Monday, November 30, 2009

Glitch forced super-jumbo to return to New York

AFP - Tuesday, December 1

PARIS (AFP) - – An Air France A380 was forced to turn around and land in New York on Friday after problems with its navigation system, only days after the airline began flying the super-jumbo across the Atlantic.

The double-decker Airbus made a U-turn 90 minutes after take-off from New York and landed safely at Kennedy Airport in the early hours on Saturday, an Air France spokesman told AFP on Monday.

"The plane is new and is still getting into its stride. It was a minor computer problem that made navigation a little imprecise," he said.

The plane was carrying about 530 people on the New York to Paris flight when it was forced to change its flight plan. Following repairs in New York, it took off again three hours later.

It was the second time that an A380, the world's largest passenger plane, was forced to turn around in mid-flight.

A Singapore Airlines super-jumbo returned to Paris on September 27 after one of its four engines failed during a routine flight to Singapore.

The Air France spokesman described last week's problem as a "minor" glitch, and said the airline had taken immediate steps to respond to the defect.

"It was a minor glitch, but we do apply a principle of absolute caution and as soon as there is the slightest concern, we come back, we fix it and the plane takes off again," he said.

"It was a problem with the in-flight computer but it did not at all affect air speed," he added.

European plane-maker Airbus has come under scrutiny since an A330 passenger plane crashed in the Atlantic in June, killing all 228 people on board.

Investigators found the plane's air speed sensors were defective, but that the Air France crash was caused solely by the faulty monitors.

The giant plane made its maiden flight for Air France 10 days ago, taking off from Paris en route to New York with 538 passengers on board.

Air France is the first European airline to use the super-jumbo, but it made its first test flight in April 2005 and has been in service for paying customers of Singapore Airlines since October 2007.

The super-jumbo can carry 525 people in the standard three-class layout and up to 853 with all-economy seating.

Gulf-based Emirates airlines and Australia's Qantas are also flying the A380, which has enjoyed some commercial success despite initial production delays.

Singapore Airlines has ordered 19 A380s in all, and plans to have 11 carriers in service by March 2010. Air France is planning to fly 12 super-jumbos, with three others to be delivered by June.

Air France plans to begin super-jumbo flights to Johannesburg and Tokyo in the coming months.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

3 Americans die in cargo plane crash in China

By EUGENE HOSHIKO, Associated Press Writer Eugene Hoshiko, Associated Press Writer

SHANGHAI – A Zimbabwe-registered cargo plane crashed in flames during takeoff from Shanghai's main airport Saturday, killing three American crew members and injuring four others on board.

The accident closed two runways at the Pudong airport in China's largest city for several hours. More than 30 international flights were delayed, leaving about 4,000 travelers stranded on planes or in airport lounges, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The MD-11 cargo plane, operated by Zimbabwe-based Avient Aviation, was heading to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Xinhua said. Avient's chief operating officer, Simon Clarke, refused to say what cargo it was carrying.

The aircraft's tail struck the ground on takeoff, China Central Television reported, and Xinhua said the plane veered off the runway and burst into flames. Footage showed black smoke billowing from the wreckage.

Three Americans on the seven-member crew died and a fourth was injured, U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan told The Associated Press. He did not give their names, saying the embassy had not yet asked their families for permission to release the information.

Shanghai television showed what it called a 61-year-old American co-pilot in a hospital bed, conscious and saying, "Thank you" to staff and officials.

The TV report said the other crew members were from Indonesia, Belgium and Zimbabwe.

Clarke said the crash was Avient's first.

"We're trying to ascertain the facts and the circumstances," he said. "It would be premature to release any information before that."

The company's site says it is "fully trained to move most categories of dangerous goods," but it adds, "as a company policy we do not carry any arms and/or ammunition."

In March, another MD-11 cargo plane crashed and exploded while landing at Japan's largest international airport, killing its two American pilots. Xinhua said another MD-11 with Korean Air crashed shortly after takeoff 10 years ago at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport.

The Pudong airport, located by the East China Sea, opened a cargo facility in March 2008 that officials said was aimed at making Shanghai the cargo hub of Asia by 2010.

Recent crashes in China include two Chinese air force jets colliding in June 2008 in Inner Mongolia, with both pilots parachuting to safety. In June 2006, a Chinese military plane crashed in eastern Anhui province, killing all 40 people aboard.


Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Beijing and Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Paisley Dodds in London contributed to this report.

Friday, November 20, 2009

First Air France A380 reaches New York

AFP - Saturday, November 21

NEW YORK (AFP) - – The world's largest airliner, an Air France A380, touched down in New York on Friday after completing the superjumbo jet's first Atlantic crossing from Europe to the United States.

The Airbus plane, carrying 538 passengers, left Paris earlier in the day and landed at 1:07 pm (1807 GMT) at J.F. Kennedy Airport, several minutes ahead of schedule, under crisp blue skies.

Two fire engines met the plane with a watery salute from their hosepipes as it taxied to its gate.

Air France is the first European airline to put the giant aircraft into service, but the fourth worldwide after Singapore Airlines, Gulf-based Emirates and Qantas of Australia.

Passengers included 380 people who bought their tickets in an Air France auction to benefit disadvantaged children.

Air France will launch regular A380 flights across the Atlantic on November 23. The fleet of 12 huge planes will also serve Johannesburg, starting in February, and then Tokyo.

But major production and delivery delays mean the commercial success of the A380, the pride of Airbus and parent company EADS, has yet to be secured.

On board, passengers were treated to free champagne and, for the inaugural flight, a three-member jazz band.

"A fantastic flight," said one passenger, Bernard Boluvi, 39. "It's a very quiet and stable plane. You hardly feel the takeoff and landing."

Michel Schmitt, 45, also praised the lack of noise aboard and said the double-decker felt more roomy than other jumbos. "It doesn't feel like one big cinema, because the plane is well divided into different sectors," he said.

But Gerard Jouany, 64, a journalist specializing in aviation, said he found the plane rather cramped and emphasizing the bus aspect of Airbus. "Air France chose the most dense configuration," he said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

UA pilot charged with being over alcohol limit

By RAPHAEL G. SATTER,Associated Press Writer - Wednesday, November 11
LONDON – A United Airlines pilot who was pulled from his trans-Atlantic flight to Chicago shortly before takeoff has been charged with having too much alcohol in his system, British police said Tuesday.

Scotland Yard said that 51-year-old Erwin Vermont Washington, of Lakewood, Colorado, was arrested after officers were called to United Airlines Flight 949, which was already full of passengers and due to leave London's Heathrow Airport just after noon on Monday.

BAA, Heathrow's operator, said the plane had been due to leave imminently. A BAA spokesman quoted by Britain's Press Association news agency added that the pilot had been reported to authorities by another member of United's staff. BAA did not immediately return a call from the AP seeking comment late Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear how much alcohol Washington was accused of having consumed. Under British law, pilots are forbidden from having any more than 20 micrograms of alcohol for each 100 milliliters of blood in their system, or .02 percent. For most average-sized men, that is the equivalent of having just had about half a glass of regular strength beer.

Scotland Yard said that Washington, who has been released on bail, would have to appear at a court in northwest London on Nov. 20. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.

United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said Washington, who she did not identify by name, has been removed from service pending an investigation. She said her airline had strict rules on alcohol "and we have no tolerance for violation of this well-established policy."

She declined to say how long Washington had worked for the airline.

McCarthy said that the flight was canceled and that the plane's 124 passengers were put on other flights.

Monday's incident bears a strong resemblance to the arrest in May at Heathrow of an American Airlines pilot _ also scheduled to fly a plane to Chicago _ after he failed a breath test. Airport security staff had alerted airport police about the pilot.

In January, Southwest Airlines put a pilot on leave after passengers at a security checkpoint in Columbus, Ohio, told authorities that he smelled of alcohol. The pilot ran into a restroom and changed out of his uniform jacket and called in sick.

Union leaders say pilots are under increased scrutiny by security agents and passengers because of high-profile cases involving drunk pilots.


Associated Press Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Australian pilots suspended over landing gear miss

AFP - Wednesday, November 4Send IM Story Print

Australian pilots suspended over landing gear miss
SYDNEY (AFP) - – Two Australian pilots have been suspended for preparing to land a passenger plane without the correct landing gear, in what air safety investigators Wednesday labelled a "serious incident".

The Qantas flight from Melbourne was forced to do a second lap above Sydney airport on October 26 after a cockpit alarm went off as the Boeing 767 prepared to touch down, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said.

"Passing 700 feet on approach into Sydney, the crew commenced a missed approach due to the aircraft being incorrectly configured for landing," the bureau said.

ATSB air safety spokesman Ian Sangston said the "too low gear" alert sounded because the landing gear had not been lowered, but said it was too early to speculate on the cause.

Qantas said flight safety was never at risk but it had stood the pilots down pending the bureau's inquiry into whether human error was to blame.

"This is an extremely rare event, but one we have taken seriously," the airline said in a statement.

"The flight crew knew all required procedures but there was a brief communication breakdown. They responded quickly to the situation... the cockpit alarm coincided with their actions."

The incident follows the revocation last week of the licences of two US pilots who overshot their destination by some 150 miles (240 kilometres) while distracted.

Sangston said the ATSB was also investigating an incident in which the autopilot briefly disconnected on board a Jetstar flight between Japan and the Gold Coast as it passed through stormy conditions on October 29.

"My understanding is that there was some sort of problem with the information being provided to the pilots," Sangston said.

Qantas' budget offshoot Jetstar said early indications were that the Airbus A330's airspeed sensing system was momentarily impaired, and several parts had been replaced on the aircraft before it was allowed to resume flying.

The error messages were similar to those reported from an Air France Airbus A330 jet which mysteriously plunged into the Atlantic in May, taking the lives of all 228 people on board.

But Sangston said the ATSB was yet to examine the black box data from the craft or interview the crew and it was "only conjecture" to draw parallels.