Air France 447 Report: French Duck for Cover

I am posting this morning a lengthy comment I received from Manuel Garcia, Jr.,a retired engineering physicist, who wrote a most informative critique in Counterpunch.

His original article there—”The New Crisis in Aviation”—provides a detailed analysis of Flight 447, and is well worth reading. Garcia can be reached at: mango@idiom.com. Garcia writes:

I notice two things about the AF447 BEA investigation (http://www.bea-fr.org/anglaise/actualite/actu.htm) news stories today: 1) the plane held together till the bitter end, including the tail, and 2) Airbus planes are completely safe, keep flying folks:

[Quoting the Washington Post]
Despite the lingering mystery about what led to the plane’s sudden plunge, [Alain Bouillard, who is heading a probe by the French Investigation and Analysis Bureau] said he saw no reason at this point to ground the twin-engine Airbus A330 or for passengers not to board such aircraft with confidence. “As far as I am concerned, there is no problem flying these aircraft,” he told reporters.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070201409.html?hpid=sec-world

So, the plane hits in one piece at one spot, and the tail is found six days later about 50 km south of most the rest of the debris field, which stretches about 150 km north, with the bodies pretty much along a line, and bits of wreckage flung out 50 km each way laterally from that track. China Airline 611, a 747, broke up at 35,000 in 2002 — a badly repaired rear pressure bulkhead gave way, explosive decompression — a breakup first into four pieces (estimated from radar) and ultimate scatter over 130 km; and AF447 pinpoints in one spot and has equivalent scatter? Maybe the ocean currents did spread out the AF447 debris that far; but some data on the currents and perhaps some computer models of the dispersal would sure make that argument more convincing to those of use not experts at marine drifts.

Regardless of any technical analysis (and the BEA people are closer to the data and specimens than I can ever be, and they have access to specialists, which I am not) it seems pretty obvious that if more Airbus planes had fallen out of the sky because their composite tails fell and/or broke off, then the world would be screaming to ground the entire fleet immediately. And Boeing’s increasing delayed Dreamliner would start looking like a Plumbob Zeppelin. So, AF447 has to hold together because it is holding ‘everything’ together. There was already a crisis in civil aviation before AF447 died, because of high fuel prices and the economic crash — ticket sales were down, airplane orders (at the Paris Air Show) were absent, and the buyer’s market has people demanding and getting bargain tickets. What government agency is going to sink it’s civil air transport sector over one or two little crashes?

There is big fear out there about the management of the public mind, and the fearful withdrawal of its pocketbook. Back in 1958 Queen Elizabeth II even went abroad on the new de Havilland Comet to instill confidence back into the British aero industry. But, that was after the Comets had been grounded for over three years while the problem was solved. The prospect of over twelve quarters of no cash flow is not a viable option today. Who says there is no human sacrifice in our society? Instead of war captives spread out on stone altars to have their hearts ripped out on state holidays, we send bundles of people off on low-odds sudden termination lotteries in jumbo plastic airplanes, or death-wad and toxin-laced junk food mass feedings and drug trials. Our capitalist society is a like casino where you’re forced to play a slot machine, and if the long odds come up against you then it blows up in your face. The concept is deemed OK (by those raking in the chips) because the odds of bad stuff are “low.” Russian Roulette with 8 million empty chambers in the barrel is OK, so just pay up and keep pulling the trigger.

I hope they find the recorders, because I have a belief they will clear the pilots (the presumption of good piloting is a purely emotional attitude on my part), and because I think it would be enormously helpful to aeronautical engineers to finally decipher the instrument failures and sequence of forces that occurred on AF447. The price for this lesson was unwillingly paid by 228 people. I fear that not finding the recorders will become politically convenient, and suspect that the blame game has now completely taken over: anyone with a perceived liability regarding AF447 is in Red Alert CYA mode, and many with a loss or perceived potential for gain are weaving court filings (some no doubt quite justified). The French and the Brazilians already had a finger-pointing tiff early in the search, about what was or wasn’t real AF447 wreckage, and what might or might not have happened as regards in-flight breakup. The BEA report of 2 July points to air traffic sluggishness in Brazil and more so in Senegal as delaying the start of search-and-rescue. In seems unlikely that starting the search planes six hours earlier would have made any difference; the wreckage of AF447 would have sunk in minutes, and since there seems to have been no fire, there would be no ocean-surface fuel-burning to see. Despite the news reports (officially leaks) of autopsy findings in Brazil, and the participation of French medical forensic observers, the BEA complains it has not received the official autopsy results from Brazil. Probably true, but why?, is it all PR jockeying for world news media, CYA, and finger-pointing?

The BEA’s conclusion about an intact impact may be correct, but I will find it more convincing when they present step-by-step reasoning that ties all known facts (or proves individual facts spurious) into a sequence that produces their conclusion. That, and making their data public so independent analysts can replicate their findings, would be a first payment of honorable compensation to the dead. The principal of the rest of that debt would be to re-engineer the air transport fleet to prevent the technical failures that occurred on AF447. To do that we have to know what they were.

2 responses to “Air France 447 Report: French Duck for Cover

  1. Rob Bartsch

    The Airbus company is owned by several European governments including the French, therefor, they have a huge economic interest in keeping the planes in the air.

    The crash investigation of Flight 447 is being conducted by French government officials. Does anyone actually believe the investigation will be performed in an independent objective way?

    Self-investigation is rarely useful IMO.

    In reading some background on the 1988 crash of an Airbus flyover at the Paris air show, the Court found that the company had obtained custody of the black boxes after the crash and that, when later returned to investigators, the boxes and related information was tampered.

    The original draft report of the crash of Flight 587 in NY during 2001 from the NTSB concluded that a faulty Airbus computer caused the crash. Apparently, Airbus influenced the official findings and the conclusion was later changed to indicate pilot error was the cause.

    Unfortunately, I assume we have many dead Airbus pilots rolling in their graves.

  2. “I hope they find the recorders, because I have a belief they will clear the pilots.”

    Read this: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/aviation/crashes/what-really-happened-aboard-air-france-447-6611877

    Apparently and sadly, pilot error was a main cause of the crash, and the pilots were not even aware of what they did.

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