were sitting on jump seats behind the two operating pilots. How did they not notice something was amiss?
This is not so dissimilar to the crash of the Turkish Airlines 737 at Amsterdam. The pilots ignored automated warnings because, so it seems, they were too busy chatting amongst themselves. As well as the standard two pilots, there was a training Captain sitting on a jump seat who was supposed to be supervising the First Officer.
Unprofessional behaviour can occur with just two pilots flying an aircraft. The crew of the Calgon commuter aircraft that crashed in the States have been accused of gossiping rather than following the “sterile cockpit” rule when an aircraft is close to landing.
Unfortunately, 2009 is proving to be a busy year for crash investigators. It should also be a busy year for air crew psychologists. They need to do some serious work on the behaviour of pilots, especially when there are more than the standard number in the cockpit.