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Computer Error Caused Qantas Jet Mishap

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the gimme-back-my-stick dept.

Transportation 389

highways sends word that preliminary investigations into a Qantas Airbus A330 mishap where 51 passengers were injured has concluded that it was due to the Air Data Inertial Reference System feeding incorrect information into the flight control system — not interference from passenger electronics, as Qantas had initially claimed. Quoting from the ABC report: "Authorities have blamed a faulty onboard computer system for last week's mid-flight incident on a Qantas flight to Perth. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said incorrect information from the faulty computer triggered a series of alarms and then prompted the Airbus A330's flight control computers to put the jet into a 197-meter nosedive ... The plane was cruising at 37,000 feet when a fault in the air data inertial reference system caused the autopilot to disconnect. But even with the autopilot off, the plane's flight control computers still command key controls in order to protect the jet from dangerous conditions, such as stalling, the ATSB said."

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why fly qantass? (-1, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | about 6 years ago | (#25379357)

their expensive and their hosties aren't as attractive. oh and their planes seem to have a few issues

Re:why fly qantass? (0, Offtopic)

Divebus (860563) | about 6 years ago | (#25379473)

Unglaublich. Du kanst niemal richtig Rechtschreibung machen. Du Dep. Auber wirklich soll Quntas Boeing flugzueg aussuchen. Sorry for bad Englisch.

Re:why fly qantass? (-1, Offtopic)

bornwaysouth (1138751) | about 6 years ago | (#25379583)

Not Quantass.
Quanta is the plural of quantum.
Quantas is the plural of quanta.
Quantass happens when two airlines fly into each other. This did not happen. I think.

Mind you, it did happen shortly after the black-hole-producing LHC mysteriously blew up. Maybe they are wanting us not to panic. Was your comment in Swiss-German by any chance?

Re:why fly qantass? (0, Offtopic)

Divebus (860563) | about 6 years ago | (#25379681)

Ausgezeichnet! Neh.. es ist nur kvatch Deutch. Auber Wunderbare Theorie wegend der LHC. I'm surprised it didn't fold up the wings.

Re:why fly qantass? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379983)

Chuck Norris kann schneller stehen als du rennen kannst.

Swiss German (1, Informative)

krischik (781389) | about 6 years ago | (#25379973)

Swiss German is a spoken only language [1], the Swiss write standard German [2]. And the LHC is in French spoken part of Switzerland and therefore the official project languages for the LHC are English and French.

[1] Meaning: There are no official spelling rules and if one wants to write down Swiss German anyway one has to make up spelling on the fly.
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_German [wikipedia.org]

uhh huhs (5, Insightful)

pak9rabid (1011935) | about 6 years ago | (#25379359)

I'm sure this comes as no surprise to the /. community. Nice to see the truth actually did surface though.

Don't forget the spin (1, Troll)

tgv (254536) | about 6 years ago | (#25379709)

And what do you think Qantas is going to retort? That the malfunction was caused by radio signals from passengers' electronic devices. Duh! Look at it. A computer starts spewing "random data". That can only be caused by random radio waves from random clicking with a wireless mouse. No, in a few months time, everyone bringing a wireless mouse on board will be considered a terrorist.

Re:Don't forget the spin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379859)

They already DID blame it on passenger electronic devices.
At least on TV.
Somehow nobody seemed to notice but since in our country you're not supposed to use any devices in-flight anyway (except for mp3 players etc. - no phones), we don't care.

Darn News ! (1)

da5idnetlimit.com (410908) | about 6 years ago | (#25379977)

And I had almost finished building my 2KW Bluetooth mouse and with the Flight simulator rig, you know, in that little shed just after the airport fairway...

Re:Don't forget the spin (4, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | about 6 years ago | (#25379939)

So what if they do make such claims?

If all it takes is a kid with a gameboy to bring down the Airbus then their entire fleet should be grounded.

The aircraft systems design would be completely unsafe as there are far more powerful transmitters in any urban area.

No, in truth, Airbus planes would be raining from the skys if it were indeed susceptible to such interference. It would have never been certified.

But more important, why did the controls not respond to the pilots? Why would the computers be programmed to prevent a Stall in an *diving* aircraft?

Re:Don't forget the spin (2, Informative)

Jules Labrie (756572) | about 6 years ago | (#25380087)

At 37000 feets the air is so thin that the range between the cruise speed and stall speed is relatively small. In other words, you need an autopilot to fly in that altitude. So a dive after an autopilot disconnect makes sense, although it's questionable if has to be so strong that some passengers get hurt.

Re:Don't forget the spin (4, Interesting)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 6 years ago | (#25380091)

If the pilots lost consciousness they would lose control of the aircraft and may slump on to the controls and put the plane into an unsafe course.

The computers put the plane INTO a dive to prevent a stall they *thought* was taking place.

In this case the pilots attempted to abort the 'safety' maneuver but the computer decided that the pilots through incompetence or perhaps incapacitation did not actually intend to kill all aboard and took the action it thought was necessary.

Questions: (5, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 6 years ago | (#25379361)

From TFA:

"About two minutes after the initial fault, (the air data inertial reference unit) generated very high, random and incorrect values for the aircraft's angle of attack," the ATSB said in a statement.

Correct me if I'm wrong but don't most modern aircraft have an inertial navigation system and a seperate angle of attack transmitter protruding from the plane? Why no redundancy?

The incident was the fourth involving Qantas planes in two-and-a-half months[read TFA for the other 3 incidents]...

The plane's French-based manufacturer has issued an advisory on the problem and will also issue special operational engineering bulletins to airlines that fly A330s and A340s fitted with the same air data computer, the ATSB said.

Does Qantas' aircraft maintenance suck or does Airbus' quality control suck? Do both suck?

Finally, shame on the PR guys for blaming passenger electronics. Maybe it's a feature, not a bug...in case any government decides that they want to make another 9/11 ;)

Re:Questions: (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379449)

They never did, the initial reports that they were looking at laptop was a mistake by the journalist. Qantas said they were looking at the onboard computers (ie. the computer that was flying the plane) and the journalist thought computers that were on board (ie. the laptops that passengers were using).

Re:Questions: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379553)

That is just full of win. It means that at least two entire threads on Fark and Slashdot were just so much hot air.

Oh, wait...

Re:Questions: (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | about 6 years ago | (#25379727)

The real reason:

"It looks like you are trying to fly a commercial airliner. Would you like me to:
a) Make an announcement to passengers
b) Call the stewardess for some more coffee
c) Compensate for the incredibly high angle of attack"

Re:Questions: (2, Insightful)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | about 6 years ago | (#25379453)

I suspect its more blame shifting. In Australia, Qantas have come under scrutiny for a spate of recent problems with their planes. Every other week its some kind of mechanical malfunction or whatnot. This is especially stinging as Qantas has a excellent reputation for safety. So they are eager to get the problem as far away from themselves as quickly as possible.

Re:Questions: (3, Informative)

dangitman (862676) | about 6 years ago | (#25379633)

Except that it was a journalist who made the claim of interference from a passenger's computer, not QANTAS.

Re:Questions: (1)

icebike (68054) | about 6 years ago | (#25379963)

Exceptional claims need exceptional proof.

Re:Questions: (5, Informative)

daver00 (1336845) | about 6 years ago | (#25379721)

Qantas HAD an excellent reputation for safety, but that is surely history now. What was it about 6-12 months ago they moved all of their international flights maintainance offshore. Qantas engineers went on strike etc. Lo and behold yet another outsourcing operation is falling flat on its face, unfortunately this time it could come at the expense of lives.

I'd be staying well away from Qantas international flights until they sort their shit out.

Re:Questions: (4, Interesting)

aussie_a (778472) | about 6 years ago | (#25379871)

If Qantas cuts the costs of maintenance to such a degree that fatalities are not only likely, but inevitable, can anyone actually be charged with murder?

Re:Questions: (5, Insightful)

The Good Jim (642796) | about 6 years ago | (#25379495)

Umm... the attitude sensor was a Northrop Grumman part, used in some Airbus models (2 A330 models, and A340) and "some other non-Airbus" aircraft. So it doesn't sound like an Airbus problem - it may even also be a Boeing problem! And it sounds like a software problem, not a Queerarse maintenance issue, for once! But what happened to quadruplex-redundant FBW - are only the flight control computers truly quadruplex redundant? It sounds like a single point of failure in a design which should have considerable redundancy. Jim

Re:Questions: (1)

S-100 (1295224) | about 6 years ago | (#25379779)

Quantas chose Airbus, so Quantas will have to take the blame for problems like this. The Airbus design philosophy has a greater dependence on flight control software. This added complexity has caused crashes in the past, and mishaps like this are to be expected. Thankfully, the defect only resulted in a transient out-of-control situation. Good thing this didn't happen on final (or at V1).

Re:Questions: (4, Informative)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | about 6 years ago | (#25379807)

Qantas. Not Quantas.

Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services.

Re:Questions: (1)

MassiveForces (991813) | about 6 years ago | (#25380021)

Which raises a good point - why is Q the only character that takes up two letters to type, since you 'can't' use it without U?

Re:Questions: (1)

digitig (1056110) | about 6 years ago | (#25380099)

Which raises a good point - why is Q the only character that takes up two letters to type, since you 'can't' use it without U?

You can. See above.

Re:Questions: (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 6 years ago | (#25379923)

There have been no crashes attributed to the Airbus flight control system software, and Airbus doesn't depend on flight control software any more than Boeing - both the 777 and the 787 are fully fly by wire.

Re:Questions: (1)

digitig (1056110) | about 6 years ago | (#25380111)

Good thing this didn't happen on final (or at V1).

That particular problem presumably couldn't have happened on landing because it wouldn't be flying on inertial navigation and it would be configured for landing and so the software will allow the plane to get into situations it forbids in flight such as a stall (required for normal landing, which is effectively a controlled stall).

Re:Questions: (-1, Flamebait)

vjl (40603) | about 6 years ago | (#25379541)

Airbust QA sucks, sadly. They differ highly with how Boeing does things; they rely on computers *way* too much, which is why I will never fly on an Airbus a/c. The pilot is not given #1 priority in the cockpit.

Boeing a/c do have a lot of computer controls, but they can all be easily overwritten by the CO/FO flying the a/c. Not quite as easy on an Airbust. When their A320 debuted at the French airshow, the computer got very confused at take off and simply refused to allow the pilot to pull up more than 20-30 feet off the ground, causing the a/c to crash into the forest at the end of the runway.

Technology is good when it is used to supplement human experience and knowledge. It is not meant to replace it.

/vjl/

Re:Questions: (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | about 6 years ago | (#25379669)

Boeing a/c do have a lot of computer controls, but they can all be easily overwritten by the CO/FO flying the a/c.

That actually sounds worse, but you probably meant overridden.

Re:Questions: (3, Funny)

I cant believe its n (1103137) | about 6 years ago | (#25379767)

Boeing a/c do have a lot of computer controls, but they can all be easily overwritten by the CO/FO flying the a/c.

That actually sounds worse, but you probably meant overridden.

No, the GP is correct and the process is called "flash and burn" :-)

Re:Questions: (3, Informative)

TomSawyer (100674) | about 6 years ago | (#25379793)

When their A320 debuted at the French airshow, the computer got very confused at take off and simply refused to allow the pilot to pull up more than 20-30 feet off the ground, causing the a/c to crash into the forest at the end of the runway.

I remember reading about that in high school. It's one of the "cautionary tales" in The Day the Phones Stopped Ringing [amazon.com] . While the computers were initially blamed, the final conclusion was human error caused by a misplaced confidence in technology. It wasn't that the computers wouldn't let them pull up. The plane was physically incapable of pulling up when the pilots tried to. The pilots were maneuvering to give the crowd a good look and they believed the computers wouldn't let them do so if the plane couldn't handle it.

Re:Questions: (5, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 6 years ago | (#25379933)

Correct - the Habsheim crash was caused by pilot stupidity in that he was both below the visible height of surrounding obstacles, and had brought the throttles back to idle. Engines take some time to come back from idle to 'take off - go around' thrust (TOGA), and he applied that thrust far too late.

Re:Questions: (3, Informative)

lendude (620139) | about 6 years ago | (#25379821)

Whilst Airbus and Boeing may have differing philosophies regarding the use and role of on-board computer flight systems, and whilst these may have bearing on some incidents, please read up on the incident you are referencing - it's nothing like you portray it: Air France Flight 296 [wikipedia.org]

Re:Questions: (1)

jabithew (1340853) | about 6 years ago | (#25379863)

I always prefer Airbus because they rely on computers more. Human judgement is pretty poor, for the most part. The majority of crashes are caused by mechanical and pilot errors.

Plus they're more comfortable and I just trust European engineering more...

(p.s. Parent modded 0; -1 overrated. How?)

Re:Questions: (1)

flydude18 (839328) | about 6 years ago | (#25379595)

Correct me if I'm wrong but don't most modern aircraft have an inertial navigation system and a seperate angle of attack transmitter protruding from the plane? Why no redundancy?

Well, you're confusing some of the terms. An inertial navigation system is for navigation, e.g. north is that way. The failed computer, an "air data inertial reference unit" is (probably) the computer that collects the measurement data from angle of attack probes, pitot-static tubes, altimeters, and whatever other sensors they have, and calculates useful parameters like angle of attack, airspeed, altitude, etc...

They have redundancy. They surely have multiple angle of attack probes. They might even have multiple computers to compare the results. They surely try to detect and discard erroneous measurements. But sometimes the wrong things will fail at the wrong time and in the wrong way, and all the data will be junk. Murphy was, in fact, an aerospace engineer.

The flight control computer needs an angle of attack value. They don't have the option declaring the input suspicious and giving manual control to the pilot. Not on Airbus, anyway.

Re:Questions: (5, Interesting)

William Robinson (875390) | about 6 years ago | (#25379705)

Why no redundancy?

Exactly my thought.

IANAE, but the Wikipedia says An ADIRU acts as a "single, fault tolerant" source for both pilots of an aircraft., and there are 3 ADIRUs.

From TFA,

faulty computer triggered a series of alarms and then prompted the Airbus A330's flight control computers to put the jet into a 197-metre nosedive.

I wonder whether the control computers are programmed to take decision to nosedive just like that OR consult other ADIRUs OR alarm the crew before taking that kind of decision.

Having worked for nuclear installations where I designed automations for, which always demanded to have 2 out of 3 voting redundancy and a careful fault tree analysis making sure no single point of failure would lead to any kind of disaster, I feel the control computer might have been taking decision without consulting other ADIRUs OR all 3 ADIRUs went bad at the same time. And both cases look very scary.

Just my thoughts.

Re:Questions: (1)

gnieboer (1272482) | about 6 years ago | (#25380051)

While there's not enough detail in the article to make any real conclusions, I'm fairly certain the fault would have to be more complex than simply a single ADIRU going haywire. The autopilot worked correctly, and realized that if it was putting the aircraft in an angle of attack like that, something must be wrong with it, so disconnected itself as it should. And most similar systems I'm familiar with tend to have a capability to detect an erroneous reading, either by voting as you described, or by realizing that AoA can't change from 2 deg to 25 deg in 1/60th of a second so the input can't be right (or some similar 'common-sense' check), and faulting that component.

Re:Questions: (1)

RichiH (749257) | about 6 years ago | (#25379739)

> Does Qantas' aircraft maintenance suck or does Airbus' quality control suck? Do both suck?

You hear a lot about Qantas failures, almost nothing about Airbus failures, at not any more than with the other companies. Without knowing much about Qantas, I suspect the mainly use Airbus & internal QA/maint sucks.

Re:Questions: (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379797)

Ooh, so close. That was almost a sentence. Better luck next time!

Re:Questions: (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 6 years ago | (#25379947)

A lot of the problems in recent months have been on Boeing aircraft...

Re:Questions: (1)

aussie_a (778472) | about 6 years ago | (#25379839)

Does Qantas' aircraft maintenance suck

Considering they've recently shipped it overseas where its cheaper (as opposed to being better), I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

I never heard about this sort of thing before Qantas moved their maintenance offshore.

Re:Questions: (2, Insightful)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | about 6 years ago | (#25380029)

Does Qantas' aircraft maintenance suck or does Airbus' quality control suck? Do both suck?

Australia is big, really big. I leave Sydney heading north, watch one full length movie, have a snooze, watch another full length movie then flick over to the map and get depressed... I have watched the only two decent films on offer, am already sick of the flight to Europe but I still have not even left Aussie borders. So with that in mind, my money is on Airbus's unit testing that sucks. Qantas is more than likely just the beta tester who runs the most miles.

Re:Questions: (2, Informative)

FriendlyLurker (50431) | about 6 years ago | (#25380101)

P.S. Qantas never claimed it was passenger electronics. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) http://www.atsb.gov.au/newsroom/2008/release/2008_43.aspx [atsb.gov.au] said that laptops could have interfered with the plane's on-board computer system... but the bureau also said in the same breath that it's too early to make that judgment. From that bland boring statement you arrive at Slashdots and dozens of other sensationlist news headlines: "Qantas Blames Wireless For Aircraft Incidents" http://mobile.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/10/09/1427232&tid=270 [slashdot.org]
WTF? Even five at the source http://www.atsb.gov.au/newsroom/media.aspx [atsb.gov.au] would have determined that.
I come here for NEWS not fucking Fox-News...

Re:Questions: (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25380105)

Correct me if I'm wrong but don't most modern aircraft have an inertial navigation system and a seperate angle of attack transmitter protruding from the plane? Why no redundancy?

OK, I'll correct you. You're wrong. The "seperate angle of attack transmitter" (sic) feeds information to the Air Data Inertial Reference System; it isn't a separate system. Avionics has become more and more integrated as time (and costs) have progressed. I suppose an anology from the days of mechanical flying would be the VG toppling with the autopilot in command, IIRC there was a crash many years ago when such an event caused a fatal accident when VG failure was exacerbated by the AP failing to disconnect. Just the sort of thing that integrated avionics and flight control systems were supposed to prevent. Airbus use a triple channel ADIRU system; this simply *shouldn't* happen. Still, given Airbus' past record, I'm sure when one of these types of failures leads to fatalities it will be pilot error. Or maintenance error. Or maybe just an Act of God.

Does Qantas' aircraft maintenance suck or does Airbus' quality control suck? Do both suck?

Neither. You may be interested to learn that in the time I have taken to write this several hundred people have died in automobile accidents. None have experienced ADIRS failure on an Airbus. Qantas' admittedly freak oxygen bottle accident has put the media spotlight on them; they - shock horror - have since experienced a gear door problem and - gasp - a hydraulic leak. Gosh. Pretty routine failures pumped up by the press into something they're not. In my job with a major airline (not Qantas) I would say I see hydraulic leaks around once a week and gear retract problems perhaps once or twice a year.

well duh (3, Insightful)

Brain Damaged Bogan (1006835) | about 6 years ago | (#25379365)

...but don't expect the airlines to care about the facts when they decide to stop letting you use electronic devices on their flights. Common sense didn't get in the way of them banning nailclippers, shaving razors, liquids and many other innocuous day-to-day items.

Re:well duh (3, Insightful)

cheater512 (783349) | about 6 years ago | (#25379413)

The airlines dont ban those items.

Re:well duh (0, Offtopic)

Brain Damaged Bogan (1006835) | about 6 years ago | (#25379519)

yeah, my tinfoil hat is particularly tight today. but they do ban some silly things, like safety scissors, and liquids in containers less than 500ml have to be checked and sealed in a small plastic bag by security, when if you really want a weapon it's easiest to make a shiv out of the plastic knives they give you or hide a small capsule of lighter fluid up your arse.

Re:well duh (4, Informative)

sumdumass (711423) | about 6 years ago | (#25379543)

I think you missed his point. It isn't the airlines that banned those things, it is unrelated but authoritative departments of government which did.

The blame for what you mention rest with agencies other then the airlines.

Re:well duh (1)

RichiH (749257) | about 6 years ago | (#25379769)

> It isn't the airlines that banned those things, it is unrelated but authoritative departments of government which did.

With considerable pressure of the airlines to keep cell-phones banned. Both because they want you to shell out for the in-flight system and because studies show that the majority of people would prefer not having some random guy babbling about his ulcer treatment during their flight to $expensive_location.

Re:well duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379623)

The airlines still don't ban those items.

It's the authorities controlling aviation in your country. In the USA this is split between TSA banning stuff for "security" (nail clippers) and FAA banning stuff for "safety" (personal electronics)

You're blaming the messager

Re:well duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379749)

Could you supply a link to where a recognised chemist explains how it would be unthinkable for a liquid bomb to work? There's been BBC reports on how people who made suicide tapes had prepared liquid bombs, and the BBC does not very often (only occasionally) get things completely wrong. I'm curious.

Maybe they should have... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379369)

...tried turning it off and then on again.

Re:Maybe they should have... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379901)

...tried turning it off and then on again.

Blue Sky of Death?

I know, ouch. X/

Been there, done that (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 6 years ago | (#25379389)

put the jet into a 197-meter nosedive.

I've been in nose dives before.. it's awesome fun. Everyone is screaming and the assholes who refuse to keep their seatbelt fastened while seated quickly learn the *reason* why they request you to do this.

People pay good money for this experience [gozerog.com] , and with a little malfunction or two they give it to you for free. When you throw in the fact that you could very well be experiencing the last few minutes of your short pathetic little life - you can't get a better adrenaline rush.

Re:Been there, done that (4, Funny)

Splab (574204) | about 6 years ago | (#25379599)

I was thinking the same, "that will teach them to buckle up".

I do feel bad for those buckled in who got hit by the assholes flying through the cabin though. Also for the poor smuck on the toilet.

Re:Been there, done that (4, Funny)

_Hellfire_ (170113) | about 6 years ago | (#25379747)

Also for the poor smuck on the toilet.

He must have been shitting himself...

Re:Been there, done that (2, Funny)

syousef (465911) | about 6 years ago | (#25380065)

He must have been shitting himself...

New meaning to the term prairie doggin'

Re:Been there, done that (1)

BlackSabbath (118110) | about 6 years ago | (#25379629)

Dude! If only there were a "+1, Flamebait" ;-)

Re:Been there, done that (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379893)

Cheapest way to experience zero G? Go along to your nearest glider/sailplane club and have a trial lesson. If you ask nicely, some of instructors will give you an aerobatic flight (loops, wing-overs, stalls, but not spins).

If the cable breaks during a winch launch, at a couple of hundred feet, you go zero g in order to recover. The motto is that if the mud (on the floor) floats around your face then you got it about right, whereas if it plasters itself on the canopy then you were too enthusiastic.

Before you go solo (which you can do at age 16/15/14 depending on where you live) you have to be able to repeatedly demonstrate that you can recover from cable breaks and also from a spin started at 1000ft in which you are descending at 100ft/s.

Not an experience you will forget.

Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (3, Interesting)

Dutch Gun (899105) | about 6 years ago | (#25379403)

...until you get all the bugs worked out of those systems. And unfortunately, lessons of these kinds are often paid in tragedy. These passengers should consider themselves lucky that the pilots reacted so quickly.

Not trying to be too flippant, as I can scarcely imagine the complexity of trying to create what essentially needs to be an infallible system in such a complex problem space. As a programmer, thinking about putting my life in the hands of a computer program scares the living hell out of me. The whole issue is that computers, by and large, lack "common sense", and are prone to accept garbage input without question.

Apparently, this was caused by "a malfunctioning computer". Isn't there sort of redundancy check on anything that could cause the computer to send the plane plummeting toward the earth? One faulty computer can cause this? I'm sure the article is over-simplifying the problem, but still...

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (2, Insightful)

Cochonou (576531) | about 6 years ago | (#25379441)

A faulty computer system can result from a software bug (e.g. Ariane 5 first flight), or from an hardware malfunction/maintenance issue. It is not yet clear what the nature of the problem was.

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (3, Interesting)

AJWM (19027) | about 6 years ago | (#25379777)

Strictly speaking, the Ariane 5 first flight mishap was a specification bug, not a coding bug, so it depends on your definition as to whether it was really a "software" bug. (Even more strictly speaking, it was a procedures bug: they left running an inertial measurement unit that wasn't needed after launch (it provided ground reference for the nav system while on the pad). They'd done this on Ariane 4 but the 4's flight profile didn't take the unit out of limits the way 5's did.)

Thanks, I'll pass the ground... (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | about 6 years ago | (#25379549)

"Apparently, this was caused by "a malfunctioning computer". Isn't there sort of redundancy check on anything that could cause the computer to send the plane plummeting toward the earth? One faulty computer can cause this? I'm sure the article is over-simplifying the problem, but still..."

Yes. It's called "a pilot". Under some circumstances "plummeting towards the earth" is a legitimate maneuver. Keeping it there too long isn't...unless of course you're stopping a hijacking. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (1)

Rakishi (759894) | about 6 years ago | (#25379713)

Pilots aren't infallible and make mistakes often enough. In other words a computer system doesn't need to be perfect to be better than what it's "replacing."

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379753)

The main point here is that the computer was doing the SAFE thing, in response to the inputs it was given. Why it did not have redundant inputs in this case will remain to be seen, but nevertheless.

The accident statistics of fly-by-wire planes can be looked up, and they're not very different from other planes.

That being said, there's been some controversy over the methodology used to develop the Airbus flight control systems, so if you're very paranoid you might want to stick with Boeing (n-version programming at Airbus vs. 1-version with more verification at Boeing).

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25380037)

I don't think fly-by-wire means what you think it means. Fly-by-wire describes a system where the pilots commands are transmitted by wire to the hydraulic systems in the wing and tail. This is opposed to a system where the hydraulics run all the way to the pilot's yoke and the pilot provides the force necessary to move the flight controls. Although fly-by-wire aircraft may be computer controlled, it is neither mandatory or implied that this is the case. Much like how drive-by-wire cars with electronic throttles and steering would not be considered to be computer controlled by most people.

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (4, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | about 6 years ago | (#25379931)

Thanks, I'll pass on that flight ... until you get all the bugs worked out of those systems

It's interesting the way people rationalize things isn't it?

Statistically, you are far more likely to die in a car on the way to work than you are in a commercial passenger aircraft. Statistically, the computer system in a commercial passenger aircraft is far less likely to fsck things up than a human pilot (although that's saying nothing about the _size_ of the fsckup, should one occur...)

I drive around 600km a week in my car. A lot of that is spent at 110km/hour on a freeway, and at 100km/hour along some reasonably windy and hilly roads. I often think about the ways that such an activity could end rather badly for me, but it doesn't worry me greatly.

In about a week though I'm going to be getting onto an airplane for the first time in about 28 years, and the thought of it has me a little nervous - far more so than driving a car which is, statistically speaking, far more dangerous.

A car crash here in Australia will often make the news, possibly only locally unless more than a few people lost their lives. A plane crash of any reasonable size will make the news world wide, and will probably continue to do so for weeks after the event. The Quantas Airbus 'mishap' didn't kill anyone, and the majority of the passengers have probably mostly healed whatever injuries they did sustain by now, and yet here in Australia the incident still makes the news daily. The logical part of your brain should tell you that that is a comforting thing - it's so unusual that it is still newsworthy a week later. The less logical parts of your brain though are constantly reminded that while safe, air travel is not 100% safe.

For me I think the difference is the time I will have to contemplate things should something go wrong. In a car, the time between the realization of error (mine or someone elses) and things ending badly is going to be measured in seconds. In an airplane, the time between when I realize that things are not as they should be and the time when I won't be thinking anymore could be measured in minutes. That is a pretty chilling thought for me...

Re:Thanks, I'll pass on that flight... (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 6 years ago | (#25380009)

Sometimes people rationalise things correctly. I've been in 4 car crashes in my life , 2 were my fault, 2 weren't. I'm still here uninjured to write about them. What are the chances I'd still be alive if I'd been involved in 4 plane crashes? Pretty damn close to zero I'd say.

oblig star trek blahblah (5, Funny)

ocularDeathRay (760450) | about 6 years ago | (#25379439)

SOOOOO.... you are saying the inertial dampeners were offline?

Re:oblig star trek blahblah (1)

Kjella (173770) | about 6 years ago | (#25379829)

SOOOOO.... you are saying the inertial dampeners were offline?

If the inertial dampeners were offline they'd only shake around a bit like on a bumpy road. No need for seat belts - or even seats at all for people along the back row. Which is actually quite realistic really, except the reason they wouldn't need them should be that they're splattered against the hull.

Re:oblig star trek blahblah (1)

OldManAndTheC++ (723450) | about 6 years ago | (#25379851)

Yes, but that was only because Kirk told the flight computer that "everything I tell you is a lie, including this". Typical. If I ever see him boarding my plane, I'm switching to Klingon Air.

Not an isolated incident (5, Informative)

Davemania (580154) | about 6 years ago | (#25379461)

This isn't an isolated incident. Although I think the string of technical incidents suffered by Qantas isn't a coincidence either. "A global alert was issued in 2005 after a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en-route to Kuala Lumpur from Perth experienced similar problems. Investigators found a software glitch in a unit made by the same US manufacturer as the one in the Qantas plane combined with a mechanical problem." http://www.australianit.news.com.au/story/0,24897,24499849-15306,00.html [news.com.au]

Re:Not an isolated incident (2, Funny)

fatmal (920123) | about 6 years ago | (#25379551)

a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en-route to Kuala Lumpur from Perth experienced similar problems.

And the Qantas flight was also going to Perth? I blame all the iron ore thats still in the ground around Perth!

Re:Not an isolated incident (2, Funny)

sapphire wyvern (1153271) | about 6 years ago | (#25379881)

a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en-route to Kuala Lumpur from Perth experienced similar problems.

And the Qantas flight was also going to Perth? I blame all the iron ore thats still in the ground around Perth!

Obviously the government should take all possible action to have it dug up and removed from the country as fast as possible. Won't somebody think of the children?

Re:Not an isolated incident (1)

deniable (76198) | about 6 years ago | (#25379975)

China's way ahead of you on that one. China for child safety!

Actually, I think it's the special transmitters we put in at Exmouth. It's part of a state government initiative, "F*** the Tourists." A definite vote getter.

Re:Not an isolated incident (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379625)

its almost like a new bermuda triangle... both this incident and the 2005 one occurred roughly in the same place... definitely not ballin'

Re:Not an isolated incident (1)

khing (936015) | about 6 years ago | (#25379703)

I've read that Qantas outsourced the maintenance of their planes to a Malaysian subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines, so chances are both planes were serviced by the same group of people. "Qantas management denies safety standards have been compromised by a decision to outsource aircraft maintenance to Malaysia, but such perceptions are difficult to counter when the incidence of mechanical failures has spiked just at the time when more Qantas aircraft are being sent overseas for routine overhauls coincidence or not."linky [canberratimes.com.au]

Glad it didnt happen ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379517)

at an altitude of 196 meter.

faulty onboard computer system (1)

alxkit (941262) | about 6 years ago | (#25379559)

was it Elbot of Artificial Solutions? then it wasn't faulty - it was just misunderstood.

os (0, Troll)

flakron (1146337) | about 6 years ago | (#25379563)

betcha it was running windows millenium

Re:os (2, Funny)

deniable (76198) | about 6 years ago | (#25379991)

Not likely. How did it take off in the first place?

"caused the autopilot to disconnect" (1)

distantbody (852269) | about 6 years ago | (#25379579)

So the autopilot ...jumped?

Let's all fly Qantas, then (2, Funny)

jonaskoelker (922170) | about 6 years ago | (#25379673)

As we all know, Qantas never crashed. Def-definitely never crashed.

Quantas' claims (4, Informative)

myxiplx (906307) | about 6 years ago | (#25379679)

From the summary: "not interference from passenger electronics, as Qantas had initially claimed"

Care to show me where Quantas claimed that? It seems to be all the rage to say that Quantas are shifting the blame, but so far I've seen nothing at all to indicate that was the case. What I *have* seen was a statement from Quantas saying they were investigating passenger electronics as a possible cause. Now I know it doesn't make such good news, but I'm afraid there's a world of difference between being investigating something and trying to place the blame on it. Unfortunately that's a distinction that appears to be lost on the crowd...

Re:Quantas' claims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379735)

It's spelt Qantas.

Re:Quantas' claims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379775)

Yeah, this was a furphy caused by CmdrTaco posting a misleading summary. Qantas claimed nothing. In fact they are required to keep their mouths shut while the ATSB goes about its investigation.

But then this being /. it's not the first time that people have gotten worked up over untruths caused by poor journalism.

Re:Quantas' claims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379799)

hmmm - care to show you where quantas claimed that - drip drip drip... a confidential briefing to a reporter maybe?

They did claim it... (1)

raehl (609729) | about 6 years ago | (#25379887)

"We're investigating passenger electronics as a possible cause" is just marketing speak for "While we have no idea what happened, we want you to think it was passenger electronics."

FFS, kdawson! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25379843)

Can't you go even a single day without plastering Slashdot with non-stories from your beloved Australia?

Computers never make errors (1)

VincenzoRomano (881055) | about 6 years ago | (#25379895)

As they are as stupid as cows.
Errors are only made by Humans, from the design up to the operation level.
These "announcements" are made just to hide some possibly high level human error.
If a sensor is feeding wrong data it's because of either a human engineering error or because of some fault that goes undetected (by humans)!

Come on (1)

silvermonkeynz (1341895) | about 6 years ago | (#25379921)

This is precisely why having commercial aircraft under total computer control is a bad idea. Even though you can fly "stick" everything must first be put through the computer - which as we have just seen is not infallible.

Re:Come on (1)

digitig (1056110) | about 6 years ago | (#25380049)

This is precisely why having commercial aircraft under total computer control is a bad idea. Even though you can fly "stick" everything must first be put through the computer - which as we have just seen is not infallible.

Whereas, of course, humans are infallible. Er...

If this had happened on final approach.. (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 6 years ago | (#25379961)

.. this wouldn't have been a sidebar on page 5 of most papers. There would be 200 dead people lying in pieces near perth. Any computer malfunction which causes an aircraft to nosedive 650 feet in seconds is a VERY serious bug.

DO178B (5, Informative)

gnieboer (1272482) | about 6 years ago | (#25379989)

For those that are interested in coding/test methodologies, the FAA created a system called "DO178B" which defined as set of software assurance standards for aircraft. (Note, it's not coding standards, it's assurance standards)

Wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DO-178B [wikipedia.org]

It set different standards for different types of code. The movies would be Class E, a non-critical nav system maybe C or D, FCS probably A. But even then, the code can be made modular to decrease the assurance level required. For instance, an artificial horizon needs to work, right? But you normally have more than one in a cockpit. If one goes bad, you can use the other, not catastrophic. But the key is the pilot(s) need to recognize that it's busted. What if one froze in place in flight during landing? The pilot might follow it and go ka-boom.
So by itself, an electronic artificial horizon would require level A ($$$) software so that it 'never' fails. This is very very expensive (for level A the post-compiler machine code must be analyzed for possible compiler issues, and MC/DC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modified_Condition/Decision_Coverage [wikipedia.org] coverage)
So instead, they write it to a lower level, and then create a small set of code that cross-checks everything and kills off any horizon that's malfunctioning by placing a big "X" (or whatever) on the screen instead. Lower risk and greatly reduced cost.

Re:DO178B (3, Informative)

digitig (1056110) | about 6 years ago | (#25380083)

For those that are interested in coding/test methodologies, the FAA and EUROCAE jointly created a system called "DO178B/ED12b" which defined as set of software assurance guidelines for aircraft.

The important bit in that change is that they are guidelines, not standards; DO178b/ED12b is not mandatory (although compliance makes certification a whole lot easier).

That's not crash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25380053)

*That's* a crash.

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