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Airbus Faces Charges Over 2009 Rio-Paris Crash

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the so-don't-design-anything-with-risks dept.

Crime 187

mayberry42 writes "A French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges Thursday against Airbus over the 2009 crash of an Air France jet — opening a rare criminal investigation against a corporate powerhouse. The order from Judge Sylvie Zimmerman targeting the European planemaker centers on the June 2009 crash into the Atlantic of an Airbus A330 bound for Paris from Rio de Janeiro, killing all 228 people on board."

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What happens if they're found guilty? (4, Interesting)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526818)

Forgive me for not knowing much about French law, but what happens if a corporation is found guilty of manslaughter?

Can specific people be held accountable, is there a fine against the company, etc?

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35526844)

The management all go "moo" and tap dance frantically.

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527078)

please say it is televised

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526872)

Off with its cockpit!

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (3, Informative)

cappp (1822388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526958)

I'm assuming the French law is similar to the UK one in that the outcome is pretty much financial with a dash of policy change. Corporate Manslaughter [wikipedia.org] in the UK is governed by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 [legislation.gov.uk] which notes that:

A court before which an organisation is convicted of corporate manslaughter or corporate homicide may make an order (a “remedial order”) requiring the organisation to take specified steps to remedy—

(a)the breach mentioned in section 1(1) (“the relevant breach”);
(b)any matter that appears to the court to have resulted from the relevant breach and to have been a cause of the death;
(c)any deficiency, as regards health and safety matters, in the organisation's policies, systems or practices of which the relevant breach appears to the court to be an indication.

There is however no personal responsibility assigned i.e. the employees aren't found guilty of aiding or abetting.

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (5, Informative)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527092)

First, it is not. French law is Napoleonic law and it is extremely strict on the concept of "innocent until proven guilty". The Blair style playing fast and lose with it and declaring all management guilty until proven innocent in an H&S case as per UK H&S legislation is impossible there. No comment who exactly sponsored Blair to push that one.

Second, for the time being the charge is mostly a formality. This allows resources to continue to be allocated to the case. Otherwise it would have had to go on the cold case shelf. This way the French government can subsidize the search for the black boxes without getting into the usual Boeing vs Airbus or Air France vs the rest of the world subsidies debate. Granted the money in this case is 20-30M so it is a fraction of the usual sums discussed in the context of Airbus or Air France subsidies, but it is money none the less. Additionally, there are resources you cannot buy officially with money like military vessel involvement. This allows these resources to continue being allocated to the case.

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527432)

French law is Napoleonic law and it is extremely strict on the concept of "innocent until proven guilty".

Those that I know from France, and those that I know that took goverment classes in French Universities (but were not French) say that their legal system is much less innocent until proven guilty than ours. Is England just that much worse, or am I misinformed? It is a fairly small sampling, but they are educated people.

Ours being American (in the USA sense).

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (2)

mijelh (1111411) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527828)

their legal system is much less innocent until proven guilty than ours

People in Guantanamo may differ.

Napoleonic Law declares innocent until proven ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527874)

French law is Napoleonic law and it is extremely strict on the concept of "innocent until proven guilty".

Those that I know from France, and those that I know that took goverment classes in French Universities (but were not French) say that their legal system is much less innocent until proven guilty than ours. Is England just that much worse, or am I misinformed? It is a fairly small sampling, but they are educated people. Ours being American (in the USA sense).

Wikipedia seems to have a decent overview.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleonic_law [wikipedia.org]

It seems that both Napoleonic and Common Law declare a suspect innocent until proven guilty. According to the wiki article the guilty until proven innocent charge seems to be made due to the ability to hold someone in custody prior to trial when the charge is serious, ex murder. To be honest I am a little confused as to how this differs from the US legal system where a murder suspect may be denied bail. Perhaps it has to do with the right to a speedy trial? I'm just guessing. Maybe its merely anti-Napoleon propaganda from centuries ago? Maybe its really a reference to the reign of terror during the French Revolution (if so that's a shame since Napoleonic Law seems to prohibit such abuse)?

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (4, Informative)

cappp (1822388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527194)

Found it. Seems the French are tougher than their British neighbours. According to the government memo [google.com] I found the following:

Articles 131-37 to 131-39 of the Penal Code define ten types of penalty specific to legal entities:8 fine, dissolution (for the most serious offences9), prohibition to exercise certain activities for a certain period (especially for the offences of torture and barbarity10), placement under judicial supervision, closure of the establishment for a given period, disqualification from public tenders, prohibition to make a public appeal for funds, prohibition to draw unauthorised cheques or to use payment cards, and confiscation of the thing used or intended for commission of the offence or of the proceeds of the offence.

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (1)

mdm42 (244204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527332)

Can't really see the French government applying any of those against Airbus, can you?

What if they were treated like real people? (0)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527250)

Do like you would with real people. Give the company "jail" time. Don't let them buy or sell for three years.

That's Idiotic. (1)

LordHaart (1364019) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527320)

Yeah, that's really fair on all the employees who are now jobless through no fault of their own.

Re:That's Idiotic. (1)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527380)

Just like it's unfair to kids to lose their dad to prison amirite

Re:That's Idiotic. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527422)

So you think we should send all Airbus employees to prison? Sorry, just taking your ridiculous argument to the same extreme you to the GP's.

Anyway, this decision looks like just about every other descision France makes when prosecuting over aircraft disasters - place the blame on every party except any that are French. Look at the results from the recent inquiry into the Concorde disaster - no French people to blame, despite the fact it happened on a French runway (that wasn't swept as it should have been, by French airport staff) to a French plane. No siree, it was the fault of the airline who's plane took of before it!

Re:That's Idiotic. (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527912)

Anyway, this decision looks like just about every other descision France makes when prosecuting over aircraft disasters - place the blame on every party except any that are French.

Airbus is a subsidiary of EADS, EADS is part French and IIRC the French government owns part of this. Air France is, as its name suggests, French. I'm a little confused as to how the French are blaming others with respect to this Rio/Paris flight, I don't see the parallels to Concorde.

you can't punish inanimate objects (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527398)

When will people stop making the fundamental mistake of anthropomorphizing companies and institutions ("we must punish the banks ...")

It's as crazy as sentencing a statue to prison time. It might make the more credulous citizens, and their frenzied tabloids, feel that justice has been served (jail_population += 1) and gives them a baddie to focus on, but in reality it's a pointless exercise and achieves nothing.

Companies are made up of employees - right up to the top, and shareholders. Impose a penalty on a company and the employees will suffer (both the tiny minority - usually 1 or 2 - who did something wrong) and the thousands of "innocent bystander" employees who were only guilty of being on the same payroll. The shareholders will generally take a slight, tax deductable, loss and carry on as if nothing had happened - or, since most shareholders are pension companies - everyone's: yours and mine, pensions will be slightly lower as a result.

Of course, it's still not as stupid as fining a public body: who's income comes from government in the form of the taxes we pay. That's just money going round in circles. Where nobody wins except the lawyers on each side. What we need is strong, forensically reliable audit trails for every policy and decision. Discover the names of the people who made and approved them, then send them to jail. After all, they're the ones making the big bucks, it's time they started carrying the responsibility their getting paid so well for.

Bonuses, dividends, stock must suffer ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528002)

The only thing that reliably motivates behavior is the structure of incentives. Senior management's bonuses must suffer and shareholder dividends and investments must suffer when a corporation commits serious criminal offenses. Yes some shareholders may be innocent "widows and orphans", retirees, etc but the risk of losses should make them a little more careful about where they invest. Perhaps the risk will incentive shareholders to pressure the board of directors to do its jobs of oversight, representing the shareholder's interests. Regarding employees, perhaps fines could only be paid from bonus pools, retained earnings, etc and not operating funds where payroll normally comes from -- yes I'm not quite sure how to implement this particular concept, accounting tricks to work around this would need to be criminalized.

Re:you can't punish inanimate objects (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528082)

What we need is strong, forensically reliable audit trails for every policy and decision.

The problem is that in many cases of corporate manslaughter, is is lack of decision which is the problem. Nobody thought to run the tests which would have found the fault. And that may be up to a corporate structure which split responsibility so that everybody thought somebody else was taking care of it. That is why an offence of Corporate Manslaughter is useful. Often, it is impossible to say which individual made the mistake that caused the death, but it is possible to say that the corporation as a whole was flawed in a way that caused the accident,

Consider the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster: the ship, shuttling backwards and forwards several times each day, had six captains. Each has probably taken up the flawed working practice from predecessors who had been doing it for years. The Director of Safety at corporate level had only had responsibility for three weeks since the company had take over the ships. Tracking back to who originated the dodgy practice years ago would probably be impossible. And they never thought they were doing anything unusual, so there was nothing to write down to be audited.

Manslaughter is vary often a crime of omission. Somebody didn't think through what they were doing. And audit trails are bad at catching omissions.

Re:What happens if they're found guilty? (1)

laejoh (648921) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527498)

Wel, avant as they 'd say, in the old days: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillotine [wikipedia.org]

Double engine? (1)

Compaqt (1758360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526820)

The article doesn't say how many engines were on this plane.

Anyway, what happened is that the software failed and gave bad readings. This seems to be cautionary tale regarding the limits of human engineering, and, of course, it'll always be humans who are doing the engineering.

It also brings up the scary prospect of problems in the software and sensors of a nuclear power plant.

Does it? (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526874)

It doesn't *have* to be humans that are doing the engineering, does it? Couldn't we, at some point in the future, have AI performing engineering?

Granted at this stage of technological process it seems a bit far fetched, but that may not be the case in the future. If computers are driving cars and winning game shows, there could be some point where computers can not only initiate engineering tasks, but solve them and perform QA as well.

Re:Does it? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526930)

And then seeing no more need for humans, they'll optimize the whole process by just removing us from existence.

Re:Does it? (1)

manoweb (1993306) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526946)

To whom will they sell their newly engineered products?

Re:Does it? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526984)

They'll simply make machines that buy their products.

Re:Does it? (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526956)

As a resident of California, I lived through the era where the Terminator was elected governor and tried to do this.

Eight terms later? He was mostly unsuccessful.

Re:Does it? (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527004)

It doesn't *have* to be humans that are doing the engineering, does it? Couldn't we, at some point in the future, have AI performing engineering?

If a human wrote the AI, then the human performed the engineering, not the AI.

If you mill a block of steel in a CNC you wouldn't say the CNC did the engineering. Programming the CNC is the hard work; the CNC just did the boring labour.

Similarly if an AI one day designs and builds a bridge, the human who wrote the AI did the hard work. The AI just did the boring labour of turning the human vision into steel parts.

Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527022)

You have to ask though, what if AI improves the AI? Is that different than if a human does it?

If AI programs are capable of identifying, solving, and verifying the solution to a problem, how is that different than humans doing the same thing?

Sure, you could say "well that's still the work of humans." But isn't that just as fatalistic as saying that *human* destinies are predetermined?

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527070)

You have to ask though, what if AI improves the AI? Is that different than if a human does it?

An AI is just a machine in abstract form. If an AI "improves" an AI it's not different to a human making a machine to build a machine. The human is still the ultimate cause.

If AI programs are capable of identifying, solving, and verifying the solution to a problem, how is that different than humans doing the same thing?

Because the AI only exists within the confines of the programming that the human creates. It is therefore only a tool of the human mind. Just like a screwdriver is a tool of the human hand.

Sure, you could say "well that's still the work of humans." But isn't that just as fatalistic as saying that *human* destinies are predetermined?

Determinism is a separate discussion. One that probably won't be answered in our lifetimes.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (2)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527426)

An AI is just a machine in abstract form. If an AI "improves" an AI it's not different to a human making a machine to build a machine. The human is still the ultimate cause.

I disagree with that. A man can cause a child, but that doesn't mean that the actions of that child are no different to if the man had done them. Cause is only cause. It does not mean that a piece of code that self-modifies without the continued action of its creator is no different in principle to code that doesn't. That "continued action" is critical to the nature of the thing. When something does not require continual action, we now call that independence.

Because the AI only exists within the confines of the programming that the human creates. It is therefore only a tool of the human mind

When code becomes self-modifying, it can go beyond the human mind. Much like a child can grow beyond its parents, learning more, doing more, changing in unexpected ways, so could that code. Your argument assumes that the only input (and thus cause for development) of a progeny AI, is its creator. But the qualitative difference between the progeny AI and the dead code, is that the former can change in relation to the world around it, not only its creator. And as the world around it is more than its mere creator, then it can be influenced and go beyond its mere creator - it has become its own thing.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527460)

I disagree with that. A man can cause a child...

"Ultimate cause" has a specific meaning in philosophy. It doesn't have the same meaning as "create" or "conceive". A man is not the "ultimate cause" of a child. But a man is the ultimate cause of a machine.

When code becomes self-modifying, it can go beyond the human mind

Code can only self-modify within the confines of parameters set by the human programmer. Therefore the ultimate cause of the modified code was the human.

It's the same as creating a sharpened rock as a tool, then using the tool to sharpen a stick into a hunting spear. The rock didn't create the spear. The human did.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527546)

"Ultimate cause" has a specific meaning in philosophy. It doesn't have the same meaning as "create" or "conceive". A man is not the "ultimate cause" of a child. But a man is the ultimate cause of a machine.

And as I pointed out in another post the ultimate cause of humans is evolution and DNA. Not a specific individual creator but a creator of sorts nonetheless. We have a cause but you seem to claim we are separate from it, why?

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527572)

And as I pointed out in another post the ultimate cause of humans is evolution and DNA.

And I already replied to you.

We have a cause ...

A "cause" is not the same thing as "ultimate cause". I've also pointed this out in another post.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527606)

And I already replied to you.

Nonsensically. Unless your knowledge of evolution and biology is in fact that lacking but I'm assuming otherwise.

A "cause" is not the same thing as "ultimate cause". I've also pointed this out in another post.

Then please define "ultimate cause" specifically and exactly. You are arguing semantics without defining it except with vague references.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527666)

Then please define "ultimate cause" specifically and exactly.

It's a standard term in philosophy. Your ignorance is not my problem.

www.google.com.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527704)

I did, google provides ambiguous results none of which are from philosophy. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also provides no definition as far as I can tell.

So once again, what is the definition you claim for the term? You are being very avoidant of defining what you claim is a simple term.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527710)

I did, google provides ambiguous results none of which are from philosophy

Ambiguity is a defining characteristic of philosophy.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527734)

No, the attempt to remove ambiguity is the defining characteristic of philosophy. Specifically, one finds the source of ambiguity (the axioms or definitions that do not agree) and attempts to see if they can be shown as invalid.

Assuming one is of a logical mindset and uses said logical mindset when performing philosophy. That is considered the proper mindset last I checked except for frat boys taking philosophy classes for easy As.

So you are in fact saying the definition is whatever you want it to be so that it says you're right and any attempt to argue otherwise you'll simply say you meant a different definition of the term? That is not philosophy, that is shoddy logic and cheap bar room rhetoric.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527794)

So you are in fact saying the definition is whatever you want it to be so that it says you're right and any attempt to argue otherwise you'll simply say you meant a different definition of the term?

Yes, you've got me, your dazzling intellect has uncovered my shoddy logic. I am actually a moon child who believes that my soul is formed in the hearts of the atom-god, and "ultimate cause" is actually the name of an anti-evolution cabal, of which I am the grand zombie. Our mission is to destroy philosophy with cheap bar-room rhetoric. And I would have got away with it, if it wasn't for you meddling kids.

Bravo, good sir. You are a worthy adversary. I tip my hat to you. Now run along and find other foes to slay with your wit and charm. I am vanquished.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527890)

Amazing, you can make interesting posts that don't make you look like an Eliza script. I was afraid I'd utterly misjudged you. Now if only you could have them be 80% content instead of 100% sarcastic junk.

Seriously, I ask you to define your argument more precisely and not be pointlessly enigmatic and this is your response? I figured you actually had an argument somewhere in there, well balls to that it seems.

So yeah, go and wank off to your lovely sarcastic and utterly worthless rebuttal to me. I suspect you're smiling and think you're were always right while I was some stupid buffoon. God, to be young and ignorant. At least, when I insult people I have the decency to have an argument behind it.

See, now I'm actually sad, I was hoping for an decent intelligent discussion where I'd learn something and I get this. Bloody let down to be honest.

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527964)

I wouldnt expect a 4 digit id to be a troll, but you seem to be aiming for that.

Your one line, terse answers to well worded questions, and hiding behind semantics and then outright vague statements all contribute to that feeling.

(Posting as AC cause I am too lazy to register, yeah yeah, you may judge that however you wish)

Re:Maybe... it gets heavy. (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528074)

So is arrogance it seems.

Re:Does it? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527072)

By that logic the human didn't do anything either. Humans are after all in the end just some DNA. No different from that AI.

Re:Does it? (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527086)

By that logic the human didn't do anything either. Humans are after all in the end just some DNA.

Dawkins says something similar in the Selfish Gene.

Re:Does it? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527600)

Not really. I simply pointed out that everything we are is written in our DNA and that DNA was created by a specific process. We are machines created for a purpose.

So by your logic the AI and humans are the results of the evolutionary process which created humans. That process is in turn the result of the physical parameters of the universe. We're not quite sure what that is the result of but the specific parameters are quite likely random (cue anthropic principle). Which in turn means the whole argument has no point.

Re:Does it? (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527616)

Not really. I simply pointed out that everything we are is written in our DNA and that DNA was created by a specific process. We are machines created for a purpose.

As I said, Dawkins makes a similar argument in the Selfish Gene.

So by your logic the AI and humans are the results of the evolutionary process which created humans. That process is in turn the result of the physical parameters of the universe. We're not quite sure what that is the result of but the specific parameters are quite likely random (cue anthropic principle). Which in turn means the whole argument has no point.

Except for the last sentence (which is a non-sequitir) you are talking about determinism. Which as I've already said, is a question we are unlikely to have answered in our lifetimes.

Re:Does it? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527682)

As I said, Dawkins makes a similar argument in the Selfish Gene.

No, that's the argument made by every biologist out there. It's called evolution.

Dawkins was merely pointing out specific quirks of evolution and what drives it (propagation of genes rather than individuals of a species). He didn't make an argument but simply popularized various scientific theories.

So are you in fact denying evolution? If so then in what way? What's your counter-argument to my claim other than saying "Dawkins said something similar"?

Except for the last sentence (which is a non-sequitir) you are talking about determinism. Which as I've already said, is a question we are unlikely to have answered in our lifetimes.

Sigh, so basically you're arguing that humans have a soul and AIs won't? Or consciousness or qualia or whatever your fluffy way of avoiding the term is. Sigh, god please don't tell me you're one of those who believes in atom level human identical philosophical zombies.

Re:Does it? (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527726)

No, that's the argument made by every biologist out there. It's called evolution

If you haven't read Dawkin's Selfish Gene you really should. It's an excellent book.

Dawkins was merely pointing out specific quirks of evolution and what drives it

Because it's quite clear you haven't read it.

So are you in fact denying evolution?... so basically you're arguing that humans have a soul ... please don't tell me you're one of those who believes in atom level human identical philosophical zombies.

Now you are just being foolish. Be serious or be quiet.

Re:Does it? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527754)

If you haven't read Dawkin's Selfish Gene you really should. It's an excellent book.

Because it's quite clear you haven't read it.

I've read, been a while, it's an old book and most of it I've seen in other places long before I read it. Unlike you I have in fact studied biology more deeply than reading one forty year old book. So, again, your point being?

That is all immaterial to the simple fact, which is all I mentioned, that humans are the end result of evolution which function at the level of DNA. Nothing to do with Dawkins but simple biology. You are muddying the argument. Either answer my point directly or admit you have no counter-argument.

Re:Does it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527154)

Haha, boring labour. I see what you did there!

Re:Does it? (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528120)

But AI may be taught, rather than programmed. Google Translate "learns" by taking known translations of documents (particularly EU directives for which machine-readable versions in several languages are available) and correlating two versions to find out how to transform one language into another. If it mistranslates, is it the fault of the programmer, who need not necessarily have spoken either of the languages concerned? Is the computer "doing the boring labour" of a task the programmer was incapable of?

Re:Does it? (1)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527392)

It doesn't *have* to be humans that are doing the engineering, does it? Couldn't we, at some point in the future, have AI performing engineering?

Well once, we programmed in Assembly. These days people are doing things in Python and so much is happening automatically to turn their generic hand-waving into stuff the processors can understand that it boggles the mind. You're just talking about climbing up the tree a little further. The question, as usual, is how to precisely define your problem. I could formally specify a design in Z that was mathematically proven to be correct and design a comprehensive test suite to check adherance. Of course the test suite would need to be formally specified and tested as well, and then all the stages turning my high-level code into low-level code tested as well. It could be done, but it would take a long time. At any stage, the problem is defining exactly what you want something to do and what you don't want it to do. I've never worked in avionics, but I imagine it's pretty complex.

For me, without knowing much about this case, the concern is a court determining where the distinguishing line between negligence and accident lies. Software like this must be difficult and large and specialised. Is a court qualified to come in and say: you needed an extra programmer - this is manslaughter or it's unfortunate no-one caught that these packets weren't properly terminated according to the protocol and it was an accident.

Re:Does it? (1)

ghjm (8918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527412)

With current technology or any plausible extension of current technology, it will remain impossible for an automated system to troubleshoot its own failure. So these future computers will certainly be able to perform many tasks related to design, engineering, production and QA. But if anything goes wrong, you will still have to bring in humans. ...barring an as-yet-unknown breakthrough in AI technology, of course.

Re:Does it? (1)

NikeHerc (694644) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528106)

It doesn't *have* to be humans that are doing the engineering, does it? Couldn't we, at some point in the future, have AI performing engineering?

Granted at this stage of technological process it seems a bit far fetched, but that may not be the case in the future. If computers are driving cars and winning game shows, there could be some point where computers can not only initiate engineering tasks, but solve them and perform QA as well.


human contestant: "What is the 1920s?"

(wrong answer)

watson: "What is the 1920s?"

(wrong answer)

Yeah, I really want AI or computers to perform engineering in the future.

Re:Double engine? (2)

acid06 (917409) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526888)

It says it's an A330, a quick Wikipedia search will give you the answer you want.

By the way, they don't know what happened. They never found the black box or anything like that. So no scaremongering regarding "limits of human engineering", please. The first suspect is and always will be pilot error or mechanical failure (or a combination of the two).

Re:Double engine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35526934)

What may have transpired according to pbs which is the logical solution is that all three pitot tubes failed, they are used for determining the airspeed, hence making sure that proper aerodynamics are maintained. This is airbuses philosophy that as long as the computer is in charge of the plane, the humans can not crash it, except when the computer can not determine control. Well the only measurement of control was gone and the computer disengaged it self from the equation and tara!!! the spoiled pilots got information overload and ended up with the plane in the Atlantic. Does not take an aerospace engineer to solve that riddle or does it????

Re:Double engine? (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527032)

So what you are saying is that the computer had a sensor problem so it disengaged itself, per protocol, and then the pilots couldn't fly the plane? That's your "logical" solution. What exactly is "information overload"? These people are trained to fly planes. That's their jobs. They should know how to handle all the information that is being given to them by all the sensors and dials in the cockpit.
If, as you say, they couldn't fly the plane, it was a pilot error. Maybe there was a software error that caused the sensor/computer to stop working, but the backup (i.e. pilots) should have taken over.

Anyhow, I am not saying this is what happened. I don't know (and IANAAE), but saying something like "computer disengaged it self from the equation and tara!!! the spoiled pilots got information overload and ended up with the plane in the Atlantic. Does not take an aerospace engineer to solve that riddle or does it????" is pretty stupid, IMO.

P.S.
Not to deride you or anything, but please consider using less '?' and '!', and more proper punctuations. It makes the post easier to read. And yes, I know that once I write something like this, you will find a grammar/spelling mistake in my post. My apologies :).

Re:Double engine? (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528090)

They should know how to handle all the information that is being given to them by all the sensors and dials in the cockpit.

The problem is that the failure was in the sensors providing the pilots/instruments with data. When flying in instrument only conditions, at night over the atlantic with no visual references, the pilot's human senses can provide no information (or they provide incorrect information - part of instrument training is to ignore your senses and trust the instruments) and the pilot *must* have sensor data / instruments.

I think it is unfair to blame the pilots at this point. It may be more of a design error, a lack of a redundant/alternative source of flight data or some way to avoid the pitot tube failure. Upgrades being made to the pitot tubes suggest the later.

Re:Double engine? (1)

sarahbau (692647) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527138)

Since you mentioned PBS, I'm assuming it was the NOVA special. I watched that a few weeks ago, and while they did say the pilots might have had "information overload," they showed that in a flight simulator, trained pilots correctly followed procedure to avoid stalling in that situation.

Re:Double engine? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527100)

The problem with "pilot error" determination is that maybe 50% (made up number of large percentage is accurate) of the time, it actually has absolutely nothing to do with the accident. Pilot error is sort of a catch-all for, "we have no fucking clue what happened and feel we must explain the crash if possible so pilot error is as good as any. Not to mention its very believable."

Re:Double engine? (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527634)

The problem with "pilot error" determination is that maybe 50% (made up number of large percentage is accurate) of the time, it actually has absolutely nothing to do with the accident. Pilot error is sort of a catch-all for, "we have no fucking clue what happened and feel we must explain the crash if possible so pilot error is as good as any. Not to mention its very believable."

While I agree that "pilot error" can be a catchall it's often a proximate cause of the accident. Poor design or environmental factors can be major contributor, but in modern accidents human (i.e pilot) actions often worsen the situation or create it in the first place - hence "pilot error."

For example - attempts to land in bad weather rather than divert, especially when it's the second or third attempt. Or the NYC crash where the co-pilot overstressed the rudder which came off. Pilot's turning engines off in flight because of switch placement (they did a restart and went on normally). Poor or confusing design can lead to poor decision making. Accidents are the result of an often complex chain of events, in which an operator's decision played a crucial role in a negative outcome.

The real danger is, as you suggest, to use "pilot error" as an excuse not to discover other probable causes of an accident.

Re:Double engine? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528050)

The problem with "pilot error" determination is that maybe 50% (made up number of large percentage is accurate) of the time, it actually has absolutely nothing to do with the accident. Pilot error is sort of a catch-all for, "we have no fucking clue what happened and feel we must explain the crash if possible so pilot error is as good as any. Not to mention its very believable."

Based on what i've read it seems that the airspeed inputs went bad, causing the computer to throw it's hands in the air and say "I can't do this. You fly it", and it did so in the middle of a fairly big storm. Given that the pilots relied to some extent on the same sensors as the computer (looking out the window to try and gauge your speed doesn't really help when the horizon, stars, and ground aren't visible), the outcome was likely to not be good.

So in this case it's pilot error because the pilot was in control at the time...

if (situation_seriousness() >= omg_were_going_to_die)
{
    set_autopilot(off); /* hand control over to the pilot - we don't want to get blamed for this mess */
}

Re:Double engine? (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528154)

That is because the pilot is the ultimate catch-all for errors. There is a general presumption that, if the automatic systems fail, the pilot will fix the problem manually. And if, by hindsight, we can show that there is something the pilot might possibly have done and didn't, then pilot error is a contributing factor.

They have diagnostic messages from aircraft ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528046)

By the way, they don't know what happened. They never found the black box or anything like that.

Actually they do have something "like that". The aircraft computers automatically sent diagnostic messages including alerts of various system failures to Air France via satellite. Think of it as text messages. I believe these messages document pitot tube flight data failures and the disengaging of autopilot and autothrust systems. This led investigators to construct reasonable theories of loss of control and to replay these failures in a flight simulator to evaluate crew responses and standard procedures.

Re:Double engine? (4, Informative)

zonky (1153039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526910)

Operating too close to limits has long been the suggestion: http://trueslant.com/milesobrien/2009/06/08/the-coffin-corner-and-a-mesoscale-maw/ [trueslant.com]

Re:Double engine? (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526994)

Likely the final cause of the crash was a helmet fire [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Double engine? (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527088)

I work as a software engineer in Aviation and I have done some user interface design work on air traffic control systems. One problem I see in many domains is a kind of cascading call for attention. Over time the people who specify the system look for new ways to attract the attention of the user. Usually this happens in the context of addressing a specific problem such as user X failed to recognise condition Y for Z seconds and the solution is to make the condition Z warning flash yellow for N seconds. Okay so thats that problem addressed (but not solved) but now condition Q s is being missed while the warning for condition Z is up so we had better make that warning red and so on.

I ride a bicycle to work. We get all sorts of patches to the environment which increase the cognitive load on bike riders, for example:

  1. Left lane left turn only bicycles excepted
  2. Bus lane, bicycles permitted where signed
  3. Bicycle lanes colored in green at "attract attention"
  4. Bicycle lanes delineated with tactile edging which by the way is deadly in the wet
  5. Five or six types of bicycle lanes depending on where you are
  6. ..and so on

You see everybody has their own little local solution but tracking and learning about them takes a lot of cognition.

My wife bought a new car recently. I wanted her to get a Honda civic hybrid and we test drove it but we settled on a VW Jetta. The Honda has a mess of colored LEDs around the instrument panel. The VW has a little monochrome LCD screen. Thinking about it later I can see that a lot of thought about UI design has gone into the VW. It is a very cool car to drive in the sense that it keeps out of the drivers way as much as possible. It doesn't grab your attention. The lights and wipers are automatic. Thats two jobs you don't have to worry about for a start. The interior looks as dull as hotblack's stunt ship but it draws your attention to stuff you need to know about and little else. Its like a well designed ATC UI. The way they used to be.

Re:Double engine? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527156)

No offense but if you can't manage something as simple as lights and wipers while driving, you shouldn't be driving.

Re:Double engine? (1)

Sky Cry (872584) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527468)

It's not like one can't manage them. But rather they are extra things that you need to think about. And the more things you have to think about, the harder it is to concentrate on the important bits.

Re:Double engine? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526950)

Your point being? Everything has risk in it and it's always a question of where the failure prone human is. At a desk writing a program is one of the safer places.

The alternative in this case is to give more power to human pilots who historically are the leading cause of plane crashes. So yeah, the engineered solution may occasionally fail horribly but all the times it doesn't it prevents an even larger number of horrible failures.

Re:Double engine? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35526970)

NOVA had an episode on this crash and the investigation, and the plausible theory they seemed to come to was a combination of
1) Supercooled water in storm clouds icing over all of the pitot tubes, which they showed could happen very quickly in the right weather conditions
2) The human crew not responding quickly enough when the autopilot disengaged due to the pitot tubes being blocked. (pitot tubes measure airspeed, so the autopilot has to disengage when it has no readings)

      While the black box was never found, the on board computer did send a series of error messages to Air France before it went down which indicated that it lost all airspeed indicators and shut the autopilot off. They found evidence of similar issues occuring on other planes of that size on that route before, but the pilots had always managed to maintain control. They also ran it in simulators without telling pilots the error they were presenting and while it generally caught them off guard, they were able to regain control as well. As I recall, one of the keys was to manually increase the thrust. When the autopilot was engaged, it adjusted thrust without actually moving the manual thrust control the pilots use. Therefore, when it disengaged, speed would start dropping but they would have had no airspeed indicators to indicate that.

    It's also known there were storms in the area, and it's possible that if there were a smaller storm in front of a much larger storm, the smaller storm may prevent the on board weather radar from detecting the larger storm. They would have flown through the small front and been stuck in the large supercell before they even knew it was there.

    When you combine that all info with the "Coffin Corner" details as in Zonky's post, it seems pretty likely it stalled out, especially if they tried to climb over the storm.

Re:Double engine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527134)

They also ran it in simulators without telling pilots the error they were presenting and while it generally caught them off guard, they were able to regain control as well. As I recall, one of the keys was to manually increase the thrust. When the autopilot was engaged, it adjusted thrust without actually moving the manual thrust control the pilots use. Therefore, when it disengaged, speed would start dropping but they would have had no airspeed indicators to indicate that.

More specifically, the simulation shown in the episode was conducted by two instructor pilots, whose first reaction to the loss of airspeed indications was to (as you mentioned) set a specific thrust setting (86%, IIRC), and to set a specific attitude (5 nose-up, IIRC), which, as stated in the episode, for the A330 will cause the aircraft to settle at a safe airspeed (too fast or slow = stall).

Other posts, and the NOVA episode, mention the compilation of singular issues that compounded to a fatal accident. Its interesting to me how often a simple procedure (such as a thrust & pitch setting) can negate the world conspiring against you.

Re:Double engine? (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527504)

If that's the safe default, I would think the autopilot should hand over control in that state.

Re:Double engine? (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528148)

More specifically, the simulation shown in the episode was conducted by two instructor pilots, whose first reaction to the loss of airspeed indications was to (as you mentioned) set a specific thrust setting (86%, IIRC), and to set a specific attitude (5 nose-up, IIRC), which, as stated in the episode, for the A330 will cause the aircraft to settle at a safe airspeed (too fast or slow = stall). Other posts, and the NOVA episode, mention the compilation of singular issues that compounded to a fatal accident. Its interesting to me how often a simple procedure (such as a thrust & pitch setting) can negate the world conspiring against you.

I believe the episode also showed an arguable design flaw. IIRC the manual throttle control levers are not automatically repositioned as the autopilots changes the thrust. Other aircraft do so, this particular aircraft does not. So the levels could visually seem to be at an 86% setting while in reality they are at a lower setting recently set by the autopilot prior to its disengaging. I'm not sure if the flight simulator recreations included the maneuvering around weather that may have left the controls in the visually erroneous position.

Re:Double engine? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527064)

Anyway, what happened is that the software failed and gave bad readings.

Before everyone jumps on the anti-AirBuss bandwagon, its important to remember, Boeing has had many such failures resulting in many, many deaths. Their hydraulic failure caused reverse rudder output from its given input. So for example, a pilot would apply a modest amount of right rudder, which would cause the plane to roll left. That's backwards in case you don't know. The pilot would then attempt to compensate for the reversed roll by apply yet more right rudder. The plane would then roll more rapidly left. Repeat the cycle until the aircraft goes inverted and then pile drives into the ground.

Originally it was thought this was a unique incident but further research by investigators reveals this accounts for three crashes in which "pilot error" was perviously attributed and likely explains another two. So in total, Boeing's failure accounts for what is likely five different plane crashes.

And in case you're interested, their fix is somewhat unsatisfying. They had two hydraulic rams which controlled the rudder. The problem is, one of the two would suddenly start running in reverse and over power the other. The solution was to add a third, such that a single failure can not overpower the other two. To date, they've never been able to completely recreate the failure and investigation of sensor logs indicated the problem occurred somewhat frequently even though the single failure wasn't always able to over power the other ram.

Hooray for quality engineering!

Re:Double engine? (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528108)

Not that the software gave bad readings: that the software reacted badly when hardware gave it bad readings, possibly because of stormy weather. The suggestion is that the air speed readings were faulty, and the software throttled back until the aircraft fell out of the sky.

And an A3330 has two engines. But it is not the engine control software which is suspect, but the main flight control software, which may have ordered the engines to reduce power when it shouldn't.

Forcing to answer questions (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526838)

It seems that this is more a way to get the company to recover the black box and/or answer what really happened to cause the plane to crash.
It has to be, because they don't even know what caused it.

Watch the NOVA episode (2)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#35526962)

NOVA ran an episode [pbs.org] recently about the all manner of crazy coincidences piled on top of each other - one storm hiding behind another, supercooled water plugging all the pilot tubes, fly-by-wire software that wasn't quite ready for a "no airspeed" input, pilot tube upgrades scheduled but not yet performed...

Sometimes airplanes crash. Proving criminal (I'm assuming negligence) behavior is going to be tricky, at least until they find the black boxes and can prove what caused the crash.

Goddamn autopilot kicked the rudder too hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35526966)

Snapped the fucker right off, just like in Queens. This carbon fibre crap sucks...

and for cars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35526988)

It would be interesting to apply the same politic to car constructors

It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (3, Informative)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527024)

This is the result of a computer controlled fly-by-wire airplane having a cascade failure.

Glass cockpits are pretty and they really take a load of the pilot for a lot of things, but there is such a thing as to much of a good thing

If it is every factually determined what little chunk of silicone or line of code brought airplane down it will be studied in depth and hopefully they designers will learn something. But one thing is clear, in their rush to make everything digital and get those damn pesky analog instruments the hell out of there, they have taken away many of the pilots most reliable tools to do the one thing they are there to do which is fly the fucking airplane!

There are two ways to fly an airplane, by reference to the ground or using instruments.

In the middle of the night, over the ocean, in a storm you do not have reference to the ground so you have to use your instruments, that is if they work.

To keep a plane in the air, without reference to the ground / horizon a pilot needs a very few things and the are:

  • Attitude Indicator aka an Artificial Horizon
  • Altimeter
  • Air Speed Indicator

Now even without an airspeed indicator, most or the presumptions were a frozen and clogged pilot tube, you can still get a good clue about airspeed with nothing more then throttle setting. The attitude indicator tells you climb and dive left or right bank and the altimeter is obvious. With everything else dark, a pilot should be able to keep a plane in the air.

My educated guess is that when the whole interconnected and interdependent system went down they lost the ability to control the engines and the ability to move the aircraft's control surfaces and after that it was just over.

This is why Boeing for years always ran a hybrid system. The basic control over the airplane was not interdependent on anything and were separate systems that would accept input from the flight computer and make things like autopilot and all that possible while still keeping everything independent from all the other systems. It made for a pain in the ass system but the flight computer taking a shit would not keep the pilot from controlling the engines or other critical systems.

Unfortunately pilots listened to anymore and neither are engineers. MBA's are running airlines now and all they care about is reducing the head count, cramming more people into the planes and increasing the buck made per mile so they can get 8 figure salaries. This is why Boeing's trusted and proven hybrid system is in it's last throws or is gone completely because AIRBUS sells the bling baby and no CEO wants to be caught short on bling baby!

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (1)

ikono (1180291) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527094)

"Unfortunately pilots listened to anymore and neither are engineers." Why the hell am I seeing crazy sentences like this more and more? Am I just stupid, and this is natural sentence structure? Is it a positive bias that I'm noticing? Or are people just stupider these days?

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (2)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527256)

It looks to me like he simply missed out the word "aren't". It's pretty easy to skip words accidentally if you are posting in a rush and your typing speed is slower than your thinking speed.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (5, Interesting)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527122)

This issue has nothing to do with fly-by-wire or glass cockpits, it has everything to do with false and misleading information being presented while the aircrew is in a situation where they cannot easily determine that said information is false, nor determine the correct information.

Take for example Birgenair Flight 301, a Boeing 757 (which is non-FBW, non-glass cockpit - a traditionly controlled aircraft in every sense of the word) - during a routine wash before the flight took off, a ground crew member taped over the pitot static ports to prevent damage. However, he never removed the tape before handing the aircraft over to the air crew, and they never spotted it during their preflight walk.

The aircraft took off, but it wasnt untila couple of minutes into the flight that the errors in the information compounded themselves, resulting in errant readings being presented to both the pilots and the autopilot - the autopilot eventually gave up and disconnected, and the pilots could not orientated themselves even when presented with obviously wrong information (their airspeed indicators gave a speed of 200 KIAS and falling, even with increased application of throttle).

5 minutes into the flight, the aircraft crashed into the sea.

The flight was a night flight - the aircrew had no external points of reference to fix on, and thus could not orientate themselves as to the correct pitch, yaw or speed of the aircraft. They were essentially doomed once they took off.

This Airbus crash is very similar - a pitot static system with known flaws (already identified by Airbus and due to be changed out by Air France) failed at a time when the aircrew had no external reference points (they were in a dense storm front, they had no horizon or other reference points) and the computer systems gave up.

Note that even with Airbus aircraft, the computers can be overridden - and they themselves know when they are talking bollocks, and will regress into various modes of flight control assistance. One of the messages given out by the aircraft over the maintenance link was that the aircraft systems had regressed into Direct Law - or in other words, the computers took themselves out of the decision making process and started acting as a direct messenger between the control inputs by the pilots and the flight surfaces.

Your "Boeings system is trusted and Airbuses is not" is common fud and bullshit in the aviation industry and the aviation enthusiast following - its not absolutely no basis in fact and Airbuses control system can fail safe in just the same way as Boeings - the difference is that in standard control law (Normal Law), Airbus provides several flight protection measures, including alpha protection, bank protection and airframe stress protection. Boeing also provide these, but to a lesser extent - however, both systems can either fail back to or be deliberately put into a direct stick-to-surface control mode.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (3, Insightful)

CaptainZapp (182233) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527190)

Yeah, the plane that Captain Sullenberger landed on the Hudson without any engines didn't have a glass..

Er, wait!

That was an airbus 320, er, nervermind.

But the GP's icing on the cake is the introductory statement:

This is the result of a computer controlled fly-by-wire airplane having a cascade failure.

Er; right. Theories abound and nobody has any hard facts, except, aparently, the GP dude.

Sounds like a Boeing shill to me.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (3, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527240)

There was a cascade failure - the aircraft was sending maintenance messages to its maintenance base at the time of the crash, which told Airbus quite a bit of information, including the fact that the computers had decided to exclude themselves from decision making (which is extremely serious).

Another thing to note is that the Hudson A320 was still in Alternate Law when it ditched (none of the failures were severe enough to push the computers to take themselves out of the loop, and neither pilot took the measures necessary to do that manually) - the pilots had assistance from the computers to land the aircraft and they still managed to land their plane safely! How could that be if the Airbus system is so unsafe?

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (3, Interesting)

tweak13 (1171627) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527522)

the aircrew had no external points of reference to fix on, and thus could not orientate themselves as to the correct pitch, yaw or speed of the aircraft.

Bullshit.

Let's assume a complete and total failure of the pitot static system. That takes out 3 instruments: airspeed, altimeter, and vertical speed indicators. Everything else would be fine. Yes, it's true they had no direct measure of the aircraft's speed but they still should have had a working attitude indicator. That would have given them pitch and roll information, and I'm sure there would have been at least some form of skid/slip indication which would have provided yaw information. Engine instruments should have also continued to work normally.

Now, let's talk about how the information they had was enough to keep them alive even in zero visibility. Since their engine instruments were indicating normal performance, and they had pitch and roll information from the attitude indicator, all they needed to do was place the aircraft in a typical climb attitude. This would have resulted in a normal climb, with an airspeed indication that was decidedly not normal.

At this point, it's up to the pilot to decide which of the instruments depicting this impossible situation are wrong. Their situation was also complicated by altimeters that were also not indicating correctly, but the method of resolution should still be the same. Increase throttles to climb power, maneuver the aircraft to a normal climb attitude, then troubleshoot. The pilot's reliance on the least reliable instruments and fixating on them rather than try to use secondary indications of the aircraft's speed (cockpit noise, control surface responsiveness) were what caused that crash. They were in a bad situation, but were in no way "doomed once they took off."

I've personally experienced an airspeed indicator failure while at the controls of a light aircraft at night. Mine was caused by a failure of the instrument itself, but it was still the only direct speed indication in the cockpit. Shortly after takeoff, the airspeed indicator suddenly stopped increasing. I pitched down to accelerate, but saw no change in the gauge. It became clear that it was impossible for me to have pitched down so far and not increased speed, so I checked the other instruments and found I was in a shallow dive and actually losing altitude. I returned the aircraft to what I knew to be a standard climb attitude and returned to the airport without incident. In the beginning, I was far too focused on the failed airspeed indicator, and should have not let things escalate to the point that I was slowly descending at low altitude. I certainly understand how it's tempting to focus in on that and not step back and consider the big picture, but it's what needs to happen in such a situation.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (1)

MMerc (684605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528030)

The pilot's reliance on the least reliable instruments and fixating on them rather than try to use secondary indications of the aircraft's speed (cockpit noise, control surface responsiveness) were what caused that crash.

As truly interesting as your story is, it appears you're conclusion is derived by directly mapping personal experience to what happened on the Airbus. While tempting, it's probably flawed. Kudos for quick thinking though.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528134)

I haven't' flown big planes really. But the little planes i fly, all the instruments (gyros etc so turn indicator and artificial horizon) are all run from air from pilot tube. If all pilot tubes where blocked, I would only have a altimeter --but then again on the one larger aircraft I was in, that used a hole on the side of a pilot tube (pressurized cabin) as well.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527678)

This Airbus crash is very similar - a pitot static system with known flaws (already identified by Airbus and due to be changed out by Air France) failed at a time when the aircrew had no external reference points (they were in a dense storm front, they had no horizon or other reference points) and the computer systems gave up.

Ah yes, I remember how French law works. No matter what Air France does, nothing is ever their fault.

Anyone who followed the Concorde crash "investigation" will recognise this system...

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (3, Informative)

Jester99 (23135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527136)

There was a NOVA episode about this crash (an earlier commenter linked to it, but here it is again: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/crash-flight-447.html [pbs.org] ).

I won't go into the findings of the NOVA team, but I will point out that your educated guess is completely wrong.

The airbus does have a considerably more advanced and automated autopilot system than Boeing provides. However, that only is engaged during "Normal Law" flight. When any of the sensors on the plane detect a fault, an alarm chimes, and the system informs the pilot that "Alternate Law" is engaged. In Alternate Law mode, the pilot is allowed to use the full control capabilities of the plane, not the restricted range that the sensors believe to be safe.

After alternate law engaged, the pilot can control the engines, and all control surfaces to whatever degree of capability he'd like. The plane in question definitely switched to Alt. Law mode; this fact was radio broadcast back to the Airbus HQ shortly before the plane disappeared. There's a high probability that the pilot was mislead by weather radar readings that said that he could shoot through a "hole" between two storm clouds, but which masked the fact that there was a third (much larger) storm further beyond. Once he was stuck in the middle of all those storms, it was game over.

The pilot and the passengers were not at the mercy of an autopilot that refused to allow corrective action; it is probable that bad data presented to the pilot did not allow him to correctly act.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527198)

Just a note on your comment - Airbus aircraft have several levels of control law:
  1. Normal Law - the every day flight is done under this set of laws
  2. Alternate Law - there are two alternate laws which apply, both of which have decreased level of protections but the flight computers are still in control
  3. Direct Law - this is the law where a pilot has direct control of everything through the flight computers, no protections are given
  4. Mechanical Law - the flight computers are completely out of the loop, pilot inputs go directly to the control surfaces

By all accounts, the A330 in this situation had regressed into Direct Law (not either of the Alternate Laws), meaning the computers knew they were making unreliable decisions and removed themselves from the decision making loop, allowing the pilots to make all the decisions.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527350)

This is why Boeing for years always ran a hybrid system. The basic control over the airplane was not interdependent on anything and were separate systems that would accept input from the flight computer and make things like autopilot and all that possible while still keeping everything independent from all the other systems. It made for a pain in the ass system but the flight computer taking a shit would not keep the pilot from controlling the engines or other critical systems.

Unfortunately pilots listened to anymore and neither are engineers. MBA's are running airlines now and all they care about is reducing the head count, cramming more people into the planes and increasing the buck made per mile so they can get 8 figure salaries. This is why Boeing's trusted and proven hybrid system is in it's last throws or is gone completely because AIRBUS sells the bling baby and no CEO wants to be caught short on bling baby!

Just FYI: Airbus has ever since it introduced its first FBW aircraft in 1988 had a better safety record than subsequent Boeing models.The benefits of it were quite well stated by one of the pilots of the Qantas A380 whose engine exploded, from this interview [aerosocietychannel.com] : "Now comparing that to other types I have flown I am sure that Boeing types would have been equally flyable, but they would have been a lot more difficult, I’m sure."

Now, your "educated guess" isn't even a guess since before making a guess, you should have looked up more than three basic terms so that you could refer to hydraulics, FBW, autopiliot and FADEC when formulating your guess so that it would actually be comprehensible.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527672)

Now even without an airspeed indicator, most or the presumptions were a frozen and clogged pilot tube, you can still get a good clue about airspeed with nothing more then throttle setting.

Except angle of attack controls airspeed, not the throttle. Throttle controls altitude.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (5, Interesting)

subreality (157447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35527932)

This is common objection to flight envelope protection systems. People's gut reaction is that in an emergency, they'd rather be in total control than have some computer "interfering" with them. But the statistics are on the other side: Pilot error is more common than computer error.

China Airlines Flight 006 [wikipedia.org] is a prime example. They had a mechanical failure, and while the flight crew was distracted, the plane ended up in an ugly dive. They pulled it out after exceeding 5 Gs, badly damaging the airframe, and losing a considerable amount of altitude. Manual-control advocates say this is a good example of why you don't want a computer imposing limits on you - they had to do drastic things to save the plane. I disagree - if they were flying an Airbus, the computer would have prevented the situation from ever occurring.

The second argument in favor of flight envelope protection is that it actually enables the pilot to push the plane harder in an emergency. Consider this scenario: you're landing in low visibility, still a good ways out. Everything looks fine, but as you break out of the clouds, holy crap there's a skyscraper. You have a split second to evade it. With mechanical controls, you have to roll hard, but not *too* hard, or you'll ( break the plane | spin | exceed max angle of attack | etc). In a modern Airbus, you slam the stick over, and the plane will roll as fast as it can within its mechanical limits. Perhaps that's not as fast as an experienced military pilot could in a familiar plane which they regularly take to its limits, but a commercial pilot probably hasn't been over 2 Gs in a while, and in that split-second emergency, the computer will let them fly it harder than they ever could on their own.

So it's time for a car analogy. I have two cars I drive regularly: one has antilock brakes; the other does not. The mechanical limits are similar: light cars, good sticky tires, brake pads with plenty of bite, etc. On a good day, my stopping distance is similar between them, +/- a meter. But I've been put in emergency deer-avoidance situations with both cars on multiple occasions. In the ABS car, that means stomp on the brakes, burn off as much speed as possible in a straight line, and swerve at the last minute once the deer's finally decided which way to dart. In the non-ABS car, I'm pretty good at braking on the track, but both times it's been for a deer, my response was the same: ease into it, feeling where the limit is; crap locked up a wheel, let go for a moment and ease back into it to try to get just shy of the limit again; and occasionally letting off to steer early, because my ability to manage my grip budget is too taxed to get it perfectly right at the last minute. I haven't hit a deer yet - but that's only because I drive the non-ABS car slower.

The difference is very noticeable: when taken by surprise, the computer can stop faster than I can, AND it lets me focus on the situation instead of the limits of the machine. I believe the same is true for flight control systems, and statistics agree: they prevent more accidents due to pilot error than they cause due to computer malfunction. Note that there's not much difference between Airbus and Boeing these days, but Airbus pulled ahead in safety until Boeing started equipping their planes with flight envelope protection systems. Both brands are considerably safer than they were in the full-manual days.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35528160)

First: WTF is a hybrid system? Hydraulics?

Second: If all that is true, would you mind explaining why Airbus FBW aircraft have a better safety record than Boeings from the same period of time?

Third: Boeing went FBW with the 777 in 1995 and now 2011 Boeing will also have flight envelope protection when the 787 finally enters service (if there are no more delays, I'm not holding my breath, though). Airbus had that in 1988 so if you think Boeing somehow does it because "MBA's are running airlines now", they move fairly slowly...

Fourth: Safety depends infinitely more on the practices of the airline than it does on its choice of aircraft. That is, do mechanics cut corners to save costs or do they follow proper maintenance procedures, do pilots get proper training and have enough time to rest between flights... Those are also the factors which cost more than anything else.

Re:It shouldn't of happened so they are in court (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35528178)

Now even without an airspeed indicator, most or the presumptions were a frozen and clogged pilot tube, you can still get a good clue about airspeed with nothing more then throttle setting.

IIRC this particular aircraft does not reposition the manual throttle controls as the autopilot changes thrust. I can not image why it is designed to work in this manner. There is a theory that while maneuvering to avoid weather the autopilot reduced thrust below what the levers were visually indicating.

Double standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527124)

On one hand, if it turns out to be gross negligence, then someone (or I guess in this case, the company's finances) should be held responsible. On the other hand... flying somewhere is probably safer than taking the bus there. Do they hold a manslaughter charge every time there's an incident with a bus?

Discovery process not liability process yet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527564)

The consensus on the PPRuNe forum is that this amounts to a discovery process.

The sub-thread starts on this [pprune.org] page.

There are some long and technical discussions of the flight leading to no more conclusions than we've seen out of the BEA. A thorough reading, however, gives you some appreciation for the problems BEA is facing given the paucity of information that is available. There are two threads if you go looking. One got too long and was retired. It contains some interesting weather data I've not seen elsewhere.

{^_^}

What about iPads? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35527690)

Wasn't the iPad just approved to be used for backup flight instrumentation?

Damn, that little wondrous piece of hardware can do anything. Apple has done with $500 what the big plane makers couldn't do with $10 million. Steve Job is a God.

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